Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: The Lenox (1900), Boston, Massachusetts*
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
The Lenox in Boston’s Back Bay was built in 1900 by Lucius Boomer and was known as the "Waldorf-Astoria of Boston", in recognition of Boomer's famous New York hotel. At the time, the Waldorf and Astoria hotels were merged (hence the hyphen) and were situated on Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Street, later the site of the Empire State Building.
Boomer was a hotelier who had been trained in Henry Flagler's Florida hotels. He built the tallest building in Boston, the 11-story Lenox Hotel, a Beaux Arts beauty. To this day, the Lenox thrives under the ownership of the Saunders Hotel Group. Its recent $50 million renovation included an environmental program which positioned it as a global pioneer in luxurious urban ecotourism.
In 1901, marathon runners appear in photographs for the first time, rather than line drawings, in local newspapers, and the new Lenox Hotel begins its long-running tradition as the epicenter of the Boston Marathon.
In 1907, Lenox invited the famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso who made world headlines with his splashy arrival by pulling alongside The Lenox Hotel on a public rail in his private, plush railroad car.
In 1914, James Michael Curley began his 4-term political reign as Mayor of Boston. Notorious for his rogue dealings and extravagant spending, Curley made great use of The Lenox's function rooms and settled his outstanding hotel bill in the 1920s with a gift of portraits of George and Martha Washington, now hanging in the hotel's Executive Offices.
In 1924, The Lenox was sold to hotelier Roscoe Prior, former owner of the grand Brunswick Hotel, also in Copley Square, just behind Trinity Church. The Lenox housed U.S. Navy personnel during World War II.
In 1955, the Boston Celtics won their first National Basketball Association championship in double overtime. Legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach began a 13-year residence at The Lenox Hotel—residing during training seasons and hosting many poker games until the late 1960s. In 1963, the Saunders family acquired the Lenox Hotel after turning around neighboring Copley Square Hotel. In 1964, Diamond Jim's opened at The Lenox Hotel with 'Boston's Grand Dame' pianist Gladys Troupin, who enjoyed a 30-year run of legendary performances, becoming one of the most famous piano bars in the country.
In 1965, Hollywood's Judy Garland, brought glamour to Boston as she made The Lenox home for three months. Lenox later custom-designed the opulent Judy Garland Suite to pay homage to legendary singer. In 1968, portions of the "Boston Strangler," a movie starring Tony Curtis was filmed at The Lenox, and featured the Lenox's Sales Manager, whose hands 'co star' as the Strangler's hands in film close-ups. In 1970, movie celebrities Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw who portray the Harvard lovebirds in "Love Story" the cult movie classic and stay at the hotel while filming in Boston and Cambridge.
Lucius Boomer introduced such United States hotel business "firsts" such as the six-day work week, a floor reserved for women guests, a floor with Spanish-speaking clerks and maids to cater to guests from Latin America, and the employment of women as front desk receptionists and clerks. Boomer gave great attention to modern management techniques which softened the sometimes harsh carrot-and- stick methods of Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor. Boomer later built the 42- story, 2,200 room Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in 1931, the Bellevue Stratford in Philadelphia, the Willard in Washington, the Windsor in Montreal and the Sherry-Netherland in New York.
*excerpted from my book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013)
About Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by The New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by The New York Times: "Nostalgia for the City's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's...fact-filled...Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf."
Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi is available for purchase from the publisher by visiting bookstore.authorhouse.com.