When German immigrant brothers William and Frederick Muschenheim opened the Hotel Astor in Longacre (Times) Square in the fall of 1904, they had created not only a luxury hotel for the elite but also a cultural experience—a resort and convention center where one could hold private dinners in a German hunting lodge, entertain guests in an 18th century French parlor, play billards in the Mediterranean, or sup under the watchful eyes of animal heads and Native American busts in the Indian Grill Room. This Grill Room, the "Hall of the American Indian"—a novel attempt to combine fine-dining with a museum-like display on the North American Indian—featured artifacts and photographs acquired from Alaska to Florida, from Labrador to Chihuahua by explorers, traders, and scientists.
When the Hotel Astor renovated its Indian Grill Room in 1937, Nancy, Lady Astor donated nearly 300 pieces and over 100 photographs from the Hotel's Native American collection to the University of Virginia. Portions of the collection have been featured in changing exhibitions at the University of Virginia Art Museum, though for the most part the collection has been held in storage for close to 70 years.
While the Indian Hall was of among the rooms of the hotel, it was not exactly of them—what separated it from the other rooms was its reported purpose to serve as both a recreational and educational site. As we look back upon the Hall's snapshot approach towards the North American Indian the room itself becomes a snapshot for us of the period, of an American society transitioning from Victorianism to Modernism and that society's views and appropriations of Native American culture. This site takes an archival approach to those transformations, ideas which, it is hoped, will come into the field of vision as we zoom out on our snapshot from the American Indian Hall and the Astor Collection to the Hotel Astor, to the personalities involved in the Astor's history, to the environs of New York, and to the Native American nations themselves.
With this virtual exhibition we now open the University of Virginia archives for the public to view the collection and explore its historical contexts.
site created by joshua ranger