The collapse of Broadway’s Grandest Hotel

Built in 1870, the Broadway Central Hotel (originally the Grand Central Hotel), was the largest hotel in the world. The eight-story, 400-room structure fronted Broadway between Bleecker and Third Street, then called Amity Street. Located in a prime entertainment district, the Broadway Central was luxe all the way: three fancy dining rooms, top of the line linens and furniture, the works.

But as the city’s nightlife and theater district marched north, the Broadway Central became sketchy, then sleazy. By the 1970s the building housed a flophouse called the University Hotel and an after-hours club catering to a glam-rock crowd.

After years of neglect, a wall of the structure collapsed suddenly and magnificently in 1973, killing four residents. The site is now occupied by a New York University law school dorm.

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22 Responses to “The collapse of Broadway’s Grandest Hotel”

  1. The Booth brothers play Julius Caesar « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] staged at the opulent Winter Garden Theatre, on Broadway and West 3rd Street (later the site of the Broadway Central Hotel and now an NYU law school dorm). The Booth brothers, who had never performed together, hoped to […]

  2. NYCDreamin Says:

    Hello wildnewyork:
    Spent the past few days digging through your blog – it’s amazing stuff!
    It’s cool you did a piece on the Broadway Central…I did a LENGTHY (7 parts) piece on the Mercer Arts Center about a month after you posted this. You might want to check it out…

    http://thisaintthesummeroflove.blogspot.com/2008/09/pre-punks-let-their-freak-flag-fly-at.html

    And there was another place located in the original hotel building from 1968-1972 called the St. Adrian Company…I just recently completed a piece on that as well. You can check that out here:

    http://thisaintthesummeroflove.blogspot.com/2008/12/giving-up-ghosts-of-st-adrian-company.html

    Best wishes on continued success with your blog…like I said, you’re doing some great work here. I have added a permanent link to your blog on mine…

    Cheers!
    NYCDreamin

  3. sheri fisher Says:

    I actually lived there for a time in 1968.

    • Eric Bernat Says:

      Hey Sheri
      I’m a writer doing some research on this Hotel in 1968, coincidentally. Would you be wiling to answer a couple of quick questions for me?
      Best,

      e

  4. Beth Gibson Says:

    I was wondering if you have any information about the chambermaids who worked at the Broadway Central Hotel during the time of 1916-1920? My grandmother, who had immigrated from St. Maarten went to work there, along with two of her sisters. I was wondering if it was a “gathering place” of young women from the islands to work as chambermaids? Any help/ideas would be appreciate. Thanks, Beth Gibson, Georgetown, Tx

    • Patti de Weever Says:

      To Beth Gibson: My great grandmother was a chambermaid who worked at the Broadway Central Hotel during that time. She also emigrated from St. Maarten. Her name was Agatha de Weever and I believe her maiden name was Herring.

      • Beth Gibson Says:

        Well, then, we are cousins. Agatha Herring was one of my grandmother’s ( Eleanor Herring) sisters . My grandmother married Joseph Carty , who also had emigrated from St. Martin, on the French side.

      • Beth Gibson Says:

        Are you related through Eddie deWeever or Carl? My grandfather went to live with Daisy Connelly in Washingtonville, after he had a stroke. We would go there when we would visit from Texas from 1960 on.

      • Beth Gibson Says:

        Oh , I see on our Ancestry site that you are Carl’s daughter. Cool. Do you live in NYC ?

  5. Marvin L Lessne Says:

    I was a student at NYU in 1952, and lived with a roommate at the Broadway Central hotel…. They has special rates for students. Best time of my life, I was only 21 years old. I was struck with the grandeur of the lobby and living in Greenwich Village.

    I am going to visit NYC soon ans wanted to see if the hotel was still there. Bye Bye, past……. Great memories..
    marvflorida@gmail.com 9-12-11

  6. Dave Clutton Says:

    I attended Pace College in the fall of 1965. Pace didn’t allow fraternities, but there were clubs call house plans. I was a member of one called the Wilson House made up of NJ students. That Fall, we had a long term lease on a room for a place to have parties. I remember that the stairs had a decided tilt to them, and it made the building seem unstable – it was! At least one other house plan was there as well.

    There were a couple of women down the hall from our room who were in business. But we didn’t bother them and they didn’t both us. Good memories dclutton@verizon.net

  7. Aileen Rosenberg Says:

    My father worked as the night manager in his NYU days in the 30’s or 40’s. Is there anyplace to get more info about the hotel. He as jewish so I guess it was not restricted?

  8. Craig Says:

    Spent a night at the Broadway Central in ’69 when I got stoned at a local bar drinking Manhattans and was too drunk to drive home. I forget what floor I was on, but I was puking out the window when I heard some lady screaming her head off somewhere in the distance. It was one of my Bukowski moments.

  9. Karin Elliott Says:

    I spent a few nights at The Broadway Central in 1967. In those days of strawberry incense it was totally fine to watch the roaches running round the ceiling fixture. My stoned friend got stabbed in the hand during an elevator ride and we washed his shirt and hung it out to dry from the window. Those were the daze!!!

  10. Philip Says:

    I also spent a night at the Broadway Central in ’69. We had just graduated high school in Long Beach, Long Island, and wanted to party hard in The City. Our friend who was a little bit older and wiser about the ways of the world suggested the hotel. We had quite a night of it. We were all doing barbiturates and completely gone when 2 of my friends stepped out on the wrong floor and before they could explain themselves, one of them was knifed. Turns out the knifer worked there. Go figure! The room was filled with roaches and so we all just kept to the bed and gave the wildlife the rest of the room. They seemed happy with that. I also remember a brown bag with something in it in the closet on the top shelf. None of us had the cojones to see what was in it. I think about that bag from time to time. Later, security came to our room to find out who’d been knifed and the circumstances. They could see we were weekend hippies from The Island and didn’t bother us after they determined our friend would survive. It was, “only a scratch.”

  11. A century of changes at Broadway and Houston | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] 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 […]

  12. RD Wolff Says:

    When this hotel collapsed in 1973 I was 13, and I snuck in what at the time was the active demolition, I removed several artifacts which I still have today, one was a solid brass Tycos boiler thermometer, an Acme fire alarm box (one of several) and a fire alarm gong from the adjacent 679 annex, and a brass elevator button plate. From 679 I found two large wood corbels that were part of the rooftop wood cornice that was laying on top of the street shed.
    A number of years ago- 2007 or so I tracked down the fellow who owned the Mercer Arts Center there (Seymour Kaback) and we exchanged correspondence, he mailed me a CD with photos and documents and details about it all, I seem to recall he had some progressive deteriorating disease like MS or Lou Gherig’s, he was around 85 since one newspaper article dated 1971 mentioned he was 49, so I knew if I didn’t probe for information the opportunity would be lost.

    I also found one of the firemen who was on the collapse scene, he mentioned an illegal “chase” being cut into a bearing wall too.
    Lastly, I also did some more research on the buildings BEFORE the hotel (it was the Grand Central Hotel before it was chanegd to Broadway Central) the building that was there before- the winter garden theater- had a massive fire and burned out to a shell, what I noted was the facade drawing of that building’s lower facade was a dead-ringer for the hotel’s facade!
    What I am virtually certain of is they build the hotel on top of the remaining walls from about the 4th floor, and it’s existing
    foundations, and added more floors on top including the massive mansard roof in the center.
    It was the center section facade that collapsed, and I am certain it was because they re-used the lower facade wall from the ground to the 4th floor which was already weakened by the fire and all, and then added 3 more floors on top, over time it just gave way.

  13. RD Wolff Says:

    There were more previous buildings on that site Tripler Hall, the Metropolitan, 2 of which which also burned down- but it was the Lafarge House/Lafarge Hall there that burned down before the hotel was built there and I have a scan of an 1854 page with a line drawing of the Lafarge. Looking at the windows on the 2nd thru the 4th floor or 5th it has the same alternated pointed and semi rounded pediments and a triple window fancier window group in the center section, it’s pretty clear how much was re-used and where they added the additional floors if one compares this with the photos of the Broadway Central:

  14. RD Wolff Says:

    Here’s a comparison side by side of the two facades:

  15. dave o'michael Says:

    I stayed there in 1965 , met a guy named Ronnie who said he wrote for Gene Pitney … Backstage and Last Exit to Brooklyn … we shared the back of the building Apartment for the summer facing Washington Square direction , Bob Dylan had just left town ; he had a lot of sense you know , the Lovin Spoonful was playing at the Night Owl and I was too young to get in but they played in the front of the bar at the window so I got a free show , the girls were out of this world ; even today they are not that hip to what was so cool back then , I met a girl on the Subway and offered her some candy and kissed all the night long riding around for free , you could go between cars then from the front of the train to the back and smoke joints inbetween the cars as the trains screeched through the night , it was amazing , so sad the front wall crashed down in 1973 ; by then I was married and my son was 1 year old … great times they were … the Byrds and Sonny and Cher ruled then … what a beautiful world it was … then ~ zio d

  16. Tilman Hill Says:

    I lived there from the autumn of 1960 through early summer 1961. One tiny room on the 6th floor, furnished with a twin bed, a small writing desk with chair, a small closet, and a large blackened window that gave to the rooftop of an adjacent building. The window could still open a little at the bottom, so I could use the outside ledge as a refrigerator for drinks and snacks. Shared bathrooms at the end of two long corridors. At the time there weren’t many residents–a few pensioners, a few NYU students, and me. It was very quiet. Shabby, but not yet filthy or vermin-infested. Price was $18.95 a week.

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