Historic Structures

Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Date added: July 23, 2021 Categories: Pennsylvania Hotel

The Bellevue Stratford, combining as it does the names of two earlier famed hostelries commemorates Philadelphia's tradition of gracious hotels,even as it crowns the career of one of the nation's most popular hotel men, George C. Boldt. His was the classic story of the Horatio Alger-like rise to riches of an immigrant, from waiter and then head waiter at the Philadelphia Club, to manager of New York's fabulous Waldorf-Astoria, and finally millionaire owner of his world class hotel, the Bellevue Stratford. As such the hotel is a monument to America's most cherished 19th century dreams, and to their not infrequent realization.

Architecturally, the Bellevue Stratford is perhaps the most extravagent of Philadelphia's turn of the century public buildings, representing not only the opulent pleasures of the grand hotel, but also Boldt's success. It was designed by one of the city's most prominant architectural offices, headed by Frank Furness's former partner George W. Hewitt and his brother William D. Hewitt. Because that firm was quick to grasp the change of taste of the more self conscious turn of the century clients, away from high Victorian individualism towards a more mimetic, eclectic approach, the Hewitt brothers rapidly became the principal designers for Philadelphia society, beginning in 1881 with Henry Gibson's palatial "Maybrooke" at Wynnefleld. Later commissions included much work for Henry Houston, the family mansion "Drum Moir", the Wissahickon Inn and the family Church of St. Martin's in the Fields. Prestigious business commissions also came their way, among them John C. Bullitt's office building (demolished), the Philadelphia Bourse (1893) as well as numerous banks and stores. The Hewitt's first worked for George C. Boldt in the mid-1890's when they designed the spectacular mansion popularly called "Boldt's Castle," at Alexandria Bay, New York in the Thousand Islands. This hotel culminates their work for Boldt, and their careers as well, and indicates a capacity to design richly and powerfully. In a manner all to rare in this city.

Urbanistically and socially, the Bellevue Stratford is one of the landmarks of Philadelphia's center city, forming the principal crossroad of social, political and commercial life. Visually, it enriches South Broad Street, anchoring the splendid vista that includes the Academy of Music and City Hall, and recalling to all the glories of the American city, and its microcosmic building, the grand hotel.

The Bellevue Stratford opened in 1904. Announced improvements to the hotel in 1911 boasted such modern conveniences as "flush toilets." The hotel's luxurious decor, modeled on the Victorian "gilded age" style, represented one of Mrs. Boldt's contributions to the hotel's distinctive features. Mrs. Boldt, who also assisted in hotel management, died suddenly in 1904 shortly after the Bellevue's opening. Boldt remained active in hotel management until his death on December 5, 1916. The couple left two children, Clover (Louise) and George, Jr. At the time of his wife's death, Boldt was overseeing construction of a castle on Heart Island, one of the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River between New York State and the Province of Ontario. With news of her death, however, all construction ceased and the castle remained unfinished until a nonprofit acquired and restored the property in 1977.

The Bellevue Stratford, built in the French Renaissance style with palatial guest accommodations, attracted European royalty, political leaders, and stars of stage and screen. During its first fifty years, the hotel hosted important political meetings such as a United Nations' conference (1943), and the Pan America and World organization meeting (1945). During this era, the Bellevue Stratford also welcomed a Democratic regional meeting (1936) and Republican national convention (1940). The collection's 1950s memorabilia indicate the Bellevue Stratford hosted a full calendar of events, filling its Grand Ballroom with programs for Philadelphia's cultural and business communities. The occasions ranged from an Academy of Music celebration (1950) to the Delaware Valley Square Dance Convention (1950), as well as the Poor Richard Club of Philadelphia's 48th Anniversary Dinner (1954).

Over the years, the Bellevue Stratford, with its distinctive size and architecture, acquired another title, that of the "Grande Dame of Broad Street." By the 1970s, however, the Bellevue Stratford's occupancy had declined. Despite modernizing its room accommodations and removing some of its older architectural features, the Bellevue Stratford continued to lose business. In 1976 the Department of Health identified the hotel's air conditioning system as the source of a bacterium responsible for the deaths of thirty-five American Legion convention guests. Ordered to shut down immediately, the hotel remained closed until its reopening as the Fairmont in 1979. New management restored the hotel's original name in 1980, and operated the Bellevue Stratford until its closure again in 1986. Designated a national historic landmark, the Bellevue underwent major renovations, restoring many of its classic features. In 1989 it reopened as a multiuse complex including the Hotel Atop the Bellevue. The reconfigured hotel provided, along with guest accommodations, parking, exercise facilities, office space, and shops offering designer fashions. Subsequent changes in management in 1996 altered its name to The Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue. In 2004 the hotel marked its one hundredth year of existence.