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St. Regis New York

St. Regis New York
2 East 55th Street
New York, NY

Astor Court – most popular for its afternoon tea.
The St. Regis Hotel is an 18-story Beaux-Arts landmark which cost five and a half million dollars upon its opening in 1904 (room for room it was the most lavish outlay for any New York Hotel at that time). The architects were Trowbridge & Livingston, with interiors by Arnold Constable. Construction began in 1901 and the hotel opened on September 4, 1904. The price of a room was $5.00 per day. The press at that time described the St. Regis as “the most richly furnished and opulent hotel in the world.”

Trowbridge & Livingston also designed the Astor owned Knickerbocker Hotel at 42nd and Broadway which now is an office building and in 1935 the Art Deco Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Oregon.

Built by Col. John Jacob Astor IV of ill-fated Titanic fame, the St. Regis featured Louis XVI furniture from France, had 47 Steinway pianos, Waterford crystal chandeliers, soaring ceilings, a telephone in every room, marble baths and U.S. mail chutes on each floor. Before his untimely demise aboard the Titanic, Astor fulfilled his vision of creating a hotel where "gentlemen and their families could feel as comfortable as they would as guests in a private home".

As described by daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com the limestone hotel was festooned with garlands, balconies, French windows and decorative wrought iron railings. An elegant mansard roof, monumental console brackets, and an snaking copper cresting added to the Parisian air of the design of a building intended to hold court over “the Queen of Avenues.”

At the time Astor was one of the wealthiest men in America, and owned half of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel which then was located twenty blocks south on Fifth Avenue. Astor had bought the plat of land at 55th and Fifth Avenue to be the site for his new mansion but thought better to build a hotel. Astor’s great-grandfather, John Jacob Astor, also dabbled in hotels having built the Astor House in Lower Manhattan in 1836.

According to Wikipedia Astor named the new hotel, at the suggestion of his niece, after Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks. The lake had been named for a French monk, John Francis Regis, known for his hospitality to travelers, so the name seemed appropriate.

In 1910, Astor’s wife Ava was granted a divorce. John Jacob met his tragic death on the RMS Titanic in 1912 while returning from his honeymoon with his new bride, Madeleine Talmadge Force. Astor’s son Vincent Astor inherited the St. Regis and later sold it to North Carolina tobacco millionaire Benjamin Newton Duke but kept a $5 million mortgage on it.

In 1927, under Duke management a new wing designed by Sloan & Robertson extended the hotel down 55th Street with a compatible though less detailed limestone facade. The hotel now had 540 rooms and added a rooftop ballroom – The St. Regis Roof and the Salle Cathay (the main dining room), with its Chinese décor and illuminated mosaic panels. The Iridium Room Replaced the Salle Cathay and featured ice-skating. The Iridium decor was conceived by Anne Tiffany. The room was named for the costliest of precious metals, iridium. The Iridium later was converted to the King Cole Grille.

In the 30’s Joseph Urban designed the Seaglades nightclub, where Vincent Lopez’s orchesta played. An ad for The Seaglades in 1930 stated: "THE SEAGLADES . . . Vincent Lopez not playing Nola any longer in the most beautiful surroundings in New York. The famed Joseph Urban surpassed himself here. The clientele is typically Park Avenue, with a smatter ing of those who really like Vincent Lopez and those who come to see why it is they don’t really like him. Dress is obligatory. Plaza 4500. 224. Hotel St. Regis, 5th Avenue at 55th Street."

In 1935 Vincent Astor took back the St. Regis through a mortgage default (he maintained control of the hotel until his death in 1959). He appointed his brother-in-law Prince Sergbe Obolensky to the hotel’s executive board (Later Obolensky worked for Hilton Hotels Corporation as Vice President of International Development). He contracted with Anne Tiffany to redecorate the hotel and hired Joseph Castaybert (Culinary Man of Year in 1956) as the hotel’s executive chef. The Seaglades nightclub turned into the Maisonette Russe; it became one of the most popular supper-nightclubs in New York. The Roof was turned into the Viennese Roof. At one time, the Seaglades Nightclub in the St. Regis Hotel had a "Minuette" organ, built by the Estey Organ Company. The Maisonette had Peter Duchin and his orchestra playing through much of the 1960’s.

A 1936 color print of La Maisonette Russe at the Hotel St. Regis in New York City had this to say:
"Last year Vincent Astor acquired the St. Regis Hotel at Fifth and fifty-fifth, by mortgage forecloser. And last fall the St. Regis opened its Maisonette Russe, which was the idea of Mr. Astor’s friend and realty associate, Prince Serge Obolensky. A small and imperially draped retreat in the White Russian manner, it was blessd and vetted with holy water on opening night by Reverend Casily Kurdiumoff of the Russian Orthodox Church … Since then it has done a good business with people who enjoy a refined evening. The cover charge is $2 and for $3 the customer can have a dinner…"

Tipsontables.com reports:
"Since the middle ’30s the St. Regis’ most popular dining-and-dancing room has been one flight down from the lobby and has retained at least part of its name through several changes. For four years it was the veddy smart Maisonette Russe, with Prince Serge Obolensky and the cream of society lending their august presence to the gay scene. In 1939 it became the Hawaiian Maisonette for a shorter period than I should set down here. From then on it has been known as just the Maisonette."

Fernand Petiot a St. Regis Hotel bartender claims to have "invented" the Bloody Mary with his cocktail known as a Red Snapper which besides the vodka and tomato juice included salt, cayene pepper, lemon juice, and Tabasco sauce. Petiot worked at the St. Regis from 1934 until his retirement in 1966.

From a 1937 St Regis ad:
"When you come to New York for a week, a week-end or for the season…you will feel at home at the St. Regis. The rooms are so different from rooms in other hotels. For when Anne Tiffany was called in to decorate them she was asked to forget that the St. Regis is a hotel. Thus she planned room after room, as if each had been separately commissioned by different clients…and the result is rmarkable pleasing even to the casual visitor. Single rooms from $6 to $8 – James O. Stack, General Manager Hotel St. Regis"

When Vincent Astor died in 1959, Cesar Balsa, a Spanish-born Mexican hotel magnate took over ownership of the St. Regis. The former bell hop from Barcelona, Spain reportedly leased the St. Regis Hotel for two hundred years. At the time Balsa owned nine hotels in Mexico including the El President Hotels in Mexico City and Acapulco.

In August 1961 this is the script used in an ad for Balsa Hotels: "Distinction … In Mexico City and in Acapulco, as at the famed St. Regis of New York’s Fifth Avenue, an atmosphere of elegance and sophistication prevails and the traditional hospitality Mexico is yours to enjoy at BALSA HOTELS."

According to stregisnewyork.com The St. Regis underwent three more owners until 1966, when Sheraton Corporation of America purchased the hotel. The Sheraton Corporation closed the St. Regis-Sheraton in June 1988 – considering for awhile to convert the property to offices or condominiums. Five months following the closure New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declared the St. Regis-Sheraton an official city landmark, protecting the building’s exterior.

The Equitable Life Assurance Society has been a partner of Sheraton at the St. Regis since 1980 and it was unclear during the summer of 1988 which partner would prevail in the disposition of the hotel. HVS reported the 380-room St. Regis was sold in November 1988 by Equitable to the Sheraton Corporation for $130,000,000 ($342,105 per room). In that same year Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. acquired the Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, and The Luxury Collection brands from ITT Sheraton Corporation.

In November 1988 Sheraton announced plans to rebuild and restore the St. Regis as a transient hotel. The hotel’s room count would shrink to 380 from 437, a result of enlargening rooms. According to Robert W. Quinn, Sheraton’s vice president of advertising all major building systems, such as plumbing and electric, are to be replaced. The facade is to be cleaned and restored. Architects for the project are Brennan Beer Gorman Monk. The work may take up to a year and a half to finish and estimated to cost $50 million, the final tally was closer to $100 million.

Upon re-opening in 1991 the 87-year old hotel is expected to have a room rate of $450 according to Peter Tischmann, the vice president, managing director of the St. Regis. Tischman was quoted in the NY Times "Our rates are our rates, the St. Regis would never offer corporate discounts" and "No conventions". The hotel hired English butler Ivor Spencer, who runs a school for butlers in London, to train the maitres d’etage butlers who are assigned to each floor. At the grand opening Astor’s granddaughter, Jacqueline Astor Drexel, shared the ribbon-cutting with Mayor Dinkins.

There is a gourmet French restaurant, Lespinasse; the King Cole Bar and Lounge (Overseen by Gaspard Caloz, a young Swiss chef); and a tea lounge. There is a health club and, in addition to a the St. Regis Boutique, Bijan, Godiva, and Christian Dior set up shop in the building.

In early 1992, several of Tischmann’s subordinates in the Human Resources Department of the St. Regis complained that Tischmann had sexually harassed them. After investigation, Sheraton officials determined that Tischmann had violated the company’s sexual harassment policies. In March 1992, Sheraton terminated his employment. Tishchmann later worked for Leona Helmsley at the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York. Tischmann has also authored a book "The Challenges of Change" based on his hotel experience.

In 1999 Starwood launched its main luxury brand – St. Regis. It is named after the St. Regis Hotel in New York. The St. Regis was a Sheraton from 1966 on, and following a restoration from 1985-1991 was part of the ITT Sheraton Luxury division.

In 2003 Lespinasse, the St. Regis award—winning restaurant closed permanently. The decision was an economic one, according to French chef Christian Delouvrier. The restaurant debuted in 1991 under the direction of Singapore-born chef Gray Kunz.

In 2006 there are were four registered time share projects in Manhattan — the Manhattan Club, the Phillips Club, the Hilton and the St. Regis.

The St. Regis offered 24 full-ownership condos — studios and one- and two-bedrooms — starting at $1.6 million and not including an annual maintenance fee of $34,800. Also, the St. Regis offered "fractional" ownership condos, where buyers are guaranteed residency for 28 days, though not 28 days in a row and not guaranteed the same room. There are 22 of these "fractional" units, which will cost $300,000 to $600,000, for studios and one- and two-bedrooms suites. Annual fees are $16,000.

As of 2011 a fractional ownership condo at the St. Regis with 445 sq ft with one week guaranteed and 21 flexible days is offered at $225,000. The annual maintenance fee is $10,300.

Adour Alain Ducasse is the name of the new restaurant (formerly the Lespinasse), which opened at the beginning of 2008 in the St. Regis Hotel. The first Ducasse restaurant, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, opened in 2000, (patrons were offered a choice of pens with which to sign their check) and is closed. Adour is the name of a river near Ducasse’s hometown in France.

In 1998 Richard J. Cotter was appointed Managing Director of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, announced by Fred Kleisner, President COO-The Americas of the Hotel Group of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. He was Group Managing Director, North America, for The New York Palace and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Cotter succeeded Horatio (Rick) Segal who left the company after 22 years with Sheraton.

In April 2001, Herbert Pliessnig, former General Manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City was named General Manager of The St. Regis, New York He succeeded Richard Cotter, who has been appointed Vice President of Operations, Starwood Hotels of New York.

Scott Geraghty was named General Manager of The St. Regis Hotel in 2004. He came from the Essex House, where he worked as Hotel Manager for four years.

Paul Nash was named St. Regis General Manager in March 2009. Previously he was General Manager of The St. Regis Houston.

Compiled by Dick Johnson
November 2010

Posted by Dick Johnson NYC on 2011-09-17 12:40:49


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