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No Ordinary Hotel: St. Regis Provides New Solution to a Social Problem

St. Regis Hotel

In 1904, Colonel John Jacob Astor broke ground for the building of the St. Regis Hotel at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th Street in the most exclusive residential section of New York at the time.

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  1. The architects were Trowbridge and Livingston who were based in New York.
  2. The firm’s partners were Samuel Beck Parkman Trowbridge (1862-1925) and Goodhue Livingston (1867-1951).
  3. Trowbridge studied at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. On his graduation in 1883, he attended Columbia University and later studied abroad in the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

On his return to New York, he worked for the architect George B. Post. Goodhue Livingston, from a distinguished family in colonial New York, received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University. In 1894, Trowbridge, Livingston and Stockton B. Colt formed a partnership that lasted until 1897 when Colt left. The firm designed several notable public and commercial buildings in New York City. Besides the St. Regis Hotel, the most famous were the former B. Altman department store (1905) at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, the Bankers Trust Company Building (1912) at 14 Wall Street and the J.P. Morgan Building (1913) across the street.

In 1905, the St. Regis was the tallest hotel in New York, standing at 19 stories high. The price of a room was $5.00 per day. When the hotel opened, the press described the St. Regis as “the most richly furnished and opulent hotel in the world.”

The construction cost over $5.5 million dollars, an unheard-of sum at the time. Astor spared no expense in the furnishings: marble floors and hallways from the quarries of Caen, Louis XV furniture from France, Waterford crystal chandeliers, antique tapestries and oriental rugs, a library full of 3,000 leather-bound, gold-tooled books. He had installed two beautiful burnished bronze entrance doors, rare wood paneling, great marble fireplaces, ornamental ceilings and a telephone in every room, which was unusual at the time.

When the St. Regis Hotel opened in 1905, General Manager Rudolf M. Haan produced an elaborate 48-page hardcover promotional book with 44 photographic illustrations and lavish prose:

The St. Regis Hotel

“In writing of the St. Regis Hotel it is necessary to remember that we are dealing not with a type of ordinary hotel, but with the solution of a social problem forced on us by the conditions of the present day. Time was when the hotel implied a mere shelter for the traveler; in these days, however, it must also reckon with the people with good homes, who frequently find it convenient to close their houses for a week or a few months; people to whom the thought of dispensing with home comforts, good service and cuisine, and the atmosphere of taste and refinement has ever been a hardship. To cater specifically to this class of Americans at reasonable terms, without neglecting the guest of the single night or week, nor even the most casual diner-out, was the idea of Mr. Haan, the president and the guiding spirit of the company. Of its endorsement by Col. John Jacob Astor and the professional cooperation of the architects, Messers. Trowbridge & Livingston, the St. Regis at Fifty-fifth Street and Fifth Avenue stands as the monument…

The St. Regis covers a plot of 20,000 square feet, and at present is the tallest hotel in New York. Its location is well chosen, for, while situated in the heart of the best residential section of New York, on the city’s fashionable driveway and within four blocks of Central Park, it is easily accessible from all directions, and most of the city’s best stores, as well as the amusement resorts, are within easy walking distance. For those who prefer to drive, an efficient carriage service is ready night and day…

To the department of cleanliness and safety belong also two features, which in the St. Regis are exploited for the first time to their full extent- the arrangement for pure air and the disposition of dust and refuse. There is installed a system of forced ventilation combined with indirect radiation which give throughout the building a supply of pure, fresh air, warmed or cooled as the weather may require…..

On every four- or five-story chambers have been provided wherein the outer air enters, is filtered through cheese-cloth filters, warmed by passing over steam coils, and then circulated by electric motor through ducts to the various rooms. The outlets in the rooms are concealed in unobtrusive gratings in the walls or in the ornamental bronze work that plays a large part in the decorations. The guest may regulate the temperature in his room by means of an automatic thermostat. A continual circulation of air is maintained throughout the building, night and day: there are no drafts, no atmospheric chills to fear; in point of fact the guest need never open his window to be supplied with an abundant quantity of pure air. This system is a great advance over the old-time coils that are noisy and ugly and somewhat uncertain in the amount of heat supplied. The impure air is effectively discharged by exhaust fans.”

The all-important back-of-the-house was recognized and described in the St. Regis Hotel book:

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About the author

Stanley Turkel CMHS hotel-online.com

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