The Pierre – pick a story

Elegant and understated, The Pierre hotel bears the name of its original owner, Charles Pierre Casalasco. His story deviates from the expected New York rug-to-riches story into an “haute cuisine”-to-riches one. Except, the story has more than one version.

The first one is prosaic. In this version, Charles Pierre Casalesco worked as a busboy in his father’s restaurant in Ajaccio, Corsica. At the age of 18, he ran away to work at the brilliant Hotel Anglais in Monte Carlo. The glamorous version of the same story features the same Charles Pierre Casalesco as the son of the Hotel Anglais’s owner. In this scenario, he spent his formative years rubbing elbows with the Russian and European royalty who patronized his father’s hotel instead of washing dishes in Corsica. 

Both versions converge from the point when Charles Pierre set out to study haute cuisine in Paris. He caught the eye of the American restaurateur Louis Sherry, who hired him to work in one of his fine establishments in New York City. Young Charles Pierre arrived in New York sometime around the 1910s to work for Sherry, where he got the first-row view of the crème de la crème of New York’s high society. 

After working for Louis Sherry for nine years, Charles Pierre went his own way. The times were changing from the Gilded Age to the Jazz Age. The social norms were changing with the times, and Charles Pierre intended to move along with these developments, while Louis Sherry insisted on staying with the old traditions (aka forbidding women to smoke in his restaurants).

Central Park at 59th Street, showing Hotels Plaza, Savoy Plaza — Sherry Netherlands and Pierre via MCNY

Charles Pierre became quite a restaurateur himself, finally building his crowning achievement — The Pierre, located on Fifth Avenue along with the most celebrated old-world New York hotels such as The Sherry-Netherland, The Plaza, and St. Regis. Backed by the most powerful financiers, including Otto Kahn and Walter Chrysler, and managed by Charles Pierre himself, The Pierre became the toast of the town. It opened at a time when it became an acceptable norm for society to use fancy hotels for dinners, balls, and special occasions. The Pierre got to see its fair share of the weddings, galas, and — its specialty — coming-out balls – festive formal events designed to present young debutantes to society.

Easter Parade celebration at The Rotunda, April 2022

At the same time, the timing of The Pierre was most unfortunate. Opened to great fanfare in 1930, the hotel went bankrupt in 1932, falling victim to both Prohibition and The Great Depression. In 1938, it was bought by Pail Getty, the founder of Getty Oil, who called it his “only above-ground asset” and turned it into a cooperative.

Despite all, The Pierre stayed glamorous. It was home to Coco Chanel on her visits to New York; Henry Fonda celebrated his wedding in the rooftop ballroom, and Audrey Hepburn resided at The Pierre while shooting Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In 1954, she was honored in a ceremony celebrating her Academy Award for Roman Holiday. The Pierre’s permanent residents list included Elizabeth Taylor, Aristotle Onassis, Mohamed al-Fayed, and Yves Saint-Laurent. During the 1970s, The Pierre became the center of the fashion world in New York, with Valentino hosting couture shows at the hotel. 

A 1930s guide described the hotel as “a monument of beauty and one of the most majestic structures in all New York.” “The Pierre caters to only those of refined tastes who can afford the best in the way of hotel luxury,” it added.

These days, The Pierre lives its life as a luxury hotel owned by Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. It has hotel rooms, residences, grand suites, and a 3-story 16-room penthouse with four terraces, a private interior elevator, and a grand staircase with a price tag of $44 million, still proving that The Pierre caters to only those who indeed can afford the best.

  • Architect: Schultze & Weaver
  • Year: 1930
  • Location: 2 East 61st Street
  • Floor count: 41

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