Frederick‚Äôs First Steps in Constantinople
Sunday, June 8, 2014 at 11:11AM
Vladimir Alexandrov in 1919, Frederick Thomas, Kavaka, Pera Palace Hotel, evacuation from Odessa, quarantine

The American Consulate General in Constantinople did not have the money or the inclination to provide much help to the refugees from Odessa after they finally disembarked on the Galata quay.  In any event, Frederick initially took his family to live at the Pera Palace Hotel, which was one of the two best in the city.  Staying there was an indulgence that he could ill afford, although it was surely an enormous relief to be able to immerse oneself in the cleanliness and comforts of a first-class hotel after the filth and deprivations of Imperator Nikolay and the quarantine at Kavak. 

The Pera Palace had opened in 1895 on the heights of the European district of Constantinople as a modern residence for the passengers of the Orient Express, the fabled train that ran from London, Paris, and Venice, in reality as well as fiction and film, across all of Europe to the Sirkeci Terminal in Stambul (the terminal still stands).  Other than the Sultan’s Dolmabahçe palace, the Pera Palace was the first building in Constantinople with electricity, an electric elevator, and hot running water. 



In its heyday before and after the Great War, its many famous guests included Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Turkey (whose revolutionary policies would, before long, play a fateful role in Frederick’s life), as well as Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, and Agatha Christie.

The Pera Palace Hotel exterior, as Frederick Thomas saw it in 1919


Lavishly decorated with stained glass, marble, gleaming brass, and gilded plaster (and recently refurbished to all its former glory) the hotel had wonderful views of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn and was the epitome of the Pera district in which it was located—a cosmopolitan, westernized island in an otherwise Turkish Muslim sea.



The Pera Palace Hotel, lobby bar, c. 1919


As Frederick discovered within days of arriving, Pera fit him very well.  (To be continued).


The Pera Palace Hotel lobby, contemporary restoration

Article originally appeared on The Black Russian, the Biography of Frederick Bruce Thomas (
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