The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel
|Architect||G. W. & W. D. Hewitt
Hewitt & Paist
|Architectural style||French Renaissance|
|NRHP Reference #||77001182|
|Added to NRHP||March 24, 1977|
The Bellevue is a landmark building at 200 S. Broad Street at the corner of Walnut Street in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It has continued as a well-known institution for more than a century. In the past 30 years the hotel has undergone minor name changes, but still is widely known by its historic name, the Bellevue-Stratford.
Prussian immigrant George C. Boldt and his Philadelphia-born wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt, opened an earlier facility, the Bellevue Hotel, in 1881. Louise's father, William Kehrer, steward of The Philadelphia Club, had engaged Boldt as his assistant steward at the time of the 1876 Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia. Boldt and Louise Kehrer wed shortly thereafter. Prominent members of the Philadelphia Club assisted the couple in setting up their own hotel, the Bellevue, at the northwest corner of Broad and Walnut Streets. A small hotel, it quickly became nationally known for its high standard of service, elite clientele, and fine cuisine - it is believed that Chicken à la King was created in the 1890s by hotel cook William "Bill" King. The Boldts expanded by acquiring the Stratford Hotel at the SW corner of Broad & Walnut. The Stratford was demolished and the old Bellevue supplanted by construction of the grand Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, designed in the French Renaissance style by G.W. & W.D. Hewitt. These Philadelphia architects also designed the Boldts' famous landmark residence, Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands.
In 1890, George Boldt was invited by owner William Waldorf Astor to be proprietor of the new Waldorf Hotel in New York City. Louise Boldt had been instrumental in making their Philadelphia hotel attractive and socially acceptable to wealthy women. This was probably a major motivation for Astor in asking George Boldt to become proprietor of his new Waldorf, later expanded by John Jacob Astor to become the world-class institution known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
George Boldt owned the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel outright. The present building opened in 1904. Over two years in the making and costing over $8,000,000 (in 1904 dollars), the Bellevue-Stratford was described at the time as the most luxurious hotel in the nation and perhaps the most spectacular hotel building in the world. It initially had 1,090 guest rooms, the most magnificent ballroom in the United States, delicate lighting fixtures designed by Thomas Edison, Tiffany and Lalique glass embellishments, and the most celebrated marble and hand-worked iron elliptical staircase in the city.
Later, during the 1920s through the 1940s, the noted global host Claude H. Bennett, managed the rebuilt and greatly enlarged Philadelphia hotel. His son, Robert C. Bennett (Cornell Hotel School 1940), and grandson, Robert Jr. (Drexel Hill, PA), currently a Professor of Hotel Management at a suburban Philadelphia community college (Delaware County Community College), were both on the senior management staff of the "Grand Dame" of Broad Street as late as the 1970s prior to the temporary hotel closing.
From its beginning, the Bellevue-Stratford was the center of Philadelphia's cultural, social and business activities. It soon functioned as a sort of clubhouse for the Philadelphia establishment, not only a place where the rich and powerful dined and occasionally slept, but also the venue for their meetings and social functions. Charity balls, society weddings, club meetings and special family gatherings have all been held in the hotel's ballrooms and meeting rooms. The rich and famous, royalty and heads of state from all over the world, presidents, politicians, actors and famous writers have stayed within its walls. All U.S. Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt through Ronald Reagan have been guests at the hotel, which is respectfully called the "Grand Dame of Broad Street."
Originally the western end of the building was only three stories high. In 1911 Boldt added extensions to the hotel and carried it to the full nineteen stories. It was completed in 1912 at a cost of $850,000.
In June 1919 the Bellevue was leased to T. Coleman du Pont, together with Lucius M. Boomer, president of Boomer-du Pont Properties Corporation. The ground and building were retained by George C. Boldt Jr. Boomer-du Pont offered the Boldt family $7,500,000 for the hotel. They refused, as the asking price was $10,000,000. In June 1925 the company backed by duPont, The Bellevue Company purchased the hotel for $6,500,000 from the heirs of George C. Boldt. It was said that $3,000,000 was paid in cash and a mortgage was taken over the property for $3,500,000.
In October 1926, Queen Marie of Romania stayed at the hotel. The Royal Suite of 11 rooms on the seventh floor to be occupied by Queen Marie and her entourage of 19 has a history. Among the world-famous people who have occupied the suite are President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Cardinal Mercier of Belgium, President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Marshal Joffre, General John J. Pershing, President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding, a brother of the Emperor of Japan, Sir Esme Howard, Ambassador Jules Jusserand, and Ambassador Geddes.
The Great Depression brought hard times to the Bellevue-Stratford, although it continued to be "Philadelphia's hotel." Gradually, through lack of income and attention, the hotel's glitter began to tarnish. During the 1940s and 1950s, the classic architecture and rich decorative details of the hotel were thought to be overpowering, anachronistic and even offensive.
Noted hotelier, Charles Todd, managed the hotel after this period bringing it back "into the black." He had managed the Lake Placid facility for the 1932 Winter Olympics, and later retired from the famed Hershey Hotel in Hershey, PA in the 1960s. He is also known for teaching a public domain game called "The Landlords Game" (teaching economic principles espoused by the Henry George School of Economics in Philadelphia) in the 1930s to Charles Darrow, who later claimed to have invented it as Monopoly.
On Wednesday, October 30 of 1963, the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel became a 'testing ground' of sorts for the 35th U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, as he successfully rode in a 13 mile open car motorcade from the Philadelphia International Airport to the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. Less than a month later, JFK was assassinated in an open car motorcade through the city of Dallas, Texas.
The hotel gained worldwide notoriety in July 1976, when it hosted a statewide convention of the American Legion. Soon after, a pneumonia-like disease killed 29 people and sickened 182 more who had been in the hotel. The vast majority were members of the convention. The negative publicity associated with what became known in the media as "Legionnaire's Disease" caused the hotel to close in November 1976.
In 1977, Dr. Joseph McDade discovered a new bacterium, which was identified as the causative organism. It thrives in hot, damp places like the water of the cooling towers for the Bellevue-Stratford's air-conditioning system, which spread the disease throughout the hotel. The bacterium was named Legionella and the disease, legionellosis, after the first victims.
The building was sold in 1978 to the Richard I. Rubin Company and given a $25-million restoration. The guest rooms were completely gutted and their number reduced from 725 to 565, while the public areas were painstakingly restored to their 1904 appearance.
The hotel reopened in 1979 as part of the Fairmont chain as The Fairmont Philadelphia. The next year a 49-percent interest in the hotel was bought by the Westin chain and the name reverted to The Bellevue-Stratford. By the mid-1980s, the hotel, which had become The Westin Bellevue-Stratford, was struggling to fill its hundreds of rooms, and closed in 1986.
The Rubin Company again undertook extensive work on the building, at a cost of $100 million. This time, the hotel rooms from floors 2 to 11 were converted into office space. The grand public areas on the ground floor were converted to shops. A huge atrium was cut into the lobby and escalators installed leading to an underground shopping area and food court. The parking garage adjacent to the hotel had a fitness club built on top of it to serve the complex.
In addition, the middle wing of the E-shaped building was removed from floors 12 to 18, and the back side was sealed up, creating an atrium. The historic 19th-floor Rose Ballroom atop this middle wing was retained, however, standing on seven-story stilts which ran through the atrium. The building's name was shortened to The Bellevue.
The hotel portion reopened in 1989 as Hotel Atop the Bellevue, with guest rooms on floors 12-18 and a lobby and public rooms on the remodeled 19th floor. The two domed ballrooms on that floor (the South and North Cameo rooms), were turned into the Ethel Barrymore Tea Room and a restaurant called Founders.
The hotel was managed by the Cunard Line. After Cunard moved out of the hotel business, the hotel operated independent of any chain through the mid-1990s. During this time, its name was shortened to match the whole multi-use complex, becoming The Bellevue. In December 1996 the hotel joined the Hyatt chain's Park Hyatt boutique division and was renamed Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue. In 2010 the name was shortened to Hyatt at The Bellevue.
In 2007 the two restaurants and Founders bar were re-designed by Marguerite Rodgers and are now XIX (NINETEEN) Cafe, Bar and Restaurant. By 2009 all four balconies outside the cafe and restaurant were restored and open to the public for the highest outside dining experience in the city.
The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel.|
- The Bellevue complex - official website (note: page cannot be viewed at anything under 1024x768 screen resolution)
- Hyatt at the Bellevue - official site
- BBC Article about the search for the cause of Legionnaire's Disease
- The disaster that struck the Bellevue Stratford Hotel
- The Bellevue Memorabilia Collection, 1884-2005, including photographs, brochures, programs, drawings and other materials, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
- Listing and photographs at the Historic American Buildings Survey
- The application for the National Registry
- Listing at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings