Front page of history: Centenary of the hotel | The titles of the story

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In 2022, the Hotel Bethlehem will celebrate its 100th anniversary, but the roots on which it was founded go back to the early days of the community.

Next year, the Hotel Bethlehem will celebrate its 100th anniversary with several special events that will mark its arrival on the local scene. It was the first true city hotel the Lehigh Valley would experience. It was followed in 1924 by the Easton Hotel and the Americus of Allentown in 1927.

At that time, having a hotel in the city center was a mark that a place had passed the era of the horse and buggy and entered the 20th century. Everything from conventions and weddings to celebrity celebrity receptions was held there. In an era when distances and faraway lands weren’t just a jet plane ride away, hotels still had the allure of the exotic.

Some of the guests arrived with trunks, a line of bellboys carrying luggage behind them. Amelia Earhart addressed a bustling crowd at the Bethlehem Hotel in 1928 through Bethlehem Rotary and the World Tour flyer, Wiley Post was hosted by the Kiwanis Club from Allentown to the Americus in 1933.

The events took place against the backdrop of crystal chandeliers, a uniformed porter and bellboys. It was the place of the interwar period where important events took place and where distinguished guests arrived and were entertained. You could hear big band music offered by touring orchestras like Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller or the Dorsey Brothers.

One of the most popular books of the time, set in a pre-Hitler Berlin hotel with a cast of many characters, was Vicki Baum’s novel “Grand Hotel”. In 1932, Hollywood made a film of the same name that won the Oscar for Best Picture and was a huge box office success. Among its stars were Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford.

In one of the most successful advertising campaigns known. in 1933, a New York advertiser recruited hunter Johnny Roventini at the New Yorker Hotel to “hire Phill-ip Morrees” to advertise Philip Morris cigarettes. The call spread nationwide on radio and television and could be heard in the announcement of the sponsor of “I Love Lucy”.

Coincidentally, the opening of the Bethlehem Hotel came days after another major hotel-centric event at the Majestic Hotel in Paris.

On the evening of May 18, 1922, a wealthy Anglo-American couple, Violet and Sydney Schiff hosted a special dinner for Serge Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballet Russe, who shocked the Parisian dance world on the verge of riot in 1913 with “Igor Stravinsky” Rites of Spring.

Asked by the King of Spain about what he has done for the ballet, Diaghilev replied: “Your Majesty, I am like you; I do not work, I do nothing, but I am indispensable! The couple also invited composer Stravinsky, artist Pablo Picasso and authors Marcel Proust and James Joyce.

Whatever Schiff’s hopes for the evening were, they were almost certainly dashed. Joyce arrived drunk, or at least pretended to be; Picasso was relatively courteous, but his wife was boisterous; and Stravinsky was brooding about his last bad reviews for his most recent work.

Proust, an invalid, arrives at 2:30 am. in a fur coat and white gloves. He inadvertently insulted Stravinsky while praising Beethoven. “I hate Beethoven,” shouted the composer. Proust and Joyce apparently spent the remainder of the evening either complaining about their health or obviously noting that they had never read each other’s works.

It’s good to be able to say that things were nicer for the opening of the Hotel Bethlehem. And the most interesting was the origin of the hotel, the titan of Bethlehem Steel Charles Michael Schwab.

Schwab – who once boasted that until he was 17 he hadn’t worn clothes that weren’t made by his mother – by 1920 he had stayed in some of the best hotels in the world . London, Paris, Monte-Carlo: he had frequented them all. He has crossed the Atlantic on the White Star Olympic liner, sister ship of the Titanic on several occasions.

But it was apparently only during World War I that Schwab understood the need for a modern hotel in Bethlehem. When Bethlehem Steel became the largest supplier of arms to the Allied cause, it attracted a different kind of customer.

French and English generals and executives from European armaments companies become frequent visitors. As Bethlehem was only a relatively short train ride from New York, that hadn’t been a problem at first. But now, if Bethlehem was serious about being considered a first-class place, it needed a modern hotel.

It didn’t have to be the Ritz or the Plaza, but travelers to town to do business with what was becoming the second largest steel company in the world needed a beautiful, well-built structure that didn’t require its customers to use “exterior plumbing”. “It would also help further shape the identity of the newly united city of Bethlehem.

There is a good chance that many details of this hotel project are in the hands of the mayor of Bethlehem and former steel company executive Archibald “Arch” Johnson. Schwab knew this was a task he could entrust to Johnson who had lived in Bethlehem for a long time and had deep ties to the community, which Schwab did not have.

The site chosen was occupied by the aging Eagle Hotel. In 1920, it belonged to the estate of former owner George E. Myers. It was bought for $ 75,000. June 1, 1921 at 5 a.m. on a partly cloudy afternoon Johnson, City Council, Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce

and many members of the community gathered on Main Street to witness the cornerstone of the new hotel being laid.

After Johnson’s introduction, Ms. Elizabeth Lehman Myers, a renowned Moravian historian in the community, showed up to give what The Morning Call called a “brief overview” of the history of the site. Myers began by mentioning that it was one of the first sites cleared by the Moravians, called First House, and where at Christmas in 1741, Count Zinzendorf gave Bethlehem his name.

She went on to note that the community’s second store was located there from 1749 to 1823. Then the Eagle Hotel, referred to in some sources as the Golden Eagle, followed from 1823 to 1920.

Among the guests of the Eagle Hotel in 1839 was President Martin Van Buren, the first US president to visit the Lehigh Valley during his tenure. He did not spend the night there but was welcomed to a meal and rally by Democrats.

Locals may also have remembered, and laughed or sighed with relief, a little local history about the hotel when it was run in the 19th century by Caleb Yohe n ‘ was not mentioned.

Every Christmas, Yohe created the most elaborate putz in town for the Eagle. But her daughter May, who used to entertain guests at the Eagle as a child, in the 1890s had taken the stage, married an English lord, wore the Hope Diamond, and then made headlines. international newspapers while fleeing from her husband with her lover on a trip around the world. Conservative Bethlehem found all of this horrible.

The Morning Call noted that the new Bethlehem Hotel was estimated to cost $ 1,500,000 and its cornerstone was carved from a large stone from the Eagle’s foundation. “The new modern hotel will therefore stand on historic ground,” the appeal noted.

The Bethlehem Hotel would have 8 floors with 200 en-suite bedrooms. “The John W. Wiggins Company of Philadelphia is erecting the building. All structural steel used was manufactured by Bethlehem Steel. The columns are known as the forms of Bethlehem, ”the newspaper added.

The company formed to manage the Bethlehem Hotel had at least one Bethlehem Steel executive, AH Buck, on its board.

The economy was in deep depression in 1921 and 1922, but work on the hotel continued uninterrupted. As it rose skyward to be among the tallest buildings in the Lehigh Valley, it is possible that at least some wondered if it was not out of place in their quaint Moravian town.

But by the dawn of spring 1922, it was clear to many that the building was being done quickly and would be completed soon. Now the curiosity and anticipation were clearly at a high level. Even the skeptics wanted to take a look.

Finally, it was announced by WL Jones, the hotel manager, that members of the Rotary Club of Bethlehem would be the first to get a glimpse.

On May 17, 1922, after their usual midday lunch, the men arrived at the front door of the hotel where Jones greeted them. He gave the Rotarians a full tour, explaining how the building was constructed and describing the furnishings. At the end of its brief history on the subject, the Morning Call noted that they all seemed impressed and that it would prove to be “a decisive merit for Steel City.”

That day, Jones announced that May 20 would be the official opening preceded by a general public screening from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. But the big event for Jones would take place on the evening of Friday, May 19 when hotel shareholders, Bethlehem Steel executives and their wives and friends and the press were due to have their first glimpse.

That day rose cloudy with a forecast of a possibility of showers. But if the rain did fall, it failed to dampen the excitement of the estimated 500 crowd that gathered at the Bethlehem Hotel that evening.

To add a touch of elegance, Jones set the event to music. Members of the Bethlehem Hotel Orchestra, leader and first violin Joseph Burtlieb, accompanied by violinist Arthur Hudson, Miss Edna Weaver on piano and the ELBUCHMAN cello, located on the mezzanine, were among the first sounds heard by the guests. While no programs were listed in the call, Waltzes from Struss and selections from Offenbach were likely part of the musical offerings.

Guests entered a lobby painted in cream and gold with dark blue decorations adorned with “artistically placed” ferns and palms. Baskets of small roses were also placed around the room. The lobby furniture consisted of red velvet sofas and chairs.

“To the right of the lobby as you enter is the cafe while a few steps to the left lead to a veranda furnished with wicker and ferns,” the call noted.

Following the stairs to the mezzanine, guests were greeted by the ballroom, “a wonderful place to enjoy an evening of dancing”. The hotel had secured the services of a dance band known as Lehigh Six. Likely from Lehigh University, these were the John Walton violin, Maxwell Glen saxophone, NC Carter piano, Francis O’Keefe drums, and Robert Allen banjo.

The dances most associated with the 1920s today, such as the Charleston and the Black Bottom, had not yet “entered”. But there have been couples who have tried out the new dance floor with a foxtrot or, for the more daring, a tango, under a ceiling “completely covered in dazzling crystal”.

As it was Prohibition, there was no public bar. But as some ventured into the night and made their way to their smack bar of choice, no one could deny that Hotel Bethlehem lived up to its standards.

hype. “Dressed in all its glory, the new Bethlehem Hotel has proven to be a revelation to those who have visited it,” noted the Appeal.

During its 100 years, the Bethlehem Hotel has seen its ups and downs when famous guests from John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill to Ozzie Nelson walked into its lobby and many despaired of its existence. That she survived and prospered is a testament to the faith she inspired.


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