The Astor House, New York City 1836

Astor House, built in 1836 on Broadway between Vesey and Barclay Streetsand shown here in 1913, was designed by Isaiah Rogers.    It  was considered New York’s finest lodging; Daniel Webster, The New York Times reported, “would stay at no other hotel.”  From http://www.nytimes.com

The exquisite 309-room Astor House Hotel was Abraham Lincoln’s hotel of choice when staying overnight in New York.  The Astor was an architectural structure of beauty, designed in the Greek-revival style by Isiah Rogers (who also designed the country’s first luxury hotel, The Tremont Hotel in Boston.)

Excerpts from New York Times article by CHRISTOPHER GRAY,September 24, 2009

“With a large central courtyard, the six-story Astor was like a doughnut, a plain one, practically unrelieved by decoration or detail. Only a small temple front on the Broadway side, with two Doric columns and a precisely carved anthemion crest, distinguished Astor’s 309-room project from a government storehouse.

That did not matter to The Hartford Courant, which in 1839 called it “No. 1 among the hotels of the world.” The earliest census returns are hard to decipher, but that for 1900 lists 120 employees living at the hotel, including 30 laundresses, 11 cooks and 10 pastry chefs.

The central courtyard was originally open, but in the 1850s was covered by a cast-iron and glass roof designed by James Bogardus, according to “Cast-Iron Architecture in America” by Margot Gayle and Carol Gayle (W. W. Norton, 1998).

At that time, the Astor was at its peak as a business hotel and the logical choice for Lincoln on Feb. 25, 1860, when he arrived to give his famous speech. Henry Clay, Jefferson Davis and other prominent politicians are said to have stayed there; in 1913 The New York Times reported that Daniel Webster “would stay at no other hotel.”

Elected president in 1860, Lincoln again stayed at the Astor House en route to his inauguration in 1861. But this time he stood on the Greek revival portico to address a crowd of several thousand.

In 1864 the Astor was one of several hotels set on fire by Confederate sympathizers. Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865; his funeral procession traveled down Broadway, past the hotel and back up Park Row, where his body lay in state at City Hall.

John Jacob Astor left the hotel to his son William B. Astor, who died in 1875. His estate, perhaps $80 million, was divided evenly between his sons William Astor and John Jacob Astor III. Thus the south half of the hotel went to John Jacob, the north to William.

Author Horatio Alger, Jr (1833-1899) often included references of the Astor House Hotel in his sensationalistic youth-oriented novels of fast times, bootblacks, peddlers and hard street life in New York City on the way to riches and obtaining the American Dream.

The New Yorker (June 4, 1836) describe the public rooms and the transient rooms as “all fitted up and furnished in a style of unostentatious richness and severe simplicity, the sofas, bureaus, tables and chairs, from basement to attic, being uniformly of a beautiful black walnut, while the floors are as regularly overlaid with superior oilcloth of various tasteful patterns.”

An English traveler (John Robert Godby, London 1844) marveled over the fact that the bell on the fourth floor was answered in two minutes, “The waiters are drilled like a regiment of soldiers. We had a most sumptuous dinner with ‘all the delicacies of the season’. What is more astonishing is that you are allowed to take your meals at any hour you please, without extra charge; yet for board, lodging and attendance the price is only two dollars a day. It is to me quite incomprehensible.”

(New York Times,  November 8, 1862):

The open central courtyard was covered by a cast-iron and glass roof designed by James Bogardus in the 1850s.

The reception breakfast given to the Forty-first Regiment, announced in the TIMES as likely to be an interesting affair, owing to the fact that Major-Gen. BANKS and Staff would be present, came off yesterday morning at the Astor House. The organization known as the “Sons of Massachusetts” had made every arrangement to celebrate the occasion handsomely, and the energetic agent of the “Old Bay State,” Col. FRANK E. HOWE, had put forth all his strength.

The officers of the fited regiment, the “Sons,” numbering about one hundred in all, and a large number of ladies and invited guests assembled, some time before noon in the eastern parlors of the hotel, whence they shortly afterwards marched arm-in-arm to the music of a fine band to the dining-hall, where an abundant repast, set forth forth in STETSON’s elegant style, awaited them.

The Astor House Hotel From Wikepedia:

The Astor House was originally built by John Jacob Astor, who assembled the building lots around his former house until he had purchased the full block in the heart of the city’s most fashionable residential district. The hotel opened in June 1836 as the Park Hotel. It was located on the west side of Broadway between Vesey and Barclay Streets, across from New York City Hall Park and diagonally across from the offices of the New York Herald. The building was designed by Isaiah Rogers, who had designed the first luxury hotel in the United States, the Tremont House, in Boston (1829). The large four-square block[1] was detailed in the Greek Revival style, faced with pale granite ashlar with quoined corners treated as at Tremont House, as embedded Doric pillars, and a central entrance flanked by Greek Doric columns supporting a short length of entablature.[2] Astor House contained 309 rooms in its 6 stories[3] with the new gaslights and bathing/toilet facilities on each floor. Its tree-shaded central courtyard was covered over in 1852 by the elliptical vaulted cast-iron and glass “rotunda” by James Bogardus,[4] that under the direction of its proprietor “Col.” Charles A. Stetson (1837-1877) was the city’s most stylish luncheon place for gentlemen at its curving bar, with legendary side dining rooms entered from Vesey Street or Barclay Street, where even upper-class New Yorkers discovered that it was possible to dine stylishly in public.

Mathew Brady lived there in the 1840s and William James was born there in 1842. In 1843, the Astor House hosted the recently-married Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his wife. The couple, who renewed their friendship with fellow patron Fanny Kemble, also dined there with Nathaniel Parker Willis and his wife during their stay.[5] The Norwegian violinist Ole Bull was a returning patron at the hotel on his American tours in the 1840s, 50s and 60s. Abraham Lincoln stayed there in February 1860. It was used as a safe haven during the Great Blizzard of 1888 and in 1916, Charles Evans Hughes stayed there while his presidential bid stood in the balance. American Civil War Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes stayed at Astor House twice. First, in March of 1861, on the eve of the war when he was searching for ships to buy for the fledgling Confederate Navy (he found none). Nearly five years later, on December 27, 1865, he again spent the night, this time as a prisoner of the North, while being escorted to The Washington Navy Yard where Federal authorities would decide whether to put him on trial.

The success of the Astor House invited competition. The St Nicholas Hotel on Broadway at Broome Street was built for a million dollars and offered the innovation of central heating that circulated warmed air through registers to every room. The Metropolitan Hotel opened in 1852 just north of it, at Prince Street, was equally luxurious. But the new hotel to put all others in the shade was the Fifth Avenue Hotel facing Madison Square.[6] By the early 1870s the Astor House was considered old-fashioned and unappealing and principally used by businessmen, but it remained such a seeming permanent fixture of New York, that schadenfreude was evoked in readers of a fantasy short story by J.A. Mitchell, “The Last American”, set in the far future, when Persian explorers in the ruins of New York come upon “an upturned slab” inscribed ASTOR HOUSE: “I pointed it out to Nofuhl and we bent over it with eager eyes…’The inscription is Old English,’ he said. ‘”House” signified a dwelling, but the word “Astor” I know not. It was probably the name of a deity, and here was his temple'”.[7] The south section was demolished in 1913,[8] victim of subway construction, and Bogardus’ luncheon pavilion went with it.[9] The rest was demolished in 1926.

The reputation of the hotel produced other “Astor House” establishments as far afield as Shanghai, where the first foreigners’ hotel, Richard’s, erected in 1846, is currently known as the Astor House Hotel.

Rasco Hotel, Canada, 1834

The former Rasco Hotel in Canada, dating from 1834, was considered one of the most luxurious in the country. A 5-storey stone building that once accommodated 150 guests. Charles Dickens stayed here in 1842, during the weeks he spent directing three of his plays at the Royal Theatre that once stood just across the street. Francesco Rasco and other Italians were kings of the Montréal hotel industry in the 19th century. http://www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca/tour/etape4/eng/4text5a.htm

At the turn of the 19th century, through the first 50 years, Italians, Scottish and English immigrants flooded into Montreal Canada and the city became a thriving metropolis with architectural, cultural and economic growth. The Bank of Montreal was established (1817) and the Port of Montreal was opened (1830) and the lavish Rasco Hotel  was completed (1836).

The Tremont Hotel, Boston (1829)

The Tremont Hotel, an upscale, 4-story building with a granite facade was designed in the neoclassical style and is often referred to as the The Tremont House.  Designed by architect Isaiah Rogers (who also designed New York’s Astor House and the Exchange Hotel in Richmond, Virginia.) it was the first U.S. luxury hotel with indoor plumbing, indoor toilets and baths, locked rooms for guests, Bellboys, free soap and a reception area.

Willard’s Hotel

(Canada) was built in 1795 and was originally a home built by Daniel Myers.  The inn bares a similar name to the posh Washington D.C. hotel, The Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.  In the 18th century the hotel was referred to by travelers as the “halfway house” as the destination marked the halfway point between Cornwall and Prescott. The inn was purchased in the 1830s by John Willard, a tavern keeper from Montreal who came north from the United States.

The Willard Hotel, Washington D.C. (1850)

1401 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW The Willard, the grand jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue located at the corner of Fourteenth Street was on a site where hotels stood since 1813, however, the official internationally acclaimed luxury hotel that still stands today, came into existence when Henry Willard purchased the property in 1850.   Opulence combined with its excellent location soon established the Willard as a watering hole for pre Civil War dignitaries, senators, congressman, ambassadors, celebrities, foreign royalty, and every important Washington power player, from Presidents Franklin Pierce to Lincoln.  Apparently the term “lobbyist” was coined from the political maneuverings performed by the politicians and political players who descended upon The Willard lobby for drinks each evening.

The Willard

Famous antebellum guests at the Willard have included: P. T. Barnum, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, General Tom Thumb, Samuel Morse, the Duke of Windsor, Harry Houdini, Gypsy Rose Lee, Gloria Swanson, Emily Dickinson, Jenny Lind, Charles Dickens, Ulysses S. Grant, Buffalo Bill, David Lloyd George, Lord and Lady Napper, The first Japanese Samurai Ambassadors to the United States (1860), the Peace Congress was held here (1861), Julia Ward Howe (wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic while staying at the Willard after hearing Union troops singing to the same tune John Brown’s Body), detective Alan Pinkerton smuggled Lincoln into The Willard where he stayed until his inauguration.

Ulysses S. Grant like to smoke cigars and drink brandy in the lobby.

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