Archive for the ‘Sketchy hotels’ Category

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.

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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.

Bristolhotelpostcardback

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.

A new co-op reveals a bit of old Hudson Street

June 24, 2013

For a few years, scaffolding had obscured the facade of what was once the Village Nursing Home, a faux-colonial, six-story residence on the corner of Hudson and West 12th Streets.

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Now the scaffolding has been removed. And the entrance to the building—newly converted into a luxury co-op called the Abingdon—displays a clue to its illustrious past.

“Laura Spelman Hall” is carved above the doorway. It’s the formal name of the building from 1920 to the 1950s, when 607 Hudson Street was a women’s residence run by the YWCA.

Trowmartinn1906Named after the wife of a Rockefeller, Laura Spelman Hall functioned as a home for “working girls,” as any unmarried woman who had a job was called in 1920.

To score a room there, a woman could earn no more than $30 a week. The cost: “$8.65 to $12.65 a week with two meals weekdays and three on Sunday,” reports this old city guidebook.

Not a bad deal . . . and a lot cheaper than the going rate for a place there now. One of the penthouse apartments sold for $22 million!

607 Hudson Street actually started out as a working woman’s home even before the YWCA took it over.

Called the Trowmart Inn, it was built by a businessman who hoped to prevent women from becoming spinsters by offering them a pleasant place to be courted by potential husbands.

[1906 photo: Museum of the City of New York]

The reinvention of a deluxe Times Square hotel

April 5, 2013

As Times Square’s fortunes rose and fell over the last century, so did the opulent hotels created to accommodate its visitors.

Take the Hotel Woodstock. Built in 1903 on West 43rd Street a half-block east of Times Square, this Beaux-Arts luxury hotel boasted of 400 rooms, plus restaurants and a ballroom.

Woodstockhotelpostcard

It opened right in time to catch the area’s transformation into a theater district, nightlife hub, and of course, the crossroads of the world. Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell (below photo) were regulars.

Woodstockhotel2013By the early 1970s, it was carved up into a seedy SRO for low-income tenants.

“As late as about three years ago, the police would not venture into the lobby of the Woodstock Hotel on West 43rd Street in Manhattan without a backup team outside,” states a 1978 New York Times article.

“Prostitutes loitered in the hallways. Alcoholics and panhandlers gathered outside. Fires and break-ins were common.”

Thirty-plus years later, Times Square is a tourist mecca again, and the hotel, with a darker facade and unglamorous lobby, is across from the chic Conde Nast building.

But the Woodstock isn’t opening its doors to jet setters. It is now owned by Project FIND, a nonprofit that houses elderly New Yorkers.

Stay at the Hotel Arlington in Madison Square

January 25, 2013

According to this century-old postcard, $2 at the Hotel Arlington in genteel Madison Square gets you a room and a bath. Looking for a suite? That’ll run you at least $4.

Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 25th Street hasn’t changed excessively since the early 1900s. Madison Square Park is just as pretty, but it’s no longer all that centrally located.

Hotelarlingtonpostcard

The Arlington Hotel building still stands and it’s still a hotel—a Comfort Inn. A low-rise holdout building that could be the one in the postcard (though remodeled) sits on its right.

The Gothic Revival church across the street remains. Built in 1868 by Richard Upjohn, it was once Trinity Chapel and is now home to a Serbian Orthodox congregation.

A Beaux-Arts facade on 31st Street has a secret

January 16, 2013

LifeheadquartersOnce-fashionable 31st Street is a good place to hunt for hidden architectural gems. And number 19, just west of Fifth Avenue, is a striking example.

Look past the Herald Square Hotel sign, and its Beaux-Arts beauty comes to light: a limestone and red brick building with enormous arched front windows.

They frame a cherub holding a pen, surrounded by symbols of the arts: musical instruments, paintbrushes, and a pad. The words “wit” and “humor” appear on a banner.

So what’s it all about? The clue lies under the third-floor front windows. Beneath each window is the word “Life”—for the magazine that once was headquartered here.

When Life moved into the building, designed in 1895 by architects Carrere and Hastings (the same guys who designed the New York Public Library), it was a different publication from the 20th century version.

Lifeheadquarterscherub

Life was a general-interest humor magazine, similar to rivals Puck and the New Yorker, and they published a fairly impressive group of literary and artistic talents, including Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl illustrations that debuted in the 1890s.

The cherub was sculpted by Philip Martiny. “Winged Life” is its name, and it symbolized a magazine that in the 1930s was turned into a photo weekly and then shut down in 2000.

The strange story of the recluse of Herald Square

January 9, 2013

IdamayfieldwoodIf Ida Mayfield Wood were around today, she would be a candidate for Hoarders.

A Southern belle who hit the city in the 1850s, Ida ran in elite circles, marrying congressman and Daily News publisher Benjamin Wood, brother of Mayor Fernando Wood.

After her husband (below) died in 1900, Ida grew increasingly paranoid about money. She’d always been shrewd with cash, but the Panic of 1907, which caused a run on banks, pushed her to the edge.

So later that year, Ida, her daughter Emma, and Ida’s sister Mary all moved into a very modest two-room suite of a 34th Street (below in 1921) residence called the Herald Square Hotel.

From 1907 to the late 1920s, the three elderly women lived as recluses in squalor. They never left their suite; hotel staff fetched food (evaporated milk, coffee, crackers, bacon, eggs, and an occasional fish), as well as Cuban cigars, according to a New Yorker piece published in the 1950s.

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By 1931, Emma and Mary had died. Ida, feeble and emaciated, was discovered living in her filthy suite, crammed with “an accumulation of old newspapers, cracker boxes, balls of used string, old wrapping paper, and several large trunks,” reported the New Yorker.

Oh, and more than a million dollars in cash and securities, plus $75,000 worth of jewelry—huge sums in that dark Depression year.

Her story made headlines in 1931 because a nephew applied for guardianship over her. By the time she died in 1932 at age 93, dozens of relatives had come out of the woodwork, hoping for an inheritance.Benjaminwood

Then, as a judge tried to verify her descendants, he uncovered something incredible: Ida Mayfield Wood, who claimed to be a rich Southern belle, was really Ellen Walsh, the poor daughter of Irish immigrants from Massachusetts.

Not only was she a hoarder and recluse—she was a fraud who’d gone to elaborate lengths to invent her identity, her husband and social circle in the dark.


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