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, Messrs. Trowbridge & Livingston, the St. Regis at Fifty-fifth Street and Fifth Avenue stands as the monument.
At the outset it should be stated that no morbid desire for mere originality actuated the architectural designers of the St. Regis. In modern times architecture, so to say, has become specialized: every edifice affects a character of its own, and it is considered an evidence of taste and skill to have succeeded in clearly indicating the purport of a structure. This the designers of the St. Regis have accomplished in a building bold and picturesque, but beyond that everything is subordinated to the one idea of producing a desirable and comfortable abode. Nor was it considered appropriate to bestow any great amount of ornamentation on the exterior of the eighteen-story limestone structure - altliough the beautiful bronze Marquises are notable - the effect being one of mass and surface rather than of detail. A balcony on the level of the third floor, and courses of heavily rusticated masonry from the ground up to that level, give distinction and definition. The interior plan, however, provides every room of the hotel with ample air and light, and gives every room an outside view, opening, on its upper floors, on a clear vista of street, city and park. All rooms are of good size, the large ones measuring 19 by 20 feet, and each has its bathroom and abundant closet room.
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.
A new standard of excellence in accommodations is evident throughout the building, while in blending the utilitarian with the artistic features harmony is the principal impression sought. The structure, the equipment, the materials in which it is finished, the decorations, the furniture, the various provisions for light and air, all bear a part of the ensemble, and with all modesty it may be said that as an example of excellence the St. Regis need fear no comparison with any public or private building in this city, certainly not with any hotel the world over. To particularize the esthetic features is reserved until later in this article, but generally speaking it may be said that the style of the interior is that of Louis XV and XVI, which periods — as exemplified particularly at Versailles - are still the unrivaled examples of artistic quintessence. In minor respects the style was not followed with extreme rigor, the departure, so to say, being in a number of practical observations in keeping with the requirements and purposes of the building.
Dwelling first on the utilitarian features, Mr. Haan, fortunately, was of the opinion that the use of permanent materials warranted the entailed additional expense, and in consequence no structure has ever been erected which presents a more substantial reach towards the double aim of safety and cleanliness. In the most modest servant's pantry the finish could not be more substantial or serviceable.
Additional, for instance, to the wisely manifold and elaborate precautions of the authorities to protect the structure against fire - including metal sashes and window frames, and fire-proofed wood, - the management has done more than it was obliged to do. The corridor and main stairway, the door trims on all floors, halls, and bathrooms, are of marble, the floors where they are covered with carpet are of cement, the elevator doors, stair balustrades, and grilles are of bronze, and so throughout the house. Even the picture moldings, which do not usually receive specific attention, are of fire-proof wood. The materials used are such as to be safe and to endure, - irrelevantly they are also self-remunerative in obviating repairs of all kinds for years to come. To further dispel the last vestige of fear of fire, alarms are conveniently and conspicuously displayed throughout the building, and the employees are put through regular fire drills at frequent intervals. Direct electrical connection is made with the fire department of the district.
Cleanliness and safety were also the guiding principles in avoiding paint as far as possible, and in consequence the doors, base-boards, and the like are of mahogany, while the bathrooms (the most modest bedroom in the house has its bathroom) are tiled, and contain porcelain tubs, open quadruple-silver-plated plumbing, and a separate thermostat, the only exception being the bathroom in the state apartment suite, which is throughout of marble.
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 gives throughout the buiilding a supply of pure, fresh air, warmed or cooled as the weatlier may require. On every four or five stories 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 motors 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 device for sweeping is a pneumatic arrangement. Instead of operating a sweeper or broom, and later dusting with a cloth, which procedure to a large extent merely circulates the dust without removing it, the maid at the St. Regis attaches a small flexible pipe to an outlet found in every room or hall, connecting with a system of pipes leading to vacuum pumps. When she applies the nozzle of the pipe to furniture or wall, the dust and impurities are sucked down to the basement where they are properly disposed of. The question of plumbing is a vital one, and the most elaborate precautions have been used to ensure absolute purity in this respect.
All these arrangements for heat, light, filters, etc., necessarily require a most elaborate organization, an insight into which will give the fact that the chief engineer of the St. Regis has a staff of thirty-six men under him. Their presence, like that of the stoker on the steamship, is noticeable only in their absence. Below the earth's surface are two stories devoted to the maze of engines, boilers, dynamos, ice machines, etc., that are necessary to the operation of a hotel, and to the storage of the great stocks of food and wine. The machinery room is equipped with the latest machinery, and is considered in the scientific world far superior to anything yet constructed.
Decidedly to the utilitarian features of a hotel belong the kitchen and wine cellar, for, without proper facilities, the best of chefs is helpless, particularly at serving hour, where the demands of hundreds of people must be attended to simultaneously and with particular attention to each guest. Appreciating the importance, - for the St. Regis' motto is "The kitchen is the soul of the hotel; if the kitchen is wrong all is wrong," - a well arranged spacious apartment is provided, the floor being of marble, the walls and ceilings tiled, the counters of glass, and there is nothing perishable or anything that is hard to keep clean. There is a special place for every phase of the work; the fish cook, the soup cook, the roast cook, the pastry cook, each has his headquarters, and, generally speaking, the St. Regis kitchen has no duplicate in the world. "Fine workmen," says Mr. Haan, "must have fine tools." Each floor of the hotel contains a service pantry, equipped with dumb-waiters, and everything necessary to keep the food hot while serving dinner in a guest's room, if so be his pleasure, the order having been shot to the kitchen by a pneumatic tube with which every pantry is provided. Since the St. Regis makes a feature of catering also to permanent guests who will wish to entertain their friends at dinner, this is a great advantage.
And now let us in fancy enter the St. Regis by its heavy bronze doors, and take a superficial observation of the care and foresight spent on the endeavor to make the refined, comfort-loving American feel at home. Without exception it is the most aristocratically simple and noble of the many efforts to create tasteful elegance. The idea has long been common that sufficient evidence of taste is given by the adoption of certain beautiful objects, and we have been induced to accept a few common formulas as the expression of good taste. In truth, however, taste consists in the faculty to seize the fitting relation of things, and it is in this respect that the St. Regis stands preeminent. In the language addressed to the eye, the surroundings spell an invitation to the guest to make himself at home and be comfortable. The effect might be called eye music. "Taste," says Balzac, "is composed of two 'pieces maitresses,' whose juxtaposition is necessary for its constitution: a sensibility to the impression of the eye and ear, and a feeling of the esthetic conditions of every object."
The main entrance and the general office have been treated with much sobriety, and the effect is business-like and simple, yet handsome. There are two bronze revolving doors, one on each side of the office. One of these entrances is opposite the door leading into the tea room, the other opposite the door leading into the cafe. The eye is instantly attracted by a heavy Kurdish rug, a masterpiece of its kind, and where the floor is not covered it is seen to be of Irish marble, laid in an elaborate pattern. There is a dado of light brown shaded marble, which stops about three feet from the floor, and above, the walls are finished in real Caen stone, which, because of its warm color and pleasant surface, is most desirable for interior finish. Every piece of metal, electrolier, balustrade, whatever it may be, here or elsewhere, throughout the house, is a separate, individual work of art. An immense safe, in which are specially arranged steel safety boxes for the protection of the guests' valuables, is also noticeable, and right here it should be mentioned that in addition to the latest modern appliances for scientific comfort, the older utilitarian features, such as mail chutes, telephones in every room, etc., have been provided throughout the hotel.
To the right, on the Fifth Avenue frontage, is the main dining-room, perhaps the most sumptuous apartment in the building, but the splendor of effect is well studied and the sin of decorative excess is not in evidence.
The walls are lined with marble, and the south wall carries a large mirror. The ceiling is domed, wrought into an elaborate pattern, and gilded soberly, yet not dull or colorless. Add to this a cheerful red carpet, bright crystal electroliers, chairs upholstered in red silk brocade, and the festive appearance is complete, without a discordant note. Each detail keeps its place by a consistently realized general design, and the effect of the whole, while gay, as it should be, is free from bizarreriees. In this connection it should be stated that the china and glass service at the St. Regis is unrivaled. The tableware is all from the Royal Worcester and Minton factories, especially designed, and a departure is the introduction of a service plate which is a reproduction of one of the most famous Royal Sevres. The quality of the spotless linen used throughout is unimpeachable. The silverware of special design is greatly admired. To repeat an earlier statement, the St. Regis considers the cuisine and dining facilities one of the most important factors of a first-class hotel, and the most fastidious attention is given to all the details of kitchen and cellar, the vaults being replete with a large selection ranging from the every-day claret to the choicest vintages. Competent musicians perform during dining hours. It is no exaggeration to say that the St. Regis cuisine is one of the epicurean features of New York for luncheon and dinner as well as for the after-theater supper, the prices being those standard at all first-class hotels.
Connecting with the dining-room is the tea room, which occupies the floor of the court of the hotel and is consequently lighted from above by stained glass. The creamy Caen stone above the Istrian marble dado on one side is reflected in a line of great mirrors on the other. Overhead is a series of lunettes, painted by Mr. Robert Van Vorst Sewell. They tell the story of Cupid and Psyche and harmonize excellently with the color scheme of the room. A distinct air of coziness pervades the tea room with its small tables and comfortable chairs.
The cafe adjoining the tea tea room is a liight apartmrnt paneled throughout in quartered English oak and has an intimate air. The style is Elizabethan. Here are hung three of the series of four notable sixteenth century Flemish tapestries depicting incidents in the life of Solomon. They were woven by Van Zeunen of Brussels, and procured from a church in Cremona, where they had hung for a couple of centuries. The fourth is in the white ball room above.
To the left as you enter fiom Fifty-fifth Street is also a cozy waiting room, and in the corridor is a well appointed news stand where the latest periodicals and fiction may be found.
Ascending to the next floor either by one of the four elevators or by the marble stairway with its attractive electrolier, we find the whole Fifty-fifth Street side given over to a series of public apartments, grading from the magnificent banquet hall down to a series of reception and sitting rooms, which may be used either in connection with entertainments given in the banqueting hall or separately. They play a large part in the fashionable entertainments given by New York society. Like the restaurant below the walls of the banqueting hall, which is also the ball room, are paneled in fine Blanco P. marble, separated by pilasters crowned with capitals of bronze. The marble used is dull white which takes its place more modestly than the other kind. Rich yellow and white Venetian damask hangings relieve the marble, and at a dance or dinner, when the heavy crystal electroliers shed their mellow light and the variegated costumes of the ladies contribute to the ensemble, the effect is most artistic and fairy like.
One of the reception rooms is a very handsome and original apartment, paneled throughout in Circassian walnut, the panels being worked into patterns and gilded; the other is in whiite mahogany with panels of silk that took prizes at the Paris Exposition.
Connecting is the library with well stocked book shelves. The soft, heavy rugs on the floor, the polished bookcases, the comfortable chairs and the rich curtains make an attractive retreat. Another reception room, finished in light gray and of Louis XVI design, contains a set of Aubusson tapestries, illustrating La Fontaine's fables, a replica of that at the Trianon.
In these three rooms one notices agreeably the precious collection of antique and modern furniture, hangings, bric-a-brac and general art objects with which the St. Regis is so generously supplied and which help to give that spirit of esthetic refinement that is so characteristically present in the home of a man of taste and culture and so necessary to his complete comfort. Heretofore hotels have given little attention to such matters; ornate as have been their public rooms, the effect always was a bit monotonous, commercial, and chilling in its austerity. The St. Regis, however, brightens each room wiith some special and individual touch, putting itself in the position of a host, endeavoring to make his guest feel at home. Every one of the hundreds of ornaments scattered about the different floors was selected on its own particular merit and fitness, and to that end Mr. Haan spent years of search in the art centers of Europe. Furniture or hangings have been either specially designed or selected for the places they occupy, and in the three rooms referred to as well as throughout the building the result of this foresight and taste is agreeably evident. There is no confusion, no contradiction of colors; here again each detail keeps its place by a consistently realized general arrangement. Here it is a tapestry that the visitor admires; there an old crimson velvet altar cloth, a Royal Dresden vase; again, perchance, it is the marble mantelpiece in the reception-room, that attracts him. Suffice that while the rooms constitute a unity of effect each one is designed for the special purpose it is to fulfil. The architect, the artisan, the decorator, and the guiding artistic spirit have clearly gone hand in hand, and the value of this cooperation is evident in the general excellence, whether in the banquet hall or in the smallest bedroom. No public nor private building has claim to a higher standard in this respect. Nowhere can the charge be made of over ostentation or that for one instant comfort was made to yield to display.
After the social halls, no feature of the St. Regis is so interesting as the State apartment, which is situated on the third floor of the building. With perfect frankness, the acme of luxury, consistent with refinement and comfort, was the result aimed at it being desirable to produce a suite where the city might entertain an honored guest or where the ordinary gourmet of comfort would find quarters unrivaled in standard of excellence the world over. The apartment consists of two bedrooms, dining-room, reception-room, salon and bathroom. The salon is in pure Louis XVI style, with carved woodwork of an exquisite French gray, ivory white in the high lights, the walls paneled in cherry brocade, especially woven for the St. Regis. The furniture is a set of antique Aubusson, with flower decorations, and is considered unique.
Connecting with the salon is the library of the suite, with panels of green damask and woodwork of French walnut. The dining-room is a masterpiece of ornamental simplicity, in its carvings of American oak and specially designed chairs upholstered in cut velvet brocade. The two bedrooms are on either side of the marble bathroom. The room intended for "my lady" naturally is the more sumptuous, the color scheme being of delicate shades of blue in brocaded tapestry harmonizing with the ormolu-mounted tulip wood of which the bed and the rest of the furniture in the room are made. The other bedroom is keyed in old rose, the wood employed being Circassian walnut. The furniture in these bedrooms, as well as most of that on the second floor, is from the famous firm of Jansen of Paris.
The fifteen floors above the third are devoted to guests' living-rooms and are divided into single rooms with bath, and into suites. There are eighty salons in the house, each containing luxurious couches and chairs, each piece designed to be attractive and festive in appearance, as well as comfortable, harmonious, and substantial. The furniture and hangings for them have largely been especially designed, and are mostly of American make. Many of the suites contain a Steinway piano and a well filled case of bric-a-brac, with here a piece of Royal Dresden or Sevres, there a cloisonne vase on silver or gold, a Pompeiian vessel, a Japanese carving, etc. The walls of the salons are covered with fabrics, but in bedrooms where paper is used the quality is of the best. In the halls and rooms, unostentatiously placed, are works of art, be they bronzes by Barye, from the famous Barbedienne foundry, old Roman lamps transformed into modern electroliers, or what not. Conspicuous are the numerous old rare French prints, in especially designed hand-made gilt frames. The equipment of every room also includes a magnetic clock, in mercury gilt cases, careful arrangements having been made to regulate these time-pieces from the office of the chief engineer, in which the master clock is situated. Correct time is furnished from the Western Union every day. The most modest bedroom in the St. Regis is planned to make the guest comfortable; a good bed, neat furniture, ample closet room, connecting bathroom and toilet, and a few signed etchings on the walls being regarded as essential. It may be added that one hundred of the original Boydell engravings illustrating Shakespeare are distributed through the house. The rarity of these pictures will appeal strongly to the connoisseur. All the furniture is of the best style of the cabinet-maker's art, and appropriate draperies are at the windows.
In a hotel like the St. Regis the domestic organization naturally plays an important part; no untrained servant is allowed to learn at the expense of the guests; be it chambermaid, waiter, or porter, the domestics are selected with special care, assuring complete satisfaction.
If the St. Regis shows anything, it shows the great advance within the past few years towards hotel life. Americans live in hotels, not literally, of course, but among no people in the world is hotel life so general as here, - for one reason because Americans of all classes are great travelers; for another, because, as already mentioned, we find it necessary or convenient to close our houses for a day or a month, or simply dine at a hotel as a matter of preference. To meet these various conditions the St. Regis has been carefully equipped on the broad principle of furnishing the best at a fair reckoning. Not even the wealthiest desires to be overcharged, and there are accommodations open to the transient and permanent guest of the St. Regis at rates ranging upwards from five dollars a day for room and bath. An important feature is also made of the restaurant, aiming as it does to supply the epicure with the greatest delicacies of food and wine, to furnish the most sumptuous banquet, or merely to cater to the democratic palate with a tastefully prepared cuisine at standard rates. To sum up in a few words, the management of the Hotel St. Regis provides, in a hotel, all of the comforts and conveniences as well as the quiet and seclusion that a gentleman with a family would expect in his own home, or which would be theirs were they the guests of others.Hotel St. Regis, Fiifth Avenue and Fifty-Fiflh Street, New York; Copyright, the St. Regis Hotel Co., Printed by The Grafton Press, New York. 1905 -- From original text, may contain overlooked ocr errors.