Old Philly Postcards: The Bellevue Stratford

bellevueThere is plenty of documentation on the old Bellevue-Stratford (above, in postcard I just bought), now known as Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue. According to Bellevuephiladelphia.com: The Bellevue-Stratford opened its doors in 1904 and became known worldwide as Philadelphia’s pre-eminent hotel, nicknamed “The Grande Dame of Broad Street.” Famed hotelier George C. Boldt (he also managed the Waldorf-Astoria in New York) wanted to build the best hotel of its time—and he did.

The price tag on the hotel was $8,000,000 (1904 dollars) which means that technically Samuel Dalembert is worth more than the Bellevue. The postcard I have is postmarked 1909, so the person who was staying there (Harry) was there when the place was just 5 years old. It has long been considered one of the premiere hotels in Philadelphia, if not the premiere hotel.

Famous guests include Jacob Astor, J.P. Morgan, William Jennings Bryan, Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, and the Vanderbilt family in addition to countless socialites, luminaries and heads of state. Every US President since Theodore Roosevelt has visited The Bellevue.

Here’s more cool info on the early history of the Bellevue-Stratford: With a price tag of $8 million (real money in those days), the new hotel had more than 1,000 rooms and a staff of 800, including women “whose only duty is to act as trunk packers for the women guests, and who are skilled in putting away expensive dresses without mussing them.”

The hotel also included an elegant ballroom that boasted a moveable stage, lighting fixtures designed by Thomas Edison and a spectacular grand staircase. It quickly became the place for society events. Eleanor Dorrance’s debutante ball in 1926 is still legendary. Daddy Dorrance, president of the Campbell Soup Company, shelled out $100,000, including the cost for two orchestras so the music could continue uninterrupted. (One, led by Paul Whiteman, featured Bix Biederbecke on cornet and Bing Crosby as one of the vocalists.)

And you thought the spoiled rotten brats on My Super Sweet 16 were a new development. Of course, the Bellevue is also well known in Philadelphia for the Legionnaires tragedy of 1976. The hotel briefly closed, but was soon reopened. Business was slow in the 80s, and it closed again in 1986. It reopened in 1989. It was bought by Hyatt in 1996, and they have been running it ever since. It looks now much the same as it did 100 years ago. There is much more history to be covered on the Bellevue, but I gotta get to working on questions, so I’ll write some more in the next few days.

park hyatt