The nautical loveliness of a Jane Street hotel

Today’s it’s The Jane, a pricey boutique hotel a stone’s throw from the well-manicured Hudson River waterfront and the tourist-friendly nightspots of the Meatpacking District.

But a century ago this red brick fortress with the lighthouse-like tower (“whose light flashes a welcome up and down the river”) was the New York headquarters of the American Seamen’s Friend Society Sailor’s Home and Institute.

This benevolent organization founded in 1828 was “one of a number of 19th century religious organizations concerned with improving the social and moral welfare of seamen throughout the U.S. and abroad,” explains this 2000 Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) report.

Built in 1908 on what was once a bustling stretch of docks teeming with ships, the building served as a hotel with amenities like a library, swimming pool, bowling alley, restaurant, lecture hall, and chapel, “an alternative to the waterfront ‘dives’ and sailors’ boardinghouses,” states the LPC.

The place has a rich history. After the Titanic sunk in 1912, surviving crew who arrived in New York on the Carpathia lodged there.

When the YMCA built a new seamen’s home on West 20th Street, the organization dedicated itself to providing free room and board to destitute sailors.

Closed in the 1940s, the beacon that shone from the lighthouse tower forever dimmed, it changed names and hands through the 2000s as a transient hotel. (It was the Riverview in the 1990s—as seen on the old-timey hotel sign on the facade).

The rooms once designed to resemble ship cabins may go for hundreds of dollars a night now (as opposed to 25 cents a night in 1908). Yet the building’s past as a seamen’s retreat still resonates, thanks to the lovely ornaments like anchors, rope, wreaths, and the heads of sea creatures.

Think of them as homages to a city that built its fortunes on its waterfront—as well as to the men who worked its docks and ships.

[Second image: NYPL]

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24 Responses to “The nautical loveliness of a Jane Street hotel”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    I assume that without ‘the crowning glory’ — the light-house finial with the wonderful roofline, this did not quality for National Historic Registry / or did it? (You need to ‘duck’ inside this former seaman’s quarters and check on any more sailor’s trimmings to the interior designs.) I suppose, if these decks could speak, they could offer some wild tales of the NAUTI BUOYS!

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I have been inside, searching for a fountain that was installed as a Titanic memorial, but it was nowhere to be found! Or I missed it somehow. A hotel restaurant is in the space that was once an auditorium for the sailors. The lobby and restaurant/bar have something of an Edwardian decor I actually like!

    • Zoe Says:

      This is a lovely & important post Ephemeral.

      It’s sad if the memorial to the Titanic has been destroyed; or moved & forgotten somewhere as often happens during major renovations. What do the various Titanic museums say (and/or various nautical museums in the States)?

      I would have preferred that this building continue to serve people in need in some manner. xxx

  3. Susan Champlin Says:

    I love the lobby, which is like a miniature Grand Budapest Hotel. Most of the rooms are minuscule—my nieces shared a room with bunk beds (bathroom down the hall), and the three of us could not fit into the room at the same time. But the charm, history, and location are hard to beat.

  4. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    I have a friend who does design work for TITANIC MUSEUMS (really!) When I read there was a Titanic Memorial Fountain and it was missing – I phoned the hotel to inquire if the marble, interior water-feature had been sold. (I thought one of the TITANIC MUSEUMS might be able to purchase it and install it as a special feature in one of their more grand presentations and my friend could get an extended contract doing the design work.) Interestingly, the young hotel-man, with whom I spoke, said the fountain was STILL IN PLACE. It was no longer functioning, with a water flow, but it was still there in the hotel lobby.

    Alas, my idea of preserving the fountain was SUNK/ Learning it never left the lobby, however, was the best news of all!

    P.S. Ephemeral — Next time you visit the establishment, suggest to The Jane Street Hotel officials, a few ‘mallards-paddle’n-in-the-lobby-fountain’ pulls huge crowds at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Imagine what it could do in a nautical themed hotel and especially in their Titanic Fountain, right there in NYC!

    • Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

      DRAT!! Just got a picture of the ‘Titanic Memorial Fountain.’

      It is in the design of an overly ornate wash-basin…just a half-moon affair affixed to a wall. Perhaps today, it is tucked in an area with not alot of foot traffic! It resembles ‘an afterthought.’ There would hardly be room for a rubber ducky and certainly a mallard would fill more than the basin could hold. (MALLARD FILLMORE…Humm…) A large pool with an inviting, musical water-sound was what I anticipated but this was more of an old phone-booth-sized thing – and had had it’s faucet turned off.

  5. Keith Goldstein Says:

    Years ago I knew a couple who lived in the swimming pool. The entrance was through a door in the bar. They turned it into an apartment. The shallow end was their Kitchen. The deep end was their bedroom. Seating areas everywhere around the pool itself. Needless to say, it was huge place and quite unique.

    • Zoe Says:

      That is *stellar*! It brings to mind Angie Bowie’s decorating job in her & the Dame’s living room in London between 69-early 70s. Something in the center of a room…

  6. Kevin Says:

    If I remember correctly, wasn’t there an off-off Broadway Theatre in the building. I think I might have seen the original production of the Hedwig and the Angry Inch there back in the 90’s

    • Zoe Says:

      The Jane Street Theatre (Theater?). Now The Ballroom inc. bar. It opened in the 70s & hosted the play you wrote of here Kevin. (I did not know this; I just looked it up in Wikipedia now for you 🙂 ).

    • Zoe Says:

      Kevin — I’m not sure if it was the same exact cast that you saw & that’s what you meant by “original”; but the original play was already off the ground — a full decade before the 90s — by 1981.

      I know this because the title coincidentally contained the same (rare in the States) German saint’s name — Hedwig — as my Berliner grandmother’s sister. And prior to the play her name somehow became part of a tangle of a graffiti mural on my LES kitchen wall that year. So whenever I walked into my kitchen that year I would think of my grand aunt & wonder why an American had chosen that uncommon name for the character. And that wall was graffitied in 1981 & ceased being graffitied shortly thereafter!

      But perhaps they kept the same cast etc. into the 90s when you saw it & it was still the original production. xx

      • Kevin Says:

        Not sure what version of Wikipedia you are using, but John Cameron Mitchell was probably in Junior High School in 1981. My theatre guide indicates the book and play were originally presented in 1998, at the Jane Street Theatre.

      • Zoe Says:

        I just wrote a detailed reply to you Kevin & for some reason it did not post (?).

        Here is that again (new version as no copy of last):

        What I wrote about “1981” etc. was not from “Wikipedia”; perhaps read my post again. I was writing from lived experience.

        Perhaps before the play there was an earlier smaller downtown cabaret club version.

        Not every history is true & inclusive & matches verifiable lived experience. I experience this all the time.

        Some examples:

        People always say that ‘Michael Jackson invented the moon walk’. I saw tiny break dancers (about ten or eleven years old) doing that on Times Square in 1980 when my 22 year old musician husband was playing there. (They used to carry around a piece of cardboard & throw it down in front of us). I was part of that uptown meets downtown graffiti art music scene. But everyone is convinced it was MJ who ‘invented’ that. (It’s actually an even older mime move).

        I lived blocks away from Pyramid where I saw Ru Paul dancing in an evening gown on the bar to an otherwise empty club in the mid/late 80s. That was not written of a lot either. (I did hear he himself mention it in an interview years later).

        My brother was housemates & good friends w/ Doug Yule after Doug left the Velvet Underground & lived in Woodstock NY. They were in a wedding band w/ the former manager of The Velvets. (Who I think played sax in it?). That’s not written of either anywhere! (Lol. I wonder why! Black & white photos in tuxes!).

        My brother was also good friends w/ Sarah Maclaughlin (sp?) — as they were both musicians despite he was ten years older — when as a teenager she lived in Fairfield County CT briefly when her dad worked here as some sort of marine scientist. She played at a local bar/club here; yet nobody mentions her playing in Westport despite the endless blog posts on a local community blog of all the people that played here. (There’s a recent documentary ‘Rock & Roll High School’ about all the bands — The Doors & Cream etc. — who played the local public HS & that online conversation always leads to who else played in town).

        My brother was in an early incarnation of Luscious Jackson (w/ different band name) playing bass. Yet it’s never mentioned in any bios. (My suspicion is it’s because the band name was so terrible).

        Madonna who was the girlfriend of my friend was getting very known downtown in a band called The Millionaires. Yet bios only mention some band called ‘The Breakfast Club’. (Which I’d never heard of).

        My sister’s ex-fiance is now (for decades) an internationally known hairstylist who does fashion editorial & runway & red carpet & stage hair for pop stars. He has created an entirely new personna for himself; lying about where he is from & what his parents did & his start in the business etc.

        Likewise from a friend of mine I went to Parsons with who grew up “very poor” (her own description to me then) in a PA steel town. She now (since the start of her career in the 00s) claims she is ten years younger & grew up wealthy in Connecticut from a Mayflower descended family. (A dead give away because CT born & raised people are loathe to talk about that sort of thing. Or believe this stupid stereotype that everyone in CT is wealthy & ‘white’).

        I have long ago given up on bios & histories of people & places I’ve known & seen w/ my own eyes to be described accurately or as I & my friends remember them! Perhaps somebody else knows of an earlier protoplasmic incarnation of the play you’ve written of (a tiny downtown cabaret act etc.) & can solve the apparent contradiction. Fingers crossed this comment posts this time round! xx

      • Zoe Says:

        PS to Kevin:

        In attempting to illustrate how everything one reads/hears is not always the whole truth; I forgot to write re. the former Parson’s classmate/friend & her new personna/”career”: She became an acclaimed NYC based fashion designer who now has her own shops in various countries.

    • Zoe Says:

      To Kevin — Perhaps I am confusing that play w/ Wigstock from c. 81. I’ve forgotten about Wigstock & did not read of the age of the creator of Hedwig (or anything else about the play. I only looked on Wikipedia for you about the theatre at the Jane & not the play).

      I’m not linking the following to the creator of the play but re. your funny “junior high” comment: I just remembered yet another person I knew as a teenager along w/ his sister; who is miraculously a decade younger now. He became a fashion photographer & she became a model. If they were both how old they say they are he would have been nine years old when he was driving us around the beach in the mid 70s. I’ve realised fashion & the performing arts are very unreliable places to trust people’s real ages.

      But perhaps I mixed up Wigstock w/ Hedwig & thus have had a false memory. And thus you are right about the play & creator. I don’t know & was not/am not a fan of musical theatre etc. Now someone will write in & say Wigstock could not have existed in 81! Lol xx

  7. Robert Maril Says:

    And RuPaul lived in the turret in the 80s! You can find footage on YouTube.

    • Zoe Says:

      Lol. That’s so great Robert. Thanks for posting that! It was probably a round room inside also (a captain’s walk we call them here on the CT shore… someone I know lived in one here also) or octagonal… or sextagonal. (Puns on both ends of that word intended).

      I walked into Pyramid Club in the mid/late 80s to use the ‘ladies’ room & RP was dancing on the bar in an evening dress (formfitting & sheath-like vs. crinolined & puffy) in the otherwise *completely* empty room.

      This was very pre-fame & later in an interview I heard him say that’s how s/he began… at Pyramid dancing on the bar. He was completely unknown then but I remembered that because he is VERY tall & was wearing that evening dress in the afternoon — something I’d seen a lot of but not on someone over six feet tall dancing alone on a bar… in the middle of the afternoon. (Rehearsing?). I ❤ New York

  8. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    A unique building that I imagine has been greatly restored since this video (and several others that were avail.) was recorded.

  9. David Lippman Says:

    What is the hotel used for now?

    • Zoe Says:

      A hotel David 🙂

      One that a merchant seaman (seawoman? seaperson?) can no longer afford… along w/ some of the rest of us…

      • David Lippman Says:

        Thanks…I don’t get into the Meatpacking District much now.

        Actually, I did not go into that neighborhood for 40 years — it was the domain of a group of bullies who used me and other easy targets as punching bags. Their favorite was not me, but gay men, as this was the 1970s, when homophobia still ruled. This band was led by a kid I’ll call Carl Pavano, to avoid libel suits, as Mr. Pavano is still alive. Obviously Mr. Pavano is not the man who disgraced the Yankee uniform with his five-year contract for a 4-6 record.

        Anyway, Mr. Pavano had little to fear in life, as he was suffering from Hodgkin’s Disease, and did not care about retribution or consequences — he was gonig to die early. So he mustered his forces, and they harassed and attacked weaker kids and gays who could not defend themselves. They were based out of the Westbeth apartment complex, where Mr. Pavano lived.

        After he and his buddies surrounded me and karate-kicked me in the back from 17th Street and 8th Avenue to 13th Street and 7th Avenue, I stayed out of that portion of my native Greenwich Village.

        However, Mr. Pavano and his pals got karmic justice. They attacked a gay couple emerging from a gym, who were into leather, belts, and weight-lifting. Facing a bundle of annoying 11- to 13-year-olds threatening them, demanding money, and trying to hit them, the gay couple stormed through the kids, beating the living hell out of them, scattering them down Jane and other streets. Mr. Pavano, observing that his “army” was retreating in disorder, displayed his massive leadership talents and commitment to his command by running faster than them and back to Westbeth and his apartment, presumably hiding under the covers.

        With his army sent to St. Vincent’s Hospital or back home with puffed lips and black eyes that were difficult to explain, and Mr. Pavano having abdicated his leadership role, the bully army was out of business for good. Mr. Pavano spent the next few years, I am told by a mutual acquaintance, sitting in his darkened bedroom, gloomily smoking marijuana and listening to something called “Quadrophenia.”

        Ultimately, he discovered that unlike in 1951, when the Mantle family all got wiped out by Hodgkin’s Disease, the illness is not an immediate killer, and one could have a life. Mr. Pavano graduated from college, and, I am told, owns his own catering business now, and is probably making more money than I am.

        Nevertheless, I avoid going to Westbeth. He still lives there, and I don’t feel like getting karate-kicked again. The first time I was there was in 2007, when I took my daughter and her best pal for a walk up the High Line, a trip she documented hilariously and accurately on her web site. I was fairly nervous that he might appear and attack me in front of my daughter and her pal, but he didn’t appear. I went there again a few years ago with my wife, again to walk the High Line, and this time I felt more secure — Mr. Pavano may be good with karate, but my wife is even better with a roundhouse or a knife shot to the Adam’s-apple, which is better for disposing of enemies than a punch in the jaw.

      • Zoe Says:

        O_O Glad you survived David! I think it’s hard to walk the streets as a man in NY in a different way than it’s hard to walk them as a woman. (Differing motives for being attacked). I feel sorry for boys & men in that regard. (I broke up a groundless attack on a young man — from a group of crazy juveniles who did not know him — on a train once. Longer story… but girls/women can *sometimes* easily difuse an attack by giving the perpetrators an excuse to stop & save their pride).

        I’ve had a few male friends as well as my brother get attacked on the streets of the City (six to be exact… my brother twice).

        I remember reading about some of those horrible attacks in GV. (Boys/young men coming in from bridge & tunnel to attack people).

        I read about the Jane over the years; I haven’t been to that neighbourhood recently either & I’ve never been in the hotel (or theatre/club/bar over the years).

        Stay safe…

  10. The floating chapels for 19th century sailors | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Seamen’s Friend Society was established in 1828 and built homes for sailors a cut above waterfront boardinghouses. And Sailors Snug Harbor opened on Staten Island five years […]

  11. Clipping Quick Says:

    Really Awesome Blog Thanks for Sharing…

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