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Grand Hotels of the Jazz Age: The Architecture of Schultze and Weaver

An Unparalleled Celebration of a Dying Breed: the Luxury Hotel

In 1921 Leonard Shultze left the New York architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore, a firm for which he had been employed for twenty years, and teamed with S. Fullerton Weaver, a real estate developer and engineer, to create a new architectural firm. This new duo became one of the most successful partnerships in the post-war era because they had mastered the design of what was then the seventh largest industry in the country: the luxury hotel. Deftly combining new technology with the demand for huge service areas, grill rooms, spaces for water tanks, employee showers, and private salons for women, Schultze and Weaver satisfied what John McEntee Bowman of the Bowman-Biltmore chain said was a requirement for any architect in this specialty: the ability to create "atmosphere".

Schultze and Weaver designed office buildings, housing developments, schools, and hospitals, but nothing earned them the cache of their luxury hotels: the Waldorf-Astoria, the Breakers, and the L.A. Biltmore among others. San Francisco's own Hunter-Dulin Building, built by S&W in 1926 (ironically on the old site of the Lick Hotel), is the only Chateauesque/Romanesque design in the city, and easily stands out among its architectural neighbors. The design was so original that Dashiell Hammett used the building as the office for his detective Sam Spade.

Recently, the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach acquired a collection of S&W designs and passed it on to Princeton Architectural Press. The result is a book that provides imagery and commentary on 14 S&W hotels completed between 1921 and 1931. The book is lush in postcard art, black and white photography, menu covers, blueprints, and presentation drawings. The work is obviously not straight out of Auto-CAD but the reproduction quality is high enough that were anyone interested in building another sub-basement in the Waldorf-Astoria, they probably could.

The four essays preceding the introduction of the hotels cover a wide range of interests. The first, written by Wolfsonian Research Associate Jonathan Mogul, examines the nine hotels S&W designed in New York and South Florida. The team worked, Mogul says, because Schultze had the experience, including his work on Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, and Weaver had the social station. Weaver was a descendant of President James Buchanan and husband to socialite Lillian Howell. Weaver would stay at newly opened grand hotels as a guest, and during a visit in the lobby; pitch the S&W firm to the owner for his next project. Once the commission was made, Schultze could provide the team to execute it.

Following a formula based on fantasy and escape, S&W designed hotels such as the Nautilus, with two short towers and a red copper cupola and trademark materials of the period including cast iron, cast cement, and terra cotta. Their design for the Miami Biltmore alluded to the Giralda Bell Tower of Seville. The Breakers Hotel, in Palm Beach, boasted a 200-foot-long main lobby that ran parallel to the Atlantic Ocean and borrowed from Italian influences such as travertine walls, marble floors, and loggias.

The second essay, by University of Miami history professor Robin F. Bachin, places S&W's work in the context of America's shifting demand for the "promotion of leisure". She uses the 1829 Tremont Hotel with its revolutionary modern steam heat and plumbing as a jumping-off point to an examination of 19th Century hotels. San Francisco's own Palace Hotel, when it was first built in 1875, employed banana trees in the foyer, and attracted women by providing salons high enough to accommodate floor to ceiling mirrors and rich drapery. Atlantic City also revolutionized the profile of the average hotel guest because their hotels had to attract not only tourists, but also prospective land buyers.

A professor of public administration at Florida International University, Keith Revell, contributes a voice from the urban planning desk. S&W had to deal with new trends and regulations. The public wanted more retail space in their hotels. The workers wanted subbasements, basements, and ballrooms. New Yorkers wanted an apartment life with the service of a hotel. But the city had implemented an ordinance limiting building height based on street widths. Buildings had to fit into a one times or two and a half times zone (one or two and a half times street widths). Thus the setbacks you see in many S&W designs are not pure folly– they're an attempt to work with the iron fist of bureaucracy.

In the final essay, Kenneth Lipartito, professor of history at Florida International University, examines how S&W dealt with the nuts and bolts of a building. For example, the Waldorf-Astoria used 31 elevators, and guests needed 750 thousand gallons of water per day. By the time they got to work on the Waldorf-Astoria, the architects had to build the hotel above the tracks of the New York Central Railroad without interrupting any of the train schedules in an era when the stock market had crashed and faith in luxury had already disappeared.

Looking at the beautiful designs for the Miami Nautilus Hotel with its gondoliers framing its expansive arches and fan-shaped arms, or the photographs of the Park Lane Hotel with its limestone and tapestry brick façade and mirrored ballroom, it is hard to believe these gems have already fallen victim to the wrecking ball. Perhaps this is why a book like this is so dear. It was probably fated that Schultze and Weaver began their partnership when they were already middle-aged. When they built these hotels, they built them for life. Who would expect to see much of their hard work demolished only forty years later.

Grand Hotels of the Jazz Age: The Architecture of Schultze and Weaver
Edited by Marianne Lamonaca and Jonathan Mogul
Princeton Architectural Press
December, 2005
Hardcover, $60
ISBN: 1-56898-555-X
248 pages