By Terry Trucco
Not many guests check into hotels long term unless you count inventor Nikola Tesla, who lived for a decade at The New Yorker, or Cole Porter, who stayed for years at the Waldorf (the hotel lent him a grand piano).
Staff members are another matter. Two or three decades of service are not unusual at large New York hotels. But five decades?
On Monday, September 24 the Sheraton New York Hotel, fresh from a $160 million renovation, turns 50, as we noted in an earlier post. And along with the hotel – and countless babies born that day in 1962 – three staffers who have been with hotel since it opened will also celebrate a big 5-0.
On a sunny afternoon this week the hotel staged a birthday party for a small gathering with
an enormous sheet cake, a congratulatory proclamation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a towering wax model of the hotel.
Among the guests of honor were the three hospitality veterans, taking a break from work to enjoy a victory lap and share memories stretching from the Mad Men era to the millenium and beyond.
Bellman Zolio Vidro recalled meeting Mohammed Ali and seeing Bill Clinton breeze through the hotel’s revolving doors before he became president. Juan Medina, a hotel steward who brought along a trove of vintage photographs, remembered when the Fitness Center was a bustling coffee house.
And a big memory for Tilla Soeder, a server at Hudson Market restaurant, was meeting headliners like Frank Sinatra and Count Basie when they performed in the hotel’s long-gone Royal Box Restaurant and Jazz Club. “We were allowed to go in during the afternoon and watch them rehearse,” she says.
Of course the three weren’t hired by the Sheraton back in 1962. Morris Lapidus’ brazenly modern concrete skyscraper, 51 stories tall, opened as The Americana in anticipation of the 1964 World’s Fair. Awash in mid-century superlatives, the hotel boasted five restaurants, 10 ballrooms, 1,780 rooms and 350 parking spaces for a grand total of 1 million square feet.
Soeder, who moved from Germany in 1959 to live with her aunt and uncle in New York, spotted an ad in the paper, announcing that the new hotel was hiring. “Members of my family worked at the Waldorf-Astoria, so when I saw the ad, I thought the job sounded like a good idea,” she says. “I love to be amongst people.”
She applied, was hired as a server, and the rest is, well, history.
The job didn’t disappoint, says Soeder, who wore a black 50thAnniversary T-shirt and
pearls as she accepted a bouquet of pink roses from hotel manager Mark Sanders. “I enjoy meeting people from all over the world, and I get to do that every day,” she says. “I’ve seen captains of industry, important business people, people with a million things on their mind come back to say thank you for something you did.”
As you’d expect with someone who’s been on the job for half a century, Soeder is proud of her hotel’s innovations. The Americana’s long-gone coffee house was a ground-breaker, swapping conventional coffee cups for coffee mugs with unlimited refills. The big white mugs, edged in gold and bedecked with an A bursting from a flower, were an instant collectible. “They cost $2 apiece,” she says. “We sold a few hundred a day. I still have one.”