A Rival to Europe’s Finest
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.
ST. REGIS LOBBY