Hotel History: Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans

The original Roosevelt New Orleans Hotel was built in 1893 by Louis Grunewald, a German immigrant, as the Grunewald Hotel. In 1908, it was expanded with a fourteen-story 400-room annex. The expansion was designed by the Milwaukee architectural firm, H.C. Koch & Sons who also designed the Pfister Hotel and the City Hall in Milwaukee.

The Grunewald was the site of The Cave, one of America's first nightclubs. The subterranean supper club came with waterfalls, stalagmites, stalactites and a line of chorus girls dancing to a Dixieland jazz band. The Cave remained in operation until it was replaced by the popular Blue Room in 1935. The Grunewald family ran the hotel until 1923 when it was purchased by a group of New Orleans investors who renamed it the Roosevelt in honor of former president Theodore Roosevelt.

Eventually, it was purchased by Seymour Weiss who managed and then owned it for more than thirty years. Weiss was a confidant of U.S. Senator and Governor of Louisiana Huey Long who used the hotel as a home-away-from-home with a suite on the 12th floor. Long intended to challenge President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency but he was assassinated in Baton Rouge.

The Roosevelt was acquired by First Class Hotels in 1965 who changed its name to Fairmont Roosevelt and later Fairmont New Orleans. The Fairmont was famous for the Sazerac Bar and the Sazerac Room with its fine dining in a city of great restaurants. Another Fairmont restaurant was Bailey's which was open all night and served comfort food.

The Fairmont New Orleans was severely damaged in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina and was closed for more than four years. In 2007, Sam Friedman of the Dimension Development Company of Natchitoches, Louisiana, acquired the hotel and commenced a $170 million restoration in order to join Hilton's Waldorf-Astoria Collection.

The Roosevelt was supposedly the inspiration for Arthur Hailey's 1965 novel "Hotel". It is the story of an independent New Orleans hotel, the St. Gregory, and its owner's struggle to regain profitability in order to avoid being acquired by a large national chain of hotels. The novel was adapted into a movie in 1969 and into a television series in 1983 by Aaron Spelling. In the novel, the owner reflects about the St. Gregory Hotel:

He had seen it grow from insignificance to prominence, from a modest initial building to a towering edifice occupying most of a city block. The hotel's reputation, too, had for many years been high, its name ranking nationally with traditional hostelries like the Biltmore, or Chicago's Palmer House or the St. Francis in San Francisco.

At one point, the General Manager reports to the owner about the possibility of overbooking: "I talked with the Roosevelt (Hotel). If we're in a jam tonight they can help us out with maybe thirty rooms." The knowledge, he thought, was reassuring-- an-ace-in-the-hole, though not to be used unless essential. Even fiercely competitive hotels aided each other in that kind of crisis, never knowing when the roles would be reversed. (page 64-65)

Over its long life, the Roosevelt has hosted such famous entertainers as Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.

Frommer's Review reports:

There are celebrities, and then there are movie stars. The Roosevelt is a movie star of a hotel: grand, glam, confident, memorable. You don't just enter the gilded, block-long lobby-- you arrive. The former Fairmont reopened under the Waldorf Astoria banner in 2009, following a $170- million renovation that updated everything down to the legacy.

Oh, and then there are the guest rooms. They're fittingly formal if somewhat staid, in dark woods and charcoal and gold tones, with pretty mosaic bathroom floors that echo the lobby tile.

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