Overview

The St. Regis was built by one of the wealthiest men in America, John Jacob Astor IV, as a companion to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, of which he owned half. The Waldorf-Astoria was, at the time, located 20 blocks south on Fifth Avenue in an area that had begun to decline in social importance as the area near Central Park gained favor. Astor's great-grandfather, John Jacob Astor, had earlier built one of the first modern hotels in the world, the Astor House, in Lower Manhattan in 1836.[4] At the suggestion of his niece, Astor named the new hotel after Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks. The lake had been named for a French Jesuit priest,John Francis Regis, known for his hospitality to travelers.[5]The 18-story French Beaux-Arts style hotel, the tallest in the city when built, was designed by architects Trowbridge & Livingston, with interiors by Arnold Constable. Construction began in 1901 and almost instantly generated controversy, as the chosen site was directly across Fifth Avenue from the palatial homes of the Vanderbilt family and would also tower over the mansions of many other wealthy New Yorkers. The Bureau of Buildings soon discovered that the hotel's wood decorations were not sufficiently fireproofed,[6] and Superintendent Stewart temporarily halted construction on May 14, 1902.[7] The following year, the hotel's neighbors brought suit due to the blasting necessary to excavate the hotel's foundation. Justice Clarke ruled against them on November 10, 1903, allowing work to again continue.[8] Finally, as the hotel neared completion in 1904, the neighbors made one last effort to halt its opening. Any establishment with a liquor license was required to gain the approval of the owners of 2/3 of all private property within 200ft, and was required to be at least 200ft from any church. The hotel was located directly across the street from Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. The hotel's neighbors showed that its property line was well within the 200ft limit. However the hotel maintained that its main entrance, on 55th St, was beyond the 200ft limit, and the hotel prevailed in court.[9]<ol> <li>The hotel, which had cost the then-staggering sum of $5.5 million,[10] opened September 4, 1904. However the neighbors had not given up their fight. William Rockefeller bought an adjacent mansion on October 17, 1904, to ensure the hotel would lose its 2/3 approval from its direct neighbors, and have its liquor license revoked. Astor responded by buying another adjacent mansion, to keep the license.[11] Anonymous stories began to appear in local papers smearing the hotel's service. However the hotel's reputation was bolstered in December by the visit of Prince Fushimi Sadanaru, head of the Fushimi-no-miya shinnōke branch of the Japanese Imperial Family. The St. Regis.</li></ol>
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