Friday, August 5, 2011

Thomas Lamb's 1928 Paramount Hotel -- 46th Street and Broadway

photo by Alice Lum
In the first decades of the 20th Century the theater district was establishing itself in the Time Square area.  Architect Thomas Lamb was busy designing ornate theaters like the Mark Strand, the Rialto and the Rivoli Theatres, all in the Times Square neighborhood.

A change of pace would come for the architect when Spear Construction Company bought up a group of small lots at 8th Avenue and 46th Street, then sold them as a package in 1926. Speculative investors Isidore Zimmer, Frank Locker and Samuel Reznick purchased the property with big plans in mind.

The New York Times reported that the team would erect an 18-story hotel costing $3.5 million called the Hotel Paramount. There would be 612 rooms, a grill room complete with dancing and entertainment, and a theater.

The lobby and mezzanine would be in the Spanish Renaissance style. There would be an intimate dining room for 22 patrons, and a row of nine retail shops along 46th Street. And theater architect Thomas Lamb would design it all.

The owners promised New Yorkers that the proposed hotel would “meet the demands of discriminating patrons who desire first-class accommodations at a moderate cost. This hotel will compare with the finest hotels in the city.”

The gargantuan structure, a story higher than originally planned, was completed in 1928, one of the first of the Times Square hotels. There were fully 700 rooms in the hotel and at the formal opening on June 5, 1928, 2000 keys were turned over to the custodians.

postcard from author's collection
Lamb combined his sense of drama so necessary in theater design with the lofty, elegant elements expected in a top notch hotel. His soaring French Renaissance pile sat on a series of two-story white marble arches that created the retail and lobby openings, crowned at the top by a massive multi-story copper mansard roof.

Terra cotta moldings, swags and keystones were reserved for the lower floors, visible to the passersby, while on the top most floors enormous urns, pediments and balconies drew interest from the distance.

Enormous urns, brackets and window pediments ornament the upper floors -- photo by Alice Lum
The grill room inside was modeled after a Spanish patio and featured dancing and live entertainment. The space was “cooled by refrigerated air” to refresh Jazz Age diners during the hot summer months.

The Grill Room featured top-notch entertainers and nearly was padlocked during Prohibition -- postcard from author's collection
Unfortunately, those same diners were refreshed by other means during those Prohibition days and in July of 1930 a padlock suit was brought against the grill by the Assistant United States Attorney on liquor charges. The grill managed to survive, however, and featured jazz performances for years.

A stylized, 1950s depiction of the hotel -- postcard from author's collection
Prohibition and the Great Depression dealt a serious blow to the Hotel Paramount and by 1935 it was in foreclosure; yet it managed to plod along through a series of ownerships.

Billy Rose, the Broadway song writer and impresario, opened “Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe” nightclub in the lower level of the Paramount in 1938. Here “Billy Rose’s Long-Stemmed Beauties,” the chorus girls, performed along with some of the nation’s most celebrated entertainers; among them Dick Haymes and W. C. Handy.

The club inspired the 1945 musical motion picture "Diamond Horseshoe," featuring Betty Grable and was notorious, according to Ruth Prigozy’s book “The Life of Dick Haymes,” for “cheap food and drinks and scantily clad chorus girls.”

The Diamond Horseshoe continued entertaining tourists and New Yorkers alike until 1951.

Like many of the vintage Time Square hotels during the later years of the 20th Century, the Hotel Paramount suffered neglect, declining into a dingy and avoided relic by the time Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell purchased it in 1986.  Two years later Schrager closed the entire hotel for a year-and-a-half renovation. The exterior, not yet landmarked, was restored rather than modernized.  Schrager’s remodeling worked and, when it reopened, the hotel more than doubled its previous occupancy.

Two years later, in 1990, Schrager commissioned Philippe Starck to redesign the common areas and reopened it as the Paramount Hotel.  The theatrical, period interiors by Lamb were replaced with the sleek lines and bold tones that had made the designer famous. New York Magazine called it a “time capsule of late20th century chic…a grand staircase with a glass-walled banister touches down in a landscape of mismatched furniture – fuchsia couches, rustic armchairs, and sleekly lacquered mahogany desks.”

Philippe Stark's lobby design -- photo by Paramount Hotel
Again in 1998 a renovation was done, lasting seven months and costing $7 million, which included lobby lighting.

Ian Schrager sold the Paramount to Sol Melia Hotels and Resorts and the Hard Rock Café as a joint venture in 2004 for $126 million. The buyers did a $40 million renovation in 2009; the same year the building was deemed a New York City landmark. Stark’s lobby was modernized and public spaces totally redone.

By 2011 it was owned by Walton Street Capital and Highgate Holdings when, on February 11, Crain’s New York Business hinted that “The Paramount Hotel, a godfather of the boutique lodging industry, is going on the block.”

The hint came to fruition when in June German-born Aby Rosen, who already owned familiar Manhattan properties like the Seagram Building and Lever House, purchased the hotel for $275 million.

While the often-changed interiors are apt to get another make-over with the latest change in owners, the exterior of Thomas Lamb’s grand French Renaissance hotel remains unchanged; a dignified and lavish standby in the Times Square district.


  1. What a wonderful blog!! I am so happy I found it.

    I am a NYC native now living on the Jersey Shore. But I am a NYC history buff thanks to my grandfather (born in 1904), who grew up in the city and knew it inside and out.

    These are terrific essays, really beautifully researched. I collect vintage guidebooks of NY, please e-mail me if I can ever help with some data. I will be plugging your site on mine. Do you follow Scouting New York? A young film scout describes his unique finds in the city. He's a great kid.

    Thanks again, I am so happy to have discovered your site. :)

  2. Thanks for the details, i went to New York a while back and had remembered the wide open lobby, and loved it. Went back this year and discovered that they have since remodelled it - and I kinda miss the old one.

    Had a great time though and loved the hotel location.

  3. I,too,am happy to discover this. Samuel Reznick (please note the corrected spelling) was my beloved grandfather, and this was one of his many ventures.

    1. Thanks so much. And thanks for pointing out the spelling! That's been corrected.

  4. Stayed there in March 1984 with about 40 colleagues from Dublin Fire Brigade to take part in St. Patrick's. Day. Parade, I remember it as the Century Paramount Hotel but I m open to correction, it's a very fine building and well deserves to be one of New York's landmark buildings

  5. I enjoyed the Century Paramount in the 1970s
    .. the hotel hosted our theatre group from the University of Delaware for some 10 years!

    What a great hotel & loctation for our Broadway Diner Off Broadway * Off Off Broadway experiences.
    Thank you Century Paramount.

  6. I can’t wait to go and stay there on the 23rd of November. Thank you for this wonderful information on the hotel history. I will write a new comment after my stay. Regards. Catherine.