Hotel Veranda as Celebrity Stage
Posted on June 13, 2012
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the sweeping verandas of America’s foremost resort hotels served as veritable stages across which the nation’s well-to-do promenaded. As historian Jon Sterngass observed in his book First Resorts, such spaces offered perfect places “to see and be seen,” even as resorts like Saratoga attracted a broader and broader swath of American society. In Saratoga, the “celebrities” of the day literally strode high above passersby on the Broadway sidewalk below as if enacting a tableau.
The United States Hotel, along with Congress Hall and the Grand Union Hotel, was one of the great elite resort hotels of the Western Hemisphere in the 19th century. Originally built in 1824, the United States Hotel (like many wooden hotels) went up in flames and was rebuilt on a grander scale, reopening in 1874. It weathered the gradual erosion of Saratoga’s popularity with the smart set, but after fifteen years of depression and war, American tourists turned their backs on most large Victorian summer resort hotels. The United States Hotel met the wrecking ball in 1946.
Today few large Victorian resort hotels remain in the U.S. One of them, Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, with its famed 660-foot-long porch overlooking Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac, responded to the loss of leisure travelers to newer destinations by courting the convention trade after World War II. Doing so enabled the hotel to maintain Mackinac’s genteel image, described by Steve Brisson in American Tourism, long after Saratoga had become little more than a place to bet on the horses.