The Waldorf-Astoria: hyphenated hotel and a family scandal

Most family scandals don’t result in hotel construction. However, the famed Waldorf-Astoria owes its existence to the Astor family quarrel. The Astor fortune was divided between two branches of the Astor family headed by the two grandsons of the dynasty founder – John Jacob Astor III and William Backhouse Astor, Jr. Each of them had…

The Knickerbocker – a Hotel and a Dry Martini

There are West Coast and East Coast versions of the origins of a martini cocktail. The West Coast stories usually feature a rough character challenging a bartender to mix him a drink before venturing into the town of Martinez to look for gold, or an even rougher personage coming back from Martinez with a fortune…

The St. Regis or What do Napoleon, Dalí and Marilyn Monroe have in common?

Architects: Trowbridge and Livingston Built: 1904 Although there is seemingly nothing in common between Napoleon Buonaparte and the 17th-century French monk named Francis Regis, these names strangely come together in the story of the St. Regis Hotel in New York. Built in 1904 by John Jacob Astor IV as the most opulent hotel in the world, it…

The Plaza – Where Nothing Unimportant Ever Happens

  It was once said that “Nothing unimportant ever happens in the Plaza.” One of America’s finest and most celebrated luxury hotels, it has the distinction of being the one and only. There is only one Plaza. The Plaza, the most expensive hotel in the city’s history, opened amidst much fanfare on October 1, 1907, being…

Consuelo Vanderbilt – A Wedding on Fifth Avenue

The main American export of the Gilded Age was not the dry goods, not the elevators, not trains, not even technology… it was the American bride. Refined, educated, and groomed for every social situation, exquisitely dressed, beautiful and fantastically wealthy the American heiresses, joined in matrimony with the English aristocracy, formed a seemingly perfect union…

Alva Vanderbilt’s Party of the Century

March 26, 1883 “Petit Chateau” – 660 Fifth Ave @ 52nd Street When Alva Vanderbilt built a home, she built a castle, and when she threw a housewarming party, it was the party of the century. Alva Vanderbilt, the wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt (Commodore’s grandson), had a mission: to carve out her own rightful…

Alva Vanderbilt’s “Petit Chateau”

Completed 1882 Demolished in 1926 Architect Richard Morris Hunt 660 5th Ave at W 52nd Street If you found yourself back in the 1880s and were standing at the corner of West 52nd Street and Fifth Ave, you’d be in awe of the massive castle-like white limestone structure modestly referred to as “Petit Chateau.” The…

Vanderbilt’s 5th Ave Triple Palace

  Completed 1881 Demolished 1945 A stretch of Fifth Ave from 52nd to 58th street has the moniker of Vanderbilt Row. Although now mostly gone and forgotten, it was once upon a time lined with glorious mansions which belonged to the Vanderbilt family. Cornelius Vanderbilt, the dynasty founder, was crude, uneducated and pretty cruel to…

Audrey Munson – American Venus

  There are many rags to riches stories in the American experience, as well as the stories of falling from grace and losing fortunes. But out of all of them – hers was the most bizarre. Her name was Audrey Munson. The name was forgotten, but her likeness, cast in granite, bronze, and marble, is…

Owls in Manhattan

James Gordon Bennett Jr. was obsessed. His obsession was quite unusual – it was owls. Some of them, with flickering eyes, can be seen on Herald Square, guarding James Gordon Bennett Monument. Herald Square takes its name from the New York Herald, a newspaper founded by James Gordon Bennett Sr and inherited by Gordon Bennett…