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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Robert Block

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[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. 136-139 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Portraits | Illustrations | Maps

Portrait of Robert Block

Portrait: Robert Block

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Robert Block, perhaps the most popular host and caterer in Utica, is the president and managing director of the Empire State Hotel Company. His birth occurred in Vienna, Austria, on the 24th of December, 1881, his parents being Herman and Theresa Block, who passed away in the years 1882 and 1893, respectively. Thus early in life he found himself dependent upon his own resources. After having visited most of the principal cities of Europe he reached Lucerne, Switzerland, where he worked at one of the resorts as interpreter, meeting some of the notable personages of the world. It was in that country, just before his emigration to America in 1905, that he formed the acquaintance of William G. McAdoo, former secretary of the treasury, who asked Mr. Block to call upon him if he needed any assistance on coming to the United States. He was a young man of about twenty-four years when he crossed the Atlantic, landing in New York. His first position was that of receiving clerk in the storeroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he remained for five years, filling every position connected with the catering department. During the latter part of that period he had full charge of the banquets and in that capacity made the acquaintance of L. M. Boomer, director of the chain of hotels at Long Beach, New York, New Haven, Connecticut, Atlantic City, New Jersey, etc. At the request of Mr. Boomer he went to New Haven to take charge of the dining room of the Hotel Taft, where he had a unique experience in breaking a strike among the hotel help. The information came to him that the fifty odd waiters were going on strike, and in order to be prepared for such an emergency, Mr. Block drilled a number of Yale students in the duties of serving. These young men proved so efficient that the patrons of the hotel asked that they remain and the students readily agreed to do so, for after their work each night they were given a dinner with champagne. In addition to this they were receiving generous tips. At this time Mr. Block met E. J. Millspaugh of Utica, who was visiting his son, a student at Yale. Mr. Millspaugh, the president of the Fort Schuyler Club of Utica, was in search of someone to take complete charge of the club's kitchen, dining room and service as managing steward. It was at the solicitation of the house committee that Mr. Block came to Utica and took charge of the stewardship of the club in 1912, continuing in that capacity until 1917, when the president of one of the large banks interested him in the Yates, a run-down hotel of Utica. After considerable deliberation Mr. Block accepted the proposition of the banker, giving the latter a note for the money which was advanced him to put the hostelry back upon a paying basis. The task which he had undertaken was no easy one and it was only after a hard struggle, assisted by his estimable wife, that he was able to turn failure into success. He remodeled the hotel and made a number of improvements, but at the end of the first year he found himself in debt to the extent of nineteen thousand dollars. This amount has since been paid in full. Through the instrumentality of William G. McAdoo many of the Marines stationed in Utica in 1916 were housed in the Hotel Yates and thus Mr. Block gained his start on the road to prosperity. Since that time the hotel has been notably successful. Mr. Block purchased the property in 1921 and remodeled the hostelry, which is today so popular that it is always filled to capacity.

Mr. Block likewise established the Astoria Catering Company, acknowledged the best in Utica. He enjoys the confidence of the public in unusual degree, has an extensive circle of friends among clubmen and is particularly popular with the members of the Fort Schuyler Club. It was in the early part of 1923 that he formed the Empire State Hotel Company, of which he has since been president and managing director. The company built the Hotel Majestic, which is Utica's newest hotel and is already extremely successful. Mr. Block's services as a caterer are in demand for most of the banquets given in the city. He speaks four languages and is esteemed as a man among men for his business ability, his unquestioned integrity and his high sense of personal honor.

In early manhood Mr. Block was united in marriage to Miss Sophie Fiedler, daughter of Joseph and Theresa Fiedler of Vienna, Austria.

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