As Center City Realtor Laurie Phillips paused in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia - her refuge, clubhouse, and second home for 32 years - Carol Tamburino approached her mournfully.
"We need a new hangout. Where are we going to go?" Tamburino lamented. "I've been crying. I'm really depressed over this."
The hotel that redefined luxury in Philadelphia when it opened on Logan Square on July 31, 1983, closed Saturday, checking out its final guests and serving its last power breakfasts even as staff quietly whisked paintings off the walls.
The Four Seasons will return in 2018, reconstituted within the 59-story Comcast Innovation and Technology Center being built at 18th and Arch Streets - a move that will reduce the number of rooms by a third in the face of growing competition in the market. Its granite-clad longtime home, owned by Host Hotels & Resorts, will be renovated by Denver-based Sage Hospitality Group for a new luxury hotel. Details are to be released Tuesday.
But for those who built a community around the Four Seasons and its iconic Fountain Restaurant, the transition is bittersweet.
Phillips stayed over Thursday night before a nostalgic breakfast. She'd gotten married at the Four Seasons. She swam there daily, entertained clients, and relaxed in the lounge.
"It was my place to find perfection," she said.
Brent Martin, the general manager, has attempted to comfort the bereaved.
"The hard part is people asking, 'Where do I celebrate my anniversary?' "
Many of the 365 employees were just as despondent. Martin had to bring in outside help to dismantle the guest rooms. "Our current housekeepers couldn't do it. It was just too emotional," he said.
About 17 workers who were there when the hotel opened were still there to help close it out.
Jose Arroyo, a doorman since 1983, expressed satisfaction at seeing it through. Then, Sheryl Kalick pulled up, and Arroyo gently helped her mother, Bessie, climb out of the car, grip her walker, and head in to lunch. They had come from the Northeast to say goodbye.
"We came for all of our special occasions: birthdays and anniversaries. The waitress came to my father's funeral, and the hotel sent flowers," Kalick said. "It's our family."
There were lots of celebrations. It was also a sanctuary in hard times.
"People would use us as a home base during Hurricane Sandy, after 9/11, during blizzards," concierge Jean Farquhar said.
"You can't really call it being stranded at the Four Seasons," added Colleen Ryan, conference services manager. The staff hosted trick-or-treating for the kids after Sandy.
Others stayed as their children underwent treatment at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said Farquhar, who tried to provide a degree of comfort. Many kept in touch, sharing updates on recovery and tragic news of loss.
Concierge Matt Newlin verged on tears as he recalled Alan Stallings III, who died of brain cancer in 2008 at age 11.
"My best tip ever - I had picked up medicine for him and he gave me a little green army man. We call him Pause. Whenever I think I'm having a bad day, I look at him and pause, and get perspective," Newlin said.
All guests received the same level of service, Farquhar said: "A guest gave a presentation in my uniform, because her bag got lost. So many people have given shoes, belts, ties."
The same went for the kitchen, said Peter Rosenblatt, a chef for 14 years. He's sent staff to Whole Foods to buy vegan cheese or shad roe, and kept ingredient lists for returning guests.
That service was one reason attorney Richard Sprague was a Fountain regular. (Another was his table - always reserved for him - offering both a view of the room and total privacy.) Sprague has a severe garlic allergy, so the kitchen kept a set of garlic-free pans just for him.
The Fountain set a new standard as the only Forbes five-star, AAA five-diamond restaurant in the city. It was a training ground for many of Philadelphia's top chefs.
It was a place to do business and run into friends. Lawyer Bill Sasso went for breakfast, lunch, and dinner - occasionally all in one day. "It was a real social event," he said.
Now, the regulars are scattering. Sprague, part-owner of SugarHouse Casino, says he will host lunches there. Phillips has been entertaining at Le Cheri at the Art Alliance. Sasso considers the Rittenhouse Hotel a worthy alternative.
Robert Mitchell, the florist for 32 years, stopped by one last time Friday.
"It would be a bit of a shock to lose your biggest account," he conceded. "But change is inevitable."
For Newlin, the closing feels not unlike a death in the family. Last week, more than 500 current and former staff gathered for a wake, with former Gov. Ed Rendell and Isadore Sharp, founder of the hotel chain.
But Newlin hopes this, too, is just a pause - until the Four Seasons returns.
"Hopefully," he said, "I'll see you in 2018, standing at a much higher desk in the sky."