In 1901 the blocks just west of Fifth Avenue around 34th Street were gradually changing. The Astor mansions on Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets had been replaced by the hulking and exclusive Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and high-class commercial interests were increasingly converting other brownstone residences.
One-by-one the wide homes of West 35th Street were sold off and before 1910 the block would have no fewer than three high-end hotels. But none of them would equal the Collingwood’s impressive architecture or guest register.
Robert F. Spalding razed four elegant brownstone-clad homes—Nos. 43 through 49--to erect his new brick and limestone hotel. Construction of the 12-story structure was begun in 1900 and completed in December of the next year. The exuberant Beaux Arts façade, like buildings along the boulevards of Paris, was laden with heavy, carved ornamentation. While some other architects were frosting their Beaux Arts designs with ornate terra cotta decoration, the Collingwood went with carved limestone.
At the 11th floor, four immense lounging allegorical sculptures represented the continents of Asia, North American, Europe and Africa.
The lobby areas were lavishly decorated with carved marble – or so it seemed. The Artificial Marble Co., Inc., of East 91st Street, provided imitation stone essentially undetectable from the real thing. “By our process of manufacture, we can imitate perfectly any marble or stone in existence” the company boasted. The wealthy guests would never know the guise.
Six months before the hotel was completed, hotelier William F. Bang signed a 21-year lease at $50,000 a year. The projected value of the Collingwood at the time was a staggering $1 million. Final touches were completed in April 1902 and the doors opened for business on May 1. While upscale transient guests visiting New York were welcomed, the Collingwood was mainly an “apartment hotel;” one in which well-heeled residents lived and enjoyed the amenities of a staff without the inconvenience of running a private household.
|Sumptuous Beaux Arts brackets, vermiculated quoins around the windows and a limestone base hinted at exclusivity.|
An advertisement in The New York Tribune in August of that year described “an apartment hotel most centrally and desirably located, containing every modern device for comfort and convenience of guests.” The hotel was deemed “Positively Exclusive” and the “cuisine unexcelled. Service a La Carte.”
|Sculpted allegories of four continents lounge against arches -- here Europe and North America.|
The Collingwood, said the article, was among the second class. “Here the conditions differ; electric light and steam heat are furnished; kitchen refrigerators, often of large size, are cooled, ice is made for table use, iced water is circulated through the small apartments, and is used to cool bottles, milk, etc., besides service for drinking purposes.”
Trouble came early for the Collingwood when, on the evening of March 6, 1903, Charles Dowdeswell and his wife left for dinner. Dowdeswell was an art dealer with a store on Fifth Avenue and, as was normal, they left their apartment key with the clerk.
Later a neighbor notified the captain of the bellboys, Charles Manly, that there was something wrong with the steam pipes in the Dowdeswell apartment. The 24-year old Manly entered with the key to check.
Upon their return from dinner, the couple discovered that $400 worth of Mrs. Dowdeswell’s jewelery consisting of pearl necklaces, gold chains and bracelets and such, and a pocketbook with $116 in cash were all missing.
Although none of the items were found on Manly, the 24-year old was arrested.
Later that year, only a eighteen months after opening, William Bang was broke. Although the Hotel Collingwood was successful, his combined business dealings forced him into bankruptcy in December 1903. The hotel was taken over by the Hotel Collingwood Company, owned by the brothers Joseph T. and Israel Cohen.
Couples who regularly appeared in the society pages of the newspapers filled the hotels—like Mr. and Mrs. Vance C. Cheney and Henry Roso and his wife, Julia. And then there were those whose inclusion in the newspapers was not so eagerly sought.
Among these were the wife and daughter of the famed singer David Bispham. The Bisphams had been separated for several years when his wife and daughter took up residence. The singer, who was living in the exclusive Royalton bachelor hotel on 44th Street, regularly provided support until May 1907 when the payments abruptly stopped.
On August 6, F. V. Wishart, the proprietor, confronted Mrs. Bispham for her back rent of $400. The woman explained to Wishart, “I am in despair.”
Mr. Wishart was not moved.
Mrs. Bispham and her daughter were forced to leave and not allowed to take any possessions with them. The New York Times reported that on August 27 they were “at the Hotel Newport, Philadelphia, with only the clothes they wore when they left the Collingwood ten days ago.”
When the Cohens sold the Collingwood to Mrs. Eliza Guggenheimer, widow of Randolph Guggenheimer, in February 1909 the 35th Street block was still upscale. Just days after the sale, $10,000 worth of jewels owned by Mrs. J. R. McComb disappeared from the hotel safe.
Mrs. McComb, leaving for a stay in Great Barrington, Vermont, left the jewels on January 25 for safe-keeping. A week earlier, 19-year old Allen Porter Crollus had been hired as night clerk. “It was the first job of any consequent he had had in a year,” reported the New York Tribune.
Two weeks after Mrs. McComb left, police Inspector McCafferty heard that a young man named Crollus was “spending money lavishly” on upper Broadway and put Detective Van Twistern to the task of following the boy. After seeing him enter several pawn shops, the policeman searched Crollus. On him were several pawn tickets, jewelry including a diamond and turquoise brooch valued at $2,500 and one-way tickets on the American Line steamship St. Paul to London leaving the following morning.
Allen Crollus explained to the police that he had been out of work for a year and needed money badly. The police were unimpressed with his explanation. He was locked up in the Tombs charged with grand larceny.
The high-styled banquet and ballrooms were popular as well. The New York Central Railroad chose the Collingwood as the venue for its 1910 convention. The Indicator Otis magazine noted that “The headquarters for all were at the Hotel Collingwood…and afforded convenient and comfortable quarters for the out of town representatives as well as for a general place of assembly.”
By now most of the mansions on Fifth Avenue around 35th Street were gone. Commercial structures like the marble Tiffany & Co. building, the immense palazzo of B. Altman & Company and the building of Alvin Mfg., silversmiths, had replaced them. While wealthy residents like Mrs. William H. Moseley still lived here during the winters and summered in Litchfield, Connecticut; in 1913 the Hotel Collingwood’s advertisements now focused on being “half block from Herald Square, the center of New York” rather than its proximity to Fifth Avenue.
Seth H. Moseley, who had been manager of the hotel, purchased it from the Guggenheimer Estate in 1913 for about $1 million. Six years later room rates were advertised at:
Room with bath, 1 person: $2 to $2.50
Room with double bed without bath, 2 persons $3 to $3.50
More luxurious accommodations went for:
Room with bath 1 person $3, $3.50 and $4.00
Room with double bed and bath, 2 persons, $4.50
As late as the 1920s wealthy New Yorkers remained in the Collingwood. James E. Hewitt “turfman and owner of thoroughbreds,” as described by the New York Tribune, lived here. He owned the Hewitt racing stables. Among his neighbors was Joseph E. Schwab, president of the America Steel Foundries and brother of American Steel magnate Charles M. Schwab.
But by the 1930s West 35th Street was highly commercial with factory loft spaces filling many of the properties. The Collingwood underwent a remodeling in 1934 and two years after it was sold to Nathan Wilson in 1949, it was modernized again. On July 15, 1951 The New York Times reported that “The 250 rooms in the Collingwood Hotel…have been redecorated an refurnished. Each room now has a private bath and some suites are air-conditioned. The hotel’s entrance has been modernized with marble facing and glass doors.”
The Collingwood was sold again in 1961. By now the once-fashionable neighborhood was no longer. In 1975 Claire Berman, writing in New York Magazine cautioned potential guests about the hotel despite its affordable rooms. “This neighborhood is, however, now dominated by many of the folks who once peopled Times Square and I would not find it a safe or pleasant place to stay.”
If anything can be said about Manhattan, however, it is that times and neighborhoods change. By 2000 the convenient location of the once-grimy 35th Street was attracting out-of-towners. In 2008 a series of modern hotels with national names like Marriott and Hampton Inn began rising on the sites of old loft buildings. In the meantime, the Hotel Collingwood became the Metro Hotel, completely renovated and modernized to attract 21st century guests.
|A sleek and trendy lobby replaces the carved "artificial marble" of 1901 -- photo Metro Hotel|
Today the former high-toned residential hotel that was home to socialites caters to families on vacation and executives on business trips. And the graceful sculptures of the four continents still lounge, unaffected by the changes to the street below.
non-credited photographs taken by the author
non-credited photographs taken by the author