Archive for the ‘Sketchy hotels’ Category

The short life of an amusement park dubbed “Harlem’s Coney Island”

June 10, 2022

In the early 1900s, the Fort George Amusement Park in Upper Manhattan attracted huge crowds to its three roller coasters (one called the “Rough Rider” and another “The Tickler”), three merry-go-rounds, and two ferris wheels.

There were concessions as well, plus a casino, hotels, skate rink, vaudeville stage, boat ride, and pony racing track for the enjoyment of the park’s mostly working-class visitors.

What started out as a “trolley park” built by the Third Avenue Trolley Line in 1895, according to an article by the Museum of the City of New York, soon became known as Harlem’s Coney Island—thanks to the rides and attractions high above the steep cliffs beside the Harlem River.

By the 1910s, complaints of crime and noise spelled the beginning of the end for Fort George. In the 1920s, following a fire and strong neighborhood opposition, the park’s days were over. In 1928, the city took the land the park once occupied and turned it into Highbridge Park.

[First image: MCNY F2011.33.1361; second image: MCNY F2011.33.1362]

A woman found bludgeoned in a Tenderloin hotel sparks a trial that riveted New York

November 8, 2021

It happened on Broadway and 31st Street in room 84 of the Grand Hotel, in the middle of the Tenderloin—Gilded Age New York’s vast vice playground of brothels, dance halls, theaters, and gambling dens.

After knocking on the door several times on the morning of August 16, 1898, a chambermaid entered the room and found the corpse of a pretty young woman, her head in a pool of blood and her clothed body spread out on the floor.

The stylishly dressed woman “had been bludgeoned with a lead pipe to the skull, her neck was broken, and one of her earlobes was torn by the violent removal of an earring,” wrote John Oller in Rogues’ Gallery: The Birth of Modern Policing and Organized Crime in Gilded Age New York.

“Her clothing was undisturbed, the bed linens fresh and unmussed,” wrote Oller. “On a table in the center of the room stood an empty champagne bottle and two glasses.”

Police in the Tenderloin were used to gruesome crime scenes, and they were summoned to the hotel to piece together evidence.

The details were intriguing. Though the woman had signed into the hotel as “E. Maxwell and wife, Brooklyn” and was then seen by hotel staff meeting a man in a straw hat, her real identity was Emeline “Dolly” Reynolds, a petite 21-year-old who two years earlier left her well-off parents in Mount Vernon to try to make it as an actress in Manhattan.

Reynolds wasn’t getting anywhere as an actress however. For a time she sold books, then met a married man named Maurice Mendham (above). This wealthy stockbroker helped set her up in an apartment on West 58th Street, bought her jewelry, and lived with her “as man and wife,” as a prosecutor later put it.

Just as interesting to detectives was the check that fell out of her corset during her on-scene autopsy. “It was made payable to ‘Emma Reynolds’ in the amount of $13,000,” wrote Oller. “Dated August 15, 1898, the previous day, it was drawn on the Garfield National Bank, signed by a ‘Dudley Gideon,’ and endorsed on the back by ‘S.J. Kennedy.'”

Investigators soon learned that Mendham had an alibi; he was in Long Branch at the time. They also discovered that ‘Dudley Gideon’ didn’t exist. But S.J. Kennedy did, and they began taking a closer look at this 32-year-old Staten Island dentist who practiced on West 22nd Street and was introduced to Reynolds by Mendham.

“Reynolds’ mother told police that about a week before the murder, Dolly told her that Dr. Kennedy (above) volunteered to put $500 on a horse race for her,” according to Strange Company. “She had drawn the money from her bank, and would meet him on the evening of August 15 to deliver what he promised would be a highly profitable investment.”

Police arrested Kennedy five hours after Reynolds’ body was discovered.

After denying he knew Reynolds, Kennedy then admitted to being her regular dentist, according to Oller, and that he saw her in his office the previous week. He insisted their relationship was professional and that he did not place any bets for her, had never been to the Grand Hotel, and his signature on the $13,000 check was forged.

Still, hotel employees ID’d him as the man in the straw hat they saw with Reynolds the day before her body was found. Kennedy also could not explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder, estimated to be at 1 a.m. He thought he’d been to Proctor’s Theatre on West 23rd Street (above), but he couldn’t recall the name of the play he’d seen, wrote Oller.

Police and prosecutors came up with a theory to connect Kennedy to Reynolds. “According to the theory, Dolly was just one of the ‘lambs’ that Kennedy, a feeder for a group of confidence men, was tasked with separating from their money,” explained Oller. But there were some holes, such as why the check was for $13,000, and why the dentist murdered her so viciously.

The March 1899 trial riveted New York City, and newspapers printed lurid front-page headlines with illustrations of the courtroom. Hotel staff and guests (like Mrs. Logue, above) took the stand; Kennedy did not. The jury quickly convicted Kennedy and sentenced him to die in Sing Sing in the electric chair.

But then, the convicted dentist got a lucky break, when in 1900 the Court of Appeals granted him a new trial due to “hearsay” that was used as evidence in the first trial.

The second time, the jury deadlocked, with 11 voting to acquit. At a third trial, Mendham testified, and “his evasiveness about the extent of his relationship with Dolly Reynolds fed the defense’s insinuation that he was somehow behind the murder,” wrote Oller.

While crowds sympathetic to Kennedy rallied outside the courtroom, the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict once again. The city declined to try the case a fourth time. Kennedy was released from the Tombs and returned to Staten Island to a hero’s welcome.

“He resumed his dental practice and lived quietly in New Dorp, dying at age 81 in August 1948, almost 50 years to the day after the murder of his patient Dolly Reynolds,” wrote Oller.

[Top image: San Jose Mercury News; second image: MCNY X2011.34.35; third image: New York World; fourth image: The Scrapbook; fifth image: MCNY 93.1.1.15639; sixth image: New York World; seventh image: New York Journal]

The faded ad that sent newcomers to the Hotel Harmony in Morningside Heights

October 18, 2021

So much of New York’s past can be gleaned from the faded ads on the sides of unglamorous brick buildings. Weathered by the elements but still somewhat legible, they featured a product, a place, or a service that offers a bit of insight into how city residents once lived.

Case in point is the wonderfully named Hotel Harmony. The color ad for this “permanent and transient” hotel can be seen on Broadway and West 114th Street.

Based on the ad, the Harmony sounds like a run-of-the-mill hostelry aiming to come off as a little high class, especially with that tagline, which is supposed to say “where living is a pleasure,” per faded ad sleuth Walter Grutchfield.

The Hotel Harmony in 1939-1941

The actual Hotel Harmony was a few blocks away at 544 West 110th Street. The tidy brick and limestone building first served as the headquarters of the Explorers Club, but by 1935 it was converted into a hotel, according to Landmark West!

What kind of people lived or stayed here? Based on how little activity from the hotel made it into newspapers of the era, I’m going to guess quiet types who blended into the neighborhood. Robbers held up the night manager in the 1950s and made off with cash; a resident described as a limo driver died at Knickerbocker Hospital, then on Convent Avenue in Harlem; his obituary stated.

The Hotel Harmony has been defunct since the 1960s, when Columbia University bought the building and converted it into a dormitory fittingly called Harmony Hall, Landmark West! reported. The repurposed hotel remains…and so does the spectacularly preserved sign that sent many visitors to the hotel’s doors for days, weeks, perhaps years.

[Second image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; third image: BWOG Columbia Student News]

The curious el train in the nocturnal 1930s city

April 5, 2021

When this lithograph was made by Leonard Pytlak in 1935, Manhattan’s elevated train lines were still screeching and lurching up and down the city’s major avenues.

Already made obsolete by subways and buses and soon to be dismantled, the el trains were noisy pieces of machinery that operated high above sidewalks yet helped transform late 19th century Gotham from a horse-powered town to a mighty metropolis of steel tracks.

But if the trains were emblems of the modern machine age, why is the lone figure crossing the nighttime street below the tracks so much larger than the train itself? And why is the street no wider than an alley?

My guess is that Pytlak might be trying to humanize the el train, giving us a Modernist scene of out of proportion shapes with the soft light of Post-Impressionism. There’s also the influence of Ashcan social realism here: a Belgian block city street lined with a hotel and tenements.

Born in 1910, Pytlak was a lithographer who studied at the Art Students League and worked for the New York City WPA Graphics Program from 1934 to 1941, according to the Illinois State Museum. The museum has this strangely alluring lithograph, titled “Uptown,” in its collection.

A Christmas feast at Midtown’s new Hotel Pabst

December 21, 2020

Never heard of the Hotel Pabst? You’re not alone. The nine-story tower with a steel skeleton swathed in limestone only existed from 1899 to 1902—built on the slender triangle formed by Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and 42nd Street at Longacre Square.

Hotel Pabst in Longacre Square

Run by the Pabst Brewing Company as part of a short-term effort to acquire hotels, the elegant hostelry at the upper reaches of the city’s theater district and lobster palaces was replaced by the New York Times‘ headquarters in 1904 (and Longacre Square became Times Square).

The spicy cover of the Hotel Pabst’s Christmas menu

The Pabst didn’t last, and no one alive today would remember it. But it needs to be noted that on December 25, 1900, the hotel sure cooked up a spectacular Christmas dinner.

The eye-popping Christmas dinner menu has been preserved by the New York Public Library in their Buttolph Collection of Menus. Between the carte de jour oyster offerings to the 20-plus desserts (plum pudding! Cream puffs!) are a dozen or so courses that must have taken an army of chefs to prepare.

Many of the dishes are the typical heavy fare of a hotel menu in New York of the era: terrapin a la Maryland, quail, stuffed turkey, filet of sole, prime beef, and lamb chops.

There’s a fair number of items borrowed from French menus, which makes sense, as French cuisine was seen as the most elegant at the time.

Some of the dishes are completely foreign to contemporary American tastes, however. Cold game pie, Philadelphia squabs, and reed ducks, anyone?

One thing stands out, though: Christmas dinner at a hotel in 1900 was certainly a feast. By the time you finished your Nesselrode pudding and revived yourself with your Turkish coffee, buttons must have been popping off your clothes!

[Top photo: MCNY 93.1.1.6427; menu: NYPL Buttolph Collection of Menus]

A famous poet forced to work in the NYC subway

November 9, 2020

Edwin Arlington Robinson earned his place in the literary canon with early 20th century poems like “Richard Cory” and “Miniver Cheevy.”

He was awarded three Pulitzers in the 1920s, and his verse, themed around loss and failure, is a staple of American poetry anthologies.

But before this, Robinson was a broke downtown poet so desperate for money, he took a job in the New York City subway—and he was dubbed “the poet in the subway” once recognition came his way later in life.

It wasn’t the kind of life Robinson seemed destined to live. Born in 1869 in Gardiner, Maine, to a wealthy family that discouraged his literary ambition, he attended Harvard (below photo, at age 19) and had some early success self-publishing his poetry.

Then in the 1890s, a recession claimed his family’s fortune. His parents and a brother died, and his brother’s wife, who Robinson was in love with, rejected him.

So Robinson left Maine and relocated to New York City, dedicating himself solely to writing poetry. He lived for some time in Greenwich Village at the Judson Hotel (above ad, 1905)—today’s Judson Hall, part of NYU, according to nycatelier.com.

In New York, “he lived in dire poverty and became alcoholic,” states a biography by the chairman of the Gardiner Library Association. “He took odd jobs and depended upon the financial support of friends to give him time to write.”

One of those odd jobs was in the subway. One source says Robinson was a “time checker” working with a construction crew, Americanpoems.com has it that he inspected loads of shale during the building of the subway system, which opened in 1904. (Below, subway construction at Christopher Street and West Fourth)

Finding time to write was a struggle, especially for a poet who described himself as “doomed, or elected, or sentenced for life, to the writing of poetry. There was nothing else that interested me,” according to the Gardiner Library Association biography. (Subway excavation, below, at Park Avenue and 42nd Street)

Robinson’s days toiling in the subway would come to an end—thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt and Roosevelt’s son Kermit.

“Kermit Roosevelt had studied some of [Robinson’s] poems at Groton and had been transfixed by their chilly beauty,” wrote Edmund Morris in Theodore Rex.

“The President had read them too, at his son’s urging, and agreed that Robinson had ‘the real spirit of poetry in him.'” (Above: Kermit Roosevelt with his dad and brothers, second from left)

Kermit discovered that Robinson was in dire poverty and struggling to support himself with his subway job. So the President, “in strict secrecy waiving all civil-service rules, had offered Robinson jobs in the immigration service or the New York Customs House, which latter the poet accepted.”

[Robinson was following in the 19th century footsteps of Herman Melville, also born wealthy but took a job as a customs inspector to support himself]

“A tacit condition of employment was that, in exchange for his desk and $2,000 a year, he should work ‘with a view toward helping American letters,’ rather than the receipts of the U.S. Treasury.”

Roosevelt, a fanatical reader, even wrote a positive review of Robinson’s ‘Children of the Night,’ the volume Kermit had given him (above left). “A poet can do much more for his country than the proprietor of a nail factory,” TR once said.

With a steady source of money, Robinson could devote himself more to his largely solitary life of writing poetry. He died of cancer at New York Hospital in Manhattan in 1935.

[Top image: Lila Cabot Perry, 1918; second image: New-York Tribune; third image: wikiwand; fourth and fifth images: New-York Historical Society; sixth image: Corbis; seventh image: bookedupac.com; eighth image: Wikipedia]

A sidewalk relic of the Hotel Carter’s better days

September 21, 2020

The Hotel Carter has been closed for months now—for good or because of a renovation, I’m not sure.

The infamous West 43rd Street hostelry, named the dirtiest hotel in America several times by TripAdvisor and the site of numerous suicides and a few horrific murders during its 90-year history (including this one in 2007), is currently hidden from view by scaffolding.

Sticking out on the sidewalk, however, is a Hotel Carter icon I’d never noticed before: this sidewalk sign—with the Carter name spelled out in script, a signifier that this is a hotel of class and taste.

Of course, the Hotel Carter was neither of these, at least in its later incarnation. Opened in 1930 as the Hotel Dixie (complete with its own basement bus station, see the sign for it at the far right in the photo below), the place was designed for business travelers who needed to be in the Times Square area.

The owners went bankrupt not long after that; the hotel changed hands over the years. The bus depot closed in 1957, unable to compete with the new Port Authority Bus Station around the corner on Eighth Avenue.

Rechristened the Hotel Carter in 1976, the hotel became largely a welfare hotel in the 1980s, though by 1984 it was so dangerous and decrepit, the city stopped sending people there, according to a 1989 Daily News article.

The Carter began attracting travelers again in the 1990s and 2000s, many of whom left illustrious scathing reviews (and photos of their bedbug-bitten skin).

Whatever becomes of the Carter, the wonderful vertical Hotel Carter sign is currently visible through the scaffolding.

Walk by and look up at it…and then down at the logo embedded in the sidewalk. If the Carter has a date with the wrecking ball soon, at least the sidewalk sign might stick around.

[Top image: Wikipedia; fourth image: New York City Department of Records and Information Services]

What became of the first, short-lived Plaza Hotel

January 6, 2020

When the Plaza Hotel finally opened its doors on October 1, 1890, the debut of this elegant, long-awaited hotel (construction began seven years earlier, but the developers needed more financing to finish it) at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South was heralded across the city.

This “magnificent” new building “was inspected by an immense number of people, and illimitable appropriation was bestowed upon the management for the almost perfect arrangements, elegance of decorations, etc,” wrote Brooklyn’s Standard Union newspaper.

King’s Handbook of New York City also gushed praise. “It is a palatial establishment…and it is sumptuously furnished,” stated the 1892 book. “There are 400 rooms…it is one of the grandest hotels in the world.”

Ads for the Plaza painted a luxurious image, like the one above. “Absolutely fireproof…Overlooking Central Park…the pioneer in the new hotel centre.”

Sounds a lot like the Plaza Hotel that’s been an icon of New York City for more than a century, right?

Except this isn’t the 19-story Plaza Hotel holding court on Fifth Avenue today, the one that was designed to be a skyscraper-high chateau in French Renaissance style.

These rave reviews actually describe the first Plaza Hotel—a more modest eight-story building that only stood at this elite corner of Manhattan for 15 years.

Why was it demolished, especially considering the swooning reception it received? Basically, “it was unprofitable,” according to The Encyclopedia of New York City, Second Edition.

The design of the first Plaza Hotel—called neo-Classical and Italianate by Inside the Plaza, by Ward Morehouse—also quickly became dated in a city of newer, more fanciful hotel buildings.

So the first Plaza Hotel was bought by a new developer, who had it demolished in 1905.

The second Plaza Hotel, “with three stories composed of rusticated marble, the rest white glazed brick, all topped by a three-story mansard roof,” according to Morehouse (those small windows peeking through the roof were for the servants rooms), went up in just two years.

The new Henry Hardenburgh-designed Plaza Hotel (which served more as a longterm residence than a per-night kind of place) opened to equally rabid fanfare and acclaim on October 1, 1907.

 Here it is at the end of 2019, still stunning in a transformed city.

[Top photo: MCNY X2012.61.31.9; second image: New York Times, 1894; third image: MCNY 2010.28.15; fourth image: MCNY 93.1.1.6467; fifth image: MCNY 93.1.3.1529; sixth image: Ephemeral New York]

The ghost chimney on an East Midtown building

December 2, 2019

Phantom buildings abound in New York, especially in the contemporary city, with so many structures that were once neighborhood fixtures getting the heave ho in an era of rampant renovation and reconstruction.

This ghost walkup on East 52nd Street and Third Avenue was probably a 19th century tenement home to several families—perhaps all sharing one slender chimney, its outline very creepily five years after the building was torn down and replaced by a Hilton Garden Inn.

If you look at it long enough, you might actually start envisioning puffs of smoke coming out the top.

A traveler’s 1971 snapshot below Herald Square

August 12, 2019

The taxi-choked traffic hasn’t changed much in the 48 years since a Dutch traveler named Hans Ketel snapped this photo while on a road trip across the United States.

But 32nd Street and Sixth Avenue, just south of Herald Square, is a very different place than it was in summer 1971—and not just because coconut oil (and billboards featuring women in bikinis selling it) have fallen out of favor.

For starters, 32nd Street is now Koreatown. Gimbels, a major department store in New York before going bankrupt in 1987, would have been on the right. J.C. Penney is there now.

The area is no longer the upper reaches of what used to be known as the Photo District, vestiges of which can still be found on some Flatiron side streets. (See the Olden Camera building in the center and Camera Barn to the left.)

Notice the French Renaissance building to the left? It’s the Hotel Martinique (you can just make out the old red vertical sign on the facade), built in 1898 as an apartment house before being turned into a high-class hotel.

By 1971, the Hotel Martinique’s glory days were long over. Two years after this photo was taken, it would become a welfare hotel until 1988—a place so notorious and dangerous, former residents are still posting stories of survival there on an Ephemeral New York post from 2008.

These days, it’s a spiffy Radisson.

[Photo copyright © Hans Ketel]