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Guest Historian Series: Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: Fairmont Copley Plaza (1912), Boston, Massachusetts*
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
The Copley Plaza Hotel opened in August 1912 on the original site of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It was named in honor of John Singleton Copley (1738-1774), the great American painter. It was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenburgh who was the architect for the Plaza Hotel in New York and the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. The grand opening attracted celebrities, socialites and dignitaries such as Boston Mayor John F. Fitzgerald, grandfather of President John F. Kennedy.
The entrance hallway has been called Peacock Alley since the 1920s (after the famous showplace in the original Waldorf-Astoria in New York). The 5,000 square-foot lobby has a 21-foot high gilded coffered ceiling with matching Empire style crystal chandeliers and Italian marble columns. Much of the classical architecture and decor have been preserved, including the back-to-back "P" monogram. The hotel is known for these industry firsts: the first completely air conditioned hotel in Boston, the first hotel with an international reservation system and the first to accept credit cards.
On March 29, 1979, a disgruntled former employee set multiple fires in both the Copley Plaza and the nearby Sheraton Boston hotels. The fire at the Copley Plaza which was occupied by 430 people at the time, injured 30 people and killed one.
The hotel was purchased by the Sheraton Corporation of America in the early 1950s and operated as the Sheraton-Plaza until 1973 when the John Hancock Insurance Company acquired it and restored its former name. In 1989, John Hancock sold the hotel to a subsidiary of Harvard University who contracted with Wyndham Hotel & Resorts to manage the Wyndham Copley Plaza. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts bought the hotel in September 1996 and sold it to FelCor Lodging Trust Inc. in 2010 but continues to manage it.
The Oval Room has featured many famous entertainers including Frank Sinatra, Rudy Valle and Tony Bennett. The Oak Bar, like its counterpart at the Plaza Hotel in New York, is designed like a British gentleman's club with dark wood paneling and an ornate ceiling. During Prohibition, the Oak Bar was called the Merry-Go-Round Bar with a real merry-go-round and booths for seating. In the 1970s, the merry-go-round was removed and the Oak Bar restored.
The Copley Plaza Hotel has been host to every U.S. President since William Howard Taft and royalty from Greece, Thailand, Abyssinia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Belgium, Denmark and the United Kingdom have visited the hotel. Celebrities like Lena Horne, Dorothy Lewis, Rudy Valle, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Luciano Pavarotti have been guests. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton selected the Copley Plaza for their second honeymoon. The Fairmont Copley Plaza has hosted more weddings than the well-known Trinity Church-located next door.
*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.