Saturday, July 3, 2010

The 1868 Grand Hotel - Broadway and 31st Street

Stereopticon view of the Grand Hotel shortly after completion - NYPL Collection

A year before Peter Gilsey completed his elaborate Gilsey House Hotel two blocks to the south, Elias S. Higgins had built the Grand Hotel at Broadway and 31st Street. Higgins, a highly successful carpet manufacturer, commissioned Henry Engelbert in 1868 to design the hotel. Located just ahead of the northbound urban migration, it would also be conveniently near the 23rd Street entertainment district. German-born Engelbert established a reputation for creating striking buildings in the French Second Empire style.

photo NYPL Collection
For the Grand Hotel he followed suit. Turning to the new, fashionable hotel particuliers that began lining the streets of mid-19th Century Paris, he created five stories of white marble, resting on a ground floor of slender-pillared cast iron with wide glass shop windows, and topped by a two-story mansard roof. Engelbert chopped the corner off his hotel, creating a chamfer with one window per floor that allowed guests a view up Broadway.

Unlike Gilsey’s hotel, Higgins intended The Grand to be a residential hotel or family hotel. These were, essentially, apartment houses for tenants who had no intention of cooking for themselves, but would eat in a large, communal dining room. There was, therefore, no need for kitchens nor dining rooms in the apartments. Later, as the theatre district moved north towards Times Square it became financially sensible to convert it into a guest hotel.

In 1870 Henry Milford Smith leased and managed the hotel. In his 1884 New York’s Great Industries, Richard Edwards praised Smith as “the popular and enterprising proprietor of the Grand Hotel” and added “His son, Mr. Dinwiddie Smith, is a thoroughly practical hotel man, and actively associated with his father in the management of this magnificent hotel which has two hundred and thirty-three rooms.”

In 1904 the Grand was renamed The New Grand Hotel under the ownership of George F. Hurlbert, who owned two other hotels, one in Jamestown and another in Sharon, Pennsylvania. His thorough redecorating of the interior reflected an updated “Moorish” décor.

remodeled foyer - early 20th Century postcard view (author's collection)
In 1920 daily room rates were advertised as:

Room with Running Water (for one) $2.00-$2.50
Double Room with Running Water (for two) $3.00-$3.50
Room with Bath (for one) $3.50-$4.00
Double Room with Bath (for two) $5.00-$5.50

The updated "Moorish Lounge"  -- early 20th Century postcard view (author's collection)

Around World War II, however, Broadway around 31st Street had changed. The once grand neighboring hotels became commercial loft buildings. The Grand was now The Milner Hotel with fleabag rates of $1.00 to $1.50 a night. In 1957 the entire ground floor was remodeled and the wonderful cast iron and glass entrance was demolished.

By the 1980s the once proud Grand Hotel was a single occupancy hotel owned by Mocak Enterprises. Despite its 1979 landmark designation the owners painted the marble façade and the slate roof in 1987 without prior authorization by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission – which doubtlessly would not have been forthcoming.

Robert Tincher, vice president of Mocak explained to The New York Times in 1993 “we painted the building to protect it.” The problem now was how to correct the violation. Leaving the paint on the marble could seal in moisture, causing the face of the stone to pull away. On the other hand, removal of the paint could damage the marble and the slate. The Landmarks Preservation Commission retained Building Conservation Associates to supervise spot testing of the face to determine the extent of damage removal of the paint would cause.

Today Elias Higgins’ Grand Hotel is owned and managed by 1234 Broadway LLC as the Clark Apartments.   In 2010 netting and scaffolding covered the building as KRA Associates headed up restoration efforts of the facade.  Slowly, inch by inch, the white marble and the black slate of the roof are re-emerging and the Grand Hotel sits waiting for its former glory to be rediscovered.

non-credited photographs were taken by the author


  1. Wow! Great to read this about Clark Apartments where we lived 1974 to 1976, at the fifth floor. Didn't know that it was THE Grand Hotel. Nice reading.

    Dennis F.

    1. Hi, Dennis did you know the name of the school that is located on the first floor during the 1960?

  2. Thank you so much for this posting! I lived there from 2005-6 on the 1st floor and have always been curious about the history of the building.

    Where was the entrance when you were there Dennis? We had to enter through 38 w 31st street and all the upper floors were a warren of single occupancy rooms.

    Jess T.

    1. Jess, I lived on the 3rd floor in 2005-06! Had a 'student special' essentially a renovated tiny studio with a kitchenette and a shared bath on the hallway. It was an adventure, but a great location and I loved the historic details everywhere, like the non-working fireplace in my room.

      I always stop by to say hello to Jorge or whoever is working the door when I take the bus or train into town. Can't wait to see it all fixed up someday.

  3. The entrance had been along 31st street. None along Broadway. In those years, the 70s, there was only one Korean store on the first floor of Clark Apartments, fronting 31st street. I remember going into that Korean store to buy a pen. Across Clarks, along 31st, was First National City Bank. I remember in 1975 the building across Clarks, across Broadway, was burned by fire.

    There's your bit of history.


  4. I am researching a novel set in a hotel based on the Grand and would appreciate any stories - general or personal, about its years as an SRO.

    Thanks so much.


    1. I lived there in 1992-1993. The first floor, where I was mostly very nice loft apartments, with stairs to go up to the loft,a kitchen under the loft and a high-celinged living room with almost floor to ceiling windows. Upstairs there were SRO rooms for only Asians. There were large communal bathrooms with sinks, and a drain hole in the floor-- I always saw women crouched on the floor cleaning fish in the bathroom on the hall where my friend lived. I surely loved my beautiful apartment there -- I could walk to work and almost everywhere else I wanted to go. Korea Town was just around the corner. At that time, though, 31st St had mostly small untidy odd shops of the sort that you still see along the side streets in the West 20s. I only moved when they raised the rent from $850 to $1300 all at once.

    2. Thanks for this! I love the details!


    3. was there a school in that building in the 1960s and what other stores was located there? I want to know more about the history.

  5. Hi If anyone wants info on this building, let me know. I was 2yrs old when my family moved in , that was in 1948. it was then called the Milner hotel, and just as beautiful as the grand pictures above. years later, called the Hadson Hotel, Then the clark apartments. I lived there for 32 yrs.

    1. I would love to ask you a few questions offline, Sandybeach. Could you email me at I would so appreciate it!


    2. A few questions, Sandybeach:

      When you were a child, was the Milner still an apartment hotel? Did your mother or a servant cook in the rooms or did you go downstairs to the dining room to eat? What kind of changes did you experience in the hotel over the three decades you lived there?

      Any information you want to share would be great!


    3. I am interested in finding out the name of a business that would have been a vendor/tenant in the Grand Hotel in the early 1900s. I have an old original gilt-framed oil painting by an 'E. Carter' that looks 'Renaissance' in style. It has a label on the back which has the last two letters of the framing business name, and the first letters are worn off. The label reads:
      1234 Broadway,
      In The Grand Hotel,
      New York,
      Re-Gilding & Framing Made To Order

      If you can remember the name of that framing business I would enjoy hearing from you at my e-address . Thank you for any info you can offer.