Legendary Hotel Celebrates 100 Years
Published: June 20, 2013 (Issue # 1764)
The Hotel Astoria wears its history on its sleeve as part of an impressive architectural ensemble in the very heart of the city.
The iconic Hotel Astoria lived up to its lavish reputation by celebrating its centennial on Tuesday with a grand party of nearly 500 guests, hosted by Sir Rocco Forte, co-owner, chairman and managing director of The Rocco Forte Collection.
Designed by Fyodor Lidval and regarded as an architectural gem, the Astoria has always belonged to the cohort of the most prestigious and expensive. On December 23, 1912, Lidval opened the luxurious hotel, named in honor of the luxury New York hoteliers, the Astor brothers.
Located on the corner of St. Isaac’s Square and Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa, the facade of the hotel was decorated with exquisite medallions, masks and garlands lining the gray and pink granite of the building. Surprisingly, after all the events that followed during that same century, the hotel managed to preserve its historic appearance with little change — a rare and remarkable feat for a St. Petersburg building of this magnitude. It endured events such as the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, two world wars, Perestroika and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.
With ten elevators, an electric light system for calling servants, city telephone lines, an automated vacuuming system, steam-driven central heating, as well as 350 rooms soundproofed with cork insulation, Hotel Astoria immediately became a leader and model for the latest technological advances in luxury accommodation.
The hotel also included a grand restaurant that catered for up to 200 people which included a mahogany-paneled hall. From the restaurant, guests could access the hotel’s Winter Garden atrium and a banquet hall. This grand hall was decorated with brass chandeliers in Art Deco style. In the restaurant and hotel, the dishes used were from Bauscher, a German porcelain manufacturer, silverware was sourced from the French brand Christofle and crystal from a Saint-Louis manufactory in Lorraine.
From the first months of World War I, Hotel Astoria became a favorite abode for various allied missions and individual officers from England and France. After the February Revolution, the hotel become the Petrograd military hotel. Then in September 1918, the hotel was nationalized and became the first house of the Petrograd Soviet. Afterwards, the hotel hosted mostly foreign tourists.
During its long history, the Astoria has played host to many important and famous people including: Vladimir Lenin, Feodor Chaliapin, Isadora Duncan, H.G. Wells, Mikhail Bulgakov and Alexander Vertinsky. According to the hotel’s website, even Rasputin spent the night here in the company of a lady whose husband was “something in the government.” In more recent history, Margaret Thatcher, Elton John, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Madonna, George Bush, Jacques Chirac and many others have been guests of the hotel. In fact, the names of all famous guests can be read on gilded plaques near the elevators.
Today, the Astoria is the only hotel in Russia that is part of a collection of luxury hotels founded by British hotelier Sir Rocco Forte. Almost $20 million was spent on renovations when Forte took over the management in 1997, which was completed under the direction of Olga Polizzi, Director of Design Rocco Forte Hotels and Forte’s sister.
For its 100th anniversary, the hotel upgraded both its suites as well as unveiling a 3,500 square foot Tsar Suite which includes a large bedroom with a double walk-in wardrobe, a marble bathroom with a double shower, a lounge overlooking St Isaac’s Square, a gym with a dedicated treatment area, a library stocked with over 300 Russian classics, a fully-equipped kitchen and bar area as well as a dining room that can seat up to 16 guests.
At Tuesday’s birthday event, guests included artistic power couple composer Rodion Shchedrin and legendary ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya.