The Saint Paul Hotel: Everyone who’s anyone has slept there

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When the Saint Paul Hotel officially opened on April 18, 1910, the city’s movers and shakers enjoyed an 11-course dinner at the hotel, and heard speeches by railroad magnate James J. Hill, Archbishop John Ireland, Governor Adolph Eberhart, and future Supreme Court Justice Pierce Butler. The hotel lobby and dining room were decorated with 6,000 American Beauty roses, according to Gudrun Nordby in “Rice Park: A Walking Tour.”

The hotel opened in “a literal blaze of glory,” in the words of historian Henry A. Castle, perhaps referring to the roses. Castle heaped lavish praise on the enterprise: “The ‘St. Paul’ is the last word in hotel magnitude, comforts and splendors, not only of the city, but of the great middle west,” he wrote. “All of the finish and furnishings of the hotel, throughout, are the acme of sumptuousness guided by artistic harmony of embellishment.” Hotel management is quoted inviting women to enjoy the new venue, “We deem it an honor and a privilege to receive the patronage of women, by whose presence the tone of the hotel is guaranteed to be high class.”

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At the time, the hotel featured as public areas a lobby, lounge, dining room, palm room (where a dinner was held for Charles Lindbergh a few years later, after his historic transatlantic flight), bar, billiard room, barber shop and a rooftop garden. Today the hotel boasts a rooftop fitness center, 13,000 feet of meeting and event space, including the renowned Promenade Ballroom (“a Minnesota institution for 95 years,” says the hotel website), a 24-hour business center, the Lobby Bar, the St. Paul Grill, M Street Café, and beautiful gardens along the front entrance. The hotel is managed by Morrissey Hospitality Companies, Inc.

Over the years, the Saint Paul has remained one of the city’s premier locations, and has won much recognition. From 1983 to 2016—33 consecutive years—it received the AAA Four Diamond Award. It’s received awards from Conde Nast, Trip Advisor, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, U.S. News Travel, Travel + Leisure, City Pages, and more.

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The site of the Saint Paul Hotel—350 Market Street, facing Rice Park, bounded by St. Peter, West Fourth Street and West Fifth Street—has been a center of hospitality for the city from its very beginnings. As far back as 1856, John Summers, a contractor, let travelers stay in his home on the site, and in 1861 he built the 60-room Greenman Hotel there. The Greenman Hotel burned down just six years later, but soon Summers and a partner replaced it with the Windsor Hotel, a five-story brick-and-stone structure, which operated as a hotel until its manager, Charles J. Monfort, died in 1902.

The Saint Paul Hotel originated with a group of the city’s leaders, led by Lucius Ordway. After the demise of the Windsor Hotel, the booming city of Saint Paul sorely needed more hotel space. The Saint Paul Business League spent two years seeking investors, without success. Ordway then stepped up and said he would spend $775,000 to build a modern hotel if someone bought and donated the land, valued at $125,000, according to the St. Paul Daily News, April 17, 1910. The Business League group successfully raised the money for the land, and Ordway built the hotel. The architects hired were Reed and Stem, who had built the Saint Paul Auditorium and Grand Central Station in New York City. The Saint Paul Hotel was considered the firm’s finest work, and known locally as the Million-Dollar Hotel.

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In the years since the opening celebration, the hotel has seen many years of glory and a few of disrepair. Some highlights are:

*KSTP Radio had its headquarters on the twelfth (top) floor from 1928 until the mid-1940s and broadcast bands playing in the ballroom on Saturday nights.

*The first Sunday smorgasbord in the region began at the hotel in 1946, offering 52 hot dishes, 42 salads, and various other dishes for $1.95 and serving nearly 1500 people each Sunday, according to Nordby.

*When the downtown declined in the 1960s and 1970s, so did the hotel. It closed in August 1979 and was rebuilt in 1981-1983. A new entrance was built on St. Peter Street, and three of the five chandeliers from the old Casino Ballroom hang in the lobby today.

*When the hotel was renovated, the partners in the enterprise included Betty Musser, who had spearheaded the rescue of the Federal Courts Building (now Landmark Center) across the street, and two of Lucius Ordway’s grandchildren, Sally Irvine and Gilman Ordway.

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*U.S. presidents who have stayed at the hotel include William Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

*As a young bandleader, Lawrence Welk played Saturday nights at the hotel beginning in 1937, later gaining national prominence and a long-lived, popular television show.

*Gene Autry and his horse Champion were in town for a rodeo at the Saint Paul Auditorium in 1937. Autry stayed at the hotel, and where his horse stayed is uncertain, but Champion made at least one appearance in the hotel lobby.

*The hotel was the site of gangster Leon Gleckman’s operations in the 1920s and 1930s.

*When the U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, the victory was celebrated at the Saint Paul Hotel with a “Jubilee Banquet.”

*In the late 1950s and early 1960s the hotel’s Gopher Grill, where Harry Blons’ band played Dixieland music, was a popular nightspot.

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*Other prominent guests—the list is very long—include F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Charles Lindbergh, Jason Robards, Henry Kissinger, Prince, Tom Brokaw, Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney, Billie Jean King, Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong, Chick Corea, Cloris Leachman, Willard Scott, Peter Townsend of the Who, Dinah Shore, Isaac Stern, Judy Collins, Margaret Thatcher, Enrico Caruso, Carl Bernstein, local playwright August Wilson (who had once worked at the hotel), Minnie Pearl, Ozzy Osbourne, Marie Osmond, Walter Mondale, Geraldine Ferraro, Peter Graves, Jack Lemmon, Bill Murray, ZZ Top, Kenny Loggins, Tina Turner, Walter Matthau, Steve Allen, Gladys Knight, Yo-Yo Ma, Chet Atkins, John Glenn, John Dillinger, Ma Barker, Eleanor Roosevelt and many more.

Over many decades, the Saint Paul Hotel has been the city’s grande dame and has filled that role with dignity and pride.

April 2010, revised December 2016 and August 2018

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5 thoughts on “The Saint Paul Hotel: Everyone who’s anyone has slept there

  1. Lisa, a great review and an informative insight into a classic hotel. The hotel has warmth, charm, and beauty. The woodwork and furnishings reflect the splendor of a grand hotel. The hotel is warm and inviting. I would love to visit the hotel.

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  2. While visiting St. Paul (from Florida), to celebrate the birth of my grandson, Lincoln Thomas Eichers, I had lunch at the St. Paul Hotel with Anthony Galloway and Amani Ward. Outside the restaurant, I noticed a display case containing artifacts from the hotel’s history. Among the artifacts was a coaster indicating that it was, “a Lincoln Hotel”. I am not sure what that means, however, I was amused by the “Lincoln” reference and took a photograph. Early that day I had visited the former site of the Dakota Village, Ft. Snelling was closed.. We walked the trail. I was fascinated by the history of the Dakota people, that Anthony shared with me, which included information about the encampment of Dakota people and the tragedy of 1862. It was great to see the efforts to preserve that history. I appreciate your blog, a wonderful introduction to interesting historical sites in the city. I look forward to following you and visiting more of the sites you introduce, Love St. Paul!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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