The Greatest Hotel Man in the World
The Story of a Canadian Boy Who is the Controlling Power of a Huge Hotel System
W. A. Craick
RARELY has a more remarkable drama of human success been enacted than that of the latest star in. the firmament of international celebrities — John McEntee Bowman, proclaimed, not without warrant, the greatest hotelman in the world.
Consider the circumstances. Yesterday, to all seeming, an ordinary, everyday lad in the City of Toronto, living in an ordinary, everyday house; in an ordinary everyday neighborhood, attending an ordinary, every day public school and doubtless leading an ordinary, every day sort of boyish existence. To-day, transported as if by the magic of an Aladdin’s lamp into the midst of all the luxury and supermagnificence of New York’s most palatial hotel system, monarch of all he surveys, ruler over many servants, entertainer of milionaires, a sovereign more potent than many a medieval king.
The contrast is striking. It is all the more extraordinary when one considers that the fairy prince has not yet completed
his forty-second year. The metamorphosis has been rapid. Within a comparatively few years this remarkable genius in modem hoteldom has emerged from a dim Canadian obscurity into the effulgent glare of an international Broadway of renown.
It Í9 such contrasts in life that attract and hold the interest of the multitude. Children are fascinated by fairy tales, in which strange and wonderful powers are exercised by the gift of magic. Grown-ups are still child-like in their fondness for hearing of achievements, which in their results often border on the verge of fairyland. The story of any boy, bom in humble circumstances and reared in commonplace surroundings, who now dwells .n a palace, wears fine raiment and commands all the luxuries which wealth bestows, never fails to win the attention of a large section of the public.
John McEntee Bowman, president of the companies owning and operating the famous Biltmore, the scarcely less famous Manhattan and the fashionable Ansonia Hotels in New York; promoter and designer of the immense new Hotel Commodore, which when completed will be the largest and most modernly equipped hotel in the world; a man who Í9 taking a direct personal interest in the approaching construction of the fine new Hotel Devonshire in his old home town, Toronto, may scarcely be regarded as having started on quite so low a rung
of the success-ladder a9 some notabilities who might be mentioned. Yet in coni pari-
son with his present position, his start was humble enough.
The Bowmans are an old Toronto family, not in the sense of being prominent society folk, but in perhaps the better sense of being honest, hardworking citizens. John Bowman, grandfather of the famous hotelman, came to Canada from Derry in Ireland during the thirties of the last century and settled in Toronto. He is remembered by old-timers as the owner of à livery and cartage business on Temperance Street. His son, A. M. Bowman, father of John McEntee Bowman, who is still living, also engaged in the same line of business, being for some time associated with Bond, whose establishment was once quite famous in the Queen City. Mr. A. M. Bowman also had some experience in the management of hotels, for at one úme he ran the Victoria Hotel in Montreal and at another, the Queen’s, in Barrie.
The hero of this latest success-romance was born on July 20, 1875, in a small house on Nelson Street. Nelson Street has degenerated badly since then, being now a poor, d own-in-the-heel sort of place, inhabited for the most part by people of foreign origin, but in thoæ days it was a well-to-do street, lying near the old Parliament Buildings, Government House and Uppe* Canada College and in the vicinity of Sîtncoe and Wellington Streets, both of which were then the acme of fashion. Yov ng Jack, the only child of his parents, attended John Street School, a landmark of Toronto wiped out when the Canadian Pacific Railway Company built tieir freight sheds on the old Government House property; and there are ex-pujiil* of the schóól to be found, who have a recollection of the lad in those fast-receding school boy days. He is recalled as a good-looking, clean-cut youngster, small and active, smart at his
lessons, quick at games and with the best natured disposition in the world,
Jack Bowman was obviously born either with a silver spoon in his mouth or »
golden key in his^fist. The spoon or the key, whichever it chanced to be, was in his case a passion for horses. He came by his liking naturally; it was an inherited characteristic and in his youth he had many opportunities to indulge his fancy. He learned to ride when a mere slip of a lad; he became an accomplished horseman before he was in his teens and, as the sequel will abundantly prove, it was through his love for horses that he has reached the pinnacle of fame, which he now occupies
From public school, Jqck Bowman gravitated to business college and from business college to the office of a wholesale merchant. Here he served for a short time in the capacity of bookkeeper. But the lad was restless. He was not just engagedin the kind of work he fancied. Probably he did not know what career would be best suited to his talents, but any rate it was not ordinary wholesale business. At the critical moment, the hand of fate intervened, picked him up like a pawn in a game of chess and transported him to Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. Here, behold him at nineteen years of agre, blossoming forth as steward of the famous old summer hotel, the Waumbeck.
Business college taught him the theory of accounting; the wholesale warehouse grave him practical experience in the keeping of accounts; at the Waumbeck he gained an intimate knowledge of those most important departments of hotel management, catering and the „buying of supplies^ In those earlier days assistant stewards were regarded as superfluities and Jack Bowman was obliged to store for future requisition all of the supplies required by the big summer hotel.
The summer season over and the Waumbeck closed, its proprietor, Uriah Welsh by name, sent Bowman down to Thomasville, Georgia, where he owned a winter hotel known as the Mitchell House. At this hostelry, the young man performed similar functions to those he had exercised at the hotel on Saranac Lake, increasing his knowledge of hotel management and strengthening bis hold on the hotel business generally.
"^XT HEN the southern season was over.
* ’ the youthful steward returned north and landed in New York. Not unnaturally he went to pay a visit to Proctor Welsh, son of the proprietor of the Waumr beck and the Mitchell House, with whom he had become acquainted the previous summer in th% Adirondacks. Proctor Welsh happened to be filling the position of bookkeeper at Durland’s Riding Academy, which was located on Columbus, Circle at the entrance to Central Park. He intimated that he was about to throw up his job and suggested that Bowman could take it, if he wanted it. Delighted to be near his favorite horses again, the young man jumped at the opportunity, and in jumping—made his fortune.
It was inevitable that Bowman, the bookkeeper, and Bowman, the accomplished rider, could not exist together. Bookkeeping was a waste of time for a man who could handle a horse as superbly as he. This, Mr. Durland soon discovered. He promptly hired another bookkeeper and, to the gTeat joy of the young horseman, transferred him to the Academy, where he was employed in the training and exhibiting of horses.
At fthis juncture, with the stage all
set for great events, enter the magiciart, who was destined to pour into the lap of the fairy prince the gifts which were soon to make him rich and renowned. This was Gustav Baumann, owner of ore of Gotham’s famous old hostelries. the Holland House, a man of wealth and prestige in the hotel world. Baumann wanted a horse, came to Durland’s Academy for it, struck up an acquaintance with the good-looking young Canadian, who rode so superbly, took a decided fancy to him and presently offered him a position as his private secretary.
Likeableness has always been a winning trait in Mr. Bowmdn’s composition. He was popular as a boy at school in Toronto. Since then his geniality and good-heartedness have proved important factors in his success, gaining for him the loyal friendship and support of the thousands of men and women with whom he has been thrown in contact, a friendship that inclqdes in its circle many of America’s biggest financiers and captains of industry. Spall wonder, therefore, that Gustav Baumann should have succumbed rapidly to the fascination of his sunny nature.
Association with Baumann involved a return to hotel workf but circumstances were different. He was now the confidential secretary of one of the leading hotelmen of the day, which meant that he was virtually in charge of the big establishment owned by the latter. More and more did the management of his patron’s interests tdevolve on him as the days went by. Stronger and stronger did the bond of friendship between the two grow.. At length the relationship became rather that of father and son than of master and servant, and Jack Bowman was practically adopted into the family of the rich New Yorker. But he did not abuse his great good fortune. He was a worker then as now and fully justified every confidence that his patron reposed in him.
Not a great many years ago the Holland House patronage outgrew the hotel’s capacity to accommodate it and Mr. Baumann began to consider the erection of a new hotel. His attention was directed to a site at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Twenty-fifth Street, which was at the time regarded as pretty well up-town. Many of his friends favored this location and urged him to build there, but Bowman was dead against it. His bump of foresight warned him that Twenty-fifth Street would soon be left far behind in the rapid movement of business northward. He had already seized upon the fact that the Grand Central terminal zone was the strategic point for large hotel developments and in the end he was able to persuade Mr. Baumann to the same belief.
/"AUT OF these deliberations there was w evolved the Biltmore and with the building of the Biltmore, John McEntee Bowman’s name began to be heard around town as that of a coming man. The Biltmore, which first opened its doors on December 31, 1913, w'as the last word in hotel design and service. It crystallized all the daringly progressive ideas in hotel construction, equipment and management that had flashed through the brain of Jack Bowman, during the years he had managed the Holland House. In it were incorporated features that? would have been regarded but a fçwr years before as entirely outside the scope of hotel practice. Yet it caught on. It became im-
mensely popular and with its success, the way opened up for greater developments.
While Mr. Bowman had been largely •instrumental in working out the details of the Biltmore enterprise and had become its manager when the big hotel was opened, it was nevertheless Gustav Baumann who had stood sponsor for the undertaking. Baumann was president of the Beau Site Hotel Company, which was organized to erect the Biltmore, and it was on the security of his long experience in hotel management that the project was financed. Mr. Bowman held office as vicepresident and general manager of the company.
T N OCTOBER, 1914, Gustav Baumann
* died. Immediately, his protégé stepped into his shoes. There was no other alternative. No one had the intimate knowledge of the older man’s interests that he possessed and, wben it became necessary to elect a new president of the Biltmore, there was no question as to the .identity of his successor. Up to this point, the young Canadian hotelman’s person-
'Vality had been overshadowed by that of ]his patron. Now he was at last to come ''into his own.
Developments followed rapidly. The first was the formation during the latter part of 1915 of the Bowman Hotel Corporation, a company which will lease and operate, when completed, the new Hotel Commodore, now being erected at Lexington Avenue and Forty-second Street, alongside the Grand Central Depot. This enormous hotel, containing 2,500 rooms and representing an investment of ten millions, is being built by the New York Central Railway Company for the Bowman Hotel Corporation and will be leased to the latter for a term of forty years. It will be twenty-six stories high and, when opened this fall, will be the largest and most modernly equipped hotel in the world.
But even with the Biltmore and the Commodore on his hands, the young Napoleon of hoteldom was not content. He craved new worlds to conquer. Last summer, following up his scheme of walling in the Grand Central with hotels, die secured the lease of the Manhattan Hotel, lying to the west of the Terminal. This hotel had been in operation for many years and had enjoyed a good class of patronage. A complete rejuvenation of the property was decreed and something like five million dollars was expended on its restoration to the standing and style of its big neighbors. The Manhattan, leased, it is said, for twenty years at a quarter of a million a year, is believed to be Mr. Bowman’s personal enterprise.
* I 'HE YOUNG man’s next achievement
was consummated last September, when he became president of the Hotel Ansonia on Broadway. The Ansonia was once regarded as decidedly an up-town hotel. It is to-day in the heart of the city’s activities on the north and in consequence occupies a foremost position among New York’s larger and more fashionable establishments. The Ansonia was being managed by two of Mr. Bowman’s former associates in the Holland House. These men were anxious to gain for their hotel, the prestige which the association of Mr. Eiowman with the organization would impart and they finally prevailed on him to accept the office of president. His accession to the presidency of the An-
sonia gave a substantial impetus to the business.
Though he ha9 lived more than half his life in the United States, Mr. Bowman is still at heart a good Canadian, and when the new hotel enterprise for Toronto was brought to his attention recently, he gladly consented to join the directorate and give to the promoters of the undertaking the advantage of his intimate knowledge of the hotel business.
If his interest in the Hotel Devonshire is attended with anything like the success which has followed his association with the Bowman string of hotels in New York, it will be a fortunate thing for Toronto — a city that has long been han dicapped by the lack of modern hotel accommodation.
So much for Mr. Bowman’s career to date. Now for a brief investigation of the reasons for his success and an examination of some of the methods he ha9 employed in bringing i t about.
It will probably be said of him by nine persons out of ten that hi9
pleasing personality ha9 had more than any other one thing to do with his triumph. He is one of those rare beings whose geniality is contagious. It permeates his entire staff and imparts an “atmosphere” to the hotels he manages. There is a get-together spirit among his employees, a desire to please the pro-L prietor and show an appreciation of his kindliness and consideration. For he is indeed considerate and many a story is told of the generous way in which he has treated members of the staff who have been ill or in trouble.
It is surely a man of breadth of view, of generosity and of kindly spirit, who would pen such a message as that which Mr. Bowman sent to the employees of the Biltmore on the occasion of the annual staff entertainment a year ago. This is how the message read:—
“To the staff of the Biltmore: I extend to you my compliments, congratulations and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year. It is unnecessary to tell you that we have had a wonderful year and that the hotel has been a great success. You all know it because you have all helped to make it so. It is all due to the sincere and happy co-operatiop of each and every one of you from the high-
est to the lowes*; the patience you have shown each other and your appreciation of each other’s problema
“We have beei through a lot together in the last two j ears, and our troubles— some great, some small—have brought us closer together, until to-day I feel that -j*e.are one large family in which loyalty arid confidence reign supreme. I am very proud of you all.’’
This is a message from the heart and it is quoted here as showing why it is that all his employees esteem him and give him the best service that is in their power. Through them the public are efficiently served, the reputation of the hotels is enhanced and the success of the management is guaranteed, so that quite obviously the personality of Mr. Bowman is a very important factor in the progress of his hotel system.
A .STRONG and exuberant vitality must be regarded as another element in Mr. Bowman’s success. It takes work, and much hard work, to accomplish all that he has done in the past year or two. Without a sound physique, energy and enthusiasm he would have Tailed. These advantages he enjoys as a result of participation in sport, particularly his fav-
orite horse-back riding, and a love of outof-door life. He i» to-day a man of medium height, with a poise and carriage which suggest extraordinary suppleness and muscular development. Invariably well-groomed and fastidious in his dress, his figure gives an* idea of force and energy kept in constant readiness for action.
ORGANIZING ability is a third powerful element in Mr. Bowman’s makeup. He is credited with having introduced a brand new system of hotel management into the operation of the Biltmore and this plan of his has been copied quite generally by-the managers of other hotels throughout the country. Instead of trying to handle the bulk of the work with one or two assistants, he has surrounded himself with what might be called a “cabinet” of assistants, each one of whom, as manager, is responsible for some one department of the hotel organization. These men are chosen for their particular fitness for their work, with the result that the entire system runs smoothly and efficiently, each department standing on its own bottom, its head being responsible to the chief himself.
Supplementing the “cabinet” is the efficiency board, another innovation of Mr. Bowman’s mvention. The efficiency board is made up of men from every department in the hotel. The membership is changed from time to time, in order to give new men a chance to make suggestions, but meetings are held regularly. In these meetings, which are of the round-table /ariety, all questions of improvement in Operation, of efficiency in personnel, of ways and means for better service, are thoroughly discussed. The findings of the board are reported direct to Mr. Bowman, who considers them of great value and put9 such of them as appeal to him into operation.
E" ORESIGHT must be included as yet another of Mr. Bowman’s successcompelling characteristics. In the Biltmore it has been said, practically no feature was omitted. He had prepared for every possible contingency. The diversity of entertainment services provided in this palatial hostelry, as a result of his genius for evolving novelties is amazing. The number, the variety and the size of the dining and tea rooms in the building, including such attractions as the Grecian
Foyer, the Cascades, the'Ice Garden and the Midnight Supper Room, are matters of wonderment. There are libraries, containing thousands of real books«; plav rooms for the children of guests; a ho-pital and a Turkish bath establishment, to UNtame a few of the outstanding features ^of this mammoth institution. And through all runs the genius of its versatile originator.
Mr. Bowman belongs to a new race of hotel managers. Time was when a hotelkeeper, while often a very worthy citizen, was looked down upon by the better classes in the community. Hotelkeeping was not exactly a genteel business. Today the profession, if such it may be called, is being raised to a dignity and importance more in keeping w'ith its standing in the business world. The management of such huge establishments as the Biltmore and the Commodore is the work of no ordinary man. It requires genius of a high order to control their complex operation.
AND SO one finds that this one-time hotel clerk has attained a social standing in the United States,—that he has come to the front among the business men of the republic. He numbers among his intimates several multi-millionaires. He belongs to numerous select clubs. He was last summer honored by being elected to the directorate of the Harriman National Bank, one of the largest institutions of its kind in the United States. In short, he has become a big figure across the line, not alone through the amazing success which has attended his hotel enterprise but because of his ability to hold his own in other lines of activity, business and social.
Like most big men, he is notoriously generous and his name is invariably to be found at or near the top of any fund, whose cause appeals to him as meritorious. He is still enough of a Canadian to give hearty support to those patriotic appeals which have been made from time to time in the. Dominion since war broke outThe Patriotic Fund and the British Red Cross have both benefited materially through his generosity.
Up in Westchester County, New York. Mr. Bowman owns a fine large farm, on which he has erected a charming counti y home. Here he loves to motor after a bard day’s work in the city and spend the evening in company with a friend or two. His horses are here and horses he still loves dearly. His* tastes are naturally simple. He does not care for large or hilarious house parties and so his country home is characteristic of his ideals in this direction.
Having in mind all that he has accomplished in a score .of.. years—his wealth, his social standing, kis position among the foremost business men of the United States—it must be admitted that he ha> been extraordinarily successful.
Sir Gilbert Parker,. Stephen Leacock, Agnes C. Laut, Arthur E. McFarlane, Peter McArthur, Hopkins Moorehouse, H. F. Gadsbv are among the contributors next month. It promises to be the best number yet offered.