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Which historic hotel was selected by President Nixon to host a celebratory dinner in honor of the successful Apollo 11 mission?

On July 20, 1969, the unimaginable happened: American ingenuity, creativity and innovation prevailed when the three astronauts of Apollo 11 made it to the moon. In commemoration of this historic event, President Richard Nixon decided to host a celebratory banquet to honor Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, and to award the men the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Held on August 13, 1969 at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, it would be the first state dinner held outside the White House in over a century.

Dinner of the Century Gala

Left: Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong stand with President Richard Nixon. Right: President Richard Nixon presents the Apollo 11 crew with the Medal of Freedom.

The "Dinner of the Century" as it was called in The Los Angeles Times, was "one of the largest, most prestigious, and most publicized state dinners in history.” According to The New York Times, the dinner was one of the most coveted invites in town, with the White House fielding phone calls all week from those asking to be included on the guest list.

Ultimately, the soiree was attended by 1440 people including Vice President Spiro Agnew, future United States President Ronald Reagan (then Governor of California), other state governors, astronauts, senators, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, and diplomats from 83 nations. Revered journalist Walter Cronkite, aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun, and entertainers like Red Skelton, Rudy Vallee and Gene Autry were also in attendance.

Astronauts and Nixons

Left to Right: Vice President Spiro Agnew, Judy Agnew, Joan Aldrin, Buzz Aldrin, Pat Collins, Michael Collins, Janet Armstrong, Neil Armstrong, First Lady Pat Nixon, and President Richard Nixon.

As the guests of honor, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were front and center with their wives. They were flown in on Air Force One after attending ticker-tape parades and festivities in New York City and Chicago. According to The Washington Post, President Nixon and the First Lady arrived in true Hollywood style, descending from a helicopter in the back parking lot of the hotel. The President, astronauts, and their wives stayed in the luxurious Presidential and Royal Suites, complete with baby grand pianos and views of 20th Century-Fox's massive 76-acre set for the popular TV series Peyton Place.

Walter Roth Executive Chef and Ernst Mueller Pastry Chef Menu

Left: Menu from the "Dinner of the Century." Right: President Richard Nixon greets Walter Roth, The Century Plaza's Executive Chef, and Ernst Mueller, The Century Plaza's Pastry Chef.

The Century Plaza worked closely with the White House staff to create an out-of-this-world evening. The dinner's space theme included "moon rock" petit fours and a special dessert invented for the evening, Claire de Lunes, which was made of marzipan and meringue, and topped with blackberry sauce and an American flag. Guests dined on salmon poached in champagne, filet of beef perigourdine with artichokes and curried carrots, and delicious French cheeses served on a bed of lettuce.

During the dinner, songs such as "Fly Me to the Moon," "Moon Over Miami," and "Moonglow" played for the guests. The décor was inspired by the extraordinary progress of aviation with the original design ideas including displays of the Wright Brothers' original plane, Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis," and the Apollo 11 space capsule. However, this plan proved to be a little too ambitious as, according to The Los Angeles Times, “…the Apollo 11 was too big to get through the hotel’s largest doors.”

Historic sketch of Century Plaza

Historical sketch of The Century Plaza circa 1969.

According to The Washington Post, when the White House contacted Harry Mullikin, managing director of the Century Plaza, about hosting the dinner at the hotel, Mullikin asked, "Why here?" White House staff replied, "Well, isn't yours the most beautiful hotel in the world?" The Century Plaza was certainly the perfect venue for the celebration, with its space-age design and location on Avenue of the Stars and Constellation Boulevard. Today, the hotel pays homage to this historic event with its appropriately named Constellation Ballroom and Galactic Conference Room.

This has been a Historic Hotels History Mystery.
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Question: Which historic hotel was selected by President Nixon to host a celebratory dinner in honor of the successful Apollo 11 mission?

  1. Fairmont Century Plaza
  2. The Capital Hilton
  3. Hotel del Coronado
  4. The Whitehall
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