The origin of the name ARMLEDER is unusual: in the XIIth century the members of a wandering tribe which spent its time persectuting and pillaging wore as their rallying sign a leather armband, an "are-leather". German translation : ARMLEDER.
As of 1337 the armband became useless but the name of Armleder survived and spread to Bavaria, Swabia, Franconia and Alsace. It was found for the first time in 1583 in the records of Altstadt-Rottweill in Württemberg. It is of this branch that in 1847 Adolphe Rodolphe Armleder, the founder of the Richemond, was born. Adolphe-Rodolphe Armleder was the son of a modest cooper from the suburbs of the town of Rottweil-am-Neckar in the Black Forest of Württemberg in South Germany. After having made a fortune, he became the benefactor of his little native village. At the age of 15 on foot, he left Rottweil firmly determined to work in the hotel trade. It seems that he very quickly climbed all the echelons of the trade up to the rank of head-waiter. In 1875 he rented the Riche-Mont Pension which had already been open since 1863 at No. 4 of the rue Adhémar-Fabri. The building belonged to the famous Geneva painter, François Diday, who bequeathed it to the City of Geneva after his death. According to legend, the painter’s imagination and the young hotel-keeper’s dynamism inspired the installation of a little funicular which sent the meals from the hotel’s kitchen located in the basement to François Diday’s workshop which was set up in the attic. The Riche-Mont Pension was at this time able to receive 25 guests for the moderate price of 2,75 francs per day including lodging and three meals – and what meals! First course, fish, meats, fowl and desserts. This was the beginning of Armleder fortune.
At that time running water did not exist; every room had a chest of drawers with a marble top on which there were a pot of water, a basin and a bucket for dirty water. In the bedside cabinet there was a chamber pot. Candles and alcohol lamps were the only lighting. Central heating was still unknown and every room had a fireplace. The work of the chambermaids and the valets who had to ceaselessly keep the fire alive, empty the chamber pots and clean the rooms was exhausting. The staff in the wings had a monthly salary of around 25 francs; the others, those who were in direct contact with the clients, only received tips! Without holidays, nor days off, they all worked 15 to 18 hours per day.
As for Adolphe-Rodolphe Armleder, he had so little money that he repaired the worn-out carpets himself; he would shut himself into a room, take off his frock coat, his stiff collar and his starched cuffs, and then kneel on the floor where he laboured long at saving a few tattered carpets. He used to say that during the 1880 economic crisis, he could have bought all the hotels in Geneva for a few hundred thousand francs!
The clientele of the Riche-Mont Pension was mainly Germans and Russians. When the English and Americans arrived the name of the pension was relinquished in favour of a new name, “Richemond Family Hotel”, which sounded better to Anglo-Saxons. Upon the occasion of the 1896 exhibition the hotel rented a few floors in the adjoining building and with its 50 beds grew in importance. The tourist season lasted from June till September and during the remaining months of the year the hotel was almost empty.
Two carriages ensured the transportation of clients from the Cornavin and the Eaux-Vives stations to the hotel. On nearing the hotel, the coachman would majestically crack his whip and the grooms would rush up to help the travellers down. Then Adolphe-Rodolphe Armleder would appear on the porch in his frock coat and stiff collar and from the top of his 1m 60, he would welcome his clients with great dignity. He would then lead them to the salon, offer them refreshments, and hold long and pleasant conversations, before showing them to their rooms.
An art dealer who did not have enough money to pay his bill which amounted to around three hundred francs suggested to Adolphe-Rodolphe to let him give him a painting by a young unknown painter …The hotel-keeper accepted this offer unenthusiastically. Half a century later his grandson Jean discovered it in the attic where it had been hidden away with other worthless objects…. It is the famous “Bernese Landscape” by Hodler.
In 1906, Adolphe-Rodolphe handed over the Richemond Hotel to his son Victor in exchange of a strict rental contract. He retired officially and lived at the Beauregard villa, but every day he went to the Richemond to make sure that his son was at work in the morning, for Victor spent his evening acting! He ran the Société des Amis de l’Instruction and was more of a talented actor than a hotel-keeper. He married the young and lovely Emilie Spreter who, like Adolphe-Rodolphe, had come from Rottweil. Victor and Emilie soon had three daughters, Odette, Marthe and Lilianne. Then came Jean who was at that time the last male bearer of the name Armleder.
Jean Armleder was born at the Richemond on March 13, 1916. After his father’s death he was strictly brought up by his mother. Unlike his colleagues, he did not follow an apprenticeship nor did he go to hotel management school. He only trained for 6 months at the Negresco Hotel in Nice and has never known how to cook an omelette – and he is quite proud of it! Jean started at the Richemond in 1935 as secretary at the same time as his friend André Lang, son of the manager. Thus, two generations of Lang managers worked with three generations of Armleder owners, which remains a unique fact in the hotel business.
When World War II broke out, Jean hurriedly left the Negresco and came back to Geneva. There was general mobilization, but he was exempted from military service and he did not leave the Richemond again. The four years of war were very hard.
In 1944 he met a young American girl of 19, Ivane Kuhn, who was living at the Richemond with her family. Six months later the pretty young girl became his wife. Ivane gave birth to two handsome boys, Victor and John, thus ensuring the succession of the name. At Victor’s birth, since there were only girls in the family, and at the request of Jean who was madly happy, the hotel was dressed with flags and all the rival hoteliers thinking that an important celebration has been missed by them, also hissed flags without knowing that it was simply to celebrate the birth of little Victor Armleder.
In 1945, he was offered the management of several large hotels in Geneva but he refused as there was only one project he cared about, the development of the Richemond.
On November 10, 1950, Jean’s dream came true. His project had been realized. The “Gentilhomme” and its dinner-dance became the town’s most elegant meeting place.
At that time Sacha Guitry was a frequent visitor to the Richemond. He used to come with his wife Geneviève who had a passion for Jean’s dog, an adorable little basset-hound named Arthur. Jean used to leave his dog with the Guitrys so that they could walk him in the Brunswick Garden. He had asked them not to take Arthur to the restaurant. One day, at lunchtime, Jean was making his usual rounds of the tables and to his great astonishment he saw Sacha and Geneviève seated around Arthur, who was on the table merrily digging into a chocolate cake. From that day the bond between Sacha Guitry and Arthur tightened to such an extent that the actor wrote him postcards! ”Arthur, Hotel Richemond, Geneva. My dear Arthur, could you ask your master to book our usual apartment…”
In 1955 Jean bought the buildings at No. 6 and No. 8 of the rue Plantamour. In 1960 he created the “Bel Etage” in the mezzanine of the hotel. With a few friends he founded the “Association des Hôtels de Grande Classe Internationale”, the members of which are the traditional family-owned hotels as opposed to the big American hotel chains.
In 1970 H.I.H Archduke Geza von Habsburg suggested to Jean Armleder that Christie’s (which he manages in Geneva) should organize a big auction at the Richemond twice a year. Since then it has become a tradition for Christie’s to organize prestigious auctions at which are sold jewels, “objets de vertu” and silverware from all over the world.
Among many anecdotes that of the Aga Khan has remained famous: The Aga Khan was a regular customer of the Richemond. He did Jean the honour, when the latter was 20, of inviting him to play golf. Upon their return to the hotel on a very hot day, the Aga Khan took off his shoes in front of the Richemond and walked barefoot into the hall where he threw himself into an armchair and asked for a basin of cool water for this feet. “Your Highness”, Jean told him, “You have three private bathrooms in your suite on the first floor!” The Aga Khan was furious and replied, “Young man, you took the liberty of making that remark because we played golf together. Have my bill prepared!” The Aga Khan went to live in the hotel across the road. A few years went by and one day a telegram arrived: “Please book apartment on first floor. Signed: Aga Khan”. Jean was sure that it was a joke played on him by a hotel-keeper friend so he did not book the apartment. The Aga Khan, however, did arrive and he was installed as comfortably as possible. The explanation to this was that the Richemond had just employed one of the excellent telephonists from the other hotel, and the Aga Khan was accustomed to her!”
In 1979 he created a new restaurant, “Le Jardin”, in the place of the former dining room (which was abandoned by the hotel’s clientele). This restaurant is most luxuriously designed and offers a menu of light meals served at moderate prices, and this has turned out to be a magic formula.
Its success was unprecedented in a deluxe hotel. The Richemond took on new life. The wider lobby, the smoking room which is now converted into a bar, and “Le Jardin” soon became the meeting places of all of Geneva and of the best international society when it visits the city of Calvin.
In 1981 again on Victor’s initiative, the “Gentilhomme” was admirably redecorated by Gérard Bach in the spirit of the “Maxim’s” of Paris. Sumptuous dinners and suppers by candlelight are given to the sound of Ionesco’s violins.
Under the aegis of this group, he opened a gallery, a bookshop and a publishing firm and he organized many shows. The “Ecart” gallery and bookshop opened under John’s guidance in the basement of the hotel Richemond and later became the Centre d’Art Contemporain. The combination of all these has stimulated the hotel into becoming a lively centre of artistic research. The Richemond has welcomed at all times great artists like Hodler, Picabia, Miro or more recently Warhol.
The Armleders’ dream has come true and as an old saying goes: “The jungle of success cannot be crossed in sedan chairs”.