* Note: The famed hotel welcomed some guests on December 15, 1910, but made her official debut a couple of weeks later, on the auspicious date of 1/1/11.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is open (1911)
Madison Avenue and Forty-sixth Street – New York
The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) January 1, 1911
Under the same Direction and Management as that of the famous RITZ-CARLTON group of hotels in the leading European cities, including the CARLTON and RITZ Hotels in London; the RITZ in Paris; the RITZ in Madrid; the ESPLANADE in Berlin; the ESPLANADE in Hamburg; the NATIONAL in Lucerne; the EXCELSIOR in Rome; the EXCELSIOR in Naples; the SPLENDIDE and ROYAL in Evain les Bains; and the PLAZA in Buenos Ayres; HOTEL SCHENLEY, Pittsburgh, after February 1st, 1911; CARLTON HOTEL, Montreal, 1912.
The special feature of the hotel will be the perfection of service which has characterized the foreign hotels, while the charges will be based upon a moderate plane.
CARLTON after theatre suppers will be served in the restaurant at $2.00 per plate.
GRILL ROOM with a la carte service day and evening.
About the old Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York
Text from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel of New York brochure (1919)
An hotel serves the individual first, the community next. It is an integral factor in the lives of both.
Its corner-stone is service. One finds the key-note of a community in its hotels. Good taste is a matter of environment. The taste of the Ritz-Carlton is that of its patrons. It gives only the best, because the best is required of it.
It is centrally located and is readily accessible to all that is desirable.
Hotel’s architecture subtle and dignified
The Ritz-Carlton is satisfying both from the more subtle artistic and from the distinctly utilitarian points of view.
In its architecture, it is simple and dignified; in its decoration, it is splendid without being oppressive; and in its equipment, it is comfortable without being ostentatious.
It neither intrudes itself upon its guests nor does it invite intrusion. It has the atmosphere of a very perfect home, with something added.
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Ritz-Carlton the best in hotel architecture (1919)
The Ritz-Carlton is an excellent example of the best in hotel architecture. The most subtle artistry has achieved a triumph in two of the most essential qualities — fitness and simplicity.
The hotel, with its three simple facades, is preeminently expressive of itself, and of its place in the community.
The main entrance on Madison Avenue leads into a charmingly light and hospitable foyer which, on the left, runs through to another entrance on Forty-Sixth Street, near which are the telephones and the Flower Shop, and on the right into the executive rooms of the hotel.
This foyer has been made purposely small in order to bring about a closer and more intimate relationship between the hotel and its guests, and also to obviate the congestion of casual passers-by which a large foyer so often entails.
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From the foyer, on the Forty-Sixth Street side, one passes directly into the Palm Room.
Here a ceiling of glass set in ornamental bronze work spreads a soft and restful light all around. The room is colored in light pale green and cream, and along the side high lattices afford a place for long boxes bright with flowers.
At one end of the room is a broad flight of steps leading to a small orchestra gallery, masked in exotic palms and flowers, which provides excellent music for two rooms at one time, this gallery being in reality a kind of neutral ground between the dining room and the palm room.
The Main Dining Room, the Pall Mall Room, the Grill Room, and the Buffet
The main dining room, with its graceful pillars and soft draperies, is dignified in the restraint and beauty of its design.
The main dining room is beautifully oval-shaped, and the soft curves and colors are well calculated to induce a pervading sense of well-being.
The ceiling is of cream color decorated with medallions having a blue background and joined together with wreaths of unique design.
The whole note of the room, as indeed of the entire hotel, is one of restraint and yet of beauty.
It is in this room that one observes first the scheme of decoration which dominates the whole structure, namely the Adam Style, a type peculiarly well adapted to such usage in that it is formal without being in the least stiff, and charming without being obtrusive.
In the dining room, as in many others, glass has been used very effectively to secure a decorative value.
From the upper verandah of the Japanese garden, through a small passage, one enters the Pall Mall Room decorated in rose, cream and gold, with its chintz-covered lanterns swung from the ceiling.
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The Grill Room is on the floor below and is reached by a staircase from the foyer. This room is carpeted in dull red, and derives its lighting from an indirect illumination emanating from the pillars which are in themselves a part of the decorative scheme.
From the right side of the Dining Room, the guest passes into the Japanese Garden for luncheon or tea.
The garden is laid out in the form of the letter A, the two legs and the top forming long loggias set with small tables, and connected by a central passage.
Between the loggias is the garden itself, at one end of which is a great pagoda, and seated in front of it is Buddha smiling serenely. The loggias are latticed in bamboo with bamboo screens shading the tables, and in every possible manner, proper native colors and tones are adhered to.
Through the center of the garden, a little stream gushes from the mouth of a grotesque mask on the base of the pedestal upon which Buddha is seated, and the banks of the stream are thick with tiny Japanese villages, quite perfect in every detail. There are dwarf pines and firs interspersed with laurel and lilac.
On one of the banks, there is a picturesque pavilion, which is reached by a typical little bridge from the farther side of the stream.
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The loggias, or verandahs, are illuminated with Japanese lanterns in the evening, and at the farther end of the garden, three great lights lend a softening effect to the whole scene, leading up to the terraced lights of the pagoda at the other end.
A little way down the stream a great stone god Soliloquises over this miniature paradise of Oriental beauty.
The Palm Court reflects an atmosphere of contentment, where one may thoroughly enjoy complete relaxation and repose.
Looking through the dining room from the Palm Room, one sees the great staircase leading to the grand ball-room above.
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From the lower floor, the stair ascends in broad and easy rises to a landing level with the dining room, from whence it swings gracefully to right and left up to the ball-room floor, in a dignified and expressive sweep, and with a delicacy truly joyous in effect.
The ball-room, itself, is lofty with a domed ceiling, walls of ivory white and hangings of golden yellow.
In the center is a great crystal chandelier, and masked lights at the sides cast a soft glow over all. At one end is a stage which can be used either for theatricals, concerts, or for an orchestra for dancing, and at the other end of the room is a hanging balcony from which one may view the gay throng below.
Here again, great mirrors are used decoratively, and again they are used to great advantage. The floor is specially constructed, and is one of the most perfect of its kind.
Turning from the grand ballroom and descending the stairway to the lower floor the Crystal Room is entered from the side.
The room is draped in heavy hangings and overhead is a great canopy drawn up in tented form, with great tassels of glass hanging from its folds, each concealing within its center a light which heightens the decorative effect of the whole.
From the ballroom open other small rooms which may be used either for cards or for rest and gossip. From the balcony is reached a comfortable smoking room handsomely paneled in oak.
An advantage in favor of this unique roof garden is that it is not on the roof of the main hotel, but is situated on the third floor from the street above the Forty-Sixth Street addition, just far enough from the street to avoid hearing the distracting noise and bustle of the city, leaving you in this small realm of enchantment, amid summer breezes, and offering a place of rest and relaxation.
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Here may be enjoyed a variety of palatable dishes cooked to please the most fastidious taste, and served on tables hidden among the flowers. This is as enticing as a summer afternoon at Nice.
The tented effect of the crystal room is repeated here, except that, in place of the darker hues used below, the canopy is in broad stripes of green and white reminding one of a tennis or cricket pavilion on a lawn.
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Rose-colored baskets of flowers hang from the canopy, and gently swing to and fro in the cool, stirring air. It is a charming place in which to rest and to hear music amid surroundings enhanced by delicately shaded lights and softly tinted shadows.
After dinner, the floor is cleared for dancing, and frequent numbers are played by a fully equipped orchestra. This floor has been so constructed that few compare with its peculiar resiliency. Here, apparently suspended between sky and earth, one has the impression of being in a land of make-believe.
To say the roof garden offers a restful and pleasing retreat sounds inadequate, but to place oneself amid its beauty, with its captivating decorative arrangement, affords one that feeling of satisfaction found only in the gardens of the old world.
Attention to the utmost detail is manifest from the kitchen to the State Suite on the topmost floor. Every room, whether guest, club or dining room, is as comfortable and inviting as forethought and ingenuity can make it.
An effort has been made to anticipate every possible wish that a guest could have, that no one could ever say as did a King once long ago, “I have nearly been kept waiting.”
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The many private dining rooms of varying sizes are as attractive and as complete as the most captious host could wish.
The club-rooms, and the several public rooms for ladies and gentlemen, are finished in themselves and in their many accessories. Nothing has been left to chance.
The fundamental idea upon which the Ritz-Carlton is managed has been expressed by the manager, Mr. Albert Keller, in a very few words: “The best cooking we can possibly get, the best service we can possibly obtain, and the positive rule that guests must have personal attention always.”
It is worthy of note that the Ritz-Carlton, with the thought of perfect service always in mind, not only chooses its employees with the utmost care and discrimination, but keeps them afterwards. They may be transferred to another hotel in the great chain, but they are not lost sight of, from the greatest to the least.
They are taught how to serve. There are no beginners; they are all trained to be expert in their various tasks, and they are expected to keep up the standard so firmly maintained.
In general construction, and in specific detail, in decoration, and in appurtenances, the one guiding thought of the designer, builder, and manager of the Ritz-Carlton hotel has been to serve the comfort of its guests.
The comforts of a country house with the convenience of a residence in town — these together make a perfect hotel.
The Gardens of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel of New York (1918)
Opening on our about June 1st, 1918
The Japanese Gardens
DESIGNED by Japanese artisans of highest skill, this exquisitely beautiful out-of-doors restaurant surrounds you at luncheon or tea with all the picturesqueness and subtle charm of Nippon. Cool, novel, refreshingly different.
The Roof Garden
AN open-air dining place in which the fullest expectations of the elite are realized. Incomparable in brilliance of setting, service, music and cuisine, peerless in the tone of its clientele, it stands as the ultimate achievement of fashionable New York’s summer season.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford taking photos on the hotel roof (1920)
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Why the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was the epitome of elegance and extravagance (1936)
From The Ritz idea: The Story of a Great Hotel, by Lucius Beebe (Published 1936)
HERE lived until recently a very great American lady whose pride it was that, although she was a world traveler of no small distinction and followed the seasons through the capitals and spas, watering places, winter resorts and mountain retreats of the Continent and her own country, she never went to bed save under her own roof.
She maintained a stately townhouse on Madison Avenue in New York, a magnificent West End residence in London, villas at Cannes and Naples, a schloss in the Austrian Tyrol, an Ocean Boulevard establishment designed for her by Addison Mizner with a cool patio and gay cabanas at Palm Beach, a suburban estate in Westchester, a fishing camp with rights to one of the finest stretches of the Restigouche, and a Spanish hacienda at Santa Barbara.
Her private car and ocean-going yacht took her where she pleased, and wherever she found herself she was at home.
Guided by a similarly discerning attitude toward the details of existence, there has come into being a more inclusive but nonetheless fastidious group of amateurs of fine living whose progress through the world is largely centered around its Ritz cities. They are known to the footmen on duty outside the restaurant of the Paris Ritz at the traditional formality of Sunday night dinner.
In New York, Charles, the maître d’hôtel, has earmarked for them the first grouse of the season, rushed from the Scotch moors in hampers, and ferried across the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary.
When they stop over in Boston on the way to Seal Harbor or for the Harvard-Yale game in November, they take their “old fashioneds” in one of the handsomest of all Ritz bars facing on Arlington Street and the Public Garden.
To them, the Ritz hotels are a universally recognized hallmark of a distinguished way of life.
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The Ritz tradition came into being through the agency of a Swiss youth who foresaw the possibilities of public entertainment in a manner until a century ago reserved only for the private palaces and chateaux of Europe.
Born the son of a hotel man with a background in a race productive of so many of the great taverners of history, Cesar Ritz in the middle of the nineteenth century essayed the traditional cursus honorum of the Continental restaurateur, starting as a kitchen helper in Paris, serving as apprentice under one of the rank-ing maitres of his time, Brassac of the Voisin, and, in time, achieving the rank of restaurant manager in Monte Carlo’s extravagantly ormolu and cloisonné Grand Hotel.
Cannes, Lucerne, Baden Baden, Rome, the resorts of a now-vanished world of fashion and the watering places that knew the old, bearded kings of Europe, all were milestones along the highroad that was to bring Cesar Ritz, in the opulent noontide of the Victorian nineties, to London as manager of the Savoy Hotel.
Then, it was said that “the best chefs in France are in the kitchens of London,” and, in a midst where Galsworthy’s Forsytes were realizing a dream of British world-supremacy, Cesar Ritz was able to establish his own contribution to the tradition of hotel service: absolute deference to the individual tastes of the most exacting patrons.
Not only, however, were guests accorded every princely consideration of service. Cesar Ritz foresaw an era in hotel management when such material considerations as a sufficiency of bathrooms, expeditious floor service and many other modern facilities would be taken for granted, and he was the first to introduce them into his European establishments.
And in the almost overnight success of the Savoy, as in Cesar Ritz’s other triumphs, his partner was Auguste Escoffier who, within a single lifetime, revitalized the entire existing tradition of French gastronomy. For he preached that simplicity was the ultimate grace in cultivated dining and that, for all its turtle soup and Southdown mutton and hogsheads of claret, the indiscriminate profusion of a Lord Mayor’s banquet was a poor second to the distinguished service of a few perfect and harmonious dishes.
From the Savoy, Cesar Ritz crossed the Channel to establish on the Place Vendome in Paris the first of the hotels to bear his name and there, as in the Strand, he contrived for the first time in history to convince the aristocracy of France that public dining was not only suitable for the titled great of the world and for the over-lords of its finances, but almost a social requirement.
Formal Sunday night dining at the Ritz became a glittering European tradition, and its corridors and lounges were flooded with tiderips of princes, grand dukes and court chamberlains on the services of royal masters.
From then until now the various Ritz hotels have been the established resorts of royal and imperial personages who discovered in them a uniformity of service which was as dependable away from home as that in their own villas and palaces.
And when he returned to London, at the summons of a group of British entrepreneurs, to establish there the Carlton and Ritz hotels, Cesar Ritz was accustomed to a clientele of titled grandeur.
New York’s Ritz-Carlton had its origin when, in 1907, Charles Wetmore, the architect, and Robert W. Goelet, a nephew of Wetmore’s partner, Whitney Warren, and a considerable proprietor of Manhattan real estate, interested themselves in organizing in America a hotel whose management and operation should be under the direction of the Ritz Hotels Development Company of England. The site selected was one of Mr. Goelet’s properties at the corner of Madison Avenue and Forty-sixth Street.
When the hotel was begun, Madison Avenue in the Forties was a suburban wasteland flanked by the unquiet reaches of the New York Central’s train yards and switch points leading to the old Forty-second Street terminal.
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A block away, Fifth Avenue was still very much of a residential street, and the terraces and penthouses of Park Avenue were still in the unimagined future.
Three years later, when Albert Keller ushered his first guests to their suites while Escoffier, from his kitchen fastness below, proudly supervised the service of the first meals, three questions which had confronted the entrepreneurs of the Ritz project were answered.
Throughout the latter years of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth century American hotels subscribed to a tradition of florid and rococo magnificence. Boston’s Tremont House, the earliest first-class hostelry in the United States, had given way in baroque succession to the Revere House and, later, Parker’s in School Street.
Elsewhere notable landmarks flourished, awash with Turkey carpets, floriated bronze electroliers and handsome brass cuspidors: the St Charles in New Orleans, the Planters above the river in St. Louis, Brown’s Palace in Denver, and the Palmer House in Chicago, with its barbershop floor literally paved with silver dollars.
In downtown New York, the wonders of the Astor House and the Brevoort, where Cunard captains assured visiting Englishmen they would be safe from the Indians who were accustomed to roam Broadway, had given way to Peacock Alley and the damask upholstered glories of the old Waldorf.
The Ritz-Carlton had just two things to offer: Continental dining of an exquisite perfection never dreamed of in America, and a classic restraint in appointments and service beyond anything yet conceived in the realm of public hospitality.
And these immediate tangible assets were destined to bring into being a third, less tangible but even more precious: the patronage of the most urbane and distinguished clientele ever attracted to any hotel on this side of the Atlantic.
Mr. Keller had been brought up in the same tradition as Cesar Ritz himself and had served under him both in Rome and at the Savoy.
Experience had shown that if he secured the proper patronage from the outset, the hotel’s success was assured, and, through his many connections in the world’s capitals, he set about enlisting diplomats, publishers, celebrated authors, industrialists and others whose names made news as Ritz figures.
Lord Dewar, Marquis of Aberdeen and Governor of Ireland, gave a magnificent dinner for a hand-picked group its miracles of service and the largest hanging ceiling ever incorporated in the architecture of a hotel.
Charles Schwab, a table amateur of fine perceptions, heralded the fame of EscofBer the length and breadth of the land. Alfredo Tornquist, the Argentine banker, was among the first to maintain a permanent suite for his convenience when in the United States. It was at the Ritz that the Queen of Roumania was formally welcomed to New York society by a great dinner and ball.
Frank Munsey, Edward F. Hutton, James Donahue and James Moffat entertained splendidly. Albert Gallatin, in 1911, gave a dinner for the American polo team which made history in a town accustomed to glittering entertainment on a large scale.
Clarence Mackay, Sir Thomas Lipton and Colonel Matt Wynn entrusted entertainment to the banquet department and found their dinners and suppers incorporated in the New York legend of gilt-edge hospitality.
A year or two later, other chapters were added by the Ritz to hotel history. Despite a barrage of infuriated protest from Arthur Brisbane in his editorial columns, women were permitted the established Continental convenience of smoking in the main restaurant without having to seek the privacy of retiring rooms.
At the same time, the popularity of public dancing reached an all-time high in New York, and the Crystal Room with its tented ceiling and glittering chandeliers was opened for dancing between the courses of dinner and supper. Conservative as it was in general tone and atmosphere, the Ritz contrived to keep abreast of the times when good sense and manners dictated innovation.
Today, as the Crystal Gardens, it has been completely renovated, maintaining, however, its distinguished identity, and air-conditioned.
In the Oval Room, the continental custom of a formal Sunday evening dinner is to be introduced as the background for dignified musical entertainment and other divertissements. The Oak Room, too, long the province of John, has been air-conditioned and its paneled walls, for some years painted over, restored to their original subdued charm.
An interesting side-light on the prestige deriving from membership in the Ritz-Carlton organization is the frequency with which the phrase “formerly of the Ritz” is appended to the names of restaurateurs, hairdressers and hotel executives now in business elsewhere.
From waiter to house manager, any Ritz employee is assured of advantageous employment, so widespread is the respect in which the management is held as a training school for hoteliers.
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In its private apartments, it was the object of the hotel’s architect that the substantial comforts of a country home, where space is at no premium, should be incorporated in the necessarily limited confines of an urban residence.
To this end, special attention was paid to the proportions of the rooms themselves, whether single apartments or deluxe suites. The ceilings of the Ritz rooms are higher than those of the modern hotel in New York, a feature which at once has the practical advantage of assured ventilation and creates an illusion of spacious dignity in keeping with the atmosphere of the house as a whole.
The decor of drawing rooms, bedroom and private dining rooms alike has been the devising of artists and artisans concerned that Ritz living appointments should parallel those of the most harmoniously furnished private residences, and the frontispiece of this volume gives at least some suggestion of the simplicity and good taste characteristic of their designs.
The Ritz-Carlton prides itself in particular on the patronage it attracts from the ranks of distinguished foreigners to New York.
This, Mr. Keller feels, is not alone due to the circum- stance that their own languages are common to all the personnel of the hotel but more because their familiarity with the uniformity of Ritz standards abroad has convinced them that in Manhattan the same index of service and luxury must obtain.
Nothing, too, gives Mr. Keller the satisfaction of welcoming home a strayed patron who has essayed other residences and returned to the Ritz fold.
“We are willing to match any first-class hotel in our scale of prices, dollar for dollar,” he says. “Our prices are no dearer than those of other luxury hotels, and for them, you get also Ritz-Carlton service, which simply cannot be obtained elsewhere.”
Despite change and the ever-shifting allegiance of New York’s formal society, the two-season restaurants of the Ritz have maintained their supremacy as one of the dominant rendezvous of the town.
In summer, the Japanese Garden and at other seasons the Adam restaurant, presided over by the bland Charles, are once more filled to a pre-depression luncheon capacity and, in a town where pre-theater dining is still largely accomplished in private homes, they receive their due share of attention from discriminating gourmets.
The repeal of national prohibition and the revival of deluxe dining in established restaurants brought back to the Ritz an impressive portion of the town’s gracious entertainment. More than anything else, a generation that found itself in retreat from the dubious restaurants of the twenties demanded the illusion of spacious surroundings, light, color and the ultimate refinements of service.
Formality in the evening, the judicious selection of menus and a return to the restraint and good taste of cultivated dining evolved simultaneously and repeopled the bars and restaurants of New York which for more than a decade had suffered from the illicit but dominant competition of establishments where liquor was available.
The wine card and cellars of the Ritz boasted vintages which demanded the complement of fine food and its properly ordered selection. Some appreciation of the precepts of Brillat-Savarin emerged from an era of whisky and severe headaches, and the chef’s requisitions again began to call for canvasback from the rice fields of North Carolina, Strassburg pate studded with the truffles of Perigord, the rare cheeses of the Continent and the Maryland terrapin which have been part of the tradition of American table fare since colonial times.
Chef Louis Diat, successor to Escoffier, had come into his own again. Eating, in a word, was supplanted by dining.
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But the most prized of all the Ritz-Carlton’s heritage is that of the most important of New York’s private entertainments, dinners, banquets, balls, debutante parties and suppers, has remained constant and subject only to the general trends and tendencies of the times.
It is conceivable that few balls may again approximate the lavish magnificence of the debuts of Barbara Hutton and Natalie Coe in 1929, but a Ritz-Carlton debutante launching is still a desirable preface to a career in the established circles of New York society.
Some idea of the demand for suitable dates for debutante parties may be derived from the circumstance that, just as the names of candidates for admission to the Knickerbocker or Union Clubs or to such preparatory schools as Groton and Saint Marks are filed shortly after birth, advantageous evenings for debutante parties are not infrequently reserved at the Ritz five years in advance!
Call it a standard of quality, a household synonym for the superlative excellences of living, a hallmark of distinguished taste, the name Ritz-Carlton, after more than a quarter of a cycle of almost fabulous existence, is an integral part of the New York legend, a glamorous fragment of the life and being of the most important metropolis of the Western World.
The old Ritz-Carlton Hotel floor plan (1913)
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Staircases being built: Photo from the original hotel construction (1911)
Farewell to Ritz-Carlton: Classic hotel being torn down (1950)
Excerpted from The Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) January 18, 1950
The Ritz-Carlton hotel, New York City, one of the world’s famous hostelries, will soon become a passing memory. It will be torn down to make room for a $20,000,000 office building.
Conceived in 1907 as an establishment that would rival the finer hotels of Europe in service and cuisine, and completed in 1910, the Ritz-Carlton has been host to many of the celebrated figures of our times.
The very name conjures up pictures of elegance and luxury. From this hotel emanated the phrase, “puttin’ on the Ritz,” so commonly used in our language.
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For nearly 40 years, the Ritz-Carlton has been a symbol of luxury and fashion, a meeting place for royalty and those of fabulous fortunes, a monument in honor of the fine art of living.
But time does not stand still, and the structure must give way to business progress. Before long it will be supplanted by a vast edifice dedicated to commerce and business, The new building will be at least 25 stories high…
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