Raleigh Hotel, Washington, DC

The Raleigh Hotel, at the corner of 12th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The new Raleigh Hotel, around 1911-1925. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Second Empire-style building in the first photo was constructed in 1875-1876 as the Shepherd Centennial Building, an office building whose early tenants included the U.S. Pension Bureau and the Palais Royal department store. However, in 1893-1894 the building was renovated and converted into the Raleigh Hotel, which would become one of the finest hotels in Washington at the turn of the 20th century.

The original building was expanded in 1898 with a large addition to the rear, along 12th Street. As shown in the first photo, the 12-story addition dwarfed the older part of the hotel, and it featured a Beaux-Arts style exterior that was designed by noted architect Henry J. Hardenbergh. One of the leading hotel architects of the era, Hardenbergh’s other works included the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the Plaza Hotel in New York, the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, and the nearby Willard Hotel here in Washington.

Sometime around 1910, the hotel owners acquired the small three-story commercial block on the right side of the hotel, which bore advertisements for a photo studio and cigar shop in the first photo. This allowed the hotel to further expand onto this lot, and by 1911 the original section of the hotel was demolished and replaced by a new 13-story building, as shown in the second photo. Also designed by Hardenbergh, its architecture matched the 1898 addition, although it stood several stories higher. Prior to 1910, buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue had been limited to 130 feet in height, but Congress raised the height limit to 160 feet, in order to accommodate the construction of the new Raleigh Hotel.

The Raleigh Hotel would continue to be one of Washington’s finest hotels throughout the first half of the 20th century. It was starting to show its age by the 1930s, when newer establishments such as the Mayflower Hotel began to eclipse it, but the Raleigh underwent a major renovation in the middle of the decade. It would remain competitive into the postwar era, but it entered a decline in the 1950s. During this time, aging downtown hotels across the country were struggling, and the Raleigh was no exception here in Washington. It finally closed in 1963, its furnishings were sold off, and it was demolished a year later. Its replacement, a 14-story office building at 1111 Pennsylvania Avenue, was completed in 1968, and it still stands on the site today.

Plaza Hotel, New York City (2)

Another view of the Plaza Hotel and Grand Army Plaza, taken from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, around 1907-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The hotel in 2016:

This view of the Plaza Hotel shows the building from the Fifth Avenue side, a block away from where the photos in the previous post were taken. As mentioned in that post, the hotel was built in 1907, on the site of an earlier, much smaller Plaza Hotel. It was built right next to Grand Army Plaza, which is seen in the foreground, and also next to the Cornelius Vanderbilt II House, whose wrought-iron fence and gates are visible on the far left.

At first glance, the hotel appears to look the same in both photos, but the left side of the building is actually significantly longer. This was the result of a 300-room expansion along West 58th Street in 1920, which replaced many of the earlier low-rise buildings that appear in the first photo. A few years later, in 1926, the nearby Vanderbilt House was demolished, and today the Plaza Hotel is the only surviving building from the first photo. Aside from the addition, the hotel retains its original exterior appearance, and today it is one of two New York City hotels, along with the Waldorf-Astoria, to be listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Plaza Hotel, New York City

The Plaza Hotel at the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 59th Street, around 1907-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The hotel in 2016:

New York’s Plaza Hotel is named for the Grand Army Plaza, which is located here at the southeast corner of Central Park. It has since become a prominent historic landmark, but when the first photo was taken it was virtually brand new. It replaced an earlier Plaza Hotel that had been completed in 1890. This eight-story building was damaged by a fire in 1902, and although it remained structurally sound, it was sold and demolished a few years later.

The new owner hired architect Henry J. Hardenbergh, whose previous commissions included the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. His design for the new Plaza Hotel was no less grand, and the 17-story hotel was completed in 1907 after two years of construction, at a cost of $12.5 million. Over the years, the hotel has seen plenty of wealthy, prominent guests, as well as some notable owners. Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, purchased it in 1943 for $7.4 million and, after changing hands several more times, it was sold to Donald Trump in 1988 for $407.5 million.

Since then, it has gone through several more ownership changes, and from 2005-2008 the century-old hotel was significantly remodeled. Many of the hotel rooms were converted into condominium units, selling for upwards of $10 million per unit. Today, instead of over 800 hotel rooms, it now has just 282 in addition to the 181 condominiums. However, on the exterior the hotel looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken, and it is listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

Waldorf-Astoria and Knickerbocker Trust, New York City

Looking south along Fifth Avenue toward the intersection of 34th Street, around 1904, with the Knickerbocker Trust Company building in the foreground and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel beyond it. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

The two buildings in the first photo, the Waldorf-Astoria and the Knickerbocker Trust Company Building, have been discussed in further detail in earlier posts, but this photo here provides a particularly good view of the architecture of the Knickerbocker building, which had been completed around that time. It was designed by McKim, Mead & White, a prominent architectural firm whose other significant works of the era included the Boston Public Library and New York’s Penn Station. Unfortunately, although the bank building is technically still standing here, subsequent alterations have completely destroyed the original architecture, including the addition of 10 stories on top of it in 1921 and the replacement of the facade in 1958 with the bland exterior that it now has. As for the Waldorf-Astoria, it is obviously no longer standing; the famous hotel was demolished in 1929 and the Empire State Building was built in its place.

Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City

The Waldorf-Astoria, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

The Waldorf-Astoria is one of the most famous hotels in New York City history, and it all began as a result of a feud within the Astor family, whose origins dated back to 1827, when William B. Astor, Sr. purchased a significant amount of property in present-day Midtown Manhattan, including a section of Fifth Avenue from 32nd Street to 35th Street. With a purchase price of $20,500 (about $433,000 today), this largely undeveloped land on the outskirts of the city turned out to be a wise investment, and Astor became the wealthiest man in America.

Here along Fifth Avenue, two of his sons split the block on the west side, with John Jacob Astor III and his wife Charlotte Augusta Gibbs living on the corner of 33rd Street, and William B. Astor, Jr. and his wife Charlotte Webster Schermerhorn at 34th Street. As explained in more detail on the Daytonian in Manhattan blog, a rivalry formed between their wives, which ultimately led to John’s son William Waldorf Astor demolishing his father’s house and building a large hotel, named the Waldorf Hotel, that overshadowed his aunt Charlotte’s house right next door. The noise and traffic generated by the hotel was, as desired, a significant nuisance in the previously residential neighborhood, and Charlotte soon moved out of the house.

When Charlotte moved out, her son, John Jacob Astor IV, announced plans to build a competing hotel on the property, named the Astoria Hotel. It was designed by Henry J. Hardenbergh, the same architect responsible for the Waldorf, and by the time it was completed in 1897 the two sides of the family had agreed to consolidate the two into a single hotel, named the Waldorf-Astoria. The first photo here was taken soon after, and it shows the distinction between the earlier Waldorf Hotel on the left, with the significantly larger Astoria on the right. Together, they occupied much of the block, and with 1,300 rooms it was the largest hotel in the world at the time.

Although he started the hotel, William Waldorf Astor did not remain in the United States. He moved to England and became a British subject, earning the title of 1st Viscount Astor in 1917, two years before his death at the age of 71. As for John Jacob Astor IV, he is probably best known today for having been the richest man aboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912. He had a net worth of around $87 million at the time (around $2 billion today), and he and his second wife Madeline had been returning from their honeymoon aboard the ship. Madeline and their unborn son survived the sinking, but Astor did not. Coincidentally, the hearings for the U.S. Senate inquiry into the disaster were subsequently held here at the hotel.

In its heyday, the Waldorf-Astoria functioned not only as a high-end hotel, but also as a restaurant and event venue for the wealthy New Yorkers who lived nearby. However, by the 1920s the relatively new hotel was already showing its age. Its Victorian interior decor, while fashionable in the 1890s, was soon out of date. Making matters worse, most of New York’s upper class, including the Astor family themselves, had moved further uptown, to mansions in the vicinity of Central Park. This, combined with Prohibition’s ban on alcohol sales, hurt their dining rooms, which had once been one of the hotel’s most profitable business.

The hotel closed in 1929, and two years later reopened in a new building further uptown on Park Avenue, where it still stands today. The original building here on Fifth Avenue was then demolished to clear the space for the Empire State Building, which was completed in 1931 after just over a year of construction.

Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston

The Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, sometime between 1912 and 1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The hotel in 2015:

These photos were taken from about the same spot as the ones in the previous post, just facing to the left of Huntington Avenue.  This view shows the Copley Plaza Hotel, which has had few exterior changes in the past century, and remains a prominent Boston hotel today.  This site was once home to the Museum of Fine Arts, before they relocated to their present site further down Huntington Avenue.  The hotel was completed in 1912, and since then has hosted a number of distinguished guests, including most U.S. presidents as well as many foreign dignitaries and heads of state.

Boston mayor John F. Fitzgerald presided over the opening ceremonies, five years before his grandson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was born.  The hotel also has another, more tragic connection to the grandfather of a prominent national politician; in 1921, the grandfather of present Secretary of State John Kerry committed suicide in a bathroom here.  Less than 20 years later, another notable suicide occurred here when Cincinnati Reds catcher Willard Hershberger became the only Major League Baseball player to commit suicide during the baseball season, on August 3, 1940.  Normally the team’s backup catcher, he had to play full-time in the middle of a pennant race after the starting catcher was injured, but became distraught after blaming himself for several poor games, including a 4-3 loss to the Boston Bees the day before.  The Red would ultimately go on to win the World Series that year, in part out of a desire to honor Hershberger’s memory.

By the mid-1900s, the hotel had begun to decline, and it was rebranded as the Sheraton Plaza hotel, complete with a tacky neon sign on the roof.  For some time it was more of a budget hotel than the grand hotel that it had once been, but in 1972 it was purchased by John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, the same company that was building the John Hancock Tower next door.  They restored the historic building, and today it is operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts as the Fairmont Copley Plaza.  More than a century after it opened, it is still one of the city’s premiere hotels, and probably its most recent notable visitor was President Obama, who gave a Labor Day speech here earlier this month.