Friday, July 12, 2013

The Hotel Wentworth-- No. 57 W. 46th Street

Readers of The New York Times were, perhaps, shocked on the morning of March 24, 1901 when they read that the handsome stone St. Stephen’s Church at 57 West 46th Street had been sold in foreclosure.  The church in the still-fashionable but fading neighborhood between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was $37,928 in debt.

St. Stephen's Church was about to make way for the Hotel Darlington --
It was the end of the line for the venerable structure which had stood on the site since 1873.  The Allison Realty Company had purchased the adjoining property at No. 59 and planned a thirteen-story hotel to replace the old buildings.

By Spring 1904 the Darlington Apartment Hotel was rising high above 46th Street.  The steel skeleton had reached the eleventh floor and on the afternoon of March 2 the building was teeming with iron workers, masons and construction workers. 

On the west side of the construction site was the home of Harold Brown.  On the other side was another brownstone residence being used as a private school by A. Walpole Crigie and directly behind the site, on 47th Street, was the Hotel Patterson.

At 1:00 the children in Crigie’s school were given an hour recess and in the Hotel Patterson Ella L. Lacey Storrs, the wife of wealthy businessman Frank Storrs, sat down for lunch with the wife of the Reverend Minot Savage.    Half an hour later, with no warning, the Darlington building collapsed “carrying with it nearly every one of the workmen engaged on the ten stories that had been raised,” reported The New York Times.

“The crash came with the suddenness of an explosion, but the mighty roar of the hundreds of tons of falling metal lasted for several seconds.  Shrieks and groans rose through the swirling dust that enveloped the wreckage,” said the newspaper.

As the wreckage fell the upper corner of Harold Brown’s residence was demolished and the cornice hung precariously over the sidewalk.  The roof of the school was pierced by falling debris but the children, at recess, were all unhurt.    Beams ripped the fire escapes from the Hotel Patterson and the dining room was wrecked by the crashing steel, killing Mrs. Storrs.

“Cries and groans came up through the tangled wreckage for half an hour after the building fell, but only those who were nearest the surface could be reached,” reported The Times.    Dozens of bodies were removed from the wreckage over the next few days; among them Frank J. Allison, one of the owners of Allison Realty Company.

Four months later the scene of the tragedy had been cleared and the Allison Realty Company, now embroiled in law suits, sold the site.  It was purchased by the newly-formed Langham Realty Company for $163,400.  The firm enlarged the damaged Hotel Patterson, doubling its size and extending through the block from 47th to 46th Street.   The new portion was twelve modern stories of brick and stone.   Angled bay windows caught the breezes, affording some relief to sweltering summer heat.

Handsome angled bays collected the slightest breezes.
In 1907 the Patterson Hotel declared bankruptcy.  A year later the Langham Realty Company leased the newer portion to the Forty-sixth Street Hotel Company as a separate hotel, taking the Patterson name.  Its proximity to the theater district lured entertainers as well as well-heeled residents. 

One such guest was Louise Gunning.  The actress was preparing for rehearsals at the Casino Theatre on September 22, 1908.  While her brougham was waiting in front of the hotel it was wrecked by a passing express wagon.  The New York Times reported the following day that “Miss Gunning was not in the brougham, but she had to walk to rehearsal, which made her cry.”

Actress Louise Gunning was unaccustomed to walking -- photo NYPL Collection
Along with Louis Gunning in the hotel that year were wealthy residents like Lyle Evans Mahan and his wife.  Mahan was the son of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan.   The Times informed society in November that the couple would be spending the winter season at the Patterson.    George Graham Rice was living here as well.  He was Vice President of the Nat C. Goodwin Company, a company that purchased and sold mines and mining shares.

Another actor living here was James Ramsey.   He was called upon to come to the aid of another thespian in March 1909.  On March 16 young Joseph Baker delivered a package of laundry to the home of Aubrey Boucicault, who was appearing in “The Dawn of a To-Morrow” at the Lyceum Theatre.  When for some reason the two engaged in a dispute, the actor kicked the laundry boy down a flight of stairs.  Boucicault soon found himself behind bars in the West 47th Street police station.

James Ramsey came to the rescue by paying the $500 bail—a considerable amount of money especially for an actor.   Boucicault laughed off the experience to reporters at the theater later.  “It is the first time I have been behind prison bars,” he said, “and while I cannot say that I enjoyed the experience, still it was interesting.”

The hotel continued its remarkable mix of the affluent and the theatrical.   The newly-married Henry Seabury Parker and his bride left their Hewlett, Long Island, home in December 1910 to winter at the Patterson.  A year earlier, on December 15, 1909, Signourney M. Burnham moved in with his wife and stepdaughter.  According to a clerk the family “occupied one of the most expensive apartments in the house” and Burnham “appeared to be a man of considerable means.”

On February 24, 1910 at around 7:55 pm, Burnham escorted his wife and stepdaughter to the American Theatre where he dropped them off, arranging to meet them after the performance.  He then went to the 6th Avenue Elevated station, intending to go downtown on business.  He ran into an old friend on the platform and while waiting for the train, he suddenly uttered a deep groan and sank to the platform.

Railway employees and customers rushed to help, undoing Burnham’s collar and necktie and putting a package of papers beneath his head.  One man rushed to a saloon for brandy.  By the time a doctor from Flower Hospital arrived in an ambulance, the 58-year old Burnham was dead.

Mary E. Hinds, the friend Burnham had met on the platform, went with two plain clothes policemen to the American Theatre.  They waited until 11:20 when the performance was over, then spotted Mrs. Burnham and her daughter among the crowd, laughing.

Told that her husband had suffered a heart attack, Mrs. Burnham rushed towards a taxicab.  Miss Hinds dropped back, telling the stepdaughter the truth and asked her to break the news to her mother when they arrived back at the Patterson Hotel.

By 1913 the Hotel Patterson had become the Hotel Wentworth.    Tragedy struck on December 21 that year when 26-year old waiter Gus Rousou was killed in a freak accident.  The Times reported that “his head was caught between the floor of the hotel elevator and the ceiling of the twelfth floor.  The man was found several minutes after he ascended in the service elevator to get the dishes in an apartment where a meal had been served.”

Actress Lillian Lorraine was living here at the time.  Four days after the accident, on Christmas night, she hurriedly dressed and met friends for dinner at Rector’s.   The actress returned home around 10:30 pm to put away gifts she had received and, thinking that one of the two bracelets she was wearing was enough, took one off.  When she went to put it in her jewel case, it was missing from the dresser where she thought she had left it.

Her friends were waiting for her at Rector’s so she told her maid, who had just returned from visiting her sister, to look for the jewel box.  Before long Lillian received a telephone call at the restaurant.  Her maid told her that not only was her jewelry box missing, but so were her ermine coat and leopard skin coat.

Lillian valued the coats at $3,000 for the ermine, $1,200 for the leopard skin, and the jewelry at $8,000.  She threw suspicion on her estranged husband, on whom she was serving separation papers.

In 1918 the wife of Angier B. Duke and daughter-in-law of Benjamin N. Duke, checked into the hotel.  Cordelia Biddle Duke came from one of Philadelphia’s oldest and wealthiest families.  Her husband was the chief heir to his father’s nearly $60 million estate.   After two and a half years of marriage Cordelia Duke left the Duke mansion for the Hotel Wentworth and announced a formal separation, no doubt causing audible gasps in the drawing rooms of society.

On May 9, 1920 Hugo Nathan of the Calvin Operating Company acquired the lease on the Wentworth.  The firm announced its plan to convert the apartments to coops.   Residents would purchase furnished apartments for a term of fourteen years at a price equal to four times the annual 1919 rate.

The plan apparently did not succeed and on November 10, 1923 the Wentworth and the old Patterson on West 47th Street were once again united.  The New York Times reported on the sale of the Wentworth for $750,000.  “The Wentworth will be operated in conjunction with the Hotel Patterson, 58 West Forty-seventh Street, and will be known as the Hotel Wentworth-Patterson, with the main entrance on Forty-sixth Street.”

The Roaring 20s brought a new kind of resident to the Wentworth.   Jack Solomon and 24-year old Andree Dubois  were living here in 1927.  Andree was an actress and a former hostess at the Melody Club on West 54th Street.    While Federal agents tracked the pair to a women’s room at the National Hotel in Washington DC, other agents were raiding Andree’s apartment in the Wentworth.

Solomon had been going under the name of Jack Rose.  When the agents arrested him and Dubois, they were in possession of “a large amount of morphine and smoking opium,” said a newspaper.  Officers said that one of the agents had purchased 25,000 grains of morphine from Solomon.

Agents raiding Andree Dubois’s apartment in the Wentworth described it “as a luxurious dwelling,” reported The Times.  Federal narcotics agents called the arrest of Solomon and Dubois the termination of “one of the largest wholesale narcotic rings in the country.”

On the day after Christmas in 1930 a robbery reminiscent of Lillian Lorraine’s took place here.  World-renowned concert singer Paul Reimers returned to his apartment around 5:00 in the afternoon after having been gone for about three hours.  He discovered his door had been jimmied and between $3000 and $4000 worth of jewelry was missing.  Among the items was a gold medal presented to him by President Wilson after singing at the White House, a scarf pin from the former Crown Prince of Germany, a set of cuff links given to him by the Duke of Connaught and a tie pin presented by the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland.

The aging hotel was sold in 1942.  By 1947 the Scandinavian Travel Bureau took up space on the ground floor and a decade later it was home to Norse House, a retail outlet for ski wear.

A mid-century postcard shows an up-to-date hotel.
As the 21st century dawned the old Wentworth Hotel dodged the bullet that hit many of the Midtown residence hotels from the turn of the last century.  Instead of being demolished and replaced by a modern office building, it was converted to a chic boutique hotel—The Hotel @ Times Square.  The Edwardian interiors were gutted to be replaced with clean no-frills d├ęcor.   And while no hint of the interior spaces where arrogant actresses and wealthy socialites lived remain; the exterior is pristinely intact.

non-vintage photographs taken by the author

1 comment:

  1. I believe that the silent film star Nita Naldi who co-starred with Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik and was one of the most popular movie icons of the 1920's spent the last decades of her life in very reduced circumstances at the Wentworth, her rent subsidized by a motion picture relief fund.