St. Regis New York
|The St. Regis New York|
|Location||2 East 55th Street|
Manhattan, New York City
|Opening||September 4, 1904|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Trowbridge & Livingston (original building), Sloan & Robertson (1927 addition)|
|Developer||John Jacob Astor IV|
|Number of rooms||171|
|Number of suites||67|
|Number of restaurants||2|
Construction and opening
The St. Regis was built by one of the wealthiest men in America, John Jacob Astor IV, as a companion to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, of which he owned half. The Waldorf-Astoria was, at the time, located 20 blocks south on Fifth Avenue in an area that had begun to decline in social importance as the area near Central Park gained favor. Astor's great-grandfather, John Jacob Astor, had earlier built one of the first modern hotels in the world, the Astor House, in Lower Manhattan in 1836. At the suggestion of his niece, Astor named the new hotel after Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks. The lake had been named for a French Jesuit priest, Jean-François Régis, known for his hospitality to travelers.
The 18-story French Beaux-Arts style hotel, the tallest in the city when built, was designed by architects Trowbridge & Livingston, with interiors by Arnold Constable. Construction began in 1901 and almost instantly generated controversy, as the chosen site was directly across Fifth Avenue from the palatial homes of the Vanderbilt family and would also tower over the mansions of many other wealthy New Yorkers. The Bureau of Buildings soon discovered that the hotel's wood decorations were not sufficiently fireproofed, and Superintendent Stewart temporarily halted construction on May 14, 1902. The following year, the hotel's neighbors brought suit due to the blasting necessary to excavate the hotel's foundation. Justice Clarke ruled against them on November 10, 1903, allowing work to again continue. Finally, as the hotel neared completion in 1904, the neighbors made one last effort to halt its opening. Any establishment with a liquor license was required to gain the approval of the owners of 2/3 of all private property within 200 feet (61 m), and was required to be at least 200 ft from any church. The hotel was located directly across the street from Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. The hotel's neighbors showed that its property line was well within the 200 ft limit. The hotel maintained, however, that its main entrance, on 55th St, was beyond the 200 ft limit, and the hotel prevailed in court.
The hotel, which had cost the then-staggering sum of $5.5 million, opened September 4, 1904. The neighbors, however, had not given up their fight. William Rockefeller bought an adjacent mansion on October 17, 1904, to ensure the hotel would lose its 2/3 approval from its direct neighbors, and have its liquor license revoked. Astor responded by buying another adjacent mansion, to keep the license. Anonymous stories began to appear in local papers smearing the hotel's service. The hotel's reputation, however, was bolstered in December by the visit of Prince Fushimi Sadanaru, head of the Fushimi-no-miya shinnōke branch of the Japanese Imperial Family. The visit was given extensive press coverage, as was a dinner dance a few days later in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt's niece Corinne Robinson, which was attended by the President's daughter Alice Roosevelt. The following year, the conflict was resolved when friends of Astor's in the New York Senate passed an amendment to the liquor law, specifically exempting all hotels over 200 rooms, including the St. Regis.
Eight years after the hotel opened, John Jacob Astor died in the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic and his son Vincent Astor inherited the hotel. Prohibition hit Vincent's hotel holdings hard. He closed his father's nearby Knickerbocker Hotel, converting it to an office building in 1920. Vincent sold the St. Regis to Benjamin Newton Duke's Durham Realty Corporation in February 1927. Within months, the Dukes added a new wing designed by Sloan & Robertson to the hotel on the east end, along 55th St. The wing nearly doubled the size of the hotel to 550 rooms, added a rooftop ballroom/nightclub, and increased the height to 20 stories.
In 1934, in the depths of the Great Depression, Vincent Astor foreclosed on the hotel's $5 million mortgage, and in May 1935, after a lengthy court battle, Vincent bought the hotel back from Mary Duke Biddle for $300,000, and set about remodeling it and restoring its reputation as New York's most elegant hotel.
Vincent Astor died in 1959 and the following year the hotel's operating lease was sold by Webb & Knapp, Inc. to Mexican hotel mogul Cesar Balsa. Balsa bought the hotel's leasehold from the Kratter Corporation in 1963. Finally, on November 20, 1964, Balsa bought the building itself and the land under it from the Franchard Corporation for $6 million, bringing his total investment in the hotel to $9 million. Balsa outbid two other buyers who both wanted to demolish the hotel and replace it with an office building. The hotel was named a New York landmark in 1965. Sheraton Hotels purchased The St. Regis from Balsa in February 1966, renaming it The St. Regis-Sheraton. ITT Sheraton completely remodeled the hotel in 1977 and then closed it in 1988 for an even more thorough restoration. The hotel reopened in September 1991 as The St. Regis again, transformed at a cost of over $100 million into one of the most luxurious hotels in the world.
Flagship of two new brands
On January 13, 1992, ITT Sheraton designated 28 of its premier hotels as the ITT Sheraton Luxury Collection, with The St Regis as the division's flagship.
Starwood Hotels bought Sheraton from ITT in 1998 and soon after decided to use the St. Regis name to launch a new brand of hotels. The St. Regis was made the flagship of a new line of St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, ultra-luxury establishments in major cities and resort destinations around the globe. At this time, the original hotel's name was changed slightly to The St. Regis New York, to differentiate it from the numerous other St. Regis Hotels in the new chain.
The hotel's eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh floors were converted to The St. Regis Residences in 2006. The residences consist of 24 full-ownership condominiums and 24 "fractional" ownership timeshare condominiums, a part of "The Residence Club."
The entire hotel was renovated in 2013 at a cost of $90 million. The work, designed by HDC Design and Stone Hill Taylor Architects, involved the gut renovation of all hotel rooms and most public spaces, and added a new restaurant and gym.
In 2014, the retail portion of the hotel, facing Fifth Avenue, which includes the adjoining townhouse that Astor bought in 1904 to keep the hotel's liquor license, was sold to Vornado Realty Trust for $700 million.
In May 2016, it was reported that Starwood was in talks with the Qatar Investment Authority to sell The St Regis New York and The St. Regis San Francisco for up to $1 billion. In the end, the Qataris only bought the San Francisco property in December 2016, for $175 million.
The hotel has always had a number of permanent residents, as well as guests. The artist Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala lived at the hotel every fall and winter from 1966 to 1973. William Paley and his wife Babe maintained an apartment there, as did Marlene Dietrich. In Donald Spoto's biography of Alfred Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius, he states that Hitchcock stayed in "his favorite" 5th floor suite at least a dozen times. John Lennon recorded a demo of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" in his room. Nikola Tesla resided at the hotel in 1922.
King Cole Bar
In 1932, the iconic "Old King Cole" painting by Maxfield Parrish, originally created for the Knickerbocker Hotel, and displayed at the Racquet and Tennis Club on Park Avenue since the hotel's closure, was moved to the St. Regis. The painting was made the centerpiece of a new bar which opened in 1948, the King Cole Bar, which has remained a New York institution ever since.
In 1934 (the year after Prohibition ended), bartender Fernand Petiot invented a drink at the St. Regis which he called the "Red Snapper". It has since become known around the world as the Bloody Mary and is the King Cole Bar's signature drink.
In popular culture
In the 1977 Broadway musical Annie, the character Lily St. Regis claims to be named after the hotel, to which the orphanage headmistress Miss Hannigan replies: "Which floor?"
Main entrance to The St. Regis on E. 55th St.
The narrow Fifth Avenue face of The St. Regis
Banquet in honor of Arturo Toscanini at The St. Regis, 1908
Cesar Balsa at The St. Regis after purchasing the hotel, c. 1960s
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