London's fabled Savoy Hotel slated for renovation

One of its large ballrooms, used as a regrouping point for U.S. troops returning to the States at the end of World War I, was named the Abraham Lincoln Room after the U.S. government gratefully presented the hotel with a bust of the president.

The list of the Savoy's American guests is long, and reads like an A-Z of Tinseltown, sports-page, literary, musical and political lists from the Jazz Age on: Al Jolson, Josephine Baker, Babe Ruth, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, Robert De Niro and Andy Warhol.

Elizabeth Taylor had her first honeymoon there. Liza Minnelli announced her engagement to British actor Peter Sellers there. Movie cowboy Gene Autry took a bow with his horse, Champion, inside the hotel.

In the American Bar, there's an artist's fictional gathering of boxer Sugar Ray Robinson hoisting a glass along with actors Rita Hayworth, W.C. Fields, Marlene Dietrich, songwriter George Gershwin, and authors Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.

There are photos of actors Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Shirley MacLaine and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. On other walls are prints of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

"Everyone has something they are nostalgic about here," says Ruth Butterfield, a native of Ireland who hopes to purchase one of the hotel's night tables for the London home that she shares with her husband, Eric, a former Chrysler executive.

Butterfield, who has lived in London the last 15 years, used to meet American friends at the hotel's American Bar. She is concerned the renovation could damage the hotel's character.

"It's a lot of memories," she says. "It's sad to see it change."

The American Bar will remain untouched, as will the statue of Kaspar the cat, which joins meeting-goers or diners as an honorary "14th guest" when the number of people present is an unlucky 13.

"There are no price tags in the American Bar," MacDonald says. "Nothing is for sale from there. You should be able to walk into the hotel (after the renovation) and absolutely recognize it."

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