A secret passage to an old Times Square hotel

Go to the north end of the subway platform of the Times Square shuttle, and you’ll see a grimy door with an old darkened sign above it.

This was once an underground passageway leading from the subway to the Knickerbocker Hotel, a Beaux-Arts beauty built in 1906 by John Jacob Astor.

The Knickerbocker, on Broadway and 42nd Street, was a trendy place back in the aughts and the teens. Legend has it that the martini was invented there.

And opera great Enrico Caruso supposedly belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” from his room balcony one Veterans Day.

Covered up by construction scaffolding for a few years, the sign and door are visible once again. 

And as tempting as it is to imagine going inside and doing a little time traveling, don’t even try. The door remains locked, and though the building still exists, the hotel was shut in 1920.

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8 Responses to “A secret passage to an old Times Square hotel”

  1. Johannah Says:

    Nice find!

    There was (perhaps still is) an underground passageway from the 68th Street station of the IRT Lexington line that leads up into the Hunter College building that was (perhaps still is) at that location. I also recall an underground passage leading from a subway station in the financial district up into the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company building on Nassau Street. Maybe such passageways are common, but those were the only two I ever knew about and used in the 1960s.

  2. iread Says:

    I never noticed that before. I’m going to have to go looking for it the next time I take the Shuttle.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the info about the subway passageway doors to Hunter College and in the financial district. I’ll have to check them out. There’s only one other I know about, at the Astor Place station:
    http://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/the-secret-door-in-the-subway-wall/

  4. addie Says:

    Are these passages, like others in that they were used for ducking out on police raids or were they simply made for the convenience of more exits and entryways?

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Good question. My guess is that it was for the convenience of visitors. Astor had the pull to get the subway officials to agree to a passageway. Prohibition hasn’t been enacted yet, so there were probably no police raids to worry about.

  6. Trouble is my Middle name, or is it Killer, or….. : The Kisseloff Collection Says:

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  7. Lisa Says:

    Yes, it was certainly for the convenience of guests. In those days, many of the people patronizing the Knickerbocker Hotel had private train cars, so this way they could enter the hotel without having to make the trek up to the street and retain a semblance of privacy at the same time.

  8. danny Says:

    Amazing! I love these things.

    The Knickerbocker is mentioned in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first book This Side of Paradise. The book is fascinating to read since he talks so nonchalantly about all these hip NYC places of the time, 1920. And now look what they are reduced to! It’s funny how the hottest place in town can become an afterthought in a subway station.

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