A Ri­val to Europe’s Finest

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In the early 1900s, As­tor was a co-owner of the Wal­dorf As­to­ria with his cousin, but had a vi­sion to cre­ate an even more lux­u­ri­ous and modern ho­tel. This was to ri­val Europe’s finest, a lav­ish ur­ban haven for his fam­ily and friends, “as con­ve­nient and as lux­u­ri­ous as the most ex­pen­sive pri­vate house in the city.” The guest rooms and suites still have a res­i­den­tial aes­thetic and time­less al­lure. The con­struc­tion of As­tor’s new ho­tel was marred in con­tro­versy. Fifth Av­enue and 55th Street was mainly res­i­den­tial, and in 1901 As­tor did the un­think­able at the time, buy­ing and de­mol­ish­ing man­sions to make way for his ho­tel. The neigh­bours along Fifth Av­enue, in­clud­ing the Van­der­bilts, ve­he­mently ob­jected to what would be an 18-storey sky­scraper in their rar­efied midst. Con­struc­tion was halted within a year, when wooden fur­nish­ings were deemed to be not fire­proofed; As­tor over­came this, only for the neigh­bors to claim the blast­ing for the ho­tel’s foun­da­tions rat­tled win­dow­panes of their man­sions. A judge over­turned their in­junc­tion. Not to be de­feated, the neigh­bours cited laws that a ho­tel with a liquor li­cence must be more than 200 feet from a church – the ho­tel is op­po­site the Fifth Av­enue Pres­by­te­rian Church. As­tor over­came this by sim­ply mov­ing the en­trance of the ho­tel to 55th Street.

The Epi­cen­ter of Man­hat­tan So­cial Life

The St. Regis New York opened on Septem­ber 4, 1904, and soon be­came the epi­cen­ter of Man­hat­tan so­cial life, and the head­quar­ters for the orig­i­nal ‘As­tor 400’, the über-elite so­cial group presided over by As­tor’s mother, Caro­line. As­tor was per­suaded by his niece to name the ho­tel af­ter two lakes in north­ern New York state, which were named af­ter a 17th cen­tury French Je­suit evan­ge­list and preacher, Jean-François Régis. Lit­er­ally no ex­pense was spared on the lav­ish Beaux-Arts styled ho­tel – a stag­ger­ing $5.5 mil­lion, with mar­ble floors, an­tique ta­pes­tries, ori­en­tal rugs, crys­tal Water­ford chan­de­liers, Louis XV fur­ni­ture, and a li­brary of 3,000 leather-bound, gold-tooled books from As­tor’s pri­vate col­lec­tion. The ho­tel was her­alded at the time as “the most richly fur­nished and op­u­lent ho­tel in the world”.

A Thor­oughly Modern Vi­sion

We im­mersed our­selves in the splen­dour of the famed Gilded Age dur­ing an en­light­en­ing his­tor­i­cal tour of the ho­tel by Ms. Ilona Manka, Di­rec­tor of Res­i­den­tial Ser­vices, who is very pas­sion­ate about the ho­tel’s sto­ried his­tory. When you are in res­i­dence, or vis­it­ing The St. Regis New York, make sure you take the time to see the His­tor­i­cal Av­enue on the lower ground floor, a fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of ar­ti­facts, mem­o­ra­bilia and pho­to­graphs. Ms. Manka ex­plained how As­tor’s vi­sion for The St. Regis New York to be a thor­oughly modern prop­erty was re­al­ized. As­tor in­cluded tele­phones in ev­ery room, a fire alarm sys­tem, cen­tral heat­ing and cen­tral vac­uum sys­tem, where the maids could sim­ply plug the vac­uum cleaner hose di­rectly into wall sock­ets lo­cated through­out the ho­tel. (One of the sock­ets has been kept for pos­ter­ity.) There was also a mail chute on ev­ery floor; the orig­i­nal or­nate mail­box still has pride of place in the lobby, com­plete with U.S. fed­eral ea­gle mo­tif. As­tor’s most rev­o­lu­tion­ary in­no­va­tion was a $300,000 air ven­ti­la­tion and pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tem, where guests could con­trol the tem­per­a­ture in each room, and air could cir­cu­late in­ter­nally, even with win­dows and doors closed – pre­dat­ing air-con­di­tion­ing. The sys­tem re­moved a bar­rel of dust a day, and in keep­ing with the lux­ury of The St. Regis, the stairs lead­ing down to the fil­tra­tion room were mar­ble. Ob­vi­ously.


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