Our International History:
There is an interesting etymology to the word concierge. The Latin root is conservus, or fellow slave. Les Clefs d’Or members, however, prefer the Old French derivation that can be traced back to feudal times: the comte des cierges, or keeper of the candles, was the person in charge of catering to every whim and desire of a palace’s visiting nobility.
In the Middle Ages, the concierges were the “keepers of the keys” at noted government buildings and castles. There is even a famous prison in Paris named La Conciergerie in honor of the warden who kept the keys and assigned cells to the inmates.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the international tourism industry experienced a tremendous boom, in large part due to the increasing popularity of rail and steamship travel. Switzerland’s “grand hotels,” in working to satisfy the needs of these travelers, created the “hall porter” position. These first-ever modern concierges were responsible for everything from meeting the guests at the station in a horse-drawn carriage to assisting them with every detail of their stay.
With time, these Swiss concierges relocated to other cities throughout Europe as a means to stay at the constant disposal of their traveling clientele. In October 1929, three of the more prominent concierges met in Paris to exchange service tips and ideas. They found that, together, they could more effectively network and enhance guest services throughout their cities. As a result, many European countries created national concierge “societies.”
The end of World War II sparked a renewed interest in the need for these societies. To help smooth the journeys of their guests, concierges throughout Europe organized a network. On April 25, 1952, delegates from seven European nations met in Cannes, France, to hold the first ever “Congress,” creating L’Union Europeene des Portiers des Grands Hôtels (UEPGH). Ferdinand Gillet (then concierge at the Hotel Scribe, Paris) masterminded this effort and is considered the father of Les Clefs d’Or. Mr. Gillet served as president of the association until 1968.
In 1970, with the acceptance of Israel as a member country, UEPGH became UIPGH (Union Internationale des Portiers des Grands Hôtels) signifying that not just Europe, but countries from around the globe were joining forces.
Today, the UICH acronym stands for Union Internationale des Concierges d’Hôtels “Les Clefs d’Or.” The word concierge appears in the name as a way to strengthen the brand-name recognition of UICH as a society of professional hotel concierges.
Our National History:
Les Clefs d’Or members give much more than lip service to their motto, “in service through friendship.” They live by it, and the notion of UICH as a “friendly society” is the bedrock on which the association was built. In the San Francisco community in 1990, when the AIDS crisis was receiving national attention, Les Clefs d’Or USA members came together to create Les Clefs d'Or Foundation of the Americas, a charitable entity whose purpose was to provide financial relief to concierges who were no longer able to work due to catastrophic illnesses. The principal balance of the fund stands today at almost $500,000, and the fund has provided more than $250,000 in grants to over 90 recipients.
In 1991, Les Clefs d’Or USA began an initiative to strengthen the forces of concierges throughout the Americas into a Pan-American UICH presence. By inviting Latin American observers to its annual congresses, Les Clefs d’Or USA was able to excite interest in its neighbors to the south. During her tenure as President of Les Clefs d’Or USA, the late Ms. Marjorie Silverman assisted the formation of UICH chapters in both Mexico and Brazil, and she was known fondly as la madrina (godmother) of these sections.
Eleven presidents have served the association over its 30-year history. Mr. Thomas Wolfe, Founder of the Society of Golden Keys USA (1978-1981), still practices the concierge craft at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel today.
Les Clefs d’Or USA has reared visionary leaders who have shaped not only the national association’s landscape, but who have contributed insights and leadership on an international level as well. Ms. Marjorie Silverman, who served as President of Les Clefs d’Or USA from 1989 to 1991, went on to join the UICH Board of Directors in 1993 asThird InternationalVice President. She continued to move through the ranks and became President of UICH in 1999. After serving ex officio as UICH’s immediate Past President, Ms. Silverman was elected to the UICH Comité des Sages, where she sat in an advisory capacity until her death in late 2015.
One uniquely American gift given by Les Clefs d’Or USA to the larger UICH world is the idea of the female concierge. Even at its inception, the membership of Les Clefs d’Or USA was half male, half female. In America, this was de rigeur and so did not warrant any attention at all. But it was a novelty to Europe and Asia, where the concierge profession was (and still is) largely male-dominated.
For more information:
Les Clefs d’Or USA, Ltd.
68 Laurie Avenue
Boston, MA 02132
Phone 617-469-KEYS; Fax 617-469-4397