At Home To Society
( Originally Published 1931 )
A climax of its glory, it seems from a conscientious study of its history, was on the night of November 1, 1897, when the combined hotel formally opened. It caused almost as much of a sensation as the opening of the Waldorf four years previously. In point of fact, it represented a greater advance over the Waldorf than the latter had in comparison with the existing hotels in 1893. The Waldorf-Astoria, with its thousand rooms and seventeen floors, was the Ultima Thule in luxurious living.
In many ways its opening resembled that of the Waldorf. There was a concert, a supper and dance, and a grand assemblage of society. It even rained fiercely all day and night—as when the old Waldorf opened.
The proceeds of the night's entertainments went to the Loomis Sanitarium for Consumptives, the Babies' and Mothers' Hospital, the Saturday and Sunday Women's Auxiliary Hospital, and the Babies' Ward and the Day Nursery at the Post-Graduate Hospital. These institutions are mentioned, as was the St. Mary's Free Hospital for Children in connection with the old Waldorf opening, because charity was just being taken up by society on an important scale. The students of our social psychology frequently like to pose the question whether people attend such affairs because of their charitable appeal or because of their social significance. In other words, did society then, or does it now, indulge in teas and dinners and dances for charity's sake or as a social gesture? The question is often unjust when it isn't absurd, if for no other reason than that the end justifies the means. In addition, society does take its charity seriously. There was a time, of course, when it never considered the problem on any pretentious scale. It was aloof. But in the era we here speak about it recognized the now accepted custom that society affairs are more appealing, certainly more idealistic, when they are backed by charitable impulses.
Of the day we refer to there was another attraction: about one hundred children of prominent New York families appeared in a fantasy called "The Realm of the Rose." I imagine that some of our present-day matrons must smile indulgently if and when they ever gaze upon the old pictures showing themselves in gowns made to appear as white, yellow, or red rosebuds, or as bees, butterflies, and humming-birds, dancing and tripping about with all the abandon—and the terrible earnestness—of severely-rehearsed young children who are wondering if their mothers will praise or reprimand them in the privacy of their homes.
Oscar, looking back to that day, sees a famous group of people present. He sees the Brazilian consul-general and his companion, Mr. Antonio Guenares, applauding violently. There are smiling Mrs. John Prince, Mrs. James Pinchot in her black satin, and Mrs. Livingston Hyde. When the performance is over, and the children sigh with relief, the elderly folks repair to the Myrtle Room. There they find dancing and refreshments.
The evening approaches; the festival is still on. It is supposed to be formal, very formal; but wait. It is also a stormy evening. Rain sweeps Fifth Avenue and unmercifully drenches the hundreds gathered outside who, like our modern movie fans, crowd outside, awaiting a glance of a celebrity. Only, the Waldorf-Astoria crowd consists of the socially aristocratic, not the famous of the stage. Policemen are kept busy bustling among the curious, seeing that there is no congestion, no threat of over-crowding the sidewalks.
Meanwhile, the Astor Gallery echoes gently to the music of Anton Seidl's orchestra, gracefully entertaining the select audience with popular and classical selections of the day. You hear an overture from Nicolai's "Merry Wives of Windsor"; Hoffman's "Slumber Song," and Miss Hoyle at the violin, Mr. Gould at the organ, and the orchestra entertains with Wieniawsky's Romance, "Sans Paroles."
Intermission, but the music goes on after a brief spell. The strains of Goldmark's ballet music from "Queen of Sheba" sifts out to the crowd on the street, indifferent to everything but their hope of glimpsing the guests. They hearken not to Handel's "Largo," the Coronation March, the Hungarian Fantasie or the waltz, "Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald" by Straus.
Then follows the grand assemblage. Some say it is like a court theatre in an European palace, with the boxes filled and several hundred people standing in groups on the open floor. Perhaps it really is not like a court scene. The weather is so terrible that a good many people have found it necessary to forget full dress. After all, one cannot depend upon these horse-drawn carriages to give the necessary protection. Besides, there will be the ride home. It still may be raining. It is just as well that the proprieties of dress are not too closely observed.
The curtain on the stage parts. The second act of "Rosemary," the prime success of the day, is presented. In the cast are several distinguished and promising stage stars. They include Mr. John Drew and Miss Maude Adams. Mr. Charles Frohman, the producer of the show, beams with satisfaction as the applause descends upon his ears. This is his royal court, this is his triumph.
Even as the performance goes on, the guests arrive. They are wearing, among other things, their brightest colors, if they be women, and their most dignified manners, if they be men. Parenthetically, it can be seen at this great affair how the fences of the "Four Hundred" are breaking down. Ward McAllister's social barriers, which once so eloquently and jealously inclosed New York society, are vanishing. There are names and families, not to be found on his famous list, present there.
The ushers greet the guests. They are social stalwarts all: William A. Duer, Gordon Fellows, Dr. Leonard Ely, Franklin Plummer, Edward J. Berwind, Theodore Frelinghuysen, Britton Busch, and H. Pelham Robbins. In comes Madison Grant and James Otis, hurrying to the assistance of their fellow-ushers. They say to each other that the crowd is unexpectedly large. W. S. Edey exclaims, a little apologetically, that he wonders why they ever came in this storm.
The throng admires and is admired. There is Mrs. Garret A. Hobart, wife of the Vice-President of the United States. How attractive she is in her mauve satin with its point-lace! Some say that President and Mrs. McKinley will arrive soon, but they are wrong, because Mrs. McKinley is not well. The President has sent his regrets, yet newspapermen wait, skeptically. The President is not even in town.
The sight is a brilliant one. Look to the ladies. There is Mrs. W. Storrs Wells, in her black velvet and Venetian point-lace gown; Mrs. George C. Boldt, the wife of the proprietor, wearing point-satin, trimmed with black embroidered lace; Mrs. Frederick Edy (gray satin).
Another glance and you see other famous folk of the day: Mr. and Mrs. Herman Oelrichs; United States Sena-tor George Peabody Wetmore, of Rhode Island; Mr. and Mrs. H. C. Duval; Mr. Louis Sherry, who was to establish one of the city's great restaurants and continue as its president until his death; Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Roosevelt; Mrs. W. S. Strong; Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor; Mr. James W. Gerard, who was to have, twenty-four years later, a little difference of opinion with the Kaiser of Germany; Mrs. E. L. Baylies and Mr. and Mrs. John Sayre Martin.
The guests now move to the sun parlor. It is on the very top of the Astoria side of the hotel. There they can see a city struggling up. That city is far below—for the guests are now on the seventeenth floor!
The supper served is typical of the hotel's careful preparation. The menu is in French, of course. The modern banquet, with its determination to Americanize the menu, has not arrived as yet. There was served:
Bouillon de volaille, en tasse
Saumon a la Russe
Charlotte de vanille
With such a baptism, the Waldorf-Astoria gained a further social prestige which endured. The hyphenated name caught the public's fancy: a great hotel—a name big enough to apply. The comedians and humorous writers of the day took it up and played upon it—a sure sign of popularity.
"Meet me at the hyphen," said one wag.
"Where is that?"
"Between the Waldorf and the Astoria," was the reply, That joke immediately traveled to Kalamazoo, jumped to Des Moines, leaped to San Francisco, and was soon told in the Hong-Kong Club. Going the other way, within a few weeks it was served as a relish at the Sphinx bar in Cairo with the newest American cocktail. By the spring of 1899 somebody was singing on the stage a song called "The Waldorf-Hyphen-Astoria," whose words various New York papers printed.
In a sense, however, there really was a "hyphen" between the Waldorf and the Astoria. For in the building of the Astoria it was decided to cut a fine new street at the rear of the combined hotels—all the way from Thirty-third to Thirty-fourth Streets. This enabled Astor to put up a store and office building on a part of his great tract of land in that block. The street proved an addition to the new building, as well as to the combined hotel.
Thus it was that Astor Court was born. And the Waldorf-Astoria, therefore, had the privilege of being the first hotel to occupy a city square, all to itself, in New, York.
As the career of the new combined hotel progressed, its all-embracing features became evident to the town. For one thing, it began to cater to feminine guests with more direct consideration than other hotels. The Waldorf-Astoria, in fact, was the first hotel to abolish the old-fashioned Ladies' Parlor. For about that time fashionable America was beginning to realize that equality is not a word to be amended with strange and ludicrous provisions.
Imagine a lady, in a first-class hotel, not being able to sit in the same public room with gentlemen! Imagine them being denied the same forms of general entertainment afforded the male guests! The Waldorf-Astoria, defying such an outmoded attitude, provided the ladies with even billiard-tables, which were located in the South Cafe, ping-pong tables in the gallery, and the use of various public rooms.
It went further. It introduced bridge. Bridge then began to be the rage. But the Waldorf-Astoria was one of the first hotels to encourage the game and to provide facilities for those interested.
Again, the hotel had much to do with popularizing the tea hour in public places. Glance into an old issue of the New York Evening Post (a number published in the early part of this century) and see what bearing the Waldorf-Astoria had upon afternoon tea:
"A dozen years ago [says the Post] the tearoom was practically unknown in New York. Even in private houses the hostess who offered her afternoon guests a cup of tea was suspected of suffering from a mild form of Anglophobia. Today there are tearooms. The Waldorf-Astoria was the first hotel in the city to give over a room entirely for the service of afternoon tea.
"When this hotel was opened no little comment was caused by the announcement that the large room on the main floor, known as the Waldorf Garden, with a seating capacity of two hundred, was to be devoted in the afternoon to the use of the tea-drinkers. At first the attendance was scant. Gradually the patronage grew until in recent years there was on every afternoon a closely compacted group about the door waiting for tables."
Indeed, the newspapers were startled in 1906 by the appearance in the Waldorf-Astoria of a strange apparatus they called the "moving bar." It simply was the tea-wagon we use today. But the startled World had this surprising comment to make:
"You order a Martini cocktail for the lady, with a cherry in it, and a highball for yourself. Or perhaps you ask for tea. Presto! Along comes an outfit that at a distance looks like a hokey-pokey cart, run by one of old Dr. Woodbury's `White Wings.' It is the perambulating bar and the white-winged chauffeur of the machine is a qualified mixologist, as well as a tea-server. Right before your eyes he will deftly and daintily mix you up anything you may call for, from a `horse's neck' to a Zaza cocktail with a cherry, an olive, a sprig of mint, a shred of pine-apple, lemon, or orange."
It was also early that season Oscar saw that the cup of tea had attained such vogue the Waldorf Garden could not afford sufficient accommodations. Between the hours of four and six—the hours of the tea-drinkers—he had the main dining-room, otherwise known as the Empire Room, opened for their use. On Saturdays the crush was so great that it was necessary to open the Rose Room.
Yet it also was to be observed that men were decidedly in the minority at these afternoon tea parties. Oscar estimated that even on a Saturday afternoon 10 per cent would more than have covered the trousered contingent. The tearoom, it seemed, was a ladies' affair. No men who were unaccompanied by ladies were permitted to patronize the rooms, and during the hours of tea no smoking was allowed!
Manager Boldt and Oscar had provided other arrangements for those who cared little about that new-fangled notion of sitting at a table and drinking tea. He hired a handsome steam-yacht, called the Calypso and placed it at the disposal of the hotel's guests. This took them out on the Sound, the Harbor, or the Hudson River. It carried only twenty-five passengers, but it charged ten dollars a seat—a high price for those days.
Yet the hotel was not unmindful of the fact that per-sons outside the hotel, who sought this means of becoming acquainted with the regular patrons, might try to get on the yacht. So it posted this notice:
"The greatest care will be exercised in the choice of patrons and, although the fare has been fixed at $10, there are some persons who could not go aboard at any price."
The result was that every day the yacht set forth there was on board a jolly crowd that came back with the smiling memories of a good time "at sea."
But, while speaking of innovations, it would be foolhardy to leave out that most important innovation of the Waldorf, the glorification of food. I say this for so many reasons that they deserve an extra chapter. Let us, therefore, take a glance at the Waldorf-Astoria's dining-rooms and the art of dining it so ably perpetuated and inspired.