|photo NYPL Collection|
My architect friend, Paul, smiles when I refer to a particular building as "a pile." Smile if you will, the Gilsey House at 29th Street and Broadway is a Victorian pile. And a wonderful one at that.
Pyrotechnics in cast iron, this is the type of building that makes me love architecture.
Peter Gilsey was a Danish immigrant who made his fortune in America as a merchant. Not content with his success, Gilsey bought up properties in midtown, where the north-bound theatre district was emerging. He recognized that this area would need a high-class hotel very soon. In 1868 he purchased the last farm in midtown from Caspar Samlar and with that, his location was set; including the grounds of the Saint George Cricket Club.
Gilsey commissioned architect Steven D. Hatch, who later designed the landmarked 1888 Laclede Building in St. Louis, to create his 300-room hotel. Gilsey envisioned a hotel that would rival the downtown hotels that catered to the carriage trade. And he understood that if you wanted to entice the wealthy, you had to spend money. So Gilsey spent in those post-Civil War years $350,000 on his new hotel.
The Gilsey House opened in 1872. The rooms were outfitted in costly woods like rosewood and walnut. The carved fireplace mantles were of the finest marble. Gilt bronze chandeliers hung from elaborate plastered ceilings. The exterior was a visual feast -- arches, columns, angles; Hatch's fantasy rose from the sidewalk to the roof in an explosion of cast iron ornamentation.
|The "Cafe Royal" in the Gilsey House - (author's collection)|