Thursday, August 13, 2015

The 1902 Arlington Hotel, Nos. 18-20 West 25th Street

At the turn of the last century resident hotels had, for the most part, obtained social acceptance.   The major difference between these and apartment houses were the rooms and suites held for transient guests.   Well-heeled residents enjoyed pampered lifestyles while passing the cost and bother of maintaining a domestic staff to hotel management.

In 1901 the Madison Square neighborhood of West 25th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was in flux.   While the fashionable Trinity Chapel still was the site of the weddings and funerals of Manhattan’s wealthiest families, and the upscale Fifth Avenue Hotel around the corner still hosted the cream of European society; commerce was seriously invading the area.

On May 18, 1901 the two 25-foot wide brownstone houses at Nos. 18 and 20 West 25th Street were sold.  The New York Times reported the following day “Work will at once be begun on a 12-story fireproof apartment hotel.”   The buyer was developer and builder Frank P. Bloodgood.   While he sometimes worked as his own architect, in this case he commissioned the firm of Israels & Harder to design his building.  The architects filed plans on June 28. 

The firm was busy in the area at the time and almost simultaneously filed plans for a 10-story mercantile building at 31 West 31st. Street.  By August 25 work had commenced, prompting The New York Times to report the cost of construction to be about $300,000--in the neighborhood of $6 million today.

The Arlington Hotel was complete in 1902 and, as was often the case with developers, Frank P. Bloodgood quickly put the upscale hotel on the market.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide jumped the gun on December 20, 1902, when it reported he had successfully sold the building.  It would actually be another three weeks before title was transferred to Elizabeth A. Wilcox of Jersey City.

Israels & Harder had created an 11-story confection of limestone, red brick and glistening white terra cotta.  The Beaux Arts style hotel exuded taste and refinement.   The entrance was centered in the two-story base.   The second story cornice was upheld by scrolled brackets, assisted by slightly smaller brackets over each opening.  These featured cartouches in the form of stylized pineapples—the symbol of hospitality.

Wurts Bros. captured the new hotel from a block away on 26th Street, shooting through the churchyard of Trinity Chapel.  Fanciful cresting sprouts from the cornice.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Terra cotta quoins ran up the sides of the structure, and decorative bands adorned with mini-versions of the second floor brackets, delineated each floor.  The metal-framed openings, each faceted to capture passing breezes, were separated by elaborate terra cotta-framed panels; and above the third story windows were exquisite tympanums filled with palm fronds.  The architects created movement by the use of cast iron balconettes.   They were stacked on atop the other at the end windows of the fourth and fifth floors, then at the center openings of the sixth and seventh, and so forth to the top.

Although it was intended to be a residential hotel, the Arlington quickly established itself as a mostly transient hotel that catered to the wealthy and celebrated.  The city’s social columns regularly reported on the important political and social figures arriving and departing from the Arlington. 

Typical of the guests were Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence I. Scott of San Francisco who checked into the hotel on November 24, 1905.  Scott’s father, Irving M. Scott, was best known for building the battleship Oregon.   Among the couple’s friends in New York City were Mary Harrison, the wife of millionaire Francis Burton Harrison, who lived at No. 561 Fifth Avenue, and her brother Charles Templeton Crocker.  Mary and Charles had each inherited $4 million upon the death of their railway magnate father Charles F. Crocker.

The day after the Scotts arrived, Mary and Charles picked up the Scotts at the Arlington Hotel, headed for Mineola, Long Island to visit a mutual friend, W. Bourke Cockran.  Francis Burton Harrison, being tied up in his office, promised to meet the party there later in the afternoon.

The group arrived on the Long Island City side of the river around 11:00.  New York Times reported the following day “Mrs. Harrison’s chauffeur went slowly until he passed the old court house and got the clear stretch of road.  Then he increased speed and put the big machine to its fullest power.  At that time the machine seemed to be in perfect working order, and the occupants were laughing and chatting.”

To the terror of Constan Ravert, the chauffeur, as the big car started down a steep hill, the brakes would not respond.  He desperately pulled on the emergency brake, but the touring car continued to pick up speed.  The New-York Tribune said that Ravert “cannot speak English, and his version of the accident could not obtained;” however witnesses reported that the automobile “swung off to the right side of the avenue, straight for a telegraph pole, but just before reaching the pole it swung around and struck the pole a glancing blow.  This was heavy enough to cut off the face of the pole as if it had been done with a broadaxe.”

Ravert valiantly attempted to regain control of the careening vehicle but, according to witnesses, just before reaching the center of the roadway, “it turned over on its left side. The crash of the automobile was heard by the occupants of a cottage fully a block distant.”

The New York Times’ account gave an idea of the terror the passengers must have gone through.  When the car first struck the pole “The shock threw the occupants to one side…For about fifteen seconds the automobile served and plunged from side to side, while the occupants clung to one another.  Mrs. Harrison was in the rear seat between Mr. and Mrs. Scott, while Mr. Crocker sat with the chauffeur.”

Everyone but Mary Harrison was thrown from the vehicle as it overturned; “but Mrs. Harrison, who had been pinioned in the middle of the machine, fell under it when it turned over.”  Her neck was broken in the accident causing immediate death.

Among the permanent residents of the Arlington that year was Frances Donstater who received a scare on August 28.  Along with Frances in the elevator that day were three chambermaids and the elevator boy, Frederick Farge.   Just as Farge was opening the door on the 11th floor, one of the cables snapped, sending the car plummeting down he shaft.

According to police, “The boy clung to the sides of the cage, and in this way escaped the final shock when the car hit the bottom of the shaft.”  The New-York Tribune reported “The screams of the women aroused the hotel folk, and when the crash of the car as it reached the bottom echoed through the building the guests rushed out in great alarm.  The car was wrecked.”

Rather amazingly, the injuries to the women, while somewhat serious, were not life-threatening.  Mollie Holland had a broken ankle and ribs; Maggie Flaherty also suffered a broken ankle; and Frances received contusions of the face and a sprained ankle.  She was treated by the hotel doctor.

In the meantime, no one could find Frank Farge.  The Tribune explained “The elevator boy was so badly scared that he ran to his room and tried to hide under the bed covers.  He was found there later by other employes and a patrolman, but was not arrested.”  The newspaper added “The boy announced his intention of resigning forthwith.”

An interesting guest arrived at the Arlington Hotel in 1907 in the form of “the distinguished French writer and student of social conditions, Mme. Laurence Fiedler,” as described by The Evening World writer Alice Rohe.   Madame Fiedler was conducting an international study of social conditions, “with the view of bettering the lives of her countrywomen [and] has as her chief purpose in life the prevention of tuberculosis.”

Having investigated France and Germany, she was stunned by the low ratio of tuberculosis among the working women of New York as compared to those of Paris.  Alice Rohe visited her in her Arlington Hotel suite of rooms on April 23, 1907 and was told the difference “is attributed by Mme. Fiedler to the very characteristics which she most admires in American women.”

“The life of the American woman, her delightful camaraderie with her men friends, her wholesome view point on social conditions her respect for work, and the equality of working women, have the greatest effect upon the physical problem with which I have been struggling for twelve years,” said the French woman.

Saying “American women have no equals in the world,” she added “The American woman practically holds the solution to the problem of woman’s advancement.  Her freedom, her breadth of thought, her personal charm, her culture, her manner of dress, place her as a distinct type of superiority.”

 Madame Laurence Fiedler arrived at the Arlington Hotel in the spring of 1907.  The Evening World, April 23 1907 (copyright expired)
In 1911 the hotel was still being marketing as an upscale establishment and advertisements clearly noted “opposite Trinity Chapel.”  By now it had gained a long glass and iron marquee that protected guests from the weather as they disembarked from their vehicles.  An ad in The Outlook that year said “It is the aim of the management to maintain a high class transient hotel, with comfort and good service at reasonable rates.”  Those rates ranged from $1.50 for a room with a lavatory, $2.00 and up for one with a bath, and $3.00 and up for suites.

This postcard, mailed in 1911, pictures both horse-drawn carriages and motorcars.  The glass-and-iron marquee stretches to the curb.  The tower of Madison Square Garden looms at far left.
Among the celebrated guests staying at the Arlington Hotel in 1914 were Hungarians Baron Otto von Sejer, Barn Jenoe von Kaiser, Baron A. von Peractyanesky, and Counsellor Begnard von Pasky.  The men arrived on the Austro-Hungarian liner Kaiser Franz Josef I on the evening of January 19 and went straight to the Arlington.

The Evening World reported the following day “Four men who are to spend $8,000,000 for the Hungarian Government are in New York to-day sightseeing. It is the first day of their visit to this city and to-morrow they will get down to business, for practically all of the $8,000,000 is to be spent here.”  The dignitaries were in New York to study the American “party line system of telephoning.  The system is to be installed in Hungary and it is probably that American equipment, purchased here, will be employed.”

In 1916 the Arlington Hotel was still offering permanent and transient accommodations.  Calling itself a “Hotel with a Personality,” it charged monthly rates of $30 and up for a single room with running water and the “use” of a bath; $45 and up for a single room with private bath; and $70 and up for a parlor, bedroom and bath.   Weekly rates for the same accommodations were $8 and up, $10.50 and up, and $18 and up. Those residents wishing to take their meals in the hotel were charged $10.50 a week extra.

Well-dressed guests head toward a limousine in 1916.  The New-York Tribune, June 11 1916 (copyright expired)

While the neighborhood around the Arlington continued to change, the residents of the hotel remained upscale.  In 1920 one family living here prepared for the summer by listing advertisements for three positions of its staff of four in its country house.  The advertisements, placed in The Sun and the New York Herald were published on March 19.

CHAMBERMAID (white), good experienced, under 35, required, country house, near New York; family one, help four; two days holiday monthly.

COOK (white), very good, experienced, required at once, country house, near New York; family one, help four; two days holiday monthly.

PARLORMAID, young, with good references, assist waiting and pantry; country house, near New York; family one, help four; two days holiday monthly.

Living in the hotel at the time was Louise C. Ellis.  When she moved in in 1918 at the age of 76, she was intent on claiming her birthright as well as the right to be buried with her parents. The odd chain of events began in 1840 when George M. Chapman and Jane Compton Wells were married in Scotland. 

Louise was born two years later and in 1847 the family came to New York.  Chapman established himself as a fur merchant.  Court documents later said “George M. Chapman was apparently content with his wife and entertained no doubts as to the legality of his marriage until he desired to possess another woman.”

That woman was Louise Wyeth and in 1855 he left his wife and daughter to live with Louise Wyeth.  The pair had a son, Hawley Chapman.  

In June 1922 a reporter from The New York Times visited Louise Ellis, now 80 years old, to interview her regarding her recent court victory.  Louise had received the legal right to be buried in Greenwood Cemetery with her parents “and to establish that they were her parents in law as well as fact.” The victory also meant that Louise expected to obtain half of Chapman’s more than $1 million estate.

“The money comes almost too late,” she told the reporter. “Some years ago I could have used it to a very good advantage, but there are remaining for me but a few years, and all that I can do with the money is to give it to charity.”

Louise described a few of the organizations she felt worthy of receiving her money; but she also talked about current affairs.  When she was asked her opinion of Prohibition, she flatly said she did not like it.  She felt beer was a good tonic and that it had done her a lot of good.

The feisty woman added “Of course, if there are a lot of people who want to kill themselves drinking, I say let them kill themselves, but that is no reason the privilege of drinking what one pleases should be taken away from the rest of the people.”

Eventually, of course, the fashionable tenor of the aging hotel would pass.  In 1937 it was home to gangster Sam Krantz who was tried for racketeering.  Following the murder of mobster Jules Martin, Krantz had taken over control of the racket that controlled the city’s restaurant industry.

In 1950 the hotel, still called the Arlington, received a renovation that resulted in five apartments and five hotel rooms per floor.  In 1954 Miles Davis was still struggling with drug addiction when he briefly moved into the hotel.  Later that year he moved back to his father’s home in St. Louis where he sought to conquer his problem.

Even the iron balconettes, regimentally staggered up the facade, survive.

Before the end of the century the Arlington Hotel finally lost its name, becoming a Comfort Inn.  Most of the former lobby is now a Chinese restaurant and the old glass marquee has been replaced by a sleek modern one.  And yet Israels & Harder’s handsome façade survives almost perfectly intact, a reminder of a more elegant period in the Madison Square neighborhood’s history.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. By reading todays post, not only did I discover the history of this little gem, I had to look up Trinity Chapel and discover that wonderful church which I need to visit one day too. With the neighborhood in full revitalization mood maybe someone will see to the restoration of the street level facade.