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Hotel History: George Charles Boldt (1851-1916); My New Book; Quote of the Month

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC

1. Still Undistinguishable and Undistinguished

For many years, I have been a critic of hotel guestroom design because most chain hotel rooms are undistinguishable from the competition. I am reminded of this truism every time I look at the excellent photographs on the Hotel Chatter website. If there was no identifying caption, you could not tell if you are looking at a Marriott, Westin, Wyndham, Sheraton, Hilton, Radisson, Hyatt or InterContinental Hotel.

2.  Hotel History: George Charles Boldt (1851-1916) 

In its December 6, 1916 obituary, the New York Times wrote:

GEORGE BOLDT DIES; GENIUS OF THE WALDORF

"George C. Boldt of the Waldorf-Astoria died at 6 o' clock yesterday morning in the hotel which he had made famous the world over as the acme of what a good hotel should be.  It had been said of him that he made of his innkeeping a profession, and that more than any other man he was responsible for the modern American hotel. He was 65 years old."

Georg Karl Boldt was born on the island of Rugen in the Baltic Sea, off the shore from Mecklenberg, Germany.  His father, a government official, provided him with a middle-class upbringing and a good education.  Boldt emigrated to the United States in 1864 where his first job was in the kitchen of the Merchants Exchange Hotel in New York and later at the Arlington Hotel as kitchen helper and waiter.  After a short fruitless sojourn in Texas, Boldt returned to New York to work as an oyster shucker, waiter and dining room captain in Parker's Restaurant.

Ultimately, Boldt was hired by William Kehrer as assistant manager of the Philadelphia Club.  Later, after marrying Kehrer's daughter Louise, Boldt managed the Bellevue Hotel.  He soon bought the Stratford Hotel and, two decades later, on the site of the Stratford, built the largest hotel in Philadelphia, the 1090-room Bellevue-Stratford Hotel.

The Boldts became friendly with Abner Bartlett, a real estate "conveyancer" who was employed by William Waldorf Astor.  Bartlett introduced Boldt to Astor, who was planning the luxurious new Waldorf Hotel at 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue.  Astor was appreciative of Boldt's hotel knowledge and, when Boldt promised to raise a hundred thousand dollars to furnish the new hotel, he became the lessee.  The agreement provided that Boldt would make an annual payment of five percent of the building cost plus six percent of the value of the land.  Astor and Boldt selected the famous Henry J. Hardenbergh as the architect.  Hardenbergh later designed the Plaza Hotel, the Hotel Martinique, the Willard Hotel and the Copley Plaza Hotel.

The Boldts traveled to Europe on buying trips to furnish the new Waldorf Hotel.  They bought draperies, tapestries, vases, lamps for the guest rooms reflecting Louise's good taste. For guest peace of mind, every room had a candlestick and a candle, "just in case the electric lights fail." The Waldorf Hotel emerged as the essence of gracious opulence with "luxury for the masses," according to Boldt.  

In light of the recent action by the New York Hilton Hotel to eliminate room service, it is interesting to recall that more than one hundred and twenty years ago the Waldorf featured meals served in guestrooms.  It was  a very successful service and prospered with special portable hot tables, warming ovens, gleaming silver, crisp tablecloths and fresh flowers along with the New York Times or the Herald Tribune.

"We must make this hotel a haven for the well-to-do," George Boldt told his maitre d' Oscar Tschirky (destined to become Oscar of the Waldorf). "Pad on the luxury and ease of living. There are always enough people willing to pay for these privileges. Just give them the chance. Make the Waldorf so convenient and comfortable they will never go to another place." 

The new thirteen-story Waldorf Hotel opened with 450 guestrooms and 350 bathrooms, each with an outside window which apparently made a tremendous impression upon the high-grade travelling public of the nineties.

The grand opening presented the New York Symphony orchestra under the direction of Walter Damrosch playing Liszt, Bizet, Tschaikowsky, Rossini and Wagner.  No New York hotel had ever opened with such pomp and circumstance.  The New York Sun wrote about the Waldorf,

"To American enterprise is due most of the movement aboard in the world today toward luxurious hotels.... In few palaces of the Old World can such costly and artistic surroundings be found. Those who came found private suites, dining-rooms, salons and bedrooms such as kings could not excel...  There were more wonders than could be seen in a single evening   magnificent tapestries, paintings, frescoes, wood-carvings, marble and onyx mosaics, quaint and rich pieces of furniture, rare and costly tableware... One sees throughout the hotel a mingling of foreign and American improvements... The owner has made the hotel the natural abode of transient and houseless fashion and wealth.  He has made its café the rival of Delmonico and Sherry."

George Boldt was the inspirational leader of this wonderful new hotel.  Perfection   the perfection of hotelkeeping   was his religion. Boldt introduced many innovations at the Waldorf: "room service" that enabled guests to have breakfast in bed; relaxed the rule that prohibited men from smoking in the presence of women; installed an orchestra in the hotel lobby; hired Turkish waiters to serve coffee; placed plenty of ash trays as strategic locations among the potted palms. 

A famous attraction was a long corridor that ran through the Waldorf connecting two of its most popular restaurants, the Palm and the Empire. It was a sparkling hallway with soaring Corinthian columns, mosaic floors and upholstered benches along the sides.  Almost from the opening, the corridor was a popular promenade for ladies of fashion to display their gowns, jewels and gaudiest plumage. The society editor of the New York Tribune called it "Peacock Alley".  It was reported that it was not unusual for twenty five thousand people to stroll the length of Peacock Alley on a single day.

In 1895, John Jacob Astor IV (a cousin of William Waldorf Astor) demolished his mother's brownstone mansion on the corner of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue adjacent to the Waldorf Hotel. He built the Astoria hotel and struck a deal with his cousin for George Boldt to manage both hotels jointly.

The new structure was seventeen stories with "perpendicular railways" (elevators) and an indoor driveway on the thirty-fourth street side, a grand ballroom seating 1500 and a roof garden. Between them, the two hotels had 1000 rooms, three floors of banquet and meeting rooms and common management. For the next twenty years the Waldorf-Astoria was operated as the largest and the most luxurious hotel in New York. George Boldt died in 1916 and the hotel was acquired in 1918 by Lucius Boomer and Senator Coleman DuPont. Boomer was a hotelier who had been trained in Henry Flagler's Florida hotels and earned his reputation in New York's McAlpin Hotel in Herald Square just one block from the Waldorf-Astoria. The value of the property in the area had grown enormously in the thirty years since the Waldorf opened. New hotels like the Plaza, Savoy, Netherland, Pierre and St. Regis reflected the inexorable uptown movement to the fifties and sixties.

The original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel survived until 1929, when, after four decades of hosting distinguished visitors and society balls, the Waldorf-Astoria was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.

At the turn of the century, George Boldt built Boldt Castle on Hart Island in the Thousand Island area of upper New York State. The enormous castle was intended as a gift for his wife Louise Kehrer Boldt but when she died suddenly in 1904, construction was halted. Toward the end of his life, Boldt commissioned architect Francis T. Underhill to build a Swiss-chalet style mansion, "La Manzanita" in Montecito, Santa Barbara, California.

Boldt was a trustee of Cornell University to which his daughter, Mrs. A Graham Miles, donated a Collegiate-Gothic dormitory, Boldt Hall and Tower (1922-23).

3.  My New Book

My new book, "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi" is in the final design process. It will be available by the end of October 2013. It is a paperback which tells the stories of 86 hotels (50 rooms or more) and each is illustrated with an antique postcard.  It has a foreword by Joseph McInerney (President and CEO Emeritus of the American Hotel and Lodging Association), preface, introduction, bibliography and index.  It has been accepted by the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute for promotion, distribution and sale.  If you would like to reserve an autographed copy, send a check for $24.00 ($19.95 plus $4.05 for postage and handling) to:

Stanley Turkel

147-03 Jewel Avenue

Flushing, N.Y. 11367

Be sure to include your mailing address 

4. Quote of the Month

"I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded... I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed... I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war."

President Franklin Roosevelt

About Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC

Stanley Turkel is a recognized authority and consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel, hospitality and consulting practice specializing in asset management, operational audits and the effectiveness of hotel franchising agreements and litigation support assignments. Clients are hotel owners, investors and lending institutions.

Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1842 Rooms), all in New York City.

Turkel serves as a Friend of the Tisch Center and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management. He is a member of the prestigious International Society of Hospitality Consultants and is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York.

Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. His insightful articles on various hotel subjects have been published in the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, Lodging Hospitality, Hotel & Motel Management, AAHOA Lodging Business, and posted on the Hotel-Online, BlueMauMau, HotelNewsResource, eTurboNews websites.

Stanley Turkel brings many talents and accomplishments to his clients including his broad-based experience, his informed knowledge in his many published articles, his frequent appearances as guest speaker at national hotel industry conferences and his sterling reputation for integrity and honesty.

Contact: Stanley Turkel

stanturkel@aol.com / 917-628-8549

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