How about a wedding venue that wedding planners can recommend to their clients that’s hosted the rich and famous, presidents and royalty, or served as a World War II hospital or a centuries old monastery? Some ALHI properties in the U.S. and Europe offer the added cachet of history, charm and stunning architectural details.
Here’s a look at eight of ALHI’s most historic hotels:
The history: Sisters Theresa Fair Oelrichs and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt built a spectacular boutique hotel on Nob Hill. But only weeks after opening, it was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Undeterred, the sisters hired female architect Julia Morgan to rebuild it. Ownership changes and the Great Depression took its toll on the hotel until after the end of World War II, when East Coast businessman Benjamin Swig bought the hotel. He hired interior decorator Dorothy Draper, who redesigned the Fairmont with a Venetian palace in mind.
Celebrities, athletes and politicians flocked to the hotel. The Venetian Room became San Francisco’s premier supper club, attracting big-name entertainers. But the most famous is likely Tony Bennett, who first sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco” there in 1961. The hotel is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Wedding possibilities: The Venetian Room with its 22-foot ceilings and gold damask wall coverings may be the most famous of the hotel’s wedding venues. Also available are the Gold Room, with San Francisco Bay views and indoor balconies, and the Crown Room with a 360-foot view of the city including the Golden Gate and Alcatraz.
The history: The hotel and golf course complex was the brainchild of Coral Gables creator George E. Merrick and Biltmore hotel magnate John McEntee Bowman. Tourists from the Northeast rode “Biltmore Special” trains to the opening in 1926. Frequent guests were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Al Capone also stayed there. Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) was a Biltmore swimming instructor and later broke world records at The Biltmore pool.
In World War II, the War Department converted The Biltmore to a hospital, sealing many of the windows with concrete and covering travertine with linoleum. It remained a VA hospital until 1968. In 1973, Coral Gables city officials took ownership. It reopened 14 years later only to close again in 1990 during the economic downturn. But in 1992, Seaway Hotels Corporation became the operator and began a 10-year renovation. In 1996, the National Register of Historic Places designated The Biltmore a National Historic Landmark.
Wedding possibilities: Mediterranean architecture is reflected throughout three Biltmore ballrooms with cathedral arches, decorative hand-painted ceilings and intricate crystal chandeliers. The largest, the Country Club Ballroom, has pool views and a large outdoor terrace overlooking the golf course.
Genevieve de Manio Photography
The history: Founded in 1896 by industrialist Henry M. Flagler of Standard Oil, the oceanfront hotel was first known as Palm Beach Inn. It was famous for its unique location at “the breakers,” where waves crashed. Fires in 1903 and 1925 led to reconstruction by the same firm that created the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome, Flagler brought in 75 artisans from Italy to complete the intricate paintings.
After reopening in 1926, the Breakers hosted the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan. They often vacationed alongside U.S. presidents and European nobility. In 1942, it became the U.S. Army’s Ream General Hospital. Eleanor Roosevelt and Sen. Harry Truman, later elected president, visited troops.
Wedding possibilities: In 2022, The Breakers was featured in Architectural Digest as one the 20 most beautiful wedding venues in America. The Mediterranean Ballroom was modeled after Italian loggias with fresco-painted ceilings, 15-foot arched windows overlooking a courtyard and Venetian-inspired chandeliers. It has a total of 10 indoor and outdoor wedding spaces.
The history: The Don CeSar, on the shores of St. Pete Beach 30 miles west of Tampa, opened in 1928 during the Gatsby era. Clarence Darrow and F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed at the Spanish-style resort. The “Pink Palace®'' has been featured in several movies and documentaries, including “Once Upon a Time in America” starring Robert DeNiro and “Forever Mine” starring Ray Liotta.
During World War II, the U.S. Army bought the hotel for a hospital. At the end of the war it was recommissioned as a VA headquarters but it was abandoned in 1969. A citizens committee led the effort to save it, and Don CeSar reopened in 1973. The hotel also is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Wedding possibilities: Don CeSar offers weddings and receptions from beachside to its opulent ocean view ballrooms and terraces. The Grand Ballroom features glittering chandeliers and Roaring 20s architecture. The King Charles Room has 15-foot vaulted ceilings and floor-to ceiling windows overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
The history: On Madison Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, Lotte New York Palace is across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral. Railroad tycoon Henry Villard decided to construct six brownstone mansions - now known as the Villard Houses - for himself and close friends. Occupied in 1882, the houses were classical Roman palazzo style.
In 1974, Harry Hemsley took over the leases to the Villard Houses, proposing a 55-story hotel to be added to the complex known as the Helmsley Palace Hotel. The hotel was completed in 1981. Hemsley put his wife, Leona Helmsley, in charge. She became infamous for her harsh working style and environment, earning her the nickname “Queen of Mean.” The hotel was sold in 1992 to the Sultan of Brunei and then acquired in 2015 by Lotte Hotels and Resorts.
Wedding possibilities: Venues at Lotte Palace are the height of New York sophistication, ranging from a small reception in the wood-paneled library to a grand affair in the Villard Ballroom. The Madison Avenue Courtyard offers a scenic setting, while the gilded walls of the Madison Room can host a chic reception.
The history: The Willard, located a block from the White House, has been a fixture in Washington’s political and social life. Every U.S. President has either visited or stayed at the Willard since the 1850s. Abraham Lincoln was smuggled into the hotel shortly before his inauguration to avoid assassination attempts. Ulysses S. Grant often drank whiskey and smoked cigars in the lobby. Julia Ward Howe wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during a stay. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have A Dream” speech there.
After the family of brothers Henry and Edwin Willard sold the hotel in 1946, it declined and closed in the 1960s. The Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation and Oliver Carr Company and Golding Associates saved the hotel from demolition, reopening it in 1986.
Wedding possibilities: Willard was named one of Washington’s “Very Best Wedding Vendors” by Washingtonian Bride & Groom. The Crystal Room, the Willard Room and the Grand Ballroom offer historic ambiance with soaring columns, crystal chandeliers, beveled mirrors and hand-painted murals.
The history: San Clemente Island was first settled in 1131, when Venetian merchant Pietro Gattilesso paid for construction of a church and lodging for adventurers. The simple Romanesque style church was dedicated to Pope Clement I, patron saint of mariners. San Clemente became known as the gateway to Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1643, Venetians funded a new chapel inside the church. The “church within a church” still exists today.
The fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797 forced monks to leave the island due to Napoleon Bonaparte’s suppression of Italian religious orders during his occupation in the early 1800s. The former church complex operated as a hospital from 1873 through 1992 before it was renovated into a luxury hotel opening in 2003.
Wedding possibilities: Reached only by boat, San Clemente boasts a series of beautifully restored monastery buildings, the 12th-century chapel and nearly 15 acres of ancient gardens, courtyards, and terraces with views of Venice. Traditional ceremonies may be held in the church or in the Mediterranean gardens.
The history: Europe’s first “Grand Hotel,” The Langham, opened in 1865. The hotel featured electric lights, hydraulic lifts and air conditioning. Louis Napoléon III spent much of his enforced exile from France at The Langham. Author Charles Dickens famously complained about high prices at the hotel in his London guide. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent guest who used the hotel as the setting for some Sherlock Holmes stories. And Princess Diana was a frequent guest in the 1990s.
In World War II, the Langham was a first aid and military post, although much of its west wing was destroyed by German bomb attacks. It was later bought by the BBC, which broadcast classical music in its program “Grand Hotel.” In 2009, a five-year renovation included refurbishment of historic Palm Court — birthplace of traditional afternoon tea.
Wedding possibilities: The Langham has 19 wedding venues, including the restored Grand Ballroom with high ceilings, elegant décor and glamorous lighting. Windows open up to the Courtyard Garden. The garden also is available for warm-weather weddings.