The Roosevelt [Courtesy of The Roosevelt]

The History of the Roosevelt Hotel's Dazzling Christmas Lights

07:00 November 28, 2023
By: Joey Cirilo

Go Into the Lights

​​Despite the lack of snowfall, the holidays in New Orleans are a uniquely wonderful time of the year.

In a city that finds any excuse for a raucous celebration regardless of what the calendar says, holiday-related festivities are in abundance. Traditional meals and réveillon dinners reserved for the more frigid temperatures, New Year's Eve in Jackson Square last-minute shopping on Canal Street, grabbing your go-cup for an excursion in Celebration in the Oaks, NOLA ChristmasFest with its indoor ice rink, Barrel Proof's Miracle-Pop Up Christmas bar—if you're an individual who appreciates optionality, you've come to the right place.

Lobby Lights [The Roosevelt]

Yet, in spite of the plethora of choices presented to you, one New Orleans holiday tradition stands tall above the rest—a grandiose exhibition, free to all, where the spirit of year's end is encapsulated and brought to life—Christmas at the Roosevelt Hotel.

History of the Roosevelt

The Roosevelt [Curtesy of The Roosevelt]

Originally constructed as the Grunewald Hotel in December of 1893 by German immigrant Louis Grunewald, the plan was to have the six story, 250 room space available for Carnival 1894. In 1923, when brothers Joseph, Felix, and Luca Vaccaro purchased the property from Louis's son Theodore, the hotel was re-named to the "Roosevelt" amidst an era of post-World War I anti-German sentiment, as well as in honor of the 26th President of the United States—Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt's completion of the trans-isthmian Panama Canal greatly benefited the New Orleans economy, establishing and securing a bustling trade route between Central and South America, and the Vaccaro brothers felt it was only appropriate to pay homage to this incredible feat.

The Roosevelt has seen many iterations and ownership changes since its inception. Operating as the Fairmont up until the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where upon receiving significant damages, the hotel was forced to close its doors for nearly four years. Eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded, and the tourism industry that the city heavily relies upon instantaneously ceased to exist for a period. The hotel itself received over 10 feet of water in the basement as rain and wind damage continued to erode guest rooms. But in January of 2009, courtesy of a $145 million restoration, countless hours of backbreaking laborious efforts via an unwavering staff, and joining Hilton's upscale Waldorf-Astoria portfolio, its doors once again were open.

Waldorf Wonderland Lobby [The Roosevelt]

The Lights Shine Bright

Regardless of the litany of circumstances and transformations a historic building such as the Roosevelt Hotel will undoubtedly face over its lifetime, the annual lighting of its decorated lobby during the later months remains a staple since its origination in 1938 by famed owner Seymour Weiss, who started his career as the hotel's barbershop manager. For nearly a century, it has been a hallmark of the Crescent City, as well as a consistent beacon of joy and observance. Families, friends, loved ones, locals, and tourists stroll the interior that has housed the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sonny and Cher, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, and Tony Bennett.

"Strolling through dazzling lights and decorations in our lobby has been a beloved holiday tradition for generations of New Orleanians," Tod Chambers, general manager of the Roosevelt Hotel, said. "That's why so many locals make an annual pilgrimage to the Roosevelt on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving for the annual lighting of the Waldorf Wonderland. We pass out Champagne and invite everyone to join in the cheer as we flip the switch on more than 100,000 lights to signal the start of the holiday season in New Orleans."

The Roosevelt [Curtesy of The Roosevelt]

In true Roosevelt Hotel fashion, the holiday decor is operational on a grand-scale. From floor to ceiling, the entryways and interiors are adorned with 112,000 effervescent lights, with78 floor-to-ceiling birch tree limbs and 46 Christmas trees lining the hallway. In addition, 1,610 feet of garland, 300 bows, and 4,000 ornaments are hung with great attention to detail, transforming the lobby into an awe-inspiring canopy where loved ones gather to ring in the season, toast to the holidays with a perfectly-crafted cocktail from the world-famous Sazerac Bar, chat, and take photos that will last a lifetime. The Roosevelt embodies elegance and grandeur; no details are spared or expense too large.

From the moment a guest steps foot inside the Roosevelt Hotel, it is an experience unlike any other. Luxury meets history and allure in a way that heightens the senses, alerting one to the fact that what they are witnessing before them is magic personified, from the mosaic floors to the towering golden ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and idiosyncratic furnishings. And while the hotel is nearing its notable century-mark for its famed holiday lighting, it has equitably operated as a time capsule over that span. While the world outside of its doors marches on, its history is preserved, embraced, and proudly demonstrated throughout. Generations of families will celebrate life and reminisce on its beauty both now and for years to come, whether it's their first visit or the 10th. But don't just take anyone's word for it, observe the sights and sounds of the spectacular Waldorf Wonderland for yourself in the most brilliant setting the Crescent City has to offer.

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