When the Ritz-Carlton hotel opened in 1927 in Boston, guests had to adhere to a dress code. The hotel forbade women to dine alone and sometimes rejected guests if they requested reservations on writing paper deemed too cheap.
It was a smashing success.
Boston’s Ritz-Carlton combined European luxury with Bostonian snobbery. It offered a bathroom in every guest room, a la carte dining according to Escoffier, waiters in white tie and fresh flowers everywhere.
Guests viewed the Ritz-Carlton as their private club, and the hotel carefully guarded their privacy. Hotel management kept the riff-raff away. “Riff-raff” meant someone not listed in the Social Register or Who’s Who.
It was the Ritz-Carlton, Boston that revolutionized the hospitality industry in America, “setting the bar for what luxury hotels should be,” wrote Kimberly Wylie in a seminar paper,
Total Quality Management – A Case Study of a Quality Award Winning Organization.
Puttin’ On the Ritz
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel very nearly became an apartment building called the Mayflower.
Edward Wyner, 29, had bought a third of an acre across from the Public Garden in 1926 and built the first two stories of an apartment building. Then he got a phone call from Mayor James Michael Curley, who persuaded him to build a world-class hotel instead.
Cesar Ritz, ‘the “king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings,” had set the world standard for luxury, service, cuisine and privacy at the Ritz in Paris and the Carlton in London.
Ritz died in 1918, but his wife continued to expand the hotel management business bearing his name. Wyner got permission to use the Ritz-Carlton name.
On May 19, 1927 the Ritz-Carlton opened to Boston’s elite — at least those willing to pay $15 for a room. The hotel served its signature dish that first night — Lobster au Whiskey. It signified the rich and insouciant tenor of the hotel.
Cobalt blue dinner goblets served as one of the hallmarks of Ritz luxury. People viewed them as a status symbol in the 1920s. They actually hearkened back to a time in Boston when window glass from Europe turned blue upon hitting the Boston air. Blue glass showed you could afford imported windows.
Holiday Magazine compared the Ritz in 1927 to an aloof, elegant Beacon Hill spinster. It described the hotel as “eccentric, independent and dedicated to the defense of morals, manners and good taste.”
Nonetheless, celebrities, world leaders and artists flocked to the Ritz-Carlton.
The hotel indulged its celebrity guests’ whims with its own upholstery and print shops. Winston Churchill’s favorite color was red, so management reupholstered the furniture in that color. Joan Crawford’s room was decorated with a theme of peppermint Lifesavers, her favorite candy.
People flocked to the restaurants for music, as the Roof at the Ritz hosted Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Oscar Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to Edelweiss in the shower during a stay. Richard Rodgers composed Ten Cents a Dance on a piano in a Ritz-Carlton suite. Tennessee Williams wrote part of A Streetcar Named Desire while staying at the hotel.
Then came the Great Depression. Wyner struggled to keep up appearances during those hard times. Though guests occupied only 30 rooms of the hotel one grim night, Wyner kept every light on.
The Ritz survived the Depression and remained Boston’s society hotel through the 1950s. Then Ed Wyner died of a heart attack in 1961. In 1964 Gerald F. Blakeley and associates bought the Ritz-Carlton Boston.
Blakeley owned the hotel for 20 years. It only made money in three of those years. But, he said, “from a public relations standpoint … it was a tremendous asset.”
From 1951 to 1975, the Ritz-Carlton Boston was one of only two Ritz-Carltons in the United States. The other one was in Atlantic City, and has since been converted to condominiums. In 1975, Blakeley sold the Ritz-Carlton trademark to real estate developer William Johnson, who expanded the company worldwide.
Today, the company known as the Ritz-Carlton in Boston has moved across the Common.
This story was updated in 2022.
Image: The former Ritz-Carlton Boston (2004) By Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA – Boston Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=89432321.