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The Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel, Philadelphia’s Venerable Grand Dame

by Suzanne Fluhr on May 22, 2016 · 20 comments

Rose Garden Ballroom at the Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel

The front facade of the

The front facade of the Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel.

If you’re a Philadelphian of a a certain age, you grew up somewhat in awe of Philadelphia’s Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, the” Grand Dame of Broad Street”. Opened in 1904 and constructed in the French Renaissance style, the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, now the Hyatt at The Bellevue, remains a venerable reminder of Philly’s Gilded Age. The hotel is regally situated at Broad and Walnut Streets, just a few blocks south Philadelphia’s historic City Hall, on what is now Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts.

My first visit to the Bellevue-Stratford was as a slightly bewildered 10th grader in 1968 when I represented Indonesia at a mock United Nations held there. My next memory is from 1975-1976 when I worked across the street as a paralegal for Community Legal Services. The Bellevue-Stratford’s grand facade was in stark contrast to the windowless office where I interviewed indigent divorce clients in the days before No Fault divorce.

I admit to holding my breath and crossing the street to avoid the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in July, 1976, during the dark days of the Legionnaires Disease outbreak, a then mysterious killer lung infection named after the stricken American Legion veterans attending a conference held at the hotel. Not surprisingly, having a “new” potentially lethal disease pinned to aerosolized bacteria from the hotel air conditioning system was not great for business.

During the early 1980’s, Mr. Excitement’s medical residency group from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania held several social events there. I figured if they thought it was safe, it also would be OK for me to breathe there.

Since the dark days of the Legionnaires outbreak, the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel has been reincarnated a number of times, passing through several owners before being acquired by Hyatt in 1996. Soon after, I again found myself working across the street from the hotel, this time as a Philadelphia lawyer. The food court, Underground at The Bellevue, became one of my “go to” lunch spots and I even joined the Sporting Club fitness center at The Bellevue as the result of a failed New Year’s resolution to become fit.

Rose Garden Ballroom at the Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel

The Hyatt at The Bellevue’s 19th floor Rose Garden Ball Room is a reminder of Philadelphia’s elegant Gilded Age.

Lobby of the Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel Philadelphia

We were greeted by hostesses in period dress in the  French Renaissance style lobby of the Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel.

Speaking of reincarnations, in my reinvented travel blogger persona, I recently attended a celebration at the Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel to mark the completion of renovations to 133 guest rooms and associated corridors by the Marguerite Rodgers design firm. After enjoying signature cocktails and a worthy collection of samples from the restaurant XIX’s new spring menu in the elegant Rose Garden Ballroom, we were treated to a tour of the renovations by members of the design team. By the way, you MUST try the crab cakes.

Given that I reside within 4 blocks of the Hyatt at The Bellvue, I have not spent a night there, but based on the guest rooms I saw, I would not hesitate to choose the hotel as the place to rest my head during a visit to the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection).

Given the reconfigurations of the hotel over more than a century, no two rooms at the hotel are the same shape; however, all have high to VERY high ceilings, giving an airiness to even smaller rooms. In wall and window finishings, the Marguerite Rodgers team chose calming neutrals and they designed modern takes on colonial era furniture. They removed the heavy damask drapes and replaced them with plantation shutters, permitting appreciation of the architectural detail in the old window casements. I suspect that this summer, some lucky delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be happy to have a Hyatt at the Bellevue hotel room as a retreat.

I was truly impressed by the care, expense and thoughtfulness that went into conceptualizing and giving life to the design plan. Contrary to my experience in some other 5 star hotels where guest floor corridors are places to be hurried through, the Hyatt at The Bellevue has wide, nicely illuminated halls with interesting labeled art work. The Marguerite Rodgers design team decided to capitalize on the hotel’s location on Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts by collaborating with some of Philadelphia’s world class performance groups such as the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Walnut Street Theater and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. In the hotel corridors, these groups are represented by framed archival costume designer sketches which are then expanded in larger works along the same hall. Corridors are also decorated with vintage photos of Philadelphia celebrity actress, and future Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly. In the elevator lobbies on each floor, guests are greeted by reimagined cameos of Founding Fathers who debated and signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. The designers also commissioned and showcase original works by well-regarded Philadelphia artists and photographers.

View from the 19th floor of the Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia

The view form the public 19th floor of the Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel, looking southeast with the Delaware River in the distance.

The Hyatt at The Bellevue has a stellar location for visitors to Philadelphia. It is in walking distance (or a very short taxi ride) of the museums on the Philadelphia Benjamin Franklin Parkway; the art deco and neo gothic “skyscrapers” along Walnut Street which can best be described as the Rodeo Drive of Philadelphia shopping; the trendy Rittenhouse Square neighborhood; the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Reading Terminal Market area; and what we like to consider the most historic square mile in the United States, colonial era Philadelphia. Indeed, the hotel itself is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I have decided Mr. Excitement and I soon will be celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary at XIX, the Hyatt at The Bellevue’s elegant 19th floor restaurant with its highest outside eating balcony in Philadelphia. I’ll ask for a table facing west for the sunset and I’ll highly recommend that he order the crab cakes.

Have you been to the Hyatt at The Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia? Does your home city have an iconic historic hotel?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Janice Chung May 22, 2016 at 11:16 pm

Well the hotel certainly has had a history—-good and bad. The Legionnaires outbreak would definitely cause me to avoid the hotel entirely. It’s so nice to see hotels retain the grandeur of the early 1900s, with photos and sketches showing its history. Seeing the photos of Princess Grace would be especially fun. When you celebrate your anniversary, have a wonderful time (and meal!). One day I’ll get to Philadelphia, thanks to your posts on this great city!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr May 23, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Janice, I hope you will come to Philly some day. We’ll have lunch or dinner at the Hyatt at The Bellvue and I promise you will live to tell the tale. 😉

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avatar Donna Janke May 23, 2016 at 12:25 am

It’s nice to see the old Grand Dame hotels renovated with care to still be able to appreciate original architectural details. My home city of Winnipeg also has an iconic hotel – the Fort Garry, one of Canada’s great railway hotels, built in 1913.

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avatar Denis Gagnon May 23, 2016 at 6:35 am

Having relatives who live in Philadelphia and are charming hosts, I’ve never had the chance to stay at the iconic Hyatt at the Bellevue Hotel, although I have attended a couple of wedding receptions there. Your personal history with the hotel seems as interesting to read about as the history of the hotel itself!

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avatar Jacqueline Gum May 23, 2016 at 7:50 am

I love to see older hotels renovated with great care and this looks like no exception. I had completely forgotten about the Legionnaires outbreak. I’m not sure if that is a function of my age, or my attitude:) But I really enjoyed the story and the pictures.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr May 23, 2016 at 4:45 pm

It is hard to remember back that far, but fear really gripped the city during that outbreak. It was a perfect storm of heat, humidity and an elderly population of veterans all concentrated in one place. The silver lining is that the culprit bacterium was finally isolated and identified, so early intervention now saves most victims. It was a triumph of epidemiology.

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avatar Mike May 23, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Hi Suzanne, you are going to get me to Philly come heck or high water, aren’t you? 🙂 I looked at the menu for XIX and there are several items I would want to order! Good post 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr May 23, 2016 at 4:41 pm

Mike, if you get yourself here, dinner at XIX is on me!

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avatar Mike May 23, 2016 at 10:25 pm

Dannnng, now the ante has really gone up! 🙂

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avatar Josie May 23, 2016 at 7:49 pm

Hi Suzanne,
Conrad grew up in Philly, we have enjoyed most of the iconic places and events in your fair city, including the Loews Philadelphia Hotel which is in the old PSFS bank building. They kept the Cartier wall clocks on each floor outside the banks of elevators. As an aside, Conrad worked his first job in the PSFS Bank, getting off the subway in the, (now closed), stop on the lower level of the bank. That was 1958.
Thanks for your trip through the Bellevue, that grand ole girl. And I love that you offered to pay for dinner for Mike at the XIX, in the comment above!
Josie

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr May 23, 2016 at 9:47 pm

Thanks, Josie. I worked in the PSFS Building too—about 1985, and I had an elementary school bank account at PSFS in the 1960’s. That’s another Philly iconic building. Even though PSFS was consumed several bank mergers ago, the large PSFS sign is still there atop what is now the Loews’ Hotel.

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avatar noel May 23, 2016 at 8:24 pm

Congratulations on celebrating a fantastic anniversary at an impressive and historic hotel, wish you both a wonderful celebration at their iconic restaurant.

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avatar Jo May 23, 2016 at 9:10 pm

Congratulations on your upcoming 34th wedding anniversary! Hope you do get to the Hyatt at The Bellevue and dine in the elegant 19th floor restaurant at the table facing west for the sunset Make sure he orders the crab cakes!

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avatar The GypsyNesters May 23, 2016 at 10:18 pm

Crab cakes for an anniversary… sounds good! Maybe we should make that a tradition.

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avatar Roz Warren May 24, 2016 at 9:58 am

I love classic (but upgraded and modernized) hotels so I found this write-up thrilling. Happy anniversary!

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avatar Anita @ No Particular Place To Go May 25, 2016 at 2:52 am

The Bellevue Hotel sounds lovely and if I were there I’d be trying the crab cakes! We visited Philadelphia several years ago and I’ve always wanted to return to learn more about your fascinating city. Hoping that we get a chance this fall when we’re in the area.

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avatar Grey World Nomads May 25, 2016 at 8:43 am

They did certainly a good job by renovating this Grande Dame of the old times. I love such old hotels – it’s like you travel back in time.

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avatar nan @ lbddiaries May 25, 2016 at 3:49 pm

*Sigh* wishing for more luscious pictures! Old hotels are a love of mine. I will have to visit there just to stay at this lovely hotel.

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avatar Elaine J Masters May 29, 2016 at 4:37 pm

So happy to discover this Art Deco hotel and Philadelphia’s grand historic district. I’ll be visiting soon as my step-son is now a doctor in residency close to downtown. There’s so much to see and appreciate in your home town.

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