The colossal midcentury hotels of 46th Street

Small boutique hotels with an air of chic exclusivity are all the rage in Manhattan today.

But back in the 20th century, Times Square hotels advertised themselves as if they were mini cities—hundreds of rooms, bars, restaurants, and ballrooms.

With its row of shrubs and lack of a street view, the Hotel Century doesn’t even look like an urban hotel.

Built in the 1920s on 46th Street and Sixth Avenue, it boasted “16 floors of hospitality” and 350 rooms—each with a private bath, shower, radio, and television, according to this 1950 postcard.

So who stayed there? Well, in the 1930s, the top floors were home to a Columbia University fraternity. Suicidal people booked rooms as well. Newspaper accounts note several suicides in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Hotel Century is long gone; 111 West 46th Street is now the site of a theater that looks like it dates to the 1960s.

Unlike the Century, the Hotel Edison, on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets, still exists. And judging by all the tourists hanging around its gaudy Art Deco lobby, it’s doing a thriving business.

Opened in 1931, the Edison had 1,000 rooms, three restaurants, radios, “circulating ice water,” and air conditioning—in its “public rooms” only.

Too bad the massive “Hotel Edison” signage on top of the building, as seen in this postcard, no longer exists. It was a beauty.

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9 Responses to “The colossal midcentury hotels of 46th Street”

  1. Joly MacFie Says:

    That ballroom certainly looks like a great place to throw a party!

  2. Lisa Says:

    Small boutique hotels should resurrect the word “chamber”– far sexier than “room”.

  3. Ricky Says:

    My grandfather, who was a jeweler in St. Louis, always stayed at the Edison when he came to New York on buying trips. If my grandmother or mother came with him they always stayed someplace “nicer”.

  4. nycedges Says:

    Ah the Edison, I remember it from a different era – mid 70’s – Halloween costume party in the ballroom – headliners were the New York Dolls. As I recall, most of the “guests” in that era were hookers or unsuspecting budget minded tourists — glad it’s made a comeback!

  5. Alex Baugh Says:

    You can still get a cheap meal at the Hotel Edison – amid decor you don’t often see in NYC. Try it.

  6. Ricky Says:

    I don’t remember what my grandfather drank, but my grandmother enjoyed Black Label on the rocks.

  7. Lee Gehr Says:

    Would have loved to see the Hotel Century in all it’s glory. The postcard you featured in the article looks close to the image that adorns a Zippo lighter I have come own. Just don’t build them like that anymore.

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