New York : A century after the Titanic sank, the legacy of the ship's wealthiest and most famous passenger lives on quietly at the luxury hotel he built in New York City.
John Jacob Astor IV, who was one of the richest men in America, went down with the ship in 1912 after helping his pregnant wife escape into the last lifeboat. But at the St Regis, one of Manhattan's oldest luxury hotels, the aristocratic sensibilities of the Gilded Age remain intact.
Butlers in ties and black tailcoats still roam the hallways. The lobby, with its frescoed ceiling and elaborate marble staircase, has not been altered since Astor died. And the thousands of leather-bound books that he collected have been preserved on the same bookshelves for 100 years.
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This year, in tribute to Astor's memory, the hotel worked with a publisher to add a new book to those shelves. A Survivor's Tale, which was released this month, is the first-person account of a passenger who survived the disaster by jumping overboard as the ship disappeared into the water.
"This was his jewel," said Astor's granddaughter, Jackie Drexel, as she gazed around the hotel one recent morning. "My grandfather used to come and walk the stairs frequently first thing in the morning to make sure everything was running perfectly. He conceived it with great pride."
The copper mouldings on the roof have turned green with age, but inside, the antique furniture and silk wall coverings harken back to a more refined era. And the guests wandering its hallways are still the wealthiest of the wealthy: the hotel is a favourite among royal families and celebrities hoping to keep a low-profile and avoid the paparazzi.
"The key element to everything in the hotel is the discretion," said Paul Nash, the general manager. "We have heads of state, royal families, entertainers, politicians."
When Astor built the St Regis in 1904, it overlooked Fifth Avenue's row of mansions and, at just 18 storeys high, was the tallest skyscraper in the city. It was modelled after the extravagant hotels of Europe that had not yet become ubiquitous in the US.
At that time, it was common for the very rich to live in luxurious hotels like the St Regis for long stretches of time. According to Nash, that hasn't changed, either: The hotel's presidential suite, which costs a cool $21,000 (Dh77,120)per night, is routinely occupied by the same guests for three months straight.