< UNITED STATES | MILWAUKEE: The Pfister Hotel
- 125th Anniversary -
Envisioned by businessman Guido Pfister and his son Charles, The Pfister opened its doors on May 1st 1893 as a “Grand Hotel of the
West”. It was designed by architect Henry C. Koch, as the most lavish hotel of its time, constructed at a cost of over $1 million, with
groundbreaking features such as fireproofing, electricity throughout the hotel and thermostat controls in every room. On May 2nd, the Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel raved that The Pfister’s opening “was in a way to Milwaukee what the opening of the World’s Fair was to Chicago.”
A year later, in July of 1894, The Pfister welcomed the Republican convention. The convention filled the hotel to capacity, making a name for The Pfister as a coveted venue for official functions, political events, celebrities and visiting dignitaries alike.
Major remodeling of The Pfister commences in 1926. Among the most striking changes are the closing of the 3rd floor loggia and the conversion of the ladies reception parlour into guest rooms, as well as the vaulted ceiling replacing the lobby skylight. In 1927, the hotel renamed “The New Pfister”. The former men’s billiard room is rechristened “The Crystal Room” and serves as the hotel main dining room. In addition, a new outlet, the English Room, initially only a cozy pub, is created in an area once used by the Turkish bath and in-house laundry. The English Room was a destination for many of Milwaukee’s prominent citizens in the 30s, 40s and 50s.
World War II marked the end of The Pfister’s prosperous streak. In an effort to support the war effort, hotel manager Ray Smith provided shelter to refugees fleeing Europe.
In a post-war America, The Pfister struggled to meet the market’s new demands. In a bankruptcy auction in 1962, the hotel was purchased by local businessman Ben Marcus, who vowed to renovate the distinguished hotel to its original beauty. Significant renovations were completed and a new 23-story guest room tower added.
The Crown Room on the 23rd floor of the tower opened in 1966 as the premiere nightclub in Milwaukee. Offering spectacular views of the city and Lake Michigan, the stage of the Crown Room (today club BLU) welcomed some of the most popular entertainers of the day including Joan Rivers, Henry Youngman, Sarah Vaughn, Lionel Hampton, Carmen McRae, Frankie Avalon, Dick Shawn, Helen O’Connell, Billy Eckstein, Peter Allen (”The Boy from OZ”) and Milwaukee’ own Al Jarreau.
Today, more than 120 years from its foundation, Milwaukee's iconic grand hotel has hosted numerous celebrities and luminaries. Visits from dignitaries and presidents earned The Pfister its title as a “Grand Hotel of the West”: William McKinley (1899), William Howard Taft (1909 and 1911), Woodrow Wilson (1916). During his presidential primary race, John F. Kennedy appointed The Pfister as his official Wisconsin headquarters, Warren G. Harding stayed at The Pfister before he was even president, while Theodore Roosevelt stayed there after leaving the White House.
American writers James Whitcolm Riley and Eugene Field both frequented The Pfister. One winter, Riley accidentally left his window open, waking to a 3-foot snowdrift inside his room. He requested a shovel from the desk clerk to address the issue. Renowned entertainers such as Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Sara Bernhardt have also stayed at The Pfister. Other famous guests include William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody.
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