2000s Archive

Checking Into History

Originally Published May 2000
From the birth of lobbying to the most illicit affairs, all the good stuff happened behind these closed doors.

Willard Inter-Continental

Opened: 1850

Where: Washington, D.C. Guest register: Every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce; Harry Houdini; Mae West. Behind the scenes: The first Japanese delegation to the U.S. stayed at the Willard in 1860. Julia Ward Howe wrote “Battle Hymn of the Republic” here. President Ulysses S. Grant used to escape to the Willard’s lobby but was often approached by those seeking special favors, giving birth to the term lobbying.

Palace Hotel

Opened: 1875

Where: San Francisco Guest register: Enrico Caruso, who fell out of bed during the 1906 earthquake; King David Kalakaua of Hawaii, who died here. Behind the scenes: In 1945 the hotel hosted the official banquet for the opening of the United Nations.

Hotel del Coronado

Opened: 1888

Where: Coronado, CA Guest register: Sarah Bernhardt; Greta Garbo; Kelsey Grammer; Jack Nicholson; President Bill Clinton. Behind the scenes: L. Frank Baum drew his inspiration for the Emerald City in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from The Del’s Victorian façade. In the movies: Some Like It Hot.

The Brown Palace Hotel

Opened: 1892

Where: Denver Guest register: Every U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt; Spike Lee; U2. Behind the scenes: Ike put a dent (still there) in the fireplace molding while practicing in-room putting. The Artist, formerly known as Prince, had his bed stripped to the frame in order to accommodate his own mattress.

The Beverly Hills Hotel

Opened: 1912

Where: Beverly Hills Guest register: Virtually every famous movie star, plus The Beatles. Behind the scenes: The place for illicit affairs, from Gable and Lombard (before his divorce) to (it’s rumored) Marilyn and JFK. Katharine Hepburn once dove into the pool fully clothed. Marlene Dietrich ignored, and ultimately changed, the no-slacks rule for women in the Polo Lounge. In the movies: California Suite.

Arizona Biltmore

Opened: 1929

Where: Phoenix Guest register: Ava Gardner; Frank Sinatra; Tom Cruise; Nicole Kidman; Michael Jordan; George Clooney. Behind the scenes: Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned here, as did Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. The hotel’s Prohibition-era liquor cabinet was virtually raid-proof—it converted into a bookcase.

The Waldorf-Astoria

Opened: 1931

Where: New York City Guest register: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor; all U.S. presidents since Hoover. Behind the scenes: Maître d’ Oscar Tschirky invented the Waldorf salad, veal Oscar, and Thousand Island dressing here. Cole Porter wrote Kiss Me, Kate here. In the movies: Week-End at the Waldorf, Arthur, Scent of a Woman, You’ve Got Mail.

Fontainebleau Hilton

Opened: 1954

Where: Miami Beach Guest register: Elvis Presley; Liberace; Frank Sinatra; Judy Garland. Behind the scenes: Architect Morris Lapidus’s faux Louis XIV décor, once ridiculed, is now considered masterful. The 1960s TV series Surfside Six shot here. In the movies: Goldfinger; Scarface; Analyze This.

Hotel Queen Mary

Opened: 1972

Where: Long Beach, CA Guest register: Prince Michael of Kent (Queen Mary’s grandson). Behind the scenes: The Queen Mary, one of the most famous transatlantic liners and now a hotel, began life in 1936. Some guests claim the ship is haunted. Al Gore has campaigned on board. In the movies: The Poseidon Adventure; Being John Malkovich.

Subscribe to Gourmet