Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 239: The Algonquin Hotel, NY (1902)

Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 239: Hotel History: The Algonquin Hotel, NY (1902)

Stanley Turkel | November 03, 2020

by Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Hotel History: The Algonquin Hotel (181 rooms)

The Algonquin Hotel was originally planned as an apartment hotel with the idea of renting unfurnished rooms and suites on yearly leases to permanent tenants. When few leases sold, the owner decided to turn it into a transient hotel, which he was going to name “The Puritan”. Frank Case, the first general manager, objected and told the owner “it… contradicts the spirit of innkeeping. It is cold, forbidding and grim. I don’t like it.” When the owner replied, “You think yourself so smart, suppose you find a better name,” Case went to the public library to find out who were the first and strongest people in this neighborhood. He stumbled on the Algonquins, liked the word, liked the way it fit the mouth, and prevailed upon the boss to accept it.

The Algonquin Hotel was designed by architect Goldwin Starrett with 181 rooms. General Manager Frank Case assumed the lease in 1907 and then bought the hotel in 1927. Case remained owner and manager until his death in 1946.

The famous Algonquin Round Table was initiated by General Manager Case with a group of New York City actors, journalists, publicists, critics and writers who met daily at lunch starting in June 1919. They met for the better part of ten years in the Pergola Room (now called the Oak Room). Charter members included Franklin P. Adams, columnist; Robert Benchley, humorist and actor; Heywood Broun, columnist and sportswriter; Marc Connelly, playwright; George S. Kaufman, playwright and director; Dorothy Parker, poet and screenwriter; Harold Ross, editor of the New Yorker; Robert Sherwood, author and playwright; John Peter Toohey, publicist; and Alexander Woollcott, critic and journalist. By 1930, the original Round Table members had scattered, but the so-called “Vicious Circle” remained alive in the mellow and pleasant memory. When asked what became of the Round Table, Frank Case would answer “What became of the reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street? These things do not last forever. The Round Table lasted longer than any other unorganized gathering that I know of.” Case continued. “I know of no other (group) where the percentage of success was so high. There was scarcely a man among them who failed to place his name high in the field in which he worked, and while perhaps I was rather casual, taking the whole thing for granted, I wasn’t stupid enough not to realize that it was a definite asset to the hotel in a business way, and a constant personal delight to me to be sure of good company every day. That, I think, is one of the pleasantest aspects of hotel keeping especially if your hotel be small; the good companions, good talk, and general gaiety of life. You don’t even have to make any effort; it is delivered fresh every day, charges prepaid.”

In October 1946, Ben and Mary Bodne of Charleston, SC, bought the Algonquin for just over $1 million. They had fallen in love with the hotel on their honeymoon. During their stay, they spotted Will Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Sinclair Lewis, Eddie Cantor and Beatrice Lily. For the former Mary Mazo (Bodne), the Algonquin was the final address in an odyssey that began in Odessa, Ukraine, where she was the second child in a large Jewish family that fled the pogroms when she was an infant. The Mazo family emigrated to Charleston, where her father Elihu opened the city’s first Jewish delicatessen. When George Gershwin and Du Bose Heyward were working on “Porgy and Bess, they were frequent customers. They would also discuss the creation of the show at dinners in the Mazo family home. Decades later, the Mazo tradition of hospitality would continue at the Algonquin. Mary Bodne cooked chicken soup for an ailing Laurence Olivier, and she babysat for Simone Signoret, who called her “one of my three truest friends.”

The Bodnes played host to a new generation of literary and show business celebrities – like the writer John Henry Falk, when he was blacklisted and exiled from Hollywood. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe made so much noise working on a new musical that other guests complained: the show was the hugely successful “My Fair Lady.”

Mr. Bodne, who died in 1992, said that he would sell the Algonquin when it needed self-service elevators. He sold it in 1987 to Aoki Corporation, the Brazilian subsidiary of a Japanese corporation which installed self-service elevators in 1991. In 1997, Aoki sold the hotel to the Camberley Hotel Company which embarked on a $4 million renovation. The company’s British-born president, Ian Lloyd-Jones, hired interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud to update the public spaces without destroying the feeling and character of the historic Algonquin.

In 2002, Miller Global Properties bought the hotel and hired Destination Hotels and Resorts to manage and update its operation. For example, they installed a cutting-edge computerized check-in database that instantly retrieves the personal preferences for arriving guests. Following a $3 million renovation, the hotel was sold again in 2005 to HEI Hotels & Resorts, owner and operator of 25 other full-service properties. HEI embarked on a $4.5 million renovation to upgrade the lobby, the Oak Room restaurant and cabaret, the Blue Bar, the renowned Round Table Room and all suites and guestrooms.

The Algonquin was designated a New York City Historic Landmark in 1987 and National Literary landmark by the Friends of Libraries USA in 1996. The Algonquin historic guest list is a Who’s Who in world culture; Irving Berlin, Charlie Chaplin, William Faulkner, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Laughton, Maya Angelou, Angela Lansbury, Harpo Marx, Brendan Behan, Noel Coward, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Irons, Tom Stoppard, among many others.

More recently, the hotel’s Oak Room has featured Harry Connick, Jr., Andrea, Marcovicci, Diana Krall, Peter Cinotti, Michael Feinstein, Jane Monheit, Steve Ross, Sandy Stewart and Bill Charlap, Barbara Carroll, Maude Maggart, Karen Akers, among others.

When Frank Case, the first General Manager (and later owner) of the Algonquin wrote his memoir. “Tales of a Wayward Inn” in 1938, he asked 30 regular guests to write their recollections. The more famous were Jack Barrymore, Rex Beach, Louis Bromfield, Irvin S. Cobb, Edna Ferber, Fannie Hurst, H. L. Mencken, Robert Nathan, Frank Sullivan, Louis Untermayer, Henrik Willen Van Loon. However, Frank Case’s wife Bertha had the last word, She wrote,

October 10, 1938

Dear Frankie,

The general tone of the letter to you from friends is scarcely what one might call a knock; in fact while reading them I think of the funeral where the friends of the deceased spoke so glowingly, so fulsomely, of the deceased that the (widow) seated among the mourners, leaned over to her young son, saying, “Tommy, run up now, take a peek and see if that is your father in the box.”

On September 21, 2010, the Algonquin Hotel announced its affiliation with the Autograph Collection, a Marriott Hotel Collection.

My New Book “Hotel Mavens Volume 3: Bob and Larry Tisch, Curt Strand, Ralph Hitz, Cesar Ritz, Raymond Orteig” has been published.

My Other Published Hotel Books

  • Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2009)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York (2011)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (2013)
  • Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt, Oscar of the Waldorf (2014)
  • Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2016)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels West of the Mississippi (2017)
  • Hotel Mavens Volume 2: Henry Morrison Flagler, Henry Bradley Plant, Carl Graham Fisher (2018)
  • Great American Hotel Architects Volume I (2019)
  • Hotel Mavens: Volume 3: Bob and Larry Tisch, Ralph Hitz, Cesar Ritz, Curt Strand

All of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com and clicking on the book’s title.

If You Need an Expert Witness:

For the past twenty-seven years, I have served as an expert witness in more than 42 hotel-related cases. My extensive hotel operating experience is beneficial in cases involving:

  • slip and fall accidents
  • wrongful deaths
  • fire and carbon monoxide injuries
  • hotel security issues
  • dram shop requirements
  • hurricane damage and/or business interruption cases

Feel free to call me at no charge on 917-628-8549 to discuss any hotel-related expert witness assignment.

ABOUT STANLEY TURKEL

Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and the 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of hotel history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion and a greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.

Turkel is the most widely published hotel consultant in the United States. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases, provides asset management and hotel franchising consultation. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

stanturkel@aol.com/917-628-8549

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Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 238: The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco

Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 238: Hotel History: The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco

Stanley Turkel | October 13, 2020

https://www.hotel-online.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Fairmont-San-Francisco.jpg

by Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Hotel History: The Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, CA (592 rooms)

The luxurious Grande Dame atop Nob Hill in San Francisco was named after U.S. Senator James Graham Fair (1834-1894) by his daughters, Theresa Fair Oelrichs and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt. When the silver king James Fair purchased the site back in the late 1800s, his interest was to build the largest mansion in the neighborhood. However, when he died in 1894, the lot was still undeveloped until 1907 when his daughters commissioned the architectural and engineering firm of Reid & Reid to design a large hotel in Italian Renaissance style. The Reid brothers: James (1851-1943), Merrit (1855-1932) and Watson (1858-1944) designed a 600-room, seven story building made of gray granite, cream marble and terracotta stone. Before the new hotel could open, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire gutted the structure. New owners Herbert and Hartland Law, makers of a popular patent medicine, undertook the major effort to rebuild the Fairmont. They hired Stanford White of the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Unfortunately, White was involved in a love triangle and was shot and killed by multimillionaire Harry Thaw. The Law brothers then hired local architect Julia Morgan, the first woman graduate of the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris (and the genius behind the grandiose Hearst Castle). One year later, on April 18, 1907, the Fairmont Hotel opened and in 1908, Theresa Fair Oelrichs reacquired the restored hotel. The Fairmont quickly became San Francisco’s most famous hotel attracting families for long stays of two to three months. The Fairmont provided a thoroughly-equipped school featuring music, dance, art and a complete curriculum of subject matter. In 1926, the eighth floor was added including the 6,000 square foot Penthouse Suite.

By 1917, D.M. Linnard assumed the management and in 1924 bought the controlling interest from the Oelrichs family. In 1929, he sold the Fairmont to George Smith, a mining engineer who had just completed the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Smith undertook a major renovation and installed an indoor pool, the Fairmont Plunge.

For eleven weeks in 1945, the Fairmont was the Capital of the World hosting delegates from more than forty nations representing eighty percent of the world’s population to write the United Nations Charter. On June 26, 1945, President Harry Truman signed the new Charter. At about the same time, financier and philanthropist Benjamin Swig purchased fifty-four percent of the Fairmont for $2 million which he described as follows: “When I bought the hotel, it was obsolete. It was more of an apartment house for the extremely rich, many of whom were characters in the true sense of the word. It was rundown and neglected. The plumbing was bursting – we had ten to fifteen leaks a day – there was no carpet on the floor and the whole thing was just an old ladies home.”

Swig quickly learned that the Plunge pool was not a money maker. He decided to convert it into a restaurant and bar called the S.S. Tonga after Mel Melvin, MGM’s leading set designer found an old four-masted schooner by that name rotting in the mud near Martinez. Guests were soon dining on Chinese food, enjoying exotic drinks on the schooner’s deck, gazing into the blue water of the former Plunge now featuring a floating stage for the orchestra in the Tonga Room. The ambiance was heightened by staged tropical storms, complete with lightning and misty rain falling from concealed sprinklers. Swig hired Dorothy Draper, the famous decorator, to transform the lobby and the public areas. The million dollar modernization program was completed in 1950. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that almost six miles of fabric and three miles of carpeting had been used in the renovation. One critic raved that Draper had “captured the spirit of the past, the romantic glamour of the Champagne days, the traditions of the city blended with the modern.” She added the “Draper Touch” to the Venetian Room Supper Club which opened in 1947 with 400 seats. It attracted top-flight entertainers like Ethel Waters, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Tina Turner, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Red Skelton, James Brown, Judy Collins, Tony Bennett (who sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” for the first time here in 1962) and the Ernie Heckscher Band that played for 36 years.

In 1961, Ben Swig built an adjoining 23-story tower with the Crown Room on the top floor and a glass elevator on the outside of the tower with the best views of the city. He also added the Merry-Go-Round Bar to the famous Cirque Lounge with its wild animals murals and wrap-around bar designed by Art Deco architect Tim Pflueger in 1933.

The famous 1983 television series “Hotel” based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Hailey was filmed in the lobby of the Fairmont for the fictional “St. Gregory Hotel.”

The Swig family sold the hotel in 1994 to Maritz, Wolffe & Co. and Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talel who operated 94 hotels worldwide under the Raffles, Fairmont and Swissotel brands. In 2012, Oaktree Capital Management and Woodridge Capital Partners acquired the Fairmont San Francisco for $200 million after Maritz, Wolffe & Co. failed to win permission to convert part of the property into residences.

In 2009, it was reported that the Fairmont’s Tonga Room, the venerable tiki bar, which opened in 1945, might be demolished to make room for a condo conversion in an adjacent tower. The New York Times reported on April 3, 2009 that “… San Franciscans have rallied around the Tonga Room. They’ve written letters, signed petitions and defiantly consumed more than their fair share of deep-dish drinks in this temple of tropical kitsch at the top of Nob Hill….one of the finest examples of faux Polynesian paradise around.” As of May, 2016, the Tonga Room has enjoyed a resurgence and there’s been no decision as to its ultimate fate.

In 2015, Oaktree and Woodridge sold the Fairmont San Francisco for $450 million to affiliated companies of Mirae Asset Global Investments, a large financial services company based in Seoul, South Korea. Since 2011, the firm has acquired commercial real estate properties valued over $8 billion including the 317-room  Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, the 531-room Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, the 540-room Fairmont Orchid Hotel and the 282-room Courtyard by Marriott Seoul Pangyo.

The Fairmont San Francisco was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 17, 2002.  It is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

My New Book “Hotel Mavens Volume 3: Bob and Larry Tisch, Curt Strand, Ralph Hitz, Cesar Ritz, Raymond Orteig” has been published.

My Other Published Hotel Books

  • Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2009)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York (2011)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (2013)
  • Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt, Oscar of the Waldorf (2014)
  • Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry (2016)
  • Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels West of the Mississippi (2017)
  • Hotel Mavens Volume 2: Henry Morrison Flagler, Henry Bradley Plant, Carl Graham Fisher (2018)
  • Great American Hotel Architects Volume I (2019)
  • Hotel Mavens: Volume 3: Bob and Larry Tisch, Ralph Hitz, Cesar Ritz, Curt Strand

All of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com and clicking on the book’s title.

ABOUT STANLEY TURKEL

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Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and the 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of hotel history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion and a greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.

Turkel is the most widely-published hotel consultant in the United States. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases, provides asset management and hotel franchising consultation. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

stanturkel@aol.com/917-628-8549

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