2 EAST 55TH STREET
Developer: Col. John Jacob Astor
Architect: Trowbridge & Livingston; Sloan & Robertson
Erected: 1904; 1927 (expansion)
By Carter B. Horsley
This elegant, Parisian-style
dowager hotel set new standards for luxury when it opened and
is one of Fifth Avenue's fabled gems.
Its bronze-domed doorman's
sentry box beneath its large sidestreet canopy proudly announces
its high-tone service. Although its main lobby is relatively small,
albeit very lavish, the hotel has always been known for its elegant
entertaining rooms. Its "roof," as the hotel refers
to its enclosed top floor, still has its pleasant, medium-size
ballroom that has lost some of its elegance over the years but
still has some wonderful window views.
The 1927 expansion extended
the hotel down the sidestreet with compatible though less detailed
facades. The expansion, by Duke Management, also permitted the
hotel to create an enormous and magnificent, club-like bar room
highlighted by Maxfield Parrish's large mural of a flatulent "Old
King Cole" that originally was in the former Knickerbocker
Hotel on the southwest corner of Broadway and 42nd Street that
Astor had built shortly after he had erected the larger and more
famous Astor Hotel on Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets that
was sadly demolished to make way for an office tower.
The "King Cole" room,
for many years one of the city's most elegant and largest bars,
sadly has been redone twice in recent years and the famous mural
put in a smaller bar when the Sheraton Corporation completed a
long-overdue renovation in 1991. The hotel in the 1990s boatsted
a highly regarded French restaurant, which subsequently closed,
and its famed basement nightclub, La Maisonette, in which Peter
Duchin and his orchestra played in the 1960's, has long since
The hotel originally was reported
to contain 47 Steinway pianos and the grandeur of its decor did
not preclude the latest technological advances. It was the first
hotel in the city, and probably the world, to be air-conditioned.
"The public rooms in the
St. Regis were relatively small, a subtle indication that the
management did not want the crowds that milled in Peacock Alley
at the Waldorf-Astoria or in the vast lobby of the Astor in Times
Square," observed Jerry E. Patterson in his excellent book,
"Fifth Avenue, The Best Address," (Rizzoli International
Publications Inc., 1998). "On the Fifth Avenue side was an
outdoor terrace were one could have refreshments, lost when Fifth
Avenue was widened...During the nightclub years of the 1930's
the St. Regis had many clubs, attracting for the most part a rather
conservative and very well-heeled crowd. Joseph Urban[n], the
flamboyant architect, designed the Seaglades nightclub, where
Vincent Lopez's orchestra played. During the summer it played
for dancing in the Japanese-style roof garden of the hotel,"
Patterson wrote, adding that the hotel was named after St. Regis
Lake in the Adirondacks, a popular resort at the time.
Its paneled library adjoins
the lobby. Originally, the hotel's main dining room faced the
avenue and it and a Palm Room were lined with mirrors.
Its Fifth Avenue retail corner
unfortunately was reclad in travertine marble that was not sensitive
to the great Art Nouveau spirit of the hotel's architecture although
it originally housed Buccellati, whose incredible silver objects
were memorably upscale. Buccellati moved to a new location on
East 57th Street.
For many years, the St. Regis
was the city's most desirable luxury hotel, especially for European
visitors. It still retains much of its luster and its ambiance
has been enhanced by the new and very handsome Takashimaya building
south of it on the avenue and by the excellent refurbishing of
the former Gotham Hotel by the Peninsula chain directly across
the avenue. The Peninsula (see The
City Review article)
complements the St. Regis wonderfully with a similar, but more
In 2005, the hotel announced
that it would convert 59 of its 315 hotel rooms into 33 condominium
apartments, following a trend that was highlighted by the announcement
by the new owners of the Plaza Hotel that many of its rooms would
be converted to condominium apartments.
In early 2006, sales started
at the St. Regis Hotel at 2 East 55th Street of 24 condominium
apartments and 22 condo-hotel units.
On the 10th and 11th floors of the building 24 "full-ownership"
condominium apartments have been created that range in price from
$1,600,000 for a 435-square-foot studio to $7,200,000 for a 1,546-square
On the 8th and 9th floors,
there are 22 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments that
are being sold as "fractionalized" condo-hotel units
that can be occupied for only about half the year. These units
are known as the St. Regis Residence Club and offer "butler
service" and interiors "presented by" by Sills