New York is dazzled by its first luxury hotel

In 1836 Manhattan, houses were lit by candles. Floors were generally made out of wood. Private bathrooms? Decades away.


Yet all of these things could be had at the Astor House (above, in 1874), the city’s first luxury hotel, at Broadway between Vesey and Barclay Streets.

Built by multimillionaire John Jacob Astor, this 360-room granite palace dazzled New Yorkers, few of whom had the means to spend a night there or dine in the hotel’s for-men-only restaurant, enclosed under a rotunda in a center courtyard (below, in 1899).

Astorhouserotunda1899“It can never be a success—it is altogether too far uptown,” Astor’s associates warned him, forgetting the he was a real estate pro who foresaw the northward march of the city.

The hotel wasn’t just a huge success, it became an emblem of the growing Empire City.

And what amenities! An in-house gas plant provided gas lighting. A plumbing system offered hot and cold running water to each floor. Rooms had private water closets. A car ferried guests to Madison Square Garden.


President Lincoln stayed there twice: first when he came to New York to deliver his famous speech as a presidential candidate at Cooper Union in 1860, then in 1861, on the way to his inauguration. He made an impromptu speech at the hotel during his second stay, as memorialized in the Harper’s Weekly cover below.

Astorhouseharpersweekly2With City Hall and Barnum’s American Museum across the street, the Astor House booked plenty of politicians. artists, and entertainers, such as Jenny Lind, Mathew Brady, Daniel Webster, Jefferson Davis, and Henry Clay.

Even as the city inched uptown and sumptuous hotels threatened the Astor’s status, it remained a beloved fixture—until John Jacob Astor’s descendants fought over the property and the subway arrived.

In 1913, the Greek Revival beauty, with its Doric columns and pink granite, was torn down because subway construction threatened its foundation.


It was replaced by—what else?—office space aptly called the Astor House Building.

[Photos: NYPL Digital Gallery]

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10 Responses to “New York is dazzled by its first luxury hotel”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    This, as all of your posts is completely fascinating! How people underestimate people who “think out of the box”!

    What a lesson!!!!

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you!

  3. Carol Hunt Says:

    10/19/2015 Dear Ephemeral: I, Carol Hunt who also consider myself Sister Carol L. Hunt and Sister Carol Sugarcookie really want to wear and purchase a hoop skirt and a bodice and a corset.  Additionally, I, Sister Carol Hunt want to publish a series of children/adolescent/adult books and have them known as the Sugarcookie series of books; and so, I think that wearing a hoop skirt, bodice, and a hat will promote my Sugarcookie series of books. So, does Ephemeral sell a hoop skirt, bodice, and a hat for women? Yours in Christ, Sister Carol L. Sugarcookie

  4. jccarlton Says:

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    NYC’s first luxury hotel. The Astor House. The entire 19th Century was people building uptown and being told it was folly.

  5. The 1870 murder trial that transfixed New York | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] was taken to the posh Astor House Hotel, where he lingered for a week. In that time, while McFarland was in the Tombs, he and Sage arranged […]

  6. Kevin Michael Callihan Sr. Says:

    Thank you kindly for the accurate information and photographs.

  7. The Murray Hill double house with a link to President Lincoln | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] at Cooper Union wasn’t the only activity on Lincoln’s agenda. He stayed at the luxurious Astor House hotel on Vesey Street, had his photo taken at Mathew Brady’s Broadway studio, attended services at Henry Ward […]

  8. This stunning Lafayette Street theater was the city’s first free public library in the 1850s | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Astor House, Astor Place, The Astor Theater—all were named for this German immigrant and Astor family patriarch. In the 1830s, he also developed today’s Lafayette Street as an exclusive enclave known as Lafayette Place. Many of the city’s richest families resided inside the columned row houses of LaGrange Terrace in the decades before the Civil War. […]

  9. The crafty way Astoria got its name | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] It focuses on an ambitious 19th century developer who was hoping that New York’s richest man, John Jacob Astor, would invest thousands of dollars to help build the neighborhood if it carried Astor’s […]

  10. Roosevelt Island Historical Society » Tuesday, May 2, 2023 – MORE GOODIES ABOUT OUR NEIGHBORS IN ASTORIA Says:

    […] focuses on an ambitious 19th century developer who was hoping that New York’s richest man, John Jacob Astor, would invest thousands of dollars to help build the neighborhood if it carried Astor’s […]

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