Headlines of Yore

How the ‘Grande Dame of Broad Street’ led to the discovery of Legionnaires’ disease

It took months to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak at the Philly hotel.

bellevue-hotel-top
Hyatt at the Bellevue / Google Maps
aviwolfmanarent

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


Once considered the most glorious hotel in the nation, Philadelphia’s Bellevue-Stratford took a crashing reputation hit after nearly 200 members of the American Legion who’d attended a 1970s conference there sickened, and more than two dozen died.

A hunt for the cause was taken up by scientists and medical doctors in Philly and around the region. Theories proliferated, and it wasn’t until months later that someone discovered the pneumonia-like bacteria responsible, and described its spread via the building’s air-conditioning system.

The hotel, now called the Hyatt at the Bellevue and greatly downsized from its original 1,000-plus rooms, is still a locus for high-end society events. But it never quite regained its initial glory as the “Grande Dame of Broad Street.”

The disease discovered there is now treatable with antibiotics. Here’s how its discovery unfolded.

Want some more? Explore other Headlines of Yore stories.

Mornings in the know

Sign up for Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter for a daily roundup of Philadelphia’s most pressing news, top interesting stories, fun tidbits, and relevant events.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn article!

We don’t have a paywall, and never will. Instead, we depend on readers like you to keep our newsroom jamming on stories about Philadelphia. If you like what you see, will you support our work?

Thanks for reading a Billy Penn story

We don’t have a paywall, and our daily newsletter is free. Instead, YOU are key to keeping our nonprofit newsroom running strong. If you like what you see, will you join as a member today?

This story was powered by readers

Readers like you make articles like this possible, so thanks for your support. Want to make sure we stick around? Become a sustainer with a recurring contribution!

Tell a friend about Billy Penn

Thanks for reading another article — and we’re grateful for your support! Want to help a friend start their day with Billy Penn? Send them to our newsletter signup page.