Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Cosmopolitan Hotel -- Chambers and West Broadway

photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel /
In 1845 New York City could already offer upscale hotel accommodations to traveling businessmen, tourists and Europeans.  The North American Hotel and the world-class Astor House Hotel were up to date in terms of modern facilities and comforts.  That year another well-appointed hotel opened—the Girard House—at the corner of West Broadway and Chambers Streets. 

It was the new hotel’s location that would set it apart from its rivals.  James Boorman was not only a partner in Boorman & Johnston, a highly successful importer and dealer in tobacco, wine, fabrics from Scotland and ironwork from England and Sweden; he was among the founders of the Hudson River Railroad.  In 1844, as the railroad planned for a depot at Hudson and Chambers Streets, Boorman purchased a 75-foot square plot on Chambers between Church Street and West Broadway.  When his four-story building was completed the following year, it sat conveniently across the street from the planned depot; a guaranteed draw for travelers.

Boorman’s new structure was architecturally up-to-date; a reserved take on Gothic Revival with square-headed moldings above the openings.  Elaborate cast iron porches had already made their appearance in Manhattan—such as those designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1844 for Nos. 3 and 4 Gramercy Park.  They would provide the main architectural interest here in the form of an elegant veranda wrapping the second floor.

An early print depicts the 4-story structure with its cast iron veranda and a rusticated stone base.  The railroad depot is at the near right. print Kouwenhoven, Columbia historic portrait
As he waited for the depot to materialize, Boorman leased the upper floors as a boarding house, run by Ann Andrews, with retail shops at street level.  Finally, in the summer of 1852 the railroad station was opened for business and Boorman leased his building to hotelier John A. Davis to be run as a hotel and restaurant.  Davis opened the Girard House in 1853; the same year that James Boorman purchased and demolished the brick house next door at No. 125 Chambers (which had been home to the store of jeweler Charles L. Tiffany) and erected an addition. 

Boorman did not bother to match the architecture when he constructed the addition (right).  Italianate coexisted well enough with Gothic --photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

Among the first guests was St. Louis merchant Stephen O. Day who shared a room with his close friend, Louis Fenn. The travelers checked in around January 10, 1853.  The New York Times reported that “It appears Mr. Day had more or less traveled with this individual for five years, during which time he reposed the most implicit confidence in his honesty and integrity; but, alas, the faith was broken.”

While Day slept, his companion stole his wallet containing $3,000 from his “pantaloons pocket.”  The substantial theft would amount to over $87,000 today.  By the time the thief was apprehended in Philadelphia on January 13 he had managed to spend over $1,300 of the stolen cash.

A bizarre tale played out in 1856 when Dr. James H. Bogardus of Kingston, New York was a guest here.  The doctor, whom The Medical World called “about 43 years old, of the highest respectability and ranked the first in his profession in the county in which he resided,” had been engaged to Isabella Hamilton for about two years.  On their wedding day, the doctor’s young nephew died and the ceremony had to be called off.  The date was rescheduled and on the morning of that wedding, the sister of the bride-to-be lost a child.  Once again the couple attended a funeral service instead of their own wedding ceremony.

The nuptials were rescheduled, yet again; this time for Tuesday November 25, 1856.  Bogardus arrived at the Girard House on November 17 and the following day had become too sick to leave his bed.  Doctors attended to the patient for several days; and Bogardus told them he was afraid his illness would prevent the wedding for a third time. 

A telegraph was sent to Isabella Hamilton who left for New York at once.  She arrived around 4:00 on Sunday morning, two days before the planned ceremony.  “At half past 2 o’clock the parties were united, and Dr. Bogardus expressed his thankfulness in being enabled to carry out his intentions of marriage to the lady in question,” reported The New York Times later.  But the fated wedding was not to be.

As reported in The Medical World “He then remarked that he felt so much better that he would get up, and at once proceeded to raise himself in bed.  His bride perceiving his efforts to rise, went to assist him, only to discover that he was expiring in her arms.  She instantly sprang to the bell and rang for assistance; but before their friends could reach the room he was a corpse.”

Heat and hot water was provided by a 12-foot long locomotive boiler in the cellar.  Early on the morning of October 1, 1859 plumber John O’Connor was working on pipes leading to the boiler.  With him in the cellar was maintenance man John Collins.  Suddenly, around 6:00 the huge boiler exploded.  The New York Times reported that “the force of the explosion was so great that the tessellated marble floor of the barber’s shop, directly overhead, was upheaved to the ceiling…The furniture of the shop was completely destroyed.”  Damage extended throughout the first floor.  “The glass in the windows of the reading-room, which is directly in front of the barber’s shop, as well as that in the windows of the adjoining room, which is occupied as the office of the hotel, was smashed, and the window frames were forced into the street.  The walls of the reading-room were also cracked by the concussion, the shock of which was felt by occupants of the fifth story.”

Tragically, O’Connor was instantly killed and Collins was severely scalded.

In 1869 brothers Samuel J., Nathaniel and John P. Huggins purchased the Girard House and set about renovating it.  By the time they opened it as the Cosmopolitan Hotel it would accommodate 400 guests and stand six stories tall.  The substantial upgrading would come at a heavy price, however.

On April 9 that year 51-year old carpenter Conrad Beingle was working on the roof.  Somehow he lost his footing and fell to the pavement below.  “The mangled remains were picked up from the sidewalk and removed for an inquest by the Coroner,” said The Times.  The German immigrant left a wife and four children.

Later that year more misfortune occurred.  On October 14 James Nolan, a porter, showed his revolver to 15-year old employee John A. Deyo.  “As Nolan advanced he began fumbling with the weapon, the muzzle pointed toward the boy, when suddenly the pistol was exploded, the bullet entering the boy’s head just above his right eye, and penetrating beyond the reach of a probe.”  Amazingly Deyo was still alive four days later.  Nevertheless, the injury was considered fatal and Nolan was held in the Tombs “to await the result of the wound.”
The new proprietors issued advertising cards showing the now six-story hotel (copyright expired)
The renovated hotel featured all the modern conveniences.  For a room costing $1 per day, the guest was promised “The Halls are spacious and airy, and the rooms have been arranged with especial attention to light and ventilation.  They are warmed with steam in the most approved manner, are lighted by gas, and furnished with the best English Brussels carpets and black walnut furniture from the best manufacturers.”

The Huggins brothers intimated that the hotel was brand new; not merely renovated.  “This Hotel is built on the site of the old Girard House,” said an advertising card.  There was indoor plumbing and every floor had a toilet, and there was an Otis Brothers’ elevator.  Guests enjoyed the services of a barber shop, telegraph office, railroad ticket office, billiard room, news office (where tickets for the theaters and “places of amusement” could be purchased), and a “range of Baths.”  (Women’s baths were discreetly segregated on the second floor.)

Like all hotels, the Cosmopolitan had its share of suicides and scandals.  One sordid affair played out in August 1883 when railroad engineer Joseph D. Marone invited the new wife of his friend, William E. Greenleaf, to go to a New York theater.  The New York Times reported, “She consented, but instead of taking her to the theatre he inveigled her, she alleged, to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and having secured a private room committed an outrage upon her.”  Greenleaf learned of the story and had his friend arrested “for damages.”

Although the Huggins brothers retained ownership of the hotel, they retired in the 1890s, turning its management over to Charles W. Wildey.  John P. Huggins died in September 1902 having amassed a fortune of more than $1 million.  With the death of Samuel J. Huggins in 1912, Wildey’s term as proprietor would draw to a close.

A 1901 menu shows a seventh floor and the loss of the exuberant cast iron -- from the collection of the New York Public Library
The Cosmopolitan was purchased by Joseph M. Weintraub, described by The New York Times as “a real estate operator, specializing in choice sites in the midtown and downtown area.”  He closed the hotel in 1913 for a full year as $250,000 worth of renovations were made.  A substantial portion of the cost—approximately $70,000—was spent in shoring up the 60-year old foundation, weakened by the vibrations of the subway system. 

By the time Weintraub died on June 29, 1935, the Cosmopolitan Hotel suffered from the movement of the hotel district to Midtown.  Its room rates were about half of a typical hotel around Penn Station and the theater district. 

As though the struggling hotel did not have problems enough, 28-year old resident Waldemar Wengorra set fire to the building in November 1937.  The blaze swept through the upper floors as 130 panicked guests streamed onto Chambers Street.  Arriving firemen found hotel guests Chester McAuliffe and his wife trapped in an upper room.  Fire fighters executed a daring rescue by descending by a rope from the roof and hauling them to safety one-by-one.

Before the fire was extinguished five guests were injured, three of them seriously.  Wengorra was later arrested and held on $10,000 bail.

Within three years of the fire the battered hotel was renamed the Bond Hotel and suffered the indignity of a flop house.  Single Room Occupancy rooms were leased to otherwise homeless men and families.  Then, as the neighborhood experienced a revitalization, the hotel was reborn.  Rechristened the Cosmopolitan it was completely renovated and modernized.

The cast iron Gothic drip moldings were copies on each successive floor -- photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel /
The trendy boutique hotel survives as one of Manhattan’s oldest hotel structures.  And considering its long and varied past and many alterations, it is not so worse for the wear.


  1. Amazing that it has survived since 1845 as intact as it is, but it certainly misses that wonderful iron veranda. So reminiscent of New Orleans buildings.


    1. You took the words out of my mouth, What a difference it would have made to see the gothic ironwork still there. Oh well, we take what we can get.

  2. I was always under the impression, for some reason long forgotten, that Lincoln stayed at this hotel when he was in town to deliver his second inaugural address at Cooper Union. Given this fact's absence from your typically well-researched history, I guess I'll relegate this notion to the bin of the apocryphal.

    1. That is an often-repeated urban tale. Lincoln in fact stayed as the Astor House. There is possibly some 20th century marketing behind the story and it even shows up on the current Cosmopolitan Hotel's web site.