First-class hotels like the William Penn are a public stage with a rotating cast. Business travelers, U.S. presidents and celebrities arrive in its opulent lobby, still one of the city’s prime spots for watching people and relaxing.
Every guest likes to feel special, but some require more pampering than others. Michael Jackson, the late “King of Pop,” had a gym installed next to his suite. Actor and comedian Jackie Gleason, who lives on in television reruns of “The Honeymooners,” ordered a bucket of ice cream from room service.
At 2 a.m., Liberace craved a birthday cake, so a bellman found a bakery to deliver one within an hour. Silent film star Mary Pickford slept on satin sheets in the French Suite. The late Elsie Hillman, beloved Pittsburgh philanthropist, enjoyed the hotel’s tea and pastries. And for many years, department store owner Edgar Kaufmann lived in one of the Downtown historic landmark’s spacious suites, making his commute to work a block and a half walk.
Managed by Omni since 2001, the AAA four-diamond hotel celebrates the 100th anniversary of its opening Wednesday by serving slices of a gigantic cake, the start of more festivities. During this nostalgic week, thousands of brides, grooms, conventioneers, debutantes, employees, film crews and former guests will recall comedies and dramas they starred in or witnessed at the Renaissance Revival building that opened March 9, 1916.