The year was 1922. F. Scott Fitzgerald spun tales of
beautiful flappers and dashing aristocrats. Crowds danced
to the hot licks of cool jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong.
Secret Speakeasies and backyard stills sprung up in
the wake of Prohibition. Women swooned at the images
of Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks on the silver
screen. The discovery of King Tuts tomb gave the
public a glimpse of the awesome riches of ancient Egypt.
In Rhode Island, the opening of the Providence Biltmore
Hotel epitomized this year of glitter and glamour. A
front-page story in the June 6, 1922 edition of the
Providence Journal reported on the banquet and ball
that would officially open the Biltmore, predicting
that it would be the most elaborate social event
ever to be held in the city. Over 1,000 people
attended the party, including local officials and several
prominent New York City hoteliers. For the occasion,
the building was illuminated from top to bottom with
more than 25,000 lights.
The original owners, New York entrepreneurs John Bowman
and Louis Wallick, envisioned the Biltmore as a state-of-the-art
luxury hotel. It was designed by New York architects
Warren and Wetmore, whose other commissions included
Grand Central Station. The buildings unique V-shaped
design afforded all guests an outside room.
The 600-room hotel included a drugstore, printing shop,
carpentry and upholstery shop, and a photo lab. The
Biltmore of the 20s also featured rooftop gardens and
chicken coops. Guests were offered a choice of six different
restaurants. Shortly after its opening, the Journal
hailed it as the new tourist and social center
The Hotel continued to be Providence's hot spot during
the Big Band era of the 1930s and 40s. The Biltmore's
Garden Room swung to the sounds of such famous orchestra
leaders as Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey. The dance
floor was once turned into an aquarium, complete with
live fish, for a performance by Esther Williams. For
Sonia Henies ice show, the floor was frozen solid.
It was also the era of the Biltmores famous Bacchante
Girls. Known throughout the country for their beauty
and poise, these were the waitresses in the Biltmores
hip Bacchante Room. The dining area was very intimate,
with dimmed lights and mirrored walls. Seating sections
were called banquettes, which were designed
to hold between two and eight people. When one wanted
to be served, one pushed a button to summon a Bacchante
Girl. She would appear in her costume, which featured
a diaphanous, see-through skirt. The bar area had a
glass floor which was under lit with pink lighting,
a feature which showcased the girls beautiful
The stately building has weathered the worst of the
notorious New England weather. It has survived numerous
hurricanes, including the famous storms of 1938 and
1954. The 1954 hurricane flooded the building, with
water pouring down into the elevator shafts. Couches
floated through the Falstaff Room, drifted out into
the lobby and just stopped short of the revolving doors.
A plaque, high up on the lobby columns, commemorates
the high water mark.
The Biltmore closed in 1974, only to be renovated and
reopened in 1979. Since that time, the hotel has undergone
several additional renovations, restoring it to its
1922 charm. The hotel underwent a $7.5 million renovation
project to add two new floors of luxury suites, and
high level, elegant boardrooms.
The Providence Biltmore Hotel has been placed on the
National Preservation Register as one of the countrys
cherished architectural treasures.