Michelle Young is the founder of Untapped Cities and the author of the book Broadway, released on April 7, which contains nearly 200 vintage and present-day photographs. The following piece is adapted from the book.
The history of Broadway, from its origins as a Native American trail to its iconic status today, tells the story of the city of New York as it grew from a Dutch colony into a world-class metropolis. The avenue has been the site of many firsts and many superlatives: the city's first subway line; its tallest buildings. The Great White Way is one of the longest streets in the world. As the city moved northwards, so did the various political, commercial, and cultural institutions. Hotels were part of this migration, serving first the colonial settlement and later a growing population as a confluence of trade and politics brought new immigrants and transient labor into New York. Even pleasure gardens19th-century entertainment venueswould relocate to wherever the city's new outer boundary would be at the time.
Indeed, New York City's hotels were so crucial to its growth that many were documented in etchings, and later by early photographers. Here now, dive into the origin stories of 13 of them, listed geographically from the south to north of Manhattan island, that were featured in Broadway. They served guests from the simplest of travelers to those in search of the pinnacle of luxuryand everything in between. And while most have been demolished, and still others converted for other uses, remembering them offers a window into old New York, from aesthetics and architecture to priorities and preferences of yore.
The Washington Hotel
Almost at the tip of Manhattan, the Washington Hotel at 1 Broadway was one of the many taverns that dotted New York City and served as George Washington's headquarters during the American Revolution. In the 18th century, the building was the home of Captain Archibald Kennedy, a Scottish Peer and later the 11th Earl of Cassilis. It turned into the Washington Hotel, and was rebuilt as the Washington Building in 1884. The building still stands today, but its facade is unrecognizable after a full remodeling by the International Mercantile Marine Company (now United States Lines) in the early 1920s.
Astor House was the first luxury hotel in New York City, situated on Broadway between Barclay and Vesey Street across from City Hall. It had running water before the Croton Aqueduct was completed in 1842, and its distinguished guests included Abraham Lincoln, who gave a speech there before his presidential election. In 1913, the hotel was demolished in phases to accommodate the construction of the subway.
Located at Broadway and Prince Street, Niblo's Garden was a fashionable and famous entertainment destination that opened in 1829 on the site of the Columbia Gardens. With a theater, saloon, and hotel, the facility had a capacity of 3,000. It has been said that the polka was introduced there in 1844.
Fifth Avenue Hotel
The Fifth Avenue Hotel arrived in Madison Square as a testament to the area's chicness. (Sorry, NoMad.) In its first two iterations, Madison Square Garden was located at the northeast corner of the park; the fashionable stores of Ladies' Mile came up Fifth Avenue and ended at 23rd Street. The Fifth Avenue Hotel bore witness to many moments in New York City history: bankers were in its back rooms during the financial panic of 1873; it served as a "de-facto headquarters" for the New York Republican Party; and it was a choice hotel for visiting presidents and presidents-to-be. It was also the scene of a riot over using silver as a currency in 1893. All this and more took place between the years of 1859, when the hotel opened, and 1908, when it was demolished. It was replaced by the Toy Center, a toy manufacturing company, a building that is now home to Eataly.
The luxurious French Second Empire-style Gilsey House hotel opened in 1872 on 29th Street and Broadway, and is now a New York City landmark. It was the first hotel in the city to have telephone service and was a favorite haunt of Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and the theater community who frequented the Tenderloin District nearby. Its cast-iron façade deteriorated after the hotel's closure in 1911, but was restored in 1992. Close by on 25th Street was the Hoffman House, an opulent hotel and bar with a giant erotic painting as a centerpiece.
The enormous Hotel Victoria was an apartment hotel located along Broadway and designed by Richard Morris Hunt, favored mansion architect for the Gilded Age set. Though the eight-story building took up an entire city block between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, there were only 18 apartments inside. Opened in 1872, The New York Times registered its concern:
When the Stevens House, at the corner of Twenty-seventh street and Fifth-avenue was being built, there were many who strained their necks to get a glimpse of the top of the cardboard-looking fabric, and wondered how on earth it was going to stand. These huge top-heavy buildings, run up in a hurried manner, have been increasing in our City of late, and one of these days there will be an accident which will effectually scare people from going into them for the future. Should a fire break out, they would burn like an old tinder-box, and they are scarcely strong enough to resist a puff of wind. The Hotel Victoria was demolished in 1914 and replaced by a skyscraper.
The Pabst Hotel opened in 1899 at what is now One Times Squareclose to its brewery at 49th Street. The hotel, according to the New York Times, had five bedrooms on each of the upper floors, and in "early 1900 the owners added a conservatory on top of the portico, an extension of the Empire-style restaurant on the second floor." The construction of the IRT subway went through the basement of the hotel and in 1902, owner Gustave Pabst, vice president of the brewing company, sold it to Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of The New York Times. The New York Times Building was built on the same triangular plot, and still stands today, one of the emptiest but most profitable buildings in Midtown. It is also where the New Year's Eve Ball is stored.
Don't confuse this one with the Astor Hotel. In 1905, the Hotel Astor was the first hotel to arrive in Times Square, conceived by William Waldorf as the next iteration of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The French-inspired building on Broadway between 44th and 45th streets had a green copper mansard roof, a Louis XV-style Rococo ballroom, and a rooftop garden for entertainment, drinking, and dining. Built atop former farmland, the hotel was designed by New York architect Charles W. Clinton and Connecticut architect William H. Russell. After changing ownership several times, the Hotel Astor was demolished in 1967. Today, the site is home to One Astor Plaza, which contains MTV Studios, Viacom, and the Minskoff Theatre. Next door to the Hotel Astor was the Astor Theatre, which was demolished in 1982 and replaced by the Marriott Marquis hotel.
John Jacob Astor IV, a longtime rival of William Waldorf, built the Knickerbocker Hotel in 1906 on West 42nd Street and Broadway. Known in its heyday as the 42nd Street Club, the French chateau-style hotel also had an entrance directly to the subway platform below that still exists today, though it is closed off. It is also said that the Knickerbocker is where the martini was invented. Open for only 15 years, the building was converted into offices in 1920. This year, after a full renovation and modernization, the Knickerbocker Hotel reopened in its original building.
SROs in Times Square
By 1960, the New York Times was describing 42nd Street as the "worst block in town," with a proliferation of porn theaters, peep shoes, adult book, video stores, and other adult fare. The crime and seediness of Times Square would only escalate in the 1970s and '80s. In 1973, a "vice map" was made by the newly created Office of Midtown Planning and Development. In addition to the pornography theaters and bookstores, the map located "presumed prostitution hotels"otherwise known as single room occupancy (SRO) hotelsalong with massage parlors, spas and live burlesque shows
Pabst Grand Circle Hotel
The Pabst Grand Circle Hotel was built for the Pabst Brewing Company in 1903, containing a hotel, restaurant, and theater. Columbus Circle at the time was dotted with automobile companies and entertainment venues, with billboards rivaling the size and density of those in Times Square. The Pabst Grand Circle Hotel was demolished in 1954 and replaced by the New York Coliseum, a convention center that would later be replaced by the Time Warner Center.
The Ansonia Hotel
The Ansonia at 73rd Street and Broadway is arguably one of first of the great New York City apartment buildings, conceived originally as a hotel for long-term residents. Built from 1899 to 1904, the massive Beaux-Arts hotel contained 1,400 rooms and 320 suites and had its own art curator. The Ansonia also had a rather scandalous and off-beat reputationit was here in 1919 that the fateful meeting to fix the World Series took place, which was bankrolled by mobster Arnold Rothstein.
Among its fun historical facts, pneumatic tubes whisked messages through the walls of the Ansonia. It had a farm on the roof with 500 chickens, ducks, goats, and a small bear. The basement contained what was the world's largest indoor pool at the time, which later operated as a gay bathhouse and swingers club. The notable residents of the Ansonia have included Babe Ruth, Theodore Dreiser, Arturo Toscanini, Igor Stravinsky, Florenz Ziegfeld, Angelina Jolie, and Natalie Portman.
The Level Club
The lavish Level Club on 73rd Street was built in 1925 as a Masonic club and hotel at a cost of over $2 million. The 16-story building, modeled after Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, had 225 rooms, a swimming pool, ballroom, Turkish bath, gymnasium, handball courts, billiard rooms, auditorium, dining room, and a library. After changing hands, it was converted into condos in 1984. Its interiors were mostly demolished.
The hotels featured here are only some of the many that have come, gone and remain standing along Broadway. Working with historical sources means that bias has already been incorporatedwhat earlier photographers chose to document and what they left out result in gaps in the record that cannot be rectified today. Yet their concerted choices give weight to the importance of certain moments in history and the consequence of the buildings that awed their aesthetic sensibilitiesin the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hotels were prime among the impressive structures going up in New York City worth documenting.
· Broadway: Images of America [Amazon]
· Remembering NYC's Grandest Forgotten Hotels, in Photos [Curbed]
· In Postcards, Remembering 10 NYC Hotels That Are Long Gone [Curbed]
· 5 NYC Hotels Have Welcomed Guests For More Than A Century [Curbed]
· How Five Historic New York Hotels Wooed Their First Guests [Curbed]