Saturday, March 17, 2018

The 1905 Hotel Broztell - 3-7 East 27th Street

The first years of the 20th century saw a flurry of residential hotels being constructed throughout the city.  Their similar brick-and-stone Beaux Arts facades were intended to attract moneyed residents and to imply respectability and prosperity.

On July 1, 1903 The New York Times reported that real estate operators Campbell & Clement and purchased the "three four-story buildings" at Nos. 3 to 7 East 27th Street.  "The buyers will erect a twelve-story apartment hotel on the site."  Under the name of the Argyle Realty Co., they commissioned William H. Birkmire to design the structure.

The old buildings were demolished that year, and then things ground to a halt.  On January 9, 1904 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted "The Argyle Realty Co's plot at 3, 5, and 7 continues vacant, though plans were filed some time ago and the excavations dug."  Then, five months later on May 7 the journal reported that work was "suspended."

The long delay may have had to do with the Argyle Realty Co.'s cooperative meetings with other hotel developers in the immediate neighborhood.  Progress on three other residential hotels planned on the East 27th Street block had also stopped.

It may have been explained by The New York Times on March 20, 1904 in an article entitled "Solving A Problem With Inside Lots."  It explained that the "struggle for the greatest amount of light and air with the least sacrifice of space" had been solved by the "closely allied" developers who agreed to give up square footage.  "Thus a large T-shaped court will be created, the benefits of which will be shared by three of the buildings."

The dotted lines show the property lines.  The T-shaped light court was shared by the Broztell, the block-through Prince George Hotel to the right, and the Latham Hotel directly behind.  The New York Times, March 20, 1904 (copyright expired)
Originally called the Argyle Hotel, it was the Hotel Broztell by the time of its completion in 1905.  Birkmire's design toned down much of the gushing carved ornament seen on similar hotels.  The rusticated limestone base was punctured by four expansive arched openings, including the entrance with its glass and metal marquee.

The Official Hotel Red Book & Directory, 1903 (copyright expired)
Metal-framed angled bays in the mid-section not only added dimension to the facade, but caught wafting breezes during the summer months.  Baroque parapets rose on either side of the cornice.

From its opening the Broztell saw a surprising array of residents and guests.  Mrs. Leslie Carter was considered "the American Sarah Bernhardt."   On July 15, 1906, the day after her marriage to actor William H. Payne, her 26-year old son Leslie Dudley Carter, gave a dinner in a private room in the hotel.  The guest list included many theatrical figures, including actors Jack Devereaux and William Courtenay, theatrical manager W. J. Dun, and Norma Munro.  Norma was the daughter of wealthy publisher George Munro and lavishly backed theaters and productions.  She was also the closest friend of Mrs. Leslie Carter.

The actress and her new husband were not at the affair, so she missed out on a shocking announcement.  "After the dinner it was reported along Broadway that in the course of the evening young Mr. Carter had announced at it his engagement to marry Miss Munro," reported The New York Times.  It quoted him as saying "Mother doesn't know a word about it and it will be a deuce of a surprise to her."

While the patronage of theatrical types would have made some other hotels socially distasteful; the Broztell's eclectic mix of guests successfully co-existed.  Madeline Howard lived here in September 1907, for instance, when she went on a drive to Coney Island with Austrian Counts Frank and Felix Hoyas in their hired limousine.  (It ended horribly when the chauffeur, traveling at a "whirlwind speed," crashed in the surrey, seriously injuring its occupants.)  And on November 17, 1909 The Times reported "The Princess Lillian de la Pointe registered at the Hotel Broztell from Paris, en route to Chicago."

An electric sign perched above the glass marquee in 1906.  Note the tightly-pleated fabric inside the arched entrance.  The lamps and areaway fencing were removed in 1914 by City orders as "encroachments."  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In October 1910 Pittsburgh steel tycoon Alexander R. Peacock purchased the Hotel Broztell for $750,000--about $19.5 million today.  Like his partner, Andrew Carnegie, Peacock was born in Scotland and, also like Carnegie, was an art collector and millionaire.

Under Peacock's ownership the Broztell became exclusively transient.  In July 1912 Silk magazine noted "A hotel that has become very popular with the silk and ribbon buyers during their semi-annual visits to the New York silk market in August and February, is the Broztell on Twenty-seventh street near Fifth avenue...It is an ideal place to lunch, the dining rooms being cool and attractive."  The hotel's 250 rooms at the time (each "with bath and shower") went from $2 to $6 per day--just over $50 for the cheapest.

All hotels dealt with the occasional and unfortunate press coverage of deaths and suicides.  But the Broztell seems to have had more than its fair share.  Among the earliest was that of Mrs. Blanche Carson, the wealthy widow of Dr. Edward Carson.  The Evening World described her as "one of the most prominent clubwomen in San Francisco."  She arrived in New York following an extensive trip through Europe on Monday, March 18, 1912.  Like other wealthy dowagers, she did not travel lightly.  It took five steamer trunks to accommodate her wardrobe and jewelry.

As she passed through Customs, she declared nothing dutiable.  In fact, she had been patronizing the shops of European jewelers and in addition to the $20,000 in jewels she had left with, she had $12,000 in new jewelry.  And she was caught.  After admitting her guilt she was released on $2,000 bail awaiting a hearing.

The 55-year old took an eighth floor room in the Broztell and considered her fate.  The San Francisco Call said "There was no one in [New York] to whom she could appeal for friendly guidance."  And The Evening World described her as being "overwhelmed by the disgrace."

At around 4:00 on the morning of March 19 she untied the 25-foot long rope from one of her trunks, tied one end around the radiator and the other around her neck.  About four hours later a tenant of the Knickerbocker Apartments on Fifth Avenue looked out his window to see "the body, clad in a blue dressing down, swinging on the wall of the Broztell."

Equally tragic and bizarre was the death of Dr. Solomon Fishel the following year.  The 43-year old physician was internationally known for his work with infant incubators.  On Saturday, October 18, 1913 he married Anna Winter.  At 11:30 that night, following a wedding dinner, the newlyweds arrived at the Broztell where they had booked rooms for three weeks before leaving for San Francisco.

At 4:00 in the morning Fischel woke his bride, complaining of stomach pains.  Dr. Maurice M. Berger arrived.  "For two hours the doctor worked with his patient, but at 6:10 Dr. Fishel died," reported The Times the following day.  Fischel had been married less than 10 hours.

The Broztell flexed its wartime patriotism with special military rates.  New-York Tribune, April 7, 1918, (copyright expired)
In 1920 60-year old Samuel Angrnai, the secretary of the Swedish Consulate, lived at No. 60 East 124th Street.  But like many despondent persons, he preferred not to end his life at home.  He checked in to the Broztell on November 28 where he was found the following morning suffering an overdose of morphine.  He left two notes, one to an undertaker and the other explaining his actions, saying "he had grieved much over the death of his daughter last April," according to The Times.

The hotel was popular among buyers.  This ad calls it "headquarters for Carpet Men." Price's Carpet and Rug News, December, 1921 (copyright expired) 

A similar tragedy occurred on August 18, 1921.  Robert Rosenfeld, a Madison Avenue apparel manufacturer, lived in Great Neck, Long Island.  He visited David Bell, a buyer from Cleveland, in his Broztell room that day.  When Bell realized he had a conflicting appointment, he asked Rosenfeld to wait and he would be back shortly.  Rosenfeld agreed.

When Bell returned he found Rosenfeld dead.  The New York Herald reported "A glass containing cyanide of potassium in solution was on the table."  He left a sealed note addressed to his wife.

But perhaps no suicide in the Broztell Hotel drew more attention than that of author Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey, whose prolific works included the famous Nick Carter detective stories.   Dey was close friends with high-ranking police officials, including Commissioner Joseph Faurot.  Faurot's tales of crime-fighting provided Dey with fodder for his weekly fiction.

By by the early 1920's the days of pulp fiction were waning.  In 1919 The Atlanta Constitution published his The Lady of the Night Wind in daily installments; but The New York Times deemed it "somewhat cheap and dime novelish."  Concerned that his long literary career was drying up, he checked into the Broztell on April 25, 1922 as J. W. Dayer of Nyack, New York.

After being in his room for a while, he returned to the lobby with sealed notes and asked manager Frank Pierce to have them delivered the following morning.  One was addressed to Commissioner Faurot, and another was to Ormond G. Smith, president of the publishing firm Street & Smith.

Upon opening the note, Smith rushed to the Broztell.  Dey's room was forced open and he was found with a gunshot wound to the head.  His note to Faurot read:

Dear Old Joe:  Please forgive me.  Be good to and help Hattie, my wife.  I can't stand the gaff, Joe, so I am going out.  Everything has gone to smash and me with it.  Goodby [sic] and God bless you.  V.R.D.

When Alexander R. Peacock died in 1928, Prohibition had been in effect for eight years.  The law not only dealt a heavy blow to hotels and restaurants, it put many of them out of business and their employees out of work.  Some, like the Hotel Broztell, struggled to survive by surreptitiously side-stepping the issue.   It was an especially gutsy move on the part of Broztell's management, since Prohibition Headquarters was located on the same street, just two blocks away at Nos. 45-47 West 27th Street.

Suspicious that alcohol was being sold here, on April 17, 1931 undercover agents staked out the hotel.  The following day The Times reported "Louis Kaufman and Murray Fogel were arrested in an automobile parked in front of the Hotel Broztell in East Twenty-seventh Street when...they were about to make a delivery of liquor in the hotel."  The agents seized two cases of scotch and one and a half cases of rye.

The third floor balcony was originally fronted by stone balustrades.
On February 9, 1934 Columbia University purchased the Broztell at an auction sale.  It sold it just two years later, on April 7, 1936 for $350,000.  In reporting on the sale, The New York Times said "The new owner will modernize the structure and install new furniture."  That new owner, Latham Hotel Realty Corp., went well beyond new furniture.  It connected the Broztell and the Latham Hotel on East 28th Street internally.   In 1941 the ground floor was altered by architect Sampson Gray to create a storefront.

The Broztell Hotel limped along, eventually becoming a welfare hotel, until it was purchased by Urs B. Jakob in 1992.  Once again separated from the Latham Hotel, it was renamed the Gershwin.  On February 20, 1994 Alan S. Oser, writing in The Times noted that Jakob "is gradually converting it to a dormitory-style hostelry.  Sixty-five of the 164 room are run as dormitories, usually with four beds to a room.  The charge is $17 a bed per night."  To attract his targeted audience, Jakob installed Pop Art sculptures in the lobby and created small lounges "to help young international travelers get to know each other."

Jakob owned a soup can signed by Andy Warhol which became his inspiration for a party on what would have been the artist's 67th birthday in August 1995.  The event attracted 250 guests from as far away as Nice, France, the home of painter, author and star of several Warhol movies, Ultra Violet.  The following year, in March, a memorial service for playwright, director and producer Anthony Ingrassia was held in the hotel.

In December 2014 a $20 million, year-long renovation was completed by Triumph Hotels.  Included was a name change from the Gershwin to the Evelyn, in honor of the colorful actress Evelyn Nesbit, the love interest of architect Stanford White.  Crain's New York Business, on December 16, said the name switch "is meant to reflect the evolution of the hip neighborhood in which the hotel is located."

Triumph Hotels's CFO, Ronny Apfel, concurred, adding "We needed to bring the hotel up to the standards of NoMad."  The upgrades were reflected in the room rates, which started at $400 per night.  The Evelyn was given a 21st century face lift with giant illuminated tear drops that cascaded down the 1905 facade.

The well-known tear drops are gone now, giving the Evelyn a less edgy appearance.  The vibrant history that has played out within its walls far outshines the statley Beaux Arts design on the outside.

photographs by the author

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