THE 33-foot high marble columns in the lobby look so monumental that you may think you've stepped into a museum. In a way, you have.
New York's Four Seasons Hotel, located on one of midtown Manhattan's most fashionable shopping streets, is the Big Apple's newest and tallest hostelry. Built over four years at a cost of $360 million, the hotel is fast gaining a certain landmark status as the latest example of a disappearing breed of grand hotels. "I've been told that something like this happens in New York every 50 years, and I tend to believe it," says hotel manager Thomas Gurtner.
Curious New Yorkers are zipping in and out of the Four Seasons' revolving doors in such numbers that the hotel has assigned six employees just to give tours. The Toronto-based Four Seasons chain has 37 other hotels around the globe, including New York's Hotel Pierre, but the newest addition is considered the flagship.
Chief architect I.M. Pei, who designed the 52-story structure in association with Frank Williams, has said the aim was to produce a building of classic elegance and continue a tradition in which going to a hotel was an occasion.
The interior and exterior walls are made of honey-colored Magny limestone from France, the same kind used in Mr. Pei's addition to the Louvre in Paris. The grand foyer, topped by a translucent onyx ceiling, exudes a certain majesty that is strictly intentional.
"The architects wanted to create a grand arrival space ... so that when you walk in, you feel that you've really arrived somewhere," explains Rebecca Warner, a spokeswoman for the hotel.
"People who are into architecture will walk in and say they recognize the I.M. Pei signature in the lobby style," Gurtner says.
The lobby is flanked on two sides by terraced conversation and dining areas and features separate check-in and check-out desks. The 450 employees, chosen from some 14,000 who were interviewed, tend to be friendly and ready to share facts about the hotel.
In a city that already has 65,000 hotel guest rooms, the 367 added by the Four Seasons, at prices ranging from $290 to $3,000 per night, may not sound like much of an addition. The city's hotel- occupancy rate in 1992 was only about 69 percent. Yet Gurtner says the Four Seasons, which caters primarily to business travelers and conferences, has been sold out since its June 7 opening. He cites spectacular guest-room views as one reason. More than half of the rooms, all of which have three telephones, offer
views of the Statue of Liberty or of Central Park and the George Washington Bridge.
The Four Seasons is Pei's first hotel in the Western hemisphere. In his view, the hotel's graduated limestone tower fits well in a city that has numerous glass skyscrapers but is still basically what he calls "a masonry city."