Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Emery Roth's 1925 Hotel Cardinal - 243 West End Avenue

At the turn of the last century the intersection West End Avenue and West 71st Street was lined with imposing homes.  Three rather brooding mansions faced the street, and directly behind on West End Avenue were five brick and terra cotta rowhouses with much cheerier personalities.

photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

By the end of World War I apartment living was gaining favor over large private homes.  The residence hotel offered tenants the conveniences of a hotel--maid service, hallboys, and restaurants, for instance--in their leases.  In 1924  the newly-formed 243 Corporation purchased and demolished Nos. 301 through 303 West 71st Street, and Nos. 241 through 247 West End Avenue.  The prolific apartment building architect Emery Roth was commissioned to design a replacement resident hotel on the site.

Completed in 1925, the hulking structure rose 15 stories.  Roth clad the building in clinker bricks--purposely over-fired in the kiln to produce the rough, burned look of age.  He decorated his blank Renaissance Revival canvas with glorious Spanish Colonial style elements cast in colorful terra cotta.  The nearly identical West End Avenue and 71st Street elevations wore romantic pseudo-balconies, roundels with portraits in Renaissance costumes, and intricate window framing on the lower two floors.

The Hotel Cardinal would be different from most residence hotels.  While others offered sprawling suites meant to rival private homes; the Cardinal would have large, one-room apartments.  There were 12 apartments on the ground floor, with 14 each on the floors above.  An advertisement touted "the comfort of a spacious apartment in a single room, foyer, serving pantry and bath."

The single-room accommodations were perfect for couples just starting out.  Following the wedding of Hortense Kruckman and Samuel Schwartzman on May 20, 1926, the couple announced they would be "at home at Hotel Cardinal" to receive well-wishers.

And in January 1927 Florence Goodman and Philip Isaacs moved in after their elopement.  It proved to be a rocky marriage.  When her parents learned of the marriage through a letter she wrote "at her husband's dictation," according to Florence later, her father insisted they be re-married by a rabbi.  They second ceremony was held in Atlantic City.  Then Philip told his wife that because of a "legal technicality" their marriage was void.  A third marriage was conducted by Mayor Charles J. Norris of Bergen, New Jersey.

Seven months after they moved in, Florence walked out.  In her divorce filing her lawyer said "In that time [Philip] had spent her $4,000 savings and tried to get her engagement ring to pawn for money with which to pay the rent on their apartment in the Hotel Cardinal."

Terra cotta portrait roundels dot the lower floors.

Most tenants were not similarly struggling.  Although each apartment contained just one main room, they were spacious enough to attract professional tenants, like dentist Homer C. Croscup and his wife, here in 1927.   There were, as well, several residents involved in the theatrical business.

Bruce Edwards and his wive, Gertrude, lived here at the time.  He was a childhood friend of Charles Dillingham (among New York's most well-known producers, head of the Dillinger Theatre) and for 30 years was Dillingham's general manager.

The terra cotta detailing of this delicately-wrought window decoration matches portions of the pretend balconies two floors above.. 
Edward Hecht and his wife, Hattie, were also early residents.  Hecht was a cigar dealer, "reported to be wealthy," according to The New York Times.  Hattie was good friends with opera diva Madame Marie Rappold.  Before the couple moved into the one-room space, the Metropolitan Opera soprano had often been their house guest.

On Sunday evening, September 9, 1928, Edward and Hattie headed downtown for dinner.  They entered the 72nd Street and Broadway subway station, which was unusually crowded.  Hattie was dressed for the evening out, wearing a fur around her neck.  As the train pulled into the station, a scene of horror ensued.

The New York Times reported "As the train entered the station, the crowd of several hundred waiting persons, including Mr. Hecht and his wife, surged forward."  Edward fell between the moving train cars, the third car passing over his body.  In the chaos, Hattie's fur stole disappeared.  Whether Edward was pushed to provide a distraction for the theft, or if a crook simply used the accident as an opportunity is unclear.

"Mrs. Hecht became hysterical following the accident, but said that she did not remember the fur falling from her neck."  She collapsed (as did several other women in the crowd) and was later taken back to the Hotel Cardinal in an ambulance.

The episode was too much for Hattie to bear.  Madame Rappold arrived at No. 243 West End Avenue to visit Hattie not long afterward.  She was met with bad news.  Hattie had committed suicide.  She had left a note for her sister which said in part, "And so I have decided to go to my rest and am on my way to the ocean."  Her body washed up on the South Shore of Long Island.

Vaudeville and silent film comedian Harry Philmore Langdon lived here in the early 1930's.  At the height of his career Langdon was making $7,500 per week, a veritable fortune.  But his star had faded by the time he lived here; although there was briefly a glimmer of hope.

Harry Langdon.  National Vaudeville Artists, 1923 (copyright expired)

His biographers, Gabriella Oldham and Mabel Langdon, in their Harry Langdon: King of Silent Comedy, wrote "Langdon did, however, meet with the officers of Royal Pictures when he resided at the Cardinal Hotel at 243 West End Avenue in New York.  The contract even provided for a generous $12,000 salary...But like many deals that seem too good to be true, it never materialized."

When 22-year old cornetist James Dugald McPartland and his girlfriend, fledgling songwriter Dorothy Fields, discovered she was pregnant, they married in February 1930 and took an apartment in the Cardinal.  The baby, Dorothy Hannah McPartland, was born on July 13.  But it was a not a happy marriage and Dorothy filed for divorce in 1932.  McPartland went on to work with bandleaders like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Eddie Condon.

Born in Rochester, New York in 1883, Florenz Ames started out in vaudeville but was now appearing on the legitimate stage.  On July 4 1930 The New York Times reported that Alice O'Donnell "was married to Florenz Sebastian Kolb, known professionally on the stage as Florenz Ames, yesterday afternoon in Greenwich, Conn."  The article added "The bride said last night that both she and Mr. Ames had been married previously.  They will make their home at 243 West End Avenue."

Ames was relatively well-known to New York audiences.  The Times noted "He has had prominent roles in 'Madame Pompadour,' produced here in 1924; 'The Great Temptations,' two years later, and 'Angela,' in 1928."  He was currently appearing in the cast of Who Cares.

It would not be until 1952 that Ames was seen country-wide.  That year he appeared in his first film role in Viva Zapata! and in 1953 he debuted in television on the show Robert Montgomery Presents.  Never a leading man, he was nonetheless recognizable in his many character roles.

Ames appeared with Greer Garson on September 10, 1957 in the episode "Revenge" in the television anthology series Telephone Time.  photo originally released by ABC Television

Another theatrical figure who lived in the Hotel Cardinal around the same time was music publisher Frederick Benjamin Haviland and his wife, he former Mabel Smith.  He was head of F. B. Haviland Publishing Company and, although he was not a musician, he had an uncanny ability to judge the potential popularity of a tune.  Starting his career in 1890's, he had published hits like "The Sidewalks of New York," "In the Good Old Summertime," and "Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home?"

Haviland contracted influenza in March 1932 and succumbed to the disease in his apartment two weeks later, on the 31st, at the age of 64.

Wesley Eddy, whose actual name was Edward Gariulo, lived here with his wife, the former Margaret DeMarco.   He was a widely-talented entertainer, The New York Times saying "A versatile performer, he sang baritone, danced and played the violin, and entertained as a 'straight man' and as a comedian."  He had started on the stage at the age of 9 in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut;  played nightclubs in New York at 16, and obtained his first film role at 17-years-old.

Eddy was tremendously affected by his mother's death in 1926.  Nearly every week he called a Stratford, Connecticut florist to have flowers delivered to her grave.  His depression worsened following his father' death in December 1932.  His brother said that when Eddy came to visit, "he would always go first to the cemetery where he frequently sat for hours beside the plot, often sobbing."

Wesley Eddy was scheduled to open in a new show at the Roxy Theatre on September 20, 1934.  His brother came to New York on the 16th and had dinner with him and Margaret.  (Their 12-year-old son, Frank. was attending a military academy in  Baltimore.)

Neither Joe nor Margaret realized the depth of Wesley's despondency.  After Joe left and Margaret went to bed, Wesley left the apartment and boarded a train to Stratford.   The following day The New York Times reported that he "was found dead in a self-inflicted bullet wound this morning, lying on the grave of his parents in St. Michael's Cemetery."  He was just 31-years-old.

Pretend quoins along the lower two floors terminate in spread-winged eagles, seemingly wearing hats.

The Hotel Cardinal was the scene of a gruesome accident on April 18, 1938.  Marion Gary, a 28-year old handyman in the building, was oiling the cable wheel of the elevator at 10:15 that morning when another hotel worker started the elevator.  Gary's leg was caught between the cable wires and the drum.

The Police Emergency Squad responded to the scene and tried to free him, but could not.  The only option was to amputate.  Dr. David Wasserman of City Hospital arrived and began the process.  The Times reported that Wasserman was "balanced precariously on a narrow girder in the elevator shaft on the tenth floor of the Hotel Cardinal."  The article noted "Although a slip might have sent the ambulance surgeon hurtling down the shaft, he decided to operate at the scene to free Marion Gary."  The man was conscious throughout the surgery and "endlessly smoked cigarettes."  The newspaper reported "Dr. Wasserman removed the leg about six inches below the knee."

The political upheaval in Europe was first evidenced at the Hotel Cardinal in the fall of 1939 when nine families of Belgian and Dutch Jews fled the increasing Nazi threat.  All of them were engaged in the diamond industry.  The Apartment Renting Company, Inc. arranged housing for the refugees, one family of which moved into the Hotel Cardinal.

Although the United States would not enter World War II until after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the military was already beefing up a year earlier.  On November 23, 1940 The Times reported "Never in the history of the country have so elaborate and scientific preparations been made by the Army to receive men."  The Hotel Cardinal would soon have to find a new elevator operator.

The same article said "Peter Joseph Bonovitch, 27, a volunteer, said his girl was 'pretty sore' because he was disappearing into the Army for a year.  He is an elevator operator at the Hotel Cardinal, 243 West End Avenue. 'But I think that if war comes and I have to fight, I'd be better off if I knew how,' Bonovich said.

Also leaving No. 243 for military service was Bernard Fields, who shared an apartment with his uncle, Burt G. Hoffman.  Fields enlisted in the Navy, becoming a radio man.  Sadly, he would not return.  His name appeared on the U. S. Navy's list of war dead on May 5, 1942.

A renovation completed in 1950 resulted in rooftop penthouse with four apartments.  There were now six apartments and a doctor's office on the ground floor, 13 each on floors 9 through 12, and 12 each on the 10th to 15th floors.

Although some of the apartments were now larger, the reputations of not all of the residents were as respectable.  On January 8, 1957 Irving Gilbert was indicted by a grand jury as part of a gang of six on charges of counterfeiting auto parts.  Assistant District Attorney Joseph Stone said the ring had manufactured "up to a million parts a year and had shipped the bulk to Mexico and Central and South America."

Vincent Joseph Calise was a different type of counterfeiter.  He was sent to prison for producing fake money.  But his sentence did not change his lawless ways.  On December 12, 1964 a headline in The New York Times read "Ex Convicts Named in Scheme on Stock of Wall St. Concern."  Among those arrested in "an elaborate scheme devised by former convicts to take over and sell the stock last may of a Wall street real estate corporation" was Vincent Joseph Calise.

At the same time Patricia DeAlexandro lived here.  Described by a newspaper as a "26-year-old former Playboy Club bunny," she was arrested on July 12, 1965.  Now working as a nightclub hostess, she had became involved with mobsters.  The article explained that she was "charged with trying to bribe a member of the jury that convicted Joseph Armone, Stephen Grammauta, Vincent Pacelli and Nicholas Viscardi of conspiring to smuggle more than $25 million worth of heroin into the country."  DeAlexandro faced a possible sentence of 15 years in Federal prison and a $20,000 fine.

Things did not look good for the former Bunny when, ten days later, a Federal grand jury indicted her.  She was held in the Women's House of Detention in lieu of $25,000 bail awaiting her trial.

The last of the original row of 1890's houses, designed by Clarence F. True, stands next door at No. 249.

Following its conversion to cooperative apartments in 1989 the Hotel Cardinal was rechristened the Coliseum Plaza.  The colorful days of theatrical luminaries and mobsters had drawn to a close.

photographs by the author


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  2. Love reading your stories about my great grandfather’s designed buildings. Thank you.