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"This book preview contains selected pages from Great, Grand & Famous Hotels. If you wish to purchase the book or find out more, please go to
Hotels : Sample NY
NEW YORK: POWER & PROMINENCE GREAT, GRAND & FAMOUS HOTELS 133 By the 1830s, New York was ready for a first- class hotel. Architect Isaiah Rogers had designed Boston's Tremont for his client John Jacob Astor, a recently retired trader, who ultimately became the first to be called 'America's richest man.' Rogers' designs for Astor House (1836) took up an entire Broadway block in lower Manhattan between Barclay and Vesey Streets, which was then the centre of the city. It was considered New York's first luxury hotel: 309 rooms with individual locks to ensure privacy, running water in every bed chamber, 17 basement bathrooms, privies on upper floors, segregated dining and drawing rooms for ladies and gentlemen, as well as many parlours on the ground floor and suites on the floor above. A trend-setting hostelry when it opened in 1836, it featured shops at street level and also originated the free bar lunch. Astor House was immediately popular with the wealthy, famous and powerful, including Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Sam Houston and Charles Dickens. Davy Crockett was one of the hotel's first guests. The celebrity guest list also gave rise to the historic first-ever reporting, in the New York Herald, of a hotel's social comings and goings. ENEMY NUMBER ONE FIRE Late in the Civil War (1861-5), Confederate rebels conceived an audacious plan to strike at the heart of New York by simultaneously setting alight more than a dozen leading hotels, with the intention of reducing the entire city to ashes. On the night of 27 November 1864, fires were successfully started in upper rooms at Astor House, the St Nicholas, Fifth Avenue Hotel, Metropolitan Hotel, The United States Hotel, and others. Fortunately the police were already aware of the plot and hotel managements were ready and waiting. Though fires were started in all these hotels, they were quickly brought under control. The potential catastrophe was averted. Whether modest or grand, all American hotels of this era faced a singular enemy: fire. Most began as accidents in the guest rooms or in the kitchen, as early hotels used open fires for heating the rooms and gas lighting after dark. Some were deliberately lit.Until building materials changed from timber to stone, steel and concrete and fire safety regulations were introduced, many hotels went up in flames including Palmer House, Chicago; The Palace Hotel, San Francisco; The Congress Hotel on Cape May and the Sherry-Netherland in 1927. Headlines called it 'The Best Show of the Season in New York City'. The new Sherry-Netherland Hotel became a blazing beacon for miles as the scaffolding above the 32nd story completely burned. It was the first real skyscraper fire that thousands of New Yorkers had ever witnessed. BIG CITY MEETS WILD WEST Much went on in the early New York hotels, as they catered to a diverse social mix. The Clarendon Hotel opened in 1846 and was financed by John Jacob Astor's son, William Backhouse Astor. It was here that Peter Cooper and Cyros Field met in 1854 with other investors to raise money for the trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. The Grand Central Hotel, on Broadway and West 3rd Street, was the scene of unrestrained passion on 6 January 1872 when Edward Stokes shot financier Jim Fisk, his rival for the affections of singer Josie Mansfield. A film was made about this scandalous event called The Toast of New York (1937), starring Cary Grant. The Glenham Hotel opened in 1862 on Broadway and East 22nd Street. It was here on 2 April 1882, that the son of Commodore Vanderbilt, Cornelius Jr, shot himself after a night of excessive drinking and gambling. As the city grew north, Gilsey House (1869) opened on the corner of 29th and Broadway. Guests included American financier and philanthropist Jim Brady, and Mark Twain. Gilsey House was the first hotel in New York with a telephone and was only a stroll to Delmonico's, one of the most celebrated restaurants of the day. Between 1880 and 1900, Manhattan's population grew by 500% to 3.5 million. The city boundaries continued to push north, especially after Central Park was completed in 1873, and the grid of streets on either side opened up for development. THE EXTRAORDINARY ASTORS The story of New York hotels of this era is in many ways that of the Astor family. When patriarch John Jacob Astor died in 1842 he had accumulated US$20 million -- in those days the equivalent of one fifteenth of America's entire wealth. His son, William Backhouse, took charge of the real estate business, doubling the family fortune. Soon after, a family squabble broke out between William Backhouse Astor's son, William Waldorf Astor and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor -- his Aunt Lina. After William Backhouse died, the two enemy combatants found themselves inhabiting adjacent brownstones on Fifth Avenue. It particularly irked the status-obsessed William Waldorf, now he was official head of the Astor family, that his wife was not considered the Mrs Astor of New York. That his aunt would not release her grip was a gross breach of protocol so far as her nephew was concerned. He decided, partly in revenge, to raze his father's home and construct what he intended to be the finest hotel in New York -- to be called the Waldorf. If anything were to infuriate Aunt Lina, it would surely be several years of noisy construction, followed by an invasion of low-lifes into this most sacrosanct of New York's residential enclaves. Caroline Astor upped the ante. She relocated uptown, instructing her own son -- John Jacob Astor IV -- to build an even bigger hotel on her block. It was to be called the Astoria and Aunt Lina's motivation was direct competition. THE GILDED AGE The term Gilded Age, coined in part by Mark Twain, is an ironic take on what could have been a Golden Age but for its pretentious elitism. This period, following the Civil War and the post- Reconstruction era saw unprecedented expansion paralleled by gauche displays of new wealth. The New York hotels built in this era including the Chelsea and the first Waldorf=Astoria were characterised by an opulence hitherto unimagined. Moving from land purchasing to property development, the Astor family dominated this market for several decades. Other super-rich families including the Vanderbilts, Fricks, Goulds and Stuyvesant-Fish, represented the pinnacle of the elite clientele served by these superb hotels: their financial achievements transformed into high social status and manifested in phenomenal spending power. Right: Viscount William Waldorf Astor, seen here with Lady Nancy Astor, built the Waldorf Hotel as the result of a bitter feud with his aunt.