Hotel Pennsylvania

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Coordinates: 40°44′59″N 73°59′26″W / 40.74972°N 73.99056°W / 40.74972; -73.99056

Hotel Pennsylvania
Hotel Penn, April 2019.jpg
General information
Address401 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY
OpeningJanuary 25, 1919
ClosedApril 1, 2020
OwnerVornado Realty Trust
Technical details
Floor count22
Design and construction
ArchitectMcKim, Mead & White
DeveloperPennsylvania Railroad
Other information
Number of rooms2,200 at opening,
1,704 at closing
Website
hotelpenn.com

The Hotel Pennsylvania is a former hotel located at 401 Seventh Avenue (15 Penn Plaza) in Manhattan, across the street from Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden in New York City. Once the largest hotel in the world, it remained the fourth largest hotel in the city when it closed permanently on April 1, 2020.[1]

History[edit]

Early years[edit]

The Hotel Pennsylvania was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad and operated by Ellsworth Statler. It opened on January 25, 1919. Its 2,200 guest rooms and baths made it the largest hotel in the world, a title it would hold for nearly a decade.[2] It was designed by William Symmes Richardson, of the firm of McKim, Mead & White,[3] which had also designed the original Pennsylvania Station located across the street.[4] The lower indiana limestone facade of the hotel was intentionally designed to closely mirror the architecture of the station.

Middle years[edit]

Statler Hotels, which had managed the Pennsylvania since its construction, acquired the property outright from the Pennsylvania Railroad on June 30, 1948[5] and renamed it the Hotel Statler on January 1, 1949. All 17 Statler hotels were sold to Conrad Hilton in 1954 and the hotel became The Statler Hilton in 1958.[6] It operated under this name until 1979, when Hilton sold the hotel to developer William Zeckendorf, Jr., for $24 million.[7] The hotel was renamed the New York Statler and was operated by Dunfey Hotels, a division of Aer Lingus. The hotel was sold again in August 1983, for $46 million, with a 50% interest bought by Abelco, an investment group consisting of developers Elie Hirschfeld, Abraham Hirschfeld, and Arthur G. Cohen, and the other 50% bought by the Penta Hotels chain, a joint-venture of British Airways, Lufthansa, and Swissair. The new owners renamed the hotel the New York Penta and undertook a massive renovation.[8] In 1991, Penta's partners bought out the chain's stake in the hotel and returned it to its original name, Hotel Pennsylvania.[9]

Later history and threats of demolition[edit]

In 1997, Vornado Realty Trust bought the hotel for $159 million, in a joint venture with Ong Beng Seng, a Singaporean hotel developer and financier.[10] On September 25, 1997, Vornado and Ong's company announced a further joint venture with Planet Hollywood, to renovate the property and convert it into the first Official All Star Hotel.[11] The planned conversion did not happen. Instead, Vornado bought out Seng's 40% stake in the hotel in 1998, for $70 million, and then bought out Planet Hollywood's 20% stake in 1999, for $42 million.[12]

In the hotel's final years, the mezzanine levels above the lobby were operated as a separate business, the Penn Plaza Pavilion, a series of raw spaces used as function facilities. They were the site of numerous trade shows and conventions, including the annual Big Apple Comic Con.[13]

Vornado announced in 2007 that the hotel would be demolished to make way for 15 Penn Plaza, a new office building that would have Merrill Lynch as its anchor tenant.[14] Vornado intended to build a 2,500,000-square-foot (230,000 m2) building by 2011.[15][16]

In 2006, the Save Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation (now the Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society[17]) was created. Shortly after the announcement of Vornado's plans, the staff of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, a magazine that sponsored biennial HOPE hacker conventions at the hotel, began investigating possible ways to save the hotel from demolition.[18] They were joined by the new Save the Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation, whose members included a number of city organizations and politicians to aid in the landmarking of the hotel, including the Historic Districts Council, Manhattan Community Board 5, and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.[19] In November 2007, Manhattan Community Board 5 voted 21-8 to have New York City Council landmark the historic hotel.[20] In February 2008, however, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission denied the request for landmarking.[21]

Preservation efforts proved difficult. Emmanuel Goldstein of 2600 noted that while people overseas expressed concern over the fate of the hotel:

New Yorkers might not care enough to get involved. The hotel was old; the rooms weren't as big and luxurious as other more modern facilities; and New Yorkers simply weren't in a position to grasp the importance of such a place since they normally don't need cheap and easily accessible hotels if they already live here.[22]

In May 2010, the hotel was again in danger of demolition.[23] Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer gave a conditional approval[24][25] overruling Manhattan Community Board 5.[26] The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission reviewed the hotel's Cafe Rouge for landmark status[27] based on a request by the Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society,[17] but on October 22, 2010, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to designate the cafe as a landmark.[28]

On July 14, 2010, the New York City Department of City Planning voted unanimously in favor of the construction of the tower.[29] On August 23, 2010, the NYC Council voted to approve the proposed Uniform Land Use Review Procedure submitted by the building owners.[30][31] On December 14, 2011, Vornado announced a delay in the demolition of the hotel, due to market conditions.[32][33]

On March 4, 2013, Vornado revealed they were abandoning plans to demolish the hotel and replace it with the office tower. The decision was followed by a statement by chairman Steven Roth:

We're not going to tear down the hotel. In fact, we're going to invest in it aggressively and try to make it into a really profitable, really good hotel for our purposes.[34]

Vornado announced their intention to renovate and improve the hotel.[35] In March 2018, Vornado renewed special permits with the City Planning Commission to develop the proposed 15 Penn Plaza skyscraper on the Hotel Pennsylvania's site. In an April 2018 letter to investors, Roth mentioned the demolition and 15 Penn skyscraper plan as a continued option, but also described Vornado as being at "a tipping point" with regard to redeveloping the Pennsylvania into a "giant convention/entertainment hotel".[36]

In June 2019, Vornado released new plans to lure their existing tenant, Facebook, to the site of the hotel, with a new design done by Rafael Viñoly.[37] According to The Real Deal, Facebook stated they were not moving.[38][39] In April 2021, Vornado again announced plans to demolish the hotel to make way for the new skyscraper, now known as Penn15.[40][41] According to Roth, "the hotel math has deteriorated significantly over the last five years", and the benefits of continuing to operate the hotel were outweighed by the drawbacks of maintenance, taxes, and lack of demand.[42]

Demolition[edit]

In September 2021, International Content Liquidations, Inc. (ICL) began a liquidation sale of the contents of the hotel, in preparation for demolition. Items for sale included chandeliers and lighting, guest room furniture, unused mattresses and linens, televisions, the entirety of the hotel’s fitness center and commercial kitchens, banquet tables and chairs, and the original, historic guest room doors known as Servidors.[43] Employees of ICL as well as Vornado have confirmed that demolition will begin in January 2022.[44]

Many historic elements of the hotel, including the large brass mailboxes throughout the lobby level, some guest room doors and the original 22-foot-tall fountain in the former Cafe Rouge, will be salvaged and repurposed by Vornado. A museum of the hotel will be assembled in the future.

Early signs of light demolition and deconstruction of the interior were visible in early October 2021 and signs warning of asbestos abatement were visible a month later in November.[citation needed] The hotel's demolition was underway by January 2022.[45]

Cafe Rouge[edit]

The Cafe Rouge was originally the main restaurant in the Hotel Pennsylvania. It served as a famous nightclub for many years. In the hotel's final years, it operated as a separate business from the hotel entirely, as a multi-purpose space. It was the only interior space in the hotel that escaped significant alteration over the years.

The Cafe Rouge measured 58 by 142 feet (18 by 43 m), with a ceiling height of 22 feet (6.7 m), with a main central level and two terraces on either side. The terraces were raised 18 inches (46 cm). The Café was designed with a distinctly Italian character. Both the wall base and door trim were made of terracotta, the walls were artificial limestone, and the ceiling was treated to give the effect of old wooden beamed ceilings. The ceiling was carefully studied in color to increase the apparent height of the room, and the beams of the ceiling had carvings of various designs. The east end of the Café had a large floor-to-ceiling fountain. The Café had large arched windows running along the exterior wall of the room. The arched window design was mimicked on the opposite wall. A bandstand was located on the central floor of the room on the exterior wall.[46]

Big band era[edit]

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, The Café Rouge had a big band remote connection to the NBC Red Network (after 1942, the NBC Radio Network) and became known for the performances held inside. Multiple artists played inside the Café – such as The Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and The Andrews Sisters.

One evening in November 1939, while in the midst of a steady long-term engagement at the Cafe Rouge, bandleader Artie Shaw left the bandstand between sets and decided he had had enough of the band business and all the hype of having become, in a year and a half, the leader of the most popular big band in the country. Shaw essentially quit his own band on the spot, the act obliging The New York Times to comment in an editorial.

During 1940–42, the Glenn Miller Orchestra also had repeated long-term bookings in the room during the three years of Miller's highest profile as a bandleader. Miller's orchestra broadcast from the Café; some were recorded by RCA Victor.[47][48] Shaw's principal orchestrator from 1937–39, Jerry Gray, was immediately hired by Miller as a staff arranger when Shaw deserted his band; it was during Miller's 1940 engagement at the hotel that Gray wrote the tune "Pennsylvania 6-5000" (with lyrics later added by Carl Sigman) that made use of the Hotel's telephone number, 212-736-5000, which is the New York phone number in longest continuous use.[49] Les Brown's band, with its vocalist Doris Day, introduced their song "Sentimental Journey" at the Café in November 1944.

Later use[edit]

The Café Rouge was no longer considered a part of the Hotel Pennsylvania business in its later years, and had a separate address and entrance from the street at 145 West 32nd Street.

In 2007, for the Garden in Transit project, adhesive weatherproof paintings of flowers attached to NYC taxicabs were painted inside the Café.[50]

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission reviewed the Café Rouge for landmarking status[51] on the basis of evaluation papers created by the Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society (formerly the Save Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation). On October 22, 2010 the Café was rejected as a candidate for landmarking,[51] most likely because the 15 Penn Plaza project was approved and the moderate, but not destructive alterations of the interior since its construction. The 15 Penn Plaza project, would have included the demolition of the Café.

Numerous events from the 2013 New York Fashion Week were held in the Cafe Rouge.[52]

In 2014, the Café Rouge was converted to an indoor basketball court known as Terminal 23,[53] to commemorate the launch of the Melo M10 by the Jordan Brand division of Nike.[54] It provided a facility for youth and high school players.

In its final years, the room operated as Station 32, a rental function/event space.[55]

Most of the original interior decor remained intact until the structure closed for demolition. The fountain and beamed ceiling and other architectural details remained, though the entire room, as well as the ceiling, had been painted over in white.

Notable events[edit]

In film[edit]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]