Monday, May 10, 2010

The Art Deco New Yorker Hotel

Despite Manhattan's grand 19th century buildings and monuments, its Beaux Arts and Federal mansions and its glass and metal modern office towers, it is Art Deco architecture that symbolizes New York City.  And the 43-story New Yorker Hotel is partly responsible for that indelible image.

The 1920s in Manhattan was a time of flappers and tuxedos.  Martinis flowed and limosines whisked bob-haired debutantes and their escorts to the theatre and the Rainbow Room.  Hollywood glamorized Park Avenue apartments and lifestyles.  As the 1920s ended The New Yorker Hotel would rise as an memorial to this enchanted way of life which was about to crumble.

photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

Construction began in 1929, just prior to Black Thursday and the onset of the Great Depression, and a year before ground was broken for The Empire State Building three blocks to the east.  Despite the financial collapse, $22.5 million was poured into the building and it opened for business the day after New Year's Day in 1930.  Working in accordance with the 1916 zoning law that required tall buildings to be built with setbacks to allow the greatest height coupled with the most amount of sunlight to the street, architects Sugarman and Berger created an Art Deco pile stair-stepping upwards.

The lobby in 1930 with its Art Deco terrazzo floors and wall mural visible.  (original source unknown)

The largest hotel in New York, it boasted 2,500 rooms, murals by renowned artist Louis Jambor, the largest barber shop in the world (42 chairs and 20 manicurists), 155 chefs and cooks for the five restaurants.  Employing 92 telephone operators, the hotel had one of the largest switchboards in the country.  Art Deco ballrooms and dining salons served thousands.  Its basement power plant was the largest private plant in the United States.  The New Yorker Hotel apparently never heard of the Depression as satin-gowned movie stars and top-hatted politicians crossed its marble-floored lobby.

Opening onto 8th Avenue, stunning heavy bronze Art Deco doors led to the lobby of the Manufacturers Trust Company.  Here were more Jambor murals, terrazzo floors and sleek Deco tellers cages.

photo by Beyond My Ken

Beneath the street a long tiled corridor connected Penn Station with the hotel.  Guests deboarding trains would merely instruct a red cap to take them to the New Yorker with no need to be exposed to the elements outside.

In the 1950s the hotel employed a rather short bellhop named Johnny Roventini whose duties included announcing incoming telephone calls to guests in the lobby or lounge.  His diminutive stature and singular voice caught the attention of an advertising executive, and before long television audiences were familiar with Johnny Roventini's "Call for Phillip Morris" cigarette advertisements.

photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

Big name entertainment appeared in the Terrace Room--like Mickey Rooney and Benny Goodman--and the guest list included Joan Crawford and Fidel Castro.  Nikola Tesla who, invented alternating current among other things, lived his last ten years here.  But times eventually got hard for The New Yorker.  It was not only aging by the 1960s but its location was no longer convenient.  Fewer and fewer travelers arrived in Manhattan by train.  Finally, in April 1972, the hotel closed.

In 1976 Reverand Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church purchased the building for $5.6 million and reconfigured it.  It was from here in 1982 that thousands of Unification couples processed diagonally across Eighth avenue to be married at Madison Square Garden.  Much of the original Art Deco detailing was lost during this period and the unique Louis Jambor murals were, sadly, painted over.

The New Yorker Hotel was back in business, however, on June 1, 1994 under the New Yorker Hotel Management Co., and since 2000 has been part of the Ramada organization.  A $70 million renovation and restoration project was initiated.  The new owners had to remove over 2000 window air-conditioning units and eliminate over 2000 steam radiators.  The lobby was outfitted with a chandelier based on the surviving Art Deco wall sconces.  Murals depicting New York scenes were installed.

image via

Amazingly, when the doors to the old Manufacturer's Trust Company were opened, the old 1929 lobby was intact--a time capsule from Manhattan's swing era.  The Jambor murals survived.  The Art Deco terrazzo floors remained.  And the tiled corridor to Penn Station still stretches diagonally beneath Eighth Avenue, now used as storage for security reasons.

The New Yorker Hotel is reliving its glory days, an important element of Manhattan's Art Deco Manhattan architecture.


  1. A truly magnificent building, the art deco period lives on through the timeless architecture found all over the world.

  2. What a magnificent and giant building thi is!! The arts and architecture are really priceless.

    Richard Antonio

    friedrich air conditioner

  3. Happy to find this entree. My father (a war refugee since 1949), eventually chose the food and lodging trade here and managed to get a day job at the New Yorker while attending night school. He was a food checker and eventually room service captain in the early 50's. I have no recollection of his ever mentioning the famous Roventini, just the same. I always find some comfort looking up at the great New Yorker sign.