Monday, April 27, 2020

The Lost Marlborough Hotel - Broadway and 36th Street

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

In January 1886 Louis L. Todd leased the northwest corner of Broadway and 36th Street for 21 years with two renewals.  He announced his intentions "to erect a first-class family hotel on the site," according to the Real Estate Record & Guide.  It would be nearly a full year before he moved ahead, but in December 1887 architect Augustus Hatfield filed plans for a six-story brick hotel to cost $250,000--just under $7 million today.

Once the project got going, however, it proceeded rapidly.  As the summer of 1888 drew to a close the Hotel Marlborough prepared to open.  Proprietors C. A. Blanchard & Co. placed an announcement in the New-York Tribune which read:

This elegant new hotel will open Sept. 3.  American and European plans.  Handsomely furnished throughout; single rooms and rooms en suit, with private hall and bath attached--southern and eastern exposure.  Hotel now open for inspection.  "The most perfectly plumbed hotel in New-York."

Hatfield had produced a somewhat hulking Romanesque Revival structure with large arched openings on the 36th Street side and stores on Broadway.  Prominent gables, stone-capped pinnacles and a rounded corner topped by a tall pierced parapet gave the structure a formidable appearance.

The restaurant and café were open to the public.  Only two months after opening C. A. Blanchard & Co. faced its first problem.  On November 24 the New-York Tribune reported "There is trouble in the Marlborough Hotel, Broadway and Thirty-sixth-st., twenty union waiters being on a strike over the employment of a non-union man."  

A "family hotel," the Marlborough Hotel was residential--meaning that while transient guests were accepted, most residents were long-term.  They were financially-comfortable professionals, like Alva E. Davis, president of the American Magazine Publishing Company, who lived here in 1891.

The Evening World, June 7, 1892 (copyright expired)

George Dunn worked in the hotel as an engineer in 1893.  The 31-year old would have tended to the boilers and other mechanical aspects of the building.  He failed to show up for work on Monday October 16 for good reason.  The Sun reported that he had arrived at his home on West 26th Street on Saturday afternoon "and found his wife, Mary drunk and the children crying.  Dunn reproached his wife and she broke his skull with a hammer."

Entrances to four eating places are seen in this photograph from around 1910.  The Ladies' Restaurant is to the left, on 36th Street,  the main restaurant and the cafe are entered at the corner, and the Rathskeller on Broadway.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
Well-heeled foreigners routinely came and went through the doors of the Marlborough Hotel.  Typical, at least at first impression, were James Matthew Keene and his wife Kate who arrived from Southampton as saloon passengers on the Berlin on January 29, 1895.  The young couple (Keene was 24 and Kate 22) were well-dressed and refined.  He held the well-paying position as assistant cashier for a British steamship company agency.

But then on February 5 police came to their rooms and arrested them.  Keene was wanted in England for embezzlement.  He admitted to Police Inspector McLaughlin that he had stolen a total of $10,000--around $314,000 today.  It started with a series of small amounts totaling $2,500 which he lost playing baccarat.  The Sun reported "He didn't see any chance of repaying it, so he stole $7,500 more the day before he left England."

In their baggage police found a tin box containing $5,000 in American gold.  Keene would not disclose where the other $2,500 was.  The Sun said "It was Keene's intention to start for Rio de Janeiro in a few days to invest the stolen money in the coffee business."

Two views of the lobby were depicted on a promotional postcard.

Two British visitors and one from Cleveland, Ohio caused an uproar--the New-York Tribune called it "a small sized riot"-- within the normally decorous café two years later.  The young men started out in the dining room where they had several bottles of wine, according to the newspaper.  "They were getting noisy when a waiter refused to give them any more wine, and asked them to step into the gentlemen's café where they would not disturb the other guests."

They did so, but chose a table where a waiter was in the process of replacing the linen.  When he asked them to take another table, it was the last straw for the intoxicated men.  "Jaffray jumped up and declared that he was about tired of being ordered around by waiters.  As he said this the three men attacked the servant."  Pandemonium broke out as the waiter cried for help and a crowd of guests and employees rushed to his rescue.  Finally two policemen were able to end the free-for-all and arrest the three culprits.

Louis L. Todd upgraded the boiler in 1901.  As the installers put it through a pressure test on October 3, disaster hit.  The Evening World reported "A new boiler, just put in position under the sidewalk on the Broadway front of the Hotel Marlborough, gave this afternoon the best imitation of a Yellowstone geyser that New York has ever seen."  Happily no one was walking along the sidewalk directly above the boiler when it gave out "a scream like a fireboat siren" and sent a stream of boiling water 30 feet into the air.  The newspaper said that the fifty men and women nearby "got the shock of their respective lives."  The geyser "roared and spouted for half an hour and secured for itself an enormous audience."

It appeared that the end of the line for the Marlborough Hotel was at hand after Louis L. Todd sold it to the Sweeney-Tierney Hotel Company in December 1904 for just under $6 million by today's standards.  A newly-organized company, the new owner announced that it would begin demolition of the hotel on May 1, 1907 and erect a thirteen story hotel "of artistic design."

In the meantime, a spokesman said improvements would be made including "a complete alteration of the ground floor and the addition of a handsomely fitted rotunda, and an English grillroom...The greater part of the hotel is to be refitted and refurnished."

The renovations were completed, but the grand plans for a new hotel would not come to be.  The upgraded Marlborough Hotel now had four "beautiful dining rooms," and a total of 400 rooms.  The most expensive, consisting of a parlor, bedroom and bath, cost $3.00 per night, or about $90 today.

Among the long-term residents was Thomas J. Floyd who had lived in a room on the second floor facing 36th Street for several years in 1907.   At around 1:30 on the morning of October 24 he went to bed and, "being a great believer in fresh air," according to The Sun, "left his bedroom window open."  He arose five hours later to discover that someone had climbed up the fire escape, "visited his room and decamped with about $300 worth of jewelry."  The police were puzzled as to how anyone could manage to get to the second story window without being seen on the busy corner.

The Marlborough Hotel was sold again in February 1912 to the Philadelphia-based Crosstown Realty Co.  As had been the case eight years earlier, the new owners announced improvements, including additional stores on the ground floor.  "It is rumored that the property will eventually be used as a site for a large department store," said the Record & Guide.

A few days later, on February 10, the journal added its own opinion, saying "it is improbable that its new owners have purchased it in order to keep on running a hotel.  The building is out-of-date and cannot compete with the newer and better equipped caravansaries which have been and are being built in Manhattan."

Nevertheless, the hotel continued on.  Three years later on January 8, 1915 Mrs. S. M. Archer, who lived on the first floor, used an electric iron to smooth her outfit as she prepared to go out for the evening.  The outlet was located directly over the bed.  According to an investigator later, "In the hurry to get to [the] theatre or elsewhere, she forgot to disconnect the current from the iron, and either left the same on the bed or underneath the bed, which in a few hours' time set fire to the carpet and bedding."

At 10:00 smoke began wafting through the hallways.  As guests nervously sniffed the air, suddenly the call of "Fire!" rang out.  Three hundred residents rushed out while others took to the fire escapes, "many of them in dressing gowns and other flimsy attire," said The New York Times.  Fire fighters tracked the source to Mrs. Archer's room.  "There a brisk fire was burning in the middle of the room.  The firemen quenched it quickly confining it to the one room."

The hotel was again remodeled by proprietor Jacob Amron, who had taken over management in 1914.  The 1918 book Eminent Jews of America praised his work, saying "today the entire country is singing the praises of the Marlborough Hotel and its unequalled restaurant...Above all, the distinguishing feature of the Marlborough Hotel is its marvelous cheapness, so that we find all high class features of the great restaurant equaled if not excelled by the Marlborough--and at just one-quarter of the price."

A postcard depicted the Rathskeller, traditionally a male-only retreat.

But as the Record & Guide had pointed out in 1912, the Marlborough Hotel could not keep up with the modern hotels being erected further north.  In an attempt to increase income a nightclub replaced one of the dining rooms.  It was a move that sometimes resulted in unwanted press.

On September 2, 1919 The Evening World reported "The ladies of the Hotel Marlborough cabaret were in their dressing room removing grease paint and rouge at 2 A.M. to-day when 'Trixie' said something to 'Chubby,' or vice versa.  After a lot of conversation had been spilled, so the police say, 'Trixie' broke a cut glass pitcher on 'Chubby's' head."

Trixie was a 30-year old singer who lived in Brooklyn, and Chubby was Marie Goerech, a dancer.  After having her head bandaged, Marie stormed off to the West 37th Street Station to file a complaint.  "When the police went to get 'Trixie' they found her being attended by an ambulance surgeon for a cut over the eye.  She explained she had fallen down stairs while going to her room."  She was arrested for assault.

Things did not improve.  On February 14, 1921 vice square officers arrested two bellboys and four women on prostitution charges.  "The bellboys are accused of accepting money to introduce the women to men guests at the hotel," said The Evening World.  Three of the women lived in the hotel.

At the time Horton Malone was a well-known resident of the Marlborough Hotel.  He had lost both legs in a railroad accident in Ohio, according to him, and made his living peddling pencils.  On August 31 1922 The New York Herald wrote "A beggar whose legs are cut off below the knee pushes himself about on a little platform, on rollers every afternoon, rain or shine, in Seventh avenue between Thirty-third and Forty-second streets...Many a tear has been shed over his beggar by soft hearted men and women, and many a coin has rattled into the tin cup which he holds out with a gesture of infinite pathos."

Malone was not what he seemed, however, and at the time of the article his deception was unraveling.  On August 30 a chauffeur named George Morrison was arrested at Broadway and 82nd Street with a man and a woman in the car.  "It was said by the police that narcotics were found in the machine."

The Marlborough Hotel was looking a bit seedy in 1922.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Morrison was held pending further investigation.  For some reason he changed lawyers.  His original attorney pressed for payment of $116, but Morrison claimed he did not have the money.  So Henry Frank went after his employer, Horton Malone.  When the city marshal went to the Malborough Hotel to serve papers he found Malone "in an excellent suite at the Malborough with his wife and mother-in-law.  The automobile was seized to satisfy the judgment."

The New York Herald revealed that each day, after begging for coins, "He climbs into his automobile, which is brought around by his chauffeur to a spot not in his stamping ground.  He goes home to his suite in the Hotel Marlborough, where his wife and his mother-in-law greet him.  Then he puts on a pair of very expensive and very fine aluminum legs, and one of three dinner coats which he has in his wardrobe, and then he fares forth to dinner, walking very well on his aluminum legs and with money in his pocket."

Malone avoided reporters and the outraged crowd that waited for him in his usual begging spots.  "Meals for the Malones were served in their rooms and they were not at home to callers," said the Herald on September 1.

Malone and the other residents would soon have to find other accommodations.   The building was sold in February 1923 and The New York Times announced "The Hotel Marlborough will be torn down next Fall, when the buyers will erect a twenty-story building on the entire site representing an investment of about $6,000,000."

photo via
That building, designed by George & Edward Blum, survives.