The Ritz was opened on May 24th 1906, on the site of the Walsingham House Hotel, formerly the Bath Hotel. Conceived by renowned hotelier César Ritz, The Ritz owes its architectural design to an extremely successful partnership formed in 1900 between Frenchman Charles Mewès, and Englishman Arthur Davis.
Together they had originally designed the Hotel Ritz in Paris and the Carlton Hotel in London’s Haymarket (now replaced by New Zealand House) and between 1904 and 1905 they designed The Ritz in London. César Ritz’s innovations for the hotel were unique for their time, with bathrooms for every bedroom, double glazing, a sophisticated ventilation system, walk-in wardrobes, and brass, rather than wooden, beds. With its French chateau-style architecture and all its interior decorations and furnishings in the style of Louis XVI, the hotel was, according to César Ritz, “a small house to which I am proud to see my name attached”.
The exterior of the hotel embodies the influence of various Parisian architectural traditions, with the famous Piccadilly Arcade famously described as “the shortest Rue de Rivoli in the world”. It was Mewès’ idea to carry out all the internal decorations and furnishings in one style and on entering the hotel the ground floor is dominated by the single Louis XVI theme in the vaulted gallery which runs the length of the building. The Palm Court epitomised the elegantly frivolous comfort of Edwardian high life while The Restaurant, often described as the most beautiful dining room in Europe, appeared to be permanently ‘en fête’ with its sumptuous chandeliers linked by gilt bronze garlands around the room. In the bedrooms and suites on the upper floors, gold leaf, plaster mouldings, marble fireplaces and traditional furnishings offer the cosiness of an English stately home.
The Ritz was an immediate success and during its early years, enjoyed the patronage of the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VIII, and the English aristocracy. It was the first hotel to which young, unmarried women were allowed to go without chaperones! Throughout its more than 100 year history, The Ritz has attracted the famous and the fashionable- King Alfonso of Spain and Queen Amelie of Portugal met in The Hotel; Pavlova, the Russian Prima Ballerina, danced at The Ritz; the Aga Khan and Paul Getty had suites; the Prince of Wales and Mrs Simpson dined and danced in The Palm Court; and Churchill, de Gaulle and Eisenhower met for Summit Meetings in the Marie-Antoinette Suite during the Second World War.
The Ritz also became the favourite of Hollywood stars; Charlie Chaplin required 40 policemen to escort him through the fans into the hotel in 1921; Noel Coward wrote songs at The Ritz and Tallulah Bankhead sipped Champagne from a slipper during a press conference in the 1950’s. The Palm Court was as popular as it is today, providing the perfect setting for the quintessentially British Afternoon Tea.
In 1995, The Ritz was returned to private British ownership when it was bought by Sir David Barclay and Sir Frederick Barclay’s private company, Ellerman Investments. Almost immediately, a meticulous and complete refurbishment began on the Grade II* listed building. Fourteen years later, The Ritz has been fully restored with no detail, either in the public areas or behind the scenes, left untouched.
In January 2002, The Ritz London received a Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services, awarded by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. The Ritz is the first and only hotel to have been honoured with this most prestigious of awards.
More recently, in November 2006, The Ritz opened William Kent House, also Grade II* listed, which is situated at number 22 Arlington Street overlooking the Green Park and adjoining the hotel. Designed in the 1740’s by the 18th century architect William Kent, from whom the house now takes its name, the historic mansion was known as Wimborne House when The Ritz opened in 1906. Acquired by the hotel owners in 2005, almost a hundred years after César Ritz first tried to purchase the house and was rebuffed by Lord Wimborne, William Kent House underwent an extensive period of restoration and refurbishment prior to the re-opening of its magnificent new reception rooms. In keeping with the guidelines set down by English Heritage, the exquisite collection of lavishly decorated private dining rooms and residential suites have retained their original Italian Renaissance style décor and the majesty of William Kent House is now resplendently reborn.