Willa Cather slept here. So did Rory Gilmore.
While reading The Selected Letters of Willa Cather I was excited that she mentions the name of the hotel where she stayed when she was in New Haven to receive an honorary degree from Yale in 1929. When I looked up the address of Hotel Taft I was even more thrilled to learn its only two blocks away from the Insitute Library where I volunteer. It’s a building I’ve walked past many times in the four years I’ve lived in the area and had no idea there was a Cather connection.
In a letter to her brother, Roscoe, written in June 1929 while aboard the Santa Fe train, Cather wrote:
“I am on my way East–will be at the Grosvenor Hotel 35 Fifth Ave. [NYC] for the next ten days, then go to New Haven, at Hotel Taft. On June 19 I receive a doctorate degree from Yale–the second they have ever given a woman writer. The first was given to Mrs. Wharton eight years ago. She came over from Paris and stayed in New York one week to take it.”
The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. Knopf, 2013, page 416.
I took these external photos in early spring before the trees leafed out.
Last week I stopped by to see if I could get inside the building to have a look around. The doors are locked but I buzzed the manager’s office and was granted entry.
I was surprised to see such a brightly lit lobby . . . and then I looked up.
I was delighted by this grand rotunda and its stunning stained glass dome by Tiffany.
Along the walls are vintage postcards of the hotel in its heyday, information about historical happenings at the Taft, and other memorabilia.
I did look to see if there were any Cather novels on those bookshelves and, alas, didn’t see any. I’ll have to come back with a donation.
Some info from the Taft website:
Considered a New Haven landmark, The Hotel Taft opened its doors on New Year’s Day, 1912. It was known as a home for notables in theater, society, art and politics. For eight years after his presidency, William Howard Taft lived in the hotel that bears his family name, while he taught Law at Yale University. With the Shubert Theater as a next door neighbor, The Hotel Taft saw many personalities walk through its elegant entrance during trial runs of Broadway shows: Gloria Swanson, Mary Martin, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Katharine Hepburn, and Alec Guinness to name a few. From their rooms at The Taft Hotel, Rogers and Hammerstein created the classic Broadway tune “Oklahoma.” Did you know that several famous movies featured scenes of The Taft? Splendor in the Grass, Death of a Scoundrel, and All About Eve featured glimpses of The Taft.
[Click here for source link and a for a link to more history. If you’re a history geek, you’ll definitely enjoy reading more about this place.]
Eventually, I’ll dig deeper and see if I can find any specifics about Cather’s stay here. In the meantime, I’m definitely going to watch the movies listed above and catch those glimpses of the Taft.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about Rory Gilmore sleeping here, the long history of the Taft linked above explains that the producers of The Gilmore Girls used a Taft apartment layout for Rory’s boyfriend Logan’s apartment.
The Hotel Taft opened on January 1, 1912, and was in business until 1973. It was renovated into apartments in the early 1980s.