|from the collection of the New York Public Library|
Peter Gilsey was a Danish immigrant who made his fortune in America as a merchant. Not content with his success, Gilsey bought up properties in Midtown, where the north-bound theatre district was emerging. He recognized that this area would soon need a first-class hotel. In 1868 he purchased the last farm in Midtown from Caspar Samlar and with that, his location was set; including the grounds of the Saint George Cricket Club.
Gilsey commissioned architect Steven D. Hatch to design his 300-room structure. Gilsey envisioned a hotel that would rival the downtown hotels that catered to the carriage trade. And he understood that in order to entice the wealthy, he would have to spend money. Gilsey's new hotel cost him $350,000 in post-Civil War era dollars--more than $6.5 million today.
The Gilsey House opened in 1872. The rooms were outfitted in costly woods like rosewood and walnut. The carved fireplace mantles were of the finest marble. Gilt bronze chandeliers hung from elaborate plastered ceilings. The exterior was a visual feast -- arches, columns, angles; Hatch's fantasy rose from the sidewalk to the roof in an explosion of cast iron ornamentation.
|The "Cafe Royal" in the Gilsey House - (author's collection)|