Above: Looking west along the Strand at the Strand Palace Hotel.
Today we take a look at the history of another famous hotel in the Strand. If you think about it for a moment, the Strand once had a large royal residence known as the Savoy Palace. Standing very close to the original site is now the Savoy Hotel – using the palace’s original name. The Strand Palace Hotel came later and, since the owners wanted their establishment to sound equally grand and because the ‘number one’ name of ‘Savoy Hotel’ was already in use, it was a clever move to come up with a name that alluded to the old palace without using its actual title. Hence the name ‘Strand Palace Hotel’ was created.
The hotel was built on the old site of Exeter Hall which was demolished in 1907. The hotel opened in 1909. In 1922 J Lyons & Co acquired shares in this enterprise and also bought the adjoining Haxells family hotel in order to expand and improve the the Strand Palace. After extensive redevelopment, the hotel was newly designed in Art Deco style and re-opened in 1928, boasting 980 bedrooms.
The same year saw additions to the heating system when two secondhand coal-fired steam boilers, salvaged from First World War battleships, were installed in the boiler house. The rear of the property was occupied by the Winter Garden Restaurant which had a large domed ceiling and could seat over 500 guests – served by over one hundred staff. Due to its large number of bedrooms, the hotel became popular with American forces before they were sent into action in the Second World War. During the War the hotel was commissioned as an official American rest and recuperation residence.
Once again, the hotel became an important social venue, as Londoners and war-weary soldiers jived and jitterbugged long into the night. Over the years, many of these service personnel have returned to relive memories, and today their families and relatives still visit the Strand.
The post-war era saw the Strand Palace Hotel implement a number of improvements. The introduction of private bathrooms in all guest rooms in 1958 reduced the overall number of rooms at the hotel to 786. The increased number of bathroom facilities meant that oil-fired boilers had to be installed, in order to cope with the demand for hot water.
In 1968, the front hall and ground floor restaurants, including the Winter Garden, were redesigned, and the first computerised billing system in London was installed. Sadly, nearly all of the Art Deco decoration was removed due of later modernisation. The revolving doors and other parts of the foyer, designed by Oliver P Bernard, were removed during the changes, but were of such fine quality and historic interest, that the curators at the Victoria and Albert Museum requested them in 1969 for their collection. The pieces were dismantled and stored in the museum’s Battersea depot. The doors were exhibited in 2003 in the museum’s major exhibition ‘Art Deco: 1910-1939’, following reconstruction.
In 1976, Forte bought the lease of the Strand Palace Hotel from the Lyons Hotel Group. Over the next ten years, minor refurbishment took place throughout the hotel. In 1985, a more in-depth refurbishment was undertaken on all floors of the new hotel and this included new furniture, new bathrooms and a redecoration of the bedrooms. In 2006 the hotel was taken over by London and Regional Properties. The hotel is as popular as ever – for those visiting London to stay or for a meal in its two large restaurants – but its days of the high-life and large dances are long over.