Friday, March 22, 2013

The 1904 Holland Hotel -- 396-397 West Street

Years of paint are slowly peeling away, exposing the buff-colored brick -- photo by Alice Lum
In the early 1890s the Greenwich Village riverfront was lined with saloons, marine supply shops and cheap transient hotels.   At No. 373 West Street Albert A. and Rosa Goebel Adler ran a hotel that catered to the seamen who came and went.  It had the lofty-sounding name of the Hotel Transatlantic.

Three blocks north, at No. 397, Morris Stack operated a saloon.   Riverfront businesses and patrons alike often found laws inconvenient at best and on December 9, 1895 Stack’s bartender found himself behind bars for serving beer on Sunday.

At the turn of the century the area along the Hudson River from Houston Street to 14th Street was known by law enforcement as “The Farm."  The term most likely was a holdover from Trinity Farm--the expansive tract of land bestowed on Trinity Church by Queen Anne in 1714.  On July 6, 1902 The New York Times described the neighborhood for its readers who were unlikely to visit.

‘”The Farm’ affords enough facilities for lounging, concealment and escape through parks, trucks, piles of lumber, stacked goods, and open sheds and shanties, and for years, especially in fine weather, it has at night been the resort of outcasts, drunkards, dissolute people, and a dangerous class of deprecators and petty highwaymen.  From the latter class many notorious footpads have been graduated.

“Protection from these evildoers has been chiefly asked by seafaring people whose craft are moored to the docks along the North [Hudson] River front…Complaints have also been made of the ‘growler gangs,’ who are part of the make-up of this undesirable community.”

As part of a clean-up of The Farm, police raided Stack’s saloon on July 5, 1902, and arrested 27-year old Albert McNeil, “a reputed cockfighter,” and 21-year old Michael Mulqueen of No. 34 Morton Street, whom The New York Times called a “lounger.”

A year later Albert and Rosa Adler would eliminate Morris Stack’s saloon.  They obtained No. 397 and the adjoining corner property at No. 396 from Catherine A. Q. Trowbridge in January 1903.  The existing structures were demolished and the couple commissioned architect Charles Stegmayer to design a hotel on the site.

The resulting three-story Holland Hotel, completed in 1904, was three stories tall and contained thirty-eight rooms.    Stegmayer’s Renaissance-inspired design took full advantage of the corner setting with a rounded turret-like oriel that ran the height of the structure.   It was supported by a slender cast iron column at the chamfered corner entrance.

Constructed of beige-colored brick with terra cotta accents, its regimented rows of arched openings separated by ambitious pilasters gave the $20,000 structure a look of respectability.  The appearance was deceptive.

Six years after its completion the building was lost in foreclosure.   The Crescent-Star Realty Co., associated with the Jacob Hoffman Brewery, took over the hotel’s operation.   The hotel was renamed the Clyde Hotel; but a new name and new owners did not improve the neighborhood nor the patronage.

The Sun noted on February 17, 1919 that “Just as New York is the lodestone that draws young men from other towns with its larger opportunities in legitimate business for piling up income taxes, so is it the Mecca nowadays for youthful desperadoes who aspire to a high life in their chosen profession, the stickup game.”
Almost surely a conical cap sat above the rounded corner -- photo by Alice Lum
The riverfront neighborhood around the Holland Hotel was still rough and crime ridden.  It drew local residents John Cronin and James Redden who had “picked up a couple of revolvers in a clothing store,” according to The Sun.

Loaded firearms and liquor in a seedy saloon made for a dangerous mix when around midnight the men “dropped into the cafĂ© attached to a seamen’s hotel at 396 West street,” according to the newspaper.

George Roswell, a marine engineer staying at the hotel was in the bar talking to about a dozen other sailors.  Cronin and Redden decided he was staring at them.  When they asked “What are you lookin’ at?” and got the reply “Nothing,” they took offense.

“They decided to finish their argument with their revolvers,” reported The Sun.  “None of the bullets struck Roswell, but he concluded not to stay and strain his luck.”

During his retreat he was struck in the right leg.  Two detectives, a block away, heard the discharges and saw the stream of sailors rushing from the hotel bar.

“The detectives gathered the youths to their arms and relieved them of the revolvers, for which Cronin and Redden admitted quite simply they had no further use, as their programme for the day had been shot to pieces.”

Charles E. Bacon leased the hotel in 1926 and ran it for over two decades.  He announced intentions of “extensive alterations” and installed a barbershop and men’s clothing store on the ground floor.
In 1929 the ground floor was a mish-mash of small businesses -- NYPL Collection
In 1934 Crescent Star Realty regained the hotel in foreclosure.  When the firm sold the building in August 1949, The New York Times erroneously reported that “it was held in the Eighteen Nineties by the present sellers, who later sold it and then reacquired it.”

The building continued to be home to various businesses at street level throughout the 20th century.   By 1970s the neighborhood was no longer maritime and Greenwich Village had become the center of New York’s gay culture.  In the early 1970s the old saloon became Peter Rabbits, a bar popular with a young, black gay clientele.  The bar remained in the space until around 1988.

The 21st century saw a rebirth of the once-sordid riverfront and luxury condomiums and trendy restaurants replaced the former seedy bars and shops.   Around 2006 the first floor of the hotel became home to the upscale Italian restaurant Antica Venezia. The space where Village thugs once shot their revolvers in a crowded bar was now an Italian restaurant with a fireplace and, according to Crain’s New York Business that year, “an ebullient waitstaff.”
Terra cotta cartouches cap the second story windows and creative brickwork forms decorative panels -- photo by Alice Lum
The Italian restaurant was replaced by a French restaurant which, too, closed its doors.  In the meantime, the upper stories of the Holland Hotel building, despite severe alterations at street level, are amazingly intact. 

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