Archive for the ‘Sketchy hotels’ Category

The literary past of a once-seedy Gramercy hotel

October 4, 2014

Looking at the facade of the former Kenmore Hall Hotel, at 145 East 23rd Street, you can imagine the kind of place it was when it opened in 1929.

Like so many of the new hotels built in the Jazz Age city, it was a place for the city’s young smart set, with a roof garden, skylit lobby, and swimming pool.

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It was also a hotel with a hidden literary rep. Shortly after the 22-story building opened, struggling young writer Nathanael West became its night manager.

MisslonelyheartscoverNathanaelwestIn the 1930s, West earned fame for his novels Miss Lonelyhearts (inspired by a real Brooklyn Eagle advice column to the lovelorn) and Day of the Locust.

During his time on the Kenmore’s graveyard shift, West reportedly worked on Miss Lonelyhearts while letting writer friends like Dashiell Hammett, Edmund Wilson, and Maxwell Bodenheim crash in empty rooms.

KenmorehallhoteltodayWest died in 1940 in a California car accident with his wife, Eileen McKenney (of My Sister Eileen fame). In subsequent decades, Kenmore Hall changed hands; as East 23rd Street became seedier, so did the hotel.

By the early 1990s it was an infamous SRO hotel where the city’s downtrodden lived in squalid quarters and drugs and crime were rampant.

Since 1999 the cleaned-up Kenmore is an SRO offering affordable housing—plus a little-known literary pedigree.

[Bottom photo: Emporis]

The brothel above an 1880s Gramercy saloon

August 15, 2014

There’s a wonderful bar and restaurant near Third Avenue on 23rd Street.

The wood and glass entrance is lit by amber lanterns; chandeliers inside cast a glow onto the tin ceiling. Everything about the bar radiates that enchanting, old New York feel.

Klubesrestaurantfacade

Now it’s known as the Globe. Not too long ago, it was the Grand Saloon. Reportedly it’s been a food and drinking establishment since the 1880s.

KlubesrestaurantchandelierClearly it’s been called many things over the years. Yet the name it had at least a century ago still emerges like a ghost above the entrance: Klube’s Restaurant.

Who was Klube? Sometime before 1912, a German immigrant named Charles (or Carl) Klube bought the place with a partner named Klinger.

Klube and his wife operated the restaurant as part of hotel, which occupied the top three floors of the building.

The hotel, called the St. Blaise, wasn’t just your standard neighborhood lodging house—it was actually a 15-bedroom brothel.

City of Eros, by Timothy J. Gilfoyle, references it in a passage on Manhattan’s various East Side houses of assignation.

Klubescloseup “More modest hotels like the Delevan, the German Hotel, and the St. Blaise were subdivided row houses that resembled parlor houses from the outside,” wrote Gilfoyle.

“They had between 15 and 50 rooms that were used by prostitutes who frequented the hotels and nearby saloons.”

At some point, the St. Blaise name faded away, and Klube established Klube’s Steak House here. It went out of business in 1965, but in 1950, The New York Times described it as a “homey little German restaurant.”

No word about what happened to the brothel above.

Magic and motion of 1920s Broadway at night

July 28, 2014

It’s an enchanting night in Times Square in this colorful postcard, and the Paramount Building, with the Paramount Theatre at street level, takes center stage.

Opened in 1926 in an era of grand movie palaces, the Paramount captured the city’s attention and imagination.

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The lobby “was modeled after the Paris Opera House with white marble columns, balustrades, and an opening arms grand staircase,” explains Cinema Treasures. “The ceilings were fresco and gilt. . . . in the main lobby there was an enormous crystal chandelier.”

During World War II, the globe and clock were painted black, so potential enemy invaders couldn’t see.

The Paramount Theatre bit the dust in 1964, and the building is now used for offices. Here’s a much more sedate daytime version of the same stretch of Broadway just a decade earlier.

Fifth Avenue and the original Waldorf-Astoria

July 17, 2014

In late 19th century New York, Fifth Avenue reigned as Millionaires Row. But by the time this postcard was produced around 1910, the stretch of Fifth Avenue north of 32nd Street was shedding its reputation as a wealthy residential enclave.

The rich were migrating northward. Posh mansions were being razed to make way for commercial buildings, like offices and hotels.

Fifthavenue32ndstpostcard

No hotel was as extravagant as the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the building on the left with the flag.

Waldorfastoria34thstreetviewBuilt as separate hotels in the early 1890s on the site of two former Astor family mansions, it was combined in 1897.

Times Shutter features a similar postcard, with some info about the hotel (it was the largest in the world, a gathering place for the rich and ostentatious, and the first to allow unchaperoned women!) as well a photo of the same stretch of Fifth today.

Today, the hotel is gone (the Empire State Building took its place two decades later), as is two-way traffic and that lovely streetlight on the left.

Gone too is Fifth Avenue with a quaint, unhurried feel.

[Another view of the Waldorf-Astoria, from 34th Street, right]

140 years of changes at Broadway and Houston

May 3, 2014

More than a century before anyone had ever heard of Soho or Noho, Broadway just north of Houston Street was a bustling business district and slightly low-rent entertainment area with the massive Broadway Central Hotel across the street and one block up.

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Just look at the shops and venues: a publisher, a banner painter, and a company dealing in straw goods—plus the New York Museum of Anatomy, Science & Art at number 618 and the Olympic Theater at number 624.

The Olympic opened in 1856 and was soon renamed Laura Keene’s New Theatre, after the actress of the era (who starred in “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington the night President Lincoln was shot).

Broadwayhouston1975

The theater with its lovely lampposts went through more name changes before closing in 1880; the building burned down in 1881, explains the caption to this photo, from New York Then and Now.

One hundred years later, the East Side of Broadway was kind of sketchy, a sparsely populated area with fabric and supply stores.

But look at the new cast-iron buildings from the late 19th century, like the beautiful Mercantile Building. One structure from 1875 remains: it’s at the end before the Mobil Station.

Broadwayhouston2014

Now, the Mobil Station has been replaced by the giant Adidas Store at the corner. Best Buy is renovating another cast-iron beauty, and Urban Outfitters occupies the ground floor of the Mercantile Building.

And this slip of Noho has been a prime shopping area since the 1980s.

Staying at Midtown’s Hotel Bristol in the 1940s

March 10, 2014

Today, there’s a Chipotle at the Rockefeller Center address the Hotel Bristol once occupied.

The Bristol, as this postcard shows, was one of dozens of smart, modern city hotels catering to the influx of businessmen and tourists in the early 20th century.

Bristolhotelpostcard

The Bristol appears to have been a happening place through the 1940s. That Pink Elephant restaurant must have been the site of many boozy business dinners.

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A 1922 ad showcases the Bristol’s endorsement by the YMCA: “A good hotel that Y men can recommend, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue. 400 rooms, 300 baths. Rooms with bath: single $2 to $4. Double $5, $6, and $7.”

I don’t know if there’s any connection to the Bristol Plaza Hotel in the East 60s today—or if it’s a larger version of the six-story Bristol Hotel at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue in the late 19th century.

Cool old phone exchange: Circle!

Three centuries at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue

February 24, 2014

“The pace was leisurely, with bicycles, horsecars, broughams, and hansom cabs comprising traffic,” states the caption to this 1898 photo looking north on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. It’s from New York Then and Now.

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The twin lamppost makes a nice contrast to the twin Moorish-style towers of Temple Emanu-El, built in 1868 and a mainstay of this section of Fifth Avenue until 1927.

The building on the northwest corner at 42nd is the circa-1875 Hotel Bristol. See the stone wall with a low fence on the far left? There’s no New York Public Library Building yet.

The year this photo was taken, the Croton Reservoir would be torn down—the wall looks like part of the reservoir structure.

42ndfifth1974

What a difference 76 years make. Fifth Avenue’s residential era is long over; it’s now the city’s commercial heart.

The temple, lampposts, and Hotel Bristol are gone, but the six-story building from 1870 on the far right still exists, with a Russell Stover candy store at the ground floor.

5thave42ndstreet2014

Thirty-eight years later, in 2014, Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street is still a crowded commercial corner, with one church steeple still in view.

What happened to the six-story building at the far right? It was swallowed up by H&M!

The long history of the Milford (Plaza) Hotel

February 17, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you seen the renovated Milford Hotel? The building itself is mostly the same, but the lobby and interior on Eighth Avenue and 44th Street sport a sleek, minimalist look.

The modern renovation is hard to wrap your head around if you lived in New York in the 1980s.

Back then, the Milford was the cheapo, tourist-friendly Milford Plaza, known for its crazy-catchy 1980s commercials.

(Warning: view it, and the Milford Plaza song will be in your head in an endless loop for the rest of the day.)

And if your New York history goes back decades earlier, you might remember when the Milford Plaza was the Lincoln Hotel.

Opened in 1928, the Lincoln featured 1,300 rooms spread out across 27 floors. Over the next few decades, the hotel hosted salesmen, tourists, and people connected to the theater district. The restaurant and ballroom were packed with partygoers.  A few suicides were recorded too.

Hotel Lincoln, 44th to 45th Street at 8th Avenue New York CityBy the 1950s, the Lincoln was a shell of its former self—a rundown apartment hotel in out-of-fashion west Midtown. An 85 percent vacancy rent kept the number of residents low, the hallways ghostly.

Developer William Zeckendorf bought it in 1956 and got permission to kick the longtime rent-controlled tenants out. Yet they didn’t leave without a fight.

In 1956, the last of the holdout tenants—the Hotel Lincoln Seven, we’ll call them—faced eviction proceedings about the same time the hotel’s furnishings were scheduled to go up for auction.

“Within four hours of the sale’s opening bid, the restaurant, the barber shop, the coffee shop, and the beauty salon had been swept clean of fixtures,” wrote The New York Times.

ThemilfordmarqueeMeanwhile, the developers offered to relocate the holdout residents to similar hotel accommodations at the Knickerbocker on West 44th Street. They declined.

Finally, they ponied up cash payouts of $300o per tenant to promptly vacate. “The last to agree was Miss Edna King, a guest since 1929,” reported The New York Times.

East 14th Street: three centuries, three views

November 25, 2013

“By 1893, New York’s entertainment world had moved up to the Herald Square area, but East 14th Street, once the city’s operatic, musical, and theatrical center, still maintained a score of attractions,” states the caption to his photo published in New York Then and Now, from 1976.

East14thstreet1893

The view is of East 14th Street looking west toward Irving Place in 1893. At the right is Tammany Hall, with Tony Pastor’s vaudeville house on the ground floor—the venue that gave Lillian Russell and other Gilded Age celebrities their start.

The Academy of Music is next door. Once the city’s leading opera house and a favorite of Old New York money families, it would be upstaged by the new Metropolitan Opera and closed in 1887.

The photo has wonderful small details: a sign for oysters on the left, street lights that appear small by today’s standards in front of Tammany Hall, and a glimpse of the still-unfinished Lincoln Building at the corner of 14th Street and University Place.

East14thstreet1975

By 1974, the same view is very different. The Lincoln Building is finished, but Tammany Hall is gone—relocated to Union Square East. Does 14th Street looks like it’s been widened? Hard to tell.

Con Edison’s headquarters took over the site. The Irving Hotel, visible in the 1883 photo, is now a rooming house. A Horn & Hardart automat exists, as does a bar called Clancy’s.

East14thstreet2013

In 2013, Con Ed still looms large. The automat, Clancy’s, Irving Hotel, and other small businesses are gone, replaced by luxury residence Zeckendorf Towers in 1988.

The influx of bachelors in Gilded Age New York

August 26, 2013

Bachelorchase&bakerpianoadToday’s New York is a city of singles.

But until about 150 years ago, it was impractical and expensive for unmarried adults to live alone (as well as morally suspect when it came to unhitched women).

Things changed in the 1870s—for guys, at least. “With the growth and industrialization of New York City in the 19th century, the work force consisted of very large numbers of unmarried men,” explains a 2004 Landmarks Preservation Committee report.

“The number of bachelors in the city ranged from 125,000 (about 13 percent of the population) in 1870 to nearly 45 percent of the male population over the age of 15 in 1890.”

WilbrahamapartmentsAll these unattached guys had to live somewhere. One solution for men with  cash was a new type of housing called the bachelor flat.

Bachelor flats were basically apartment residences that consisted of a suite of rooms or just one room, sometimes with a kitchen and bath; sometimes without.

Many of these bachelor flats are long gone. But some still exist.

There’s the Benedick on Washington Square East (mentioned in Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth), the Gorham on Broadway and 18th Street, and a lovely copper-topped, circa-1890 building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 30th Street called the Wilbraham.

Wilbrahamdoorway“The Wilbraham catered to single professional men of means,” noted the LPC report. “The 1900 census listed eleven single male ‘boarders’ at the Wilbraham, ranging in age from 28 to 80: two lawyers, two treasurers, two company ‘secretaries,’ a music professor, a drygoods clerk, a silk manufacturer, an architect, and an actor.”

The guys at the Wilbraham didn’t have their own kitchens. But there was a communal dining area, and they had plenty places to eat in their neighborhood—then a posh, happening area.

The bachelor flat concept didn’t last long. By 1927, the Wilbraham was open to women, and today, it’s a regular apartment building.

Bachelors are still here, of course, along with their female counterparts.


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