Windsor Hotel (Manhattan)

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The Windsor Hotel was located at 575 Fifth Avenue (at the corner of East 47th Street) in Manhattan, New York. The seven-story hotel opened in 1873,[1] at a time when hotel residency was becoming popular with the wealthy, and was advertised as "the most comfortable and homelike hotel in New York."[2][3] It burned down in 1899 with great loss of life.


On St Patrick's Day 1899, while people were gathered below to watch the parade, a fire destroyed the hotel within 90 minutes.[4] Supposedly the fire started when someone threw an unextinguished match out of a second-floor window and the wind blew it against the lace curtains.[5]

Dora Duncan, leading a dance class in the hotel at the time, managed to get her students, including her daughter, Isadora, to safety.[4] Abner McKinley, President McKinley's brother, who was outside when the alarm was raised, dashed in and rescued his wife and handicapped daughter.[5]

Firemen, some of them still in their dress uniforms from the parade,[6] made heroic rescues, but they were hampered by the crowds, the fire moved too fast for them to reach every window with ladders, and water pressure was inadequate.[2][7] Almost 90 people died (estimates vary), with numerous bodies landing on the pavement; some people fell when escape ropes burned their hands,[2] while some jumped in preference to being burned alive.[8] The operator of the hotel, Warren F. Leland, was unable to identify his 20-year-old daughter, Helen, who had jumped from the 6th floor.[2][4][9]

The following day's New York Times featured the headlines "Windsor Hotel Lies in Ashes" and "The Hotel a Fire Trap."[10] The fire chief, Hugh Bonner, blamed the construction of the hotel for the rapid spread of the fire: it did not have the cross walls that by 1899 were required by law.[11] According to some reports, the fire escapes soon became too hot to use;[6] other accounts state that there were none.[12][13] The Windsor Hotel fire was the inspiration for John Kenlon, who later became fire chief but was a lieutenant in 1899, to become one of the most forceful advocates of a high-pressure hydrant system in New York, which was finally installed in 1907.[7]


Monument to Windsor Hotel Fire Victims In Kensico Cemetery

The bodies of several of the unidentified victims were buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. A monument to them was dedicated on October 9, 2014, after all of the bodies had been positively identified. [14]

For a few months after the fire, the landowner, Elbridge Gerry, rented the site for billboards. In 1901, he built the Windsor Arcade, an ornamental building of luxury shops. It was torn down in the 1910s; the buildings that replaced it have also been demolished.[4][15] The two high-rises now occupying the site, at 565 and 575 Fifth Avenue,[16] have no plaque or marker for the tragedy.[2][4] One of the offices at 575 Fifth Avenue is home to L'Oreal USA.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donald Friedman, Historical Building Construction: Design, Materials, and Technology, 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2010, ISBN 978-0-393-73268-9, p. 224.
  2. ^ a b c d e Christopher Gray, "A Day of Heroism and Horror," New York Times Streetscapes, January 7, 2010.
  3. ^ For a picture of the hotel in 1877, see Edward B Watson and Edmund Vincent Gillon, New York Then and Now: 83 Manhattan Sites Photographed in the Past and in the Present, New York: Dover, 1976, ISBN 0-486-23361-8, p. 62.
  4. ^ a b c d e Christopher Gray, "Gotham Tragedy, Gotham Memory," City Journal, Winter 2003.
  5. ^ a b Terry Golway, So Others Might Live: A History of New York's Bravest: The FDNY from 1700 to the Present, New York: Basic Books/Oxford, 2003, ISBN 0-465-02741-5, p. 1900, based on the New York Times.
  6. ^ a b Golway, p. 1901.
  7. ^ a b Henry Morton Robinson, "John Kenlon—Fire Fighter: How Modern Science Tames Smoke and Flames Is Revealed in the Amazing Experiences of New York City's Fearless Chief," Popular Science November 1928, pp. 36-38+, p. 38.
  8. ^ In City Journal, Gray quotes the New York Times: "At the fourth floor, Amelia Paddock, who had come in from Irvington just for a day of shopping, 'held out her arms to the crowd, then raised her hands as if calling for mercy on her soul. Then she clambered to the window sill, poised for an instant, and leaped, while a smothered groan went up from the crowd.'"
  9. ^ According to Appleton's Annual Cyclopaedia volume 4, p. 617, his wife was also killed and he died soon after, on April 4.
  10. ^ Sara E. Wermiel, "No Exit: The Rise and Demise of the Outside Fire Escape," Technology and Culture 2003.
  11. ^ Golway, pp. 1901-02.
  12. ^ "The New York Hotel Fire," The Speaker March 25, 1899, volume 19, p. 340.
  13. ^ Robinson, pp. 37-38: "a veritable tinder box . . . no fire escapes, no standpipes, no fire buckets."
  14. ^ The Journal News, Oct. 7, 2014.[1]
  15. ^ According to Watson and Gillon, p. 63, the 1921 S.W. Straus Building.
  16. ^ 575 Fifth Avenue.

Coordinates: 40°45′22.6″N 73°58′42.5″W / 40.756278°N 73.978472°W / 40.756278; -73.978472