Posts Tagged ‘New York in 1903’

A last remaining mansion on Riverside Drive

July 9, 2012

When megabucks lawyer Isaac L. Rice built his four-story Georgian-Beaux Arts residence (below, in a NYPL photo) there in 1903, Riverside Drive was supposed to eclipse Fifth Avenue as the city’s most luxurious place to live.

That didn’t quite happen, though Riverside Drive certainly had its share of opulent homes—especially the 30 or so free-standing mansions that used to line the street.

Today, only two remain. One is the Rice mansion on 89th Street, across from the Soldiers and Sailors monument overlooking the Hudson River.

Called Villa Julia after Rice’s wife, the red brick, white marble mansion was spectacular in its day.

The entrance, on 89th Street, featured a two-story stone arch, and the grounds had a reflecting pool and colannaded garden.

Inside, Rice built himself a chess room—he was an avid fan of the game.

The Rices didn’t live there very long. They decamped in 1907 for the new Ansonia apartment building on 74th Street.

In 1954, the mansion was bought by a Yeshiva, which still owns it today.

It’s a bit shabby and not as impeccably maintained as it could be, but it’s still a lovely reminder of how the superrich lived in New York more than 100 years ago.

The Martha Washington: “for women guests only”

March 29, 2012

When the Hotel Martha Washington opened its respectable doors in Murray Hill in February 1903, it was the first women-only hotel in the city. And management took the women-only part seriously.

Not only were men prohibited in rooms, few could work there. Though the elevator operators, head waiter, and bell boys were male, the rest of the staff was female.

The place was a big hit. The wave of professional women moving to the city at the time—nurses, stenographers, teachers, doctors—thronged the waiting list for a $1.50 to $5 per day room.

Over the decades, as other women-only hotels opened, it remained a safe place for fresh-off-the-bus models, actresses, and students. 1920s actress Louise Brooks stayed there (she was asked to leave, according to this account). The hotel even scored a mention in Valley of the Dolls.

By the 1980s, the MR had become an SRO, home to long-term elderly tenants, shorter-term drug dealers, and, in 1998, men, according to the Village Voice.

On its 100th anniversary, this dowager of a hotel was rebranded Hotel Thirty Thirty and more recently Lola. I love the way copywriters put a 21st century spin on its single-gender past.