Exhibit traces deluxe hotels' history

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PARIS -- In celebration of the centennial of the Hotel Ritz, the Carnavalet Museum here is holding an exhibition called "From Palais to Palace," which traces the evolution of superior 19th century hotels.

The three-month exhibit, running from Oct. 21 to Jan. 24, will showcase the history and secrets of many of the most prestigious hotels of that era, including the Crillon, the Hotel Concorde Saint-Lazare, the Grand Hotel, and, of course, the Ritz.

Today's Hotel Concorde Saint-Lazare opened as the Grand Hotel Terminus on May 7, 1899 for the World's Fair, just after the debut of St.-Lazare train station. The property was built by Gustave Eiffel and is an official historical monument. The inspiration for this hotel came from London's Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria Station and the Charing Cross Hotel, among others. Its design recalls the days when hotels often were built as complements to railway stations.

As the Grand Hotel Terminus, the present Saint-Lazare represented the height of luxury at the time, most notably in its electricity and telephones and the introduction of room service. Furthermore, with an overhead passage between station and hotel, the hotel was "transfer free," with porters taking luggage directly between the trains and guest rooms.

The present Hotel de Crillon had its beginnings as a luxurious maison, a private residence opened up to wealthy visitors. Built in the 18th century, some years later it served as a residence of the Spanish ambassador, and in 1788, it was purchased by Comte de Crillon.

In 1909, along with two adjacent buildings, the palace became a hotel. It is now the flagship property of the Concord Hotels group. The choicest rooms overlook the Place de la Concorde, and the hotel's Ambassadeurs restaurant earned a Michelin three-star rating.

Le Grand Hotel was a key part of the master plan for the reconstruction of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-19th century under the direction of architect Baron Haussmann. Located on Rue Scribe, it is an immense Belle-Epoque triangle, the oldest of the city's landmark luxury hotels and certainly the largest.

In this exhibition the original Ritz, founded by the legendary Cesar Ritz in 1898, is the quintessential model of a palace. A real work of art with elegant decor and ideal service, the Ritz became the Parisian place par excellence. It was the first hotel to have bathrooms in the rooms.

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