Monday, December 21, 2015

The Lost Metropole Hotel -- Broadway and 42nd Street




Frank Leslies' Illustrated Newspaper published an etching in 1876.  (copyright expired)
 In 1874 the neighborhood known as Longacre Square was the center of the carriage building industry in New York.  Manhattan’s grand hotels were far to the south on Fifth Avenue and Broadway.  But when Cornelius Vanderbilt opened his mammoth Grand Central Depot a few blocks to the east in 1871, a modern hotel on Longacre Square made sense.

Developer George Ross commissioned John B. Snook (who, incidentally, was the architect of Grand Central) to design the structure.  Sitting on Broadway between 41st and 42nd Streets, the hotel would take two years to complete.  Ross kept the project a family affair, giving Snook’s son, George Snook, the construction contract.  He combined his surname with his wife’s maiden name, Moore, to come up with the hotel’s name: the Rossmore.

The opening was held on Tuesday, February 8, 1876.  Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper commented “The house is new in every particular, and every improvement in hotel architecture has been introduced into it.  It is a model building of its kind.”

The eight-story hotel held 250 rooms, “furnished in the most comfortable and elegant manner.”  The second and third floors offered large suites of rooms, while single and double rooms filled the other floors.  Frank Leslie’s was impressed with the modern innovations.  “Bath-rooms, water-closets, toilets, steam radiators, electric bells and other conveniences are attached to almost every room.”

As with all upscale Victorian hotels, the ceilings were frescoed.  The main staircase was walnut, there were new Otis elevators, and A. T. Stewart & Co. had supplied the furniture, draperies, curtains and upholstery, all deemed “of superior workmanship and artistic design.”

Snook’s impressive design included a columned portico, paired windows, and balconies.  The two-story mansard rose steeply, punctured by a variety of dormers.  Interior courts provided light and ventilation to the inner rooms.

The Rossmore offered all the expected features of a high-class hotel.  “On the first floor, which is 18 feet in height, are the offices, reading-room, billiard saloon, bar-room, barber-shop, gentlemen’s parlor, and space for one or two stores,” reported Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on February 26.  The main dining room, on the second floor, had a 20-foot ceiling and was capable of seating 300 guests.

The Rossmore Hotel was leased to Charles E. Leland & Co.  Charles Leland was extremely well known in the hostelry business, having operated the Clarendon Hotel in Saratoga, the Delavan House in Albany, and other fashionable hotels.

But making the hotel successful proved difficult and it underwent a series of proprietors.  Years later, in 1912, Henry S. Mower remembered, in his Reminiscences of a Hotel Man of Forty Year’s Service, “but after about two years [Charles E. Leland & Co.] were succeeded by Hawley D. Clapp, formerly proprietor of the Everett House, who did a fine business, dying a few years since.  He was succeeded by a son, who managed it for the heirs until, some controversy arising, a receiver was appointed by the court, he being succeeded by a son-in-law of Mrs. Clapp, senior.  For years it was constantly changing hands and finally closed.”

The hotel was rescued in 1889 by proprietors Greene & Putney, who extended it into the older four-story hotel at the corner of 42nd Street.  Perhaps to erase the hotel’s troubled reputation, they renamed it the Hotel Metropole.  The New York Times remarked on the renovations following the opening on April 27, 1889.

“A most remarkable change has been made in the old hostelry, and one who knew the Rossmore would scarcely recognize the Metropole as the same building.  A complete renovation has been made from cellar to garret, and the work of the decorator is conspicuous everywhere.  All display excellent taste, bronze and old gold being the prevailing colors.”

The dining room was now on the ground floor, extending from Broadway to Seventh Avenue with entrances on both thoroughfares.  “The result is that it is one of the airiest and lightest dining rooms in the city.  The mural decorations are bright and attractive without being gaudy, the ceilings are well painted, and cut-glass chandeliers are suspended over the tables,” said The Times.

The barroom and men’s café was, like the dining room, on the main floor and it too extended through the building.


The older hotel at the corner was annexed.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Hotels of the period were popular meeting places where business was transacted in the bars or private rooms.  On January 30, 1892 a group of aging Civil War soldiers came together here.  “The arrangements for the funeral services of Major Gen. Henry A. Barnum were settled yesterday afternoon at the Hotel Metropole by a committee composed of the dead soldier’s old comrades and intimates, headed by Gen. Martin T. McMahon,” reported The Times.

The Metropole’s café was in the corner annex.  It was the scene of much excitement on the warm afternoon of July 7, 1893. 

Around 1:00 employees of the hotel gathered in the servants’ hall for lunch.  Michael Creegan was among them.  The 23-year old was “an oyster opener” and other employees said that he had been acting “in an eccentric manner lately.”  Just as waiter John Roacher began serving him; Creegan drew a jackknife from his pocket and, jumping to his feet, plunged it into the 26-year old waiter’s neck.

“That pays you for trying to poison me!” Creegan cried.  He then ran out and through the café.

The New York Times reported “The patrons of the café of the Hotel Metropole, at Broadway and Forty-second Street, who were sipping mint juleps and other Summer drinks, were startled about 1:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon by the darting figure of a man who disappeared through the door and up Seventh Avenue.  In his hands the man held a bloody knife, and his eyes had a wild expression.”

A crowd returned Creegan to the Metropole as hotel staff was waiting for an ambulance from New York Hospital.  Roacher identified his attacker, who was taken to the Jefferson Market Police Court.  The Times reported he would be held “to await the result of Roacher’s injuries.”

In the meantime, doctors advised that evening that “Roacher’s condition was serious.  The knife blade had passed close to the jugular vein.”  But a The Times reporter was optimistic.  “He has a strong constitution and may pull through.”

Greene & Putney vied with the best hotels in the city, often at great expense.  For their New Year’s Day luncheon in 1896 they went all-out—including live game.  The New York Times reported “There was a unique display at the Hotel Metropole.  The large barroom was converted into a market, and there was spread on the counters a bounteous assortment of things good to eat.”

The “things good to eat” included “huge quarters of beef, haunches of venison, turkeys, ducks, quail, partridges, chickens, and fish.”  Amazingly, “there were little pigs, both alive and dead; a live deer, and a Southdown sheep, and a cage filled with live quail.” 

At the time patrons would pay $1 to $3 per night for their accommodations—a range of about $30 to $90 in 2015 terms.

But, like previous proprietors, Greene & Putney could not make it.  On May 1, 1899 Henry W. Purdy and George H. Wyatt formed the firm Purdy & Wyatt and took over operation.  Despite Purdy’s years of experience in the hotel industry, the pair failed within six months.  Valentine Schmitt took over the lease, announcing he intended to make $25,000 in renovations “principally in exterior decorations.” 

Schmitt’s changes went much further, extending to refurnishing.  But his $150,000 “in refitting” were to no avail.   He, too, failed within a few months and the hotel was taken over by a highly unexpected set of brothers. 

George, James and John Considine were well-known, but certainly not in hotel circles.  George was a bookmaker and John was a former theatrical manager.  The two had until recently been the managers of pugilist James J. Corbett.  The three brothers took over operation of the Metropole in March 1901.

The Considines had the backing of Tammany political boss “Big Tim” Sullivan.  The clientele of the hotel noticeably changed.  In his 2007 book Imbibe! David Wondrich notes that under the Considines the hotel drew “burlesque stars and ward heelers.  And there were a lot of pugilists, cardsharps, workers of the short con, organized gamblers, chorus girls, you name it.”

One  of the Metropole’s frequent customers was Considine’s old friend, Bat Masterson.  The Wild West gunfighter who was now middle-aged had relocated to New York City.  His biographer, Robert K. DeAment, writes in his Gunfighter in Gotham, “The old Metropole was renowned for a round table frequented by Masterson and other raconteurs.  Jim Considine called them 'the jolly knights of the theatrical and sporting world.'"
 
It was most likely the Considines who added the sidewalk cafe that sprouted on the 42nd Street side -- photograph Rotograph Co from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
By now Longacre Square (later renamed Times Square) was quickly becoming the center of New York City’s theatrical district.  The Considine brothers’ took advantage of the location, relying on showgirls and actors not only as patrons but as entertainment.

On January 16, 1904, for instance, the trade journal Clay Record reported on the meeting of 150 “brick men” in the Metropole’s Rathskeller.  “Here one of George Considine’s most elaborate luncheons was served, with all the ‘trimmings’ usually found in rathskellers.  A vaudeville performance added zest to the occasion.”

Like all hotel rathskellers, the Metropole's featured beams, paneling and Bavarian touches like its collection of steins -- photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In September 1907 a 25-year old man, Arthur Fraser, applied to George Considine for the position of bell boy.  Although he had no references, he assured Considine that he had worked as a clerk in a small Western hotel.   But shortly after Fraser was hired, small pieces of jewelry started disappearing from rooms.  “The doors of the rooms were always found locked, and it was supposed that they were entered by skeleton keys,” reported the New-York Tribune.

Then, around October 1, George Considine’s own room was burglarized and a $250 diamond pin was taken.  The next day Louis Cohen, a theatrical man, was robbed of clothing and jewelry worth $1,000.  Considine suspected his newest employee.  What he did not suspect was that a complex, nationwide ring was about to be uncovered.

“When Fraser was searched, the police say, a number of pawn tickets were found, and a letter written on the stationery of the Hotel Washington, St. Louis, addressed to him at the Metropole, in which the writer, who signed himself ‘Vernon Lobard,’ said he was sending to the Metropole by registered mail a package containing a gold watch and chain, a diamond horseshoe pin and some diamond studs and cuff buttons.”

A “syndicate” of robbers established themselves in hotels across the country.  They would send their loot to other cities where it could be pawned without raising suspicion.  The scheme of exchanging stolen goods was inspired, even though Lobard’s letter said “that business was not very good in St. Louis, but that he hoped it would pick up soon.”

In this shot the cafe entrance is to the left, the rathskeller entrance is on 42nd Street -- photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Considine brothers were wealthy, if not cultured.  On May 13, 1905 John Considine’s chauffeur, Jose Hovesse, was pulled over for “running his automobile a mile in 50 seconds.”  Considine was indignant with bicycle Officer Narney and the desk sergeant at the station, Sergeant Devery.  The New-York Tribune quoted the exchange between the men.

“I’m Considine.  How dare you arrest my chauffeur?  I’m a real sport and don’t take no nonsense from any policeman.”

The sergeant replied “Cut that out and find bail for your ‘chofur’ or else he’ll be locked up for the night and it will be the ‘L’ for yours.”

Political and social reformers watched the Considine brothers and Metropole Hotel with warranted suspicion.  When a “crusade” against illegal gambling dens was in full swing in December 1906, The New York Times reminded its readers that “Little Tim” Sullivan and his half-brother, “Larry” Mulligan were apparently involved in a string of poolrooms (gambling operations).

The newspaper found it unusual when the men met with District Attorney Jerome at the Hotel Metropole.  It reported on December 9, 1906 “There George Considine took them into a back room and a long conference followed.  It is said that the District Attorney learned much of value to him that night.  George Considine is a business partner of ‘Big Tim’ Sullivan.”


The barroom and men's cafe featured a coffered, vaulted ceiling and a painting of a nude female -- photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The close relationship with the Sullivans became obvious when George married vaudeville actress Airmee Angeles, “one of the cleverest young women on the stage,” according to The Times.  On September 27, 1906 the newspaper reported “They will be married on Sunday by ‘Little Tim’ Sullivan, the Alderman.  ‘Big Tim’ Sullivan will be best man, and Mrs. Frank Farrell will be matron of honor.”

George presented his bride with a wedding necklace containing 77 diamonds.  Following their elaborate “wedding supper” at the fashionable Martin’s Cafe on September 30, Aimee realized the necklace was gone.  At 3:15 in the morning George reported to police that the jewels had been stolen.

The following morning it was discovered that the “theft” had been a “practical joke of one of the guests.”  The New-York Tribune reported “it is thought at the café it must have been undone in fun during one of the demonstrations of affection indulged in between bride and guests.”  It was the sort of “fun” that would not happen at the wedding receptions of Fifth Avenue’s best families.

By now Times Square was seeing rapid development and as early as 1907 rumors that the Metropole would be razed were circulated.  On April 24 that year The Times reported on a story “that Brokow Brothers, the old-time clothing firm, was coming uptown to a new building which would be erected” on the site of the Metropole.

But the hotel held on for three more years until on March 23, 1910 The Pottery, Glass & Brass Salesman advised “George Considine has taken a lease for sixty-three years on the property running from 147 to 151 West Forty-third street, immediately adjoining the Hotel Cadillac, and will erect a new six-story hotel there, which he will call the New Metropole.”

A few weeks later, on May 5, The New York Times reported that the Metropole would be razed “to be displaced by a fine store and office building.”  Within the year the new $250,000 Heidelberg Building, designed by Henry Ives Cobb, had replaced the old hotel.  It was demolished in 1984.

The site is now occupied by the 49-floor Times Square Tower http://www.turnerconstruction.com/experience/project/1238/times-square-tower
 many thanks to Jeff Austin for requesting this post

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