Archive for the ‘Sketchy hotels’ Category

The luxe apartment building with a rooftop farm

June 9, 2016

Ansonia1904When the Ansonia Hotel (later an apartment building) was going up in frontier territory on Broadway and 73rd Street in the early 1900s, no expense was spared.

The goal was to make it the “most perfectly equipped house in the world,” as colorful and combative developer W.E.D. Stokes proclaimed.

The 340 suites had hot and cold running water, message tubes so staff and guests could communicate, and primitive AC in the form of frozen brine pumped through flues hidden inside walls, states Steven GainesThe Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan.

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The lobby contained a fountain with live seals. The basement held the world’s largest swimming pool. A sweeping interior staircase led to an enormous glass skylight. A curator was on hand to help shape the hotel’s art collection.

But the Beaux-Arts beauty (nicknamed the Upper West Side’s “wedding cake” because of its mansard roof and decorative touches) had an amenity no other luxury apartment house in New York could boast of.

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It was a rooftop farm—complete with ducks, geese, six goats, a bear, a pig named Nanki-Poo, and roughly 500 chickens, from which bellhops collected fresh eggs every day and delivered them to tenants.

 Ansonia1970mcnyThis “farm in the sky” capped off Stokes’ vision for the Ansonia as kind of a self-sufficient utopia, wrote Gaines.

And while a roof farm would definitely be a plus for today’s well-heeled locavore co-op dweller, the Board of Health back then wasn’t too pleased.

In 1907, officials threatened to raid the farm. It’s unclear what happened to most of the animals.

But Nanki-Poo and the geese, pets that belonged to Stokes’ young son, were safely rounded up before the inspector arrived.

These critters were eventually moved to the Central Park Menagerie. The Ansonia’s roof farm, like other parts of the Ansonia’s long and storied past (its stint as the site of a notorious sex club, for example) passed into history.

Now, what happened to the live seals in the lobby fountain?

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[Top photo: Ansonia, 1904; second photo: looking north from the Ansonia roof, 1911, NYPL; third image: New-York Tribune, 1908; fourth photo: Ansonia in 1970, MCNY; fifth image: 1910, NYPL]

The beautiful apartment house hidden from view

May 9, 2016

1940 tax photo via New York Landmarks Conservatory; third photo:

The Dakota, the Ansonia, the Chelsea, the Apthorp: most city residents recognize these as some of New York’s earliest and most magnificent apartment houses.

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But the Windermere? Hidden behind scaffolding for years, this Renaissance Revival beauty on Ninth Avenue and 57th Street (above, mostly scaffold-free) has been forgotten.

Still, imagine how lovely the romantically named Windermere must have been in 1881, when it was one of the first apartment houses on the rapidly developing West Side—home to well-off residents, then “bachelor girls,” and a century later, SRO tenants.

Windermere1940WSJ“The interior is separated into five divisions, which comprise 38 suites of apartments, each containing from seven to nine rooms, and each furnished with a buffet, sideboard, and pier glass,” the New York Times described it.

“For the convenience of tenants who do not wish to cook in their own apartments, large kitchens are situated in the basement.”

With the noisy, belching Ninth Avenue Elevated railroad so close, the Windermere wasn’t top-of-the-line luxurious.

WindermerelandmarksBut it had plenty of amenities: three resident elevators, steam heat, a telephone, electric bells that rang attendants, a fire alarm, an open-air inner courtyard, uniformed “hall boys,” and separate passageways for delivery wagons.

The rent? Between $600 and $1,000 yearly, according to Landmarks Preservation Commission report from 2005.

By the 1890s, the Windermere advertised itself as an apartment house for the independent New Woman of the era, who was educated, employed, and desired a place of her own.

That often meant renting a room in one of the larger apartments. The Windermere offered single women “a congenial home where she can live at moderate cost,” reported the Times.

WindermeremichaelminnDuring the 1900s, the bachelor girls began moving out; the neighborhood’s slide into a more working-class enclave meant that tenants in what was now Hell’s Kitchen were now stenographers, chauffeurs, and waiters.

Fires plagued the building. Owners came and went. By the 1960s, drug users and prostitutes moved in . . . and a not-yet-famous Steve McQueen.

In 1985, the Windermere’s owner—who tried to harass the few remaining tenants into leaving—made the Village Voice‘s list of the city’s worst landlords.

The scaffolding and netting began wrapping the building at least a decade ago. Fire safety inspectors forced the remaining tenants out in 2007.

Windermere2016

A new owner came in (and was named to another worst landlord list) with plans to turn the Windermere into a boutique hotel.

Perhaps this diamond in the rough will emerge a beauty again.

[Top and fourth photos: Michaelminn.net; second photo: 1940s NYC Municipal archives photo via the Wall Street Journal; third photo: 1940 tax photo via New York Landmarks Conservatory]

Tracing a Village writer through her apartments

April 25, 2016

Dawnpowell1914Dawn Powell might be the most popular unknown writer to come out of Greenwich Village.

Born in Ohio, she moved to New York after college in 1918, hungry to make it in the literary world.

Dawnpowell106perrystcityrealtyHer output included more than a dozen novels as well as short stories and plays, plus countless magazine articles and book reviews.

Yet Powell (above, in 1914) never gained the kind of fame that friends like Edmund Wilson and Malcolm Cowley enjoyed.

Like her artistic crowd, though, she indulged in boozy evenings at haunts like Cafe Lafayette, did stints at writer’s colonies, and lived in a series of Village apartments that reflect the ups and downs of a struggling writer’s life.

She and her husband, Joe, an alcoholic ad exec, and their young son (who had an unnamed disorder, perhaps autism) lived at 106 Perry Street, above left, in 1930.

teakwoodhouseacrossstreetA year later they relocated to 9 East 10th Street (right), with its intricately carved teakwood facade.

“[I] love it passionately,” Powell wrote in her diary, published in 1995. “So quiet—calm, spacious, one’s soul breathes deep breaths in it and feels at rest.”

 Making the rent wasn’t easy, Powell noted. In 1942, the family moved to a duplex at 35 East 9th Street (below).

“[It is] considerably cheaper but much more deluxe looking in a sort of modern-improvement Central Park West way,” she wrote, later calling it “a dreary dump” except for her live-in maid’s room on the roof.

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She lived here for 16 years before she and Joe were thrown out, with their belongings strewn on the sidewalk, for not paying rent—Joe had retired and had no income, she wrote.

In 1958, the couple moved from hotel to hotel, first at the Irving on Gramercy Park South and then to the Madison Square Hotel.

Of that hotel, she wrote, “The halls reek of old people—the elevator and lobby smell of brown envelopes (unemployment and social security checks)….”

In 1959 they put $250 down for a four-room place at 23 Bank Street. which she called “beyond belief perfect.”

Dawnpowell43fifthaveHer time there, however, didn’t last. By 1960, she and Joe moved to 43 Fifth Avenue (right).

She then took up in an office at 80 East 11th Street and back to an apartment again at 95 Christopher Street.

Christopher Street (below) appears to have been her last home.

Joe died of cancer in 1962. In the next few years, Powell’s diary lists her own many hospital visits.

On November 14, 1965, Powell died penniless at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Her final resting place isn’t in or near her beloved Greenwich Village but is on Hart Island—where she was interred in the city’s potter’s field.

Dawnpowell1952[Second photo: City Realty; fifth photo: Powell in the 1950s]

The slow fade of Brooklyn’s Times Plaza district

November 9, 2015

Today the name only remains on the Times Plaza Station, a post office built in 1925 on Atlantic Avenue between Third and Fourth Avenues.

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But the area once known as Times Plaza—with aspirations to be as fabled as Manhattan’s Times Square, perhaps—was a bustling triangle amid the crossroads of the borough’s busiest thoroughfares.

Timesplazaeaglead1917Times Plaza had a handsome hotel as well as its own subway entrance, a gorgeous jewel box originally called the Times Plaza Control House after it opened in 1908. (Today, it’s the restored Heins & LaFarge kiosk with “Atlantic Avenue” on the facade.)

This transit hub also had shops and offices for the Brooklyn Daily Times, the newspaper that officially lent its name to the area in 1917.

Timesplazaskyscraper“Times Plaza: the triangular space bounded by Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth Avenues, recently so named by resolution of the Board of Aldermen,” this Brooklyn Daily Eagle ad proclaims excitedly.

In the 1920s, Times Plaza gained a polished, towering neighbor: the 37-story Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, across Atlantic Avenue.

When the Times Plaza designation fell out of favor is a mystery.

The newspaper folded into the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1937; the hotel hung on at least through the 1950s. It’s now the Muhlenberg Residence, for formerly homeless men.

Timesplazahoteldigitalcommonwealth

Like Ponkiesberg, Greenfield, South Brooklyn, and countless other vanished villages and towns in Kings County, Times Plaza is another no-longer-there enclave swallowed up by an always-changing borough.

[Hotel postcard: digitalcommonwealth.org]

107 colorful years at a Meatpacking District motel

September 7, 2015

Today’s gleaming, touristy Meatpacking District has no room for low-rent motels. But the Liberty Inn, at 51 Tenth Avenue, which famously charges by the hour, is still hanging in there.

Libertyinngoogle

This flatiron-shaped building is a remnant of the days when 14th Street west of Eighth Avenue was a commercial and ship-docking district, home to a produce market, meatpacking plants, sailors’ dives, and sex clubs.

LibertyinndelamatersquareThe hotel had a dicey reputation from the start.

It first opened in 1908 as a sailor’s boardinghouse called the Strand on a patch of land known as Dalamater Square (right, 1938).

“It is a three-story structure, on the ground floor of which is a saloon and the upper part of which contains 28 rooms,” stated a court document from 1914.

“[The Strand] accepts only men as roomers,” the document added, and caters “to the class of trade that has business at the river front.”

In other words, it was a rough place–which might be why it had its “all-night license” revoked in 1910.

Its waterfront location came in handy after the Titanic sank in 1912. To cover the story, the New York Times rented a floor of rooms at the Strand (below, at Pier 54).

pier54cunardlusitania

“The editors sent reporters to the pier with orders to buttonhole survivors and then run into the Strand and dictate their notes on one of the telephone lines, which were connected to the newsroom in Times Square,” the Times recalled in a 2012 article.

Libertyinn1930s

There’s no reason to think the Strand—or whatever it was called as the decades went on—ever changed its seamy vibe.

And why would it, since the Meatpacking District became the haunt of sex workers and the site of sex clubs from the 1970s through the 1990s.

mp0271The Anvil operated out of the ground floor of the building from 1974 to 1986, where “drag queens and naked go-go boys danced upstairs and those looking for a more hands on experience wandered the dark passageways below ground,” recalled the Daily News.

[Above: Photo by Brian Rose]

Today’s Liberty Inn, which limits rooms to 2 guests each and charges $80 for two hours, is a far cry from the debauchery of the Anvil.

Libertyinn2015

But it’s the most unsavory place you’ll find in a neighborhood that’s scrubbed its down and dirty past clean.

[Third and fourth photos: NYPL Digital Collection. Fifth Photo: Brian Rose.]

The luxury power center of the Gilded Age city

July 27, 2015

When the white marble Fifth Avenue Hotel was set to open in 1859, it was mocked as “Eno’s Folly,” after the developer who built it.

Fifthavenuehotelpostcard

With the city’s hotel district farther south on Broadway, why would anyone pay to stay on the outskirts of the city’s center, as Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street was at the time?

But after its grand opening, the Fifth Avenue Hotel became the city’s premier luxury residence and made Madison Square the focal point of post–Civil War New York.

Fifthavenuehotelreadingroom

Among the amenities: rooms with private baths and fireplaces and the first “vertical railway”—aka, elevator—ever installed in a hotel.

Presidents and kings stayed there, attended to by a staff of 400. The city’s richest men, like Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, congregated in the drawing rooms. Local politicians held court.

In 1908 it was demolished; its demise serves as a bookend of the Gilded Age. Today the building occupying this spot houses the Italian dining emporium Eataly.

[Bottom image: the hotel’s reading room, a decidedly all-male place. NYPL]

The gaudy elephant hotel of 1880s Coney Island

July 6, 2015

When Coney Island went from remote sandbar resort to the city’s biggest beachfront playground in the 1880s, tawdry amusement attractions began to pop up on the West End: beer halls, roller coasters, and freak shows.

Elephanthotelnyhs

But perhaps the gaudiest addition was the Elephantine Colossus, a nearly 200-foot tall hotel sheathed in blue tin and with a gilded howdah on top.

Encircled by the Shaw Channel Chute roller coaster, the hotel looked like a bizarro version of one of the live pachyderms on exhibit at Coney Island’s amusement parks at the turn of the century.

Elephanthotelcolorpostcard

Completed in 1885 at Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, the 12-story elephant was divided into 31 rooms. Visitors could also climb to the observatory and pay 10 cents to get an incredible aerial view of New York City by looking through the elephant’s eyes, which were actually telescopes.

Elephanthotelrollercoaster“The forelegs contained a cigar store and diorama and the hind legs held circular stairways leading to the rooms contained above,” wrote Michael Immerso in Coney Island: The People’s Playground.

The developer called the elephant hotel the eighth wonder of the world. Locals soon began calling it a brothel; apparently it wasn’t too popular with regular tourists, so prostitutes took over.

ElephanthoteladIn fact, “seeing the elephant” became a slang term for visiting the hotel and hiring a hooker, according to this clip from the New-York Historical Society.

As a gimmick, the elephant hotel gripped the imagination. But as a business, it lost money, and by the 1890s, the structure had been abandoned.

ElephanthotelfireIts ultimate demise was spectacular. The hotel burned down in 1896 in a blaze so fiery, it reportedly could be seen from Sandy Hook in New Jersey.

The Elephantine Colossus isn’t the only pachyderm to come to a gruesome end at Coney Island.

Topsy the elephant, a temperamental creature brought to Luna Park so park-goers could ride on her back, was put to death by electrocution there in 1903 under the direction of Thomas Edison, who wanted to test his new direct current.

[Photos: top, New-York Historical Society; second, fourth, and fifth: novanumismatics.com]

Art Nouveau beauty on a gritty Midtown corner

June 8, 2015

Beloved in European cities such as Paris and Prague at the turn of the century, the naturalistic Art Nouveau style of architecture—with its curvy lines and showy ornaments—never caught on with New Yorkers.

300west38thstreet2015

But one lovely example from 1903 survives at the gritty Garment District corner of Eighth Avenue and 38th Street.

West38thstreet1926mcnyThis three-story holdout building, originally an actor’s hotel, is currently dwarfed by the 20-story loft towers that went up around in 1926 (at left).

It’s also partially hidden by garish store signs advertising $1 pizza and sex DVDs.

But its stunning beauty still comes through, and it can take your breath away.

 The copper roof and cornice, blond brick, bay windows, and lovely female faces decorated with shells and garlands staring down pedestrians on Eighth Avenue—taking it all in transports you to another era.

300 West 38th Street was designed by Emery Roth just before his career took off. Roth is the creative genius behind the Eldorado, the San Remo, and the Hotel Belclaire.

Unlike those luxury residences, however, 300 West 38th Street was intended for more modest use.

200West38thstreetsideview

“The building application, signed by Roth, describes it as a ‘dwelling and office’ but later accounts call it a hotel,” states a New York Times piece from 2002.

300West38thstreetdecoration“The 1910 census lists 14 lodgers living on the second and third floors, among them the widower London McCormack, 49, an actor; Philip Blass, 44, a shoe salesman; and John and Phyllis Ellis, 48 and 30, actors.”

More than 100 years later, 300 West 38th Street remains a diamond in the rough.

It’s a perfect example of a holdout building that’s somehow survived the passage of time, a little European flair amid the Garment District’s cavernous loft buildings and office towers.

A close-up look down Cortlandt Street in 1908

April 27, 2015

“Cortlandt Street, New York, showing the Singer Building,” reads the caption of this postcard.

Cortlandtstreetpostcard1

What a time capsule we’re looking at from what appears to be West Street. Not only is there no more Singer Building (brand new in 1908, demolished in 1968), but the small-scale walkups on the right were obliterated to make way for the World Trade Center in the early 1970s.

Cortlandt Street at this time had not yet earned its wonderful nickname, “Radio Row.”

Cortlandtstreet1908bandw

That’s the platform for the Ninth Avenue El, which ran up Greenwich Street. Compare the postcard to the actual photo it comes from.

Shorpy has the enlarged image here, so you can gaze at old New York in incredible detail.

The Commodore: “New York’s Newest Hotel”

December 15, 2014

Recognize this stately building? Probably not, though it still stands today, a commanding presence next to Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street.

Commodorehotelpostcard

Opened in 1919, it’s the Commodore, billed on the back of this postcard as “New York’s newest and most up-to-date hotel . . . containing 2,000 rooms with baths and circulating ice water in every room.”

CommodorehotelmcnyAfter the hotel’s owner (the New York Central Railroad, owner of Grand Central too) went bust in the late 1970s, Donald Trump came along.

He remodeled the exterior in reflective glass and gave it a more contemporary name, the Grand Hyatt—erasing the reference to Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, railroad tycoon and owner of the original Grand Central Depot.

It’s been the Grand Hyatt since reopening in 1980. Here’s another view of it and the rest of what became of Pershing Square.

[Left: The Commodore in 1926, from the MCNY Digital Gallery]


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