Friday, October 15, 2021

The 1901 Hotel Felix-Portland - 132 West 47th Street


On April 29, 1899 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that Ellen Fallon had sold the two "old buildings" at 132 and 134 West 47th Street.  It noted, "The buyer is a builder, who will improve by the erection of a 10-story apartment house."  The unnamed owner hired architect D. G. Malcolm to design the structure.  He filed plans within the next month.

But the aspirations of the would-be developer were larger than his wallet.  The property was lost in foreclosure in February 1900.  The new owners, the Mohawk Realty Co., started from scratch.  Malcolm's plans were scrapped and architect Ralph S. Townsend submitted designs for a 9-story building that May.

Despite the rocky start, the Hotel Portland was completed in 1901.  Townsend's handsome design included a two-story rusticated base with a regal columned portico topped by a stone balustrade.  Although the style was overall Renaissance Revival, Townsend borrowed from Beaux Arts in the bulbous supports of the second floor balconettes and their swirling carvings and French railings.

The upper stories were faced in brown brick, the stone architraves of the openings decorated with arched pediments at the third floor, elaborate keystones at the fourth, and egg-and-dart details above.  A complex, overhanging stone cornice complimented the design.

The Hotel Portland filled with white collar residents like Dr. E. D. Klots, Dr. Claude N. Finley, and engineer John F. Ward.  

On April 1, 1902 Dr. Klots was summoned to testify at the inquest into the death of Marie C. Norris, who died in Dr. Francis Gray Blinn's private sanitarium steps away from the Hotel Portland at 165 West 47th Street.  He had been called to the facility by Dr. Blinn when his patient was in critical condition and, again, after her death.  Blinn advertised his sanitarium, a fact that caused Coroner Solomon Goldenkranz to turn the focus away from the patient's death and to Klots.

"Now, Doctor, by the code of medical ethics is not a physician forbidden to associated with another who advertises?" Goldenkranz asked.
"Yes, he is forbidden.  I, however, received a call to attend a woman, who was dying when I got there, and I did my best to save her life.  I am not ashamed of it and would do the same thing tomorrow if I got another call," Klots replied.

Then, when the the coroner had his back turned, Dr. Klots stuck his tongue out at him.  Unfortunately for Klots, someone told Goldenkranz, "and he became very angry indeed," said The Sun.  After being told "You have misbehaved yourself and I could fine you heavily," Klots apologized and the hearings moved along.

John F. Ward was an eminent civil and mechanical engineer.  He had worked on the Morris Canal in New Jersey, the Shubenacadie Canal in Nova Scotia, and the South Gila Canal in Arizona, for instance.  A widower, his two sons, Percy and H. Armor, shared the apartment with him.  His one daughter, Francis, was married.

In December 1902 Ward developed septic pneumonia.  He died in his Hotel Portland apartment on January 16, 1902.  Seven months later, on August 25, the elevated social status of the Wards and other Hotel Portland tenants was reflected in the announcement of H. Armor Ward's engagement to Sara R. Gilfry.  

The Argus mentioned, "Miss Gilfry, who was introduced to society in Washington two winters ago, is a niece of Senator William A. Clark of Montana."  (The multi-millionaire politician and railroad and mining tycoon was currently erecting a 121-room Fifth Avenue mansion.)  The Argus noted, "The wedding is to be an event of the coming autumn and will take place in London.

Dr. Claude N. Finley was associated with the hospital of the French Benevolent Society on West 34th Street.  In October 1905 May Best, who lived in Brooklyn, came for a consultation.  It would be a life-changing event.

The 34-year-old was born in Virginia and had inherited what The Brooklyn Daily Eagle called "a sufficient fortune to make her future easy."  The newspaper aid, "She was well educated in a girl's private school, was raised under the most cultured influences and was taught the highest ideals of womanhood."  But Dr. Finley's examination discovered that she had undeveloped male genitalia, externally undetectable.  The condition, known as intersex today, was called hermaphroditism at the time.

Finley told May Best that she was a man, not a woman.  "Incredible as it may seem," said The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "she had never suspected until that time that she was more than a normal woman, despite the fact that she had a light growth of beard and had been compelled to shave frequently."  In disbelief, she "went to see the great specialists of New York, and it is said that all of them told her just what Dr. Finley had announced."

Shockingly today, May Best was informed that she must "go out into the world as a man in masculine garb, and with a man's name."  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said she was "prostrated" at the revelation and at the "truth that she must change her whole life."

By 1911 the hotel had been renamed the Felix-Portland and had become a favorite of well-to-do Hispanics.  Residing here that year was the family of Luis Fajardo, "one of the wealthiest men of Porto Rico," according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  Fajardo was a partner in the sugar importing firm of Fajardo, Ward & Co.  The Hotel Felix-Portland was the family's New York home, and they spent most of their time at on their cotton plantation in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Fajardo's 19 year old daughter, Consuelo, was in love with Pablo Cabral.  Although Cabral held a significant position as the Santo Domingo Consul General to Puerto Rico, Fajaro objected to the romance "because he says the man has negro blood in his veins," reported The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  To separate the pair, Fajaro brought Consuelo to New York.

On October 18, 1911 Consuelo left the Hotel Felix-Portland, saying she was going to buy a magazine.  She did not return.  Her frantic father launched an investigation.  But, according to the San Francisco Call on October 27, "The police have been quietly searching for Miss Fajardo for a week, but have obtained no clew to here whereabouts."

Another story of family-opposed love affected residents of the Hotel Felix-Portland two years later.  Mrs. Rosario de Blanck Tavernilla, who came from "an old Cuban family," lived here at the time.  Her father was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in Havana.  The family had immigrated to New York when the Spanish-American War broke out.

Rosario's brother, Hurbert de Blanck y Monocal, had "become much attached to Leopoldina Tamayo," according to The Sun, while still in Cuba.  The girl was 13 years old and the daughter of a prominent family.  Her father, like Luis Fajardo, was adamantly 0pposed to the match.

The Tamayos returned to Cuba following the war.  The Sun reported, "The boy and girl finally threatened to elope and the girl was brought to New York again and was put in St. Vincent's convent."  Despite several attempts, Monocal was not allowed to see his love, and he returned to Havana.  But two years later, thinking the romance had been forgotten, the girl's family brought her back home.  The two renewed their courtship.

The Sun reported, "finally Mr. Tamayo gave his daughter her choice of breaking with Menocal or being disinherited.  When Menocal heard of this he shot himself."  The bullet, however, did not kill him.  It passed out of his left eye, blinding him on that side.

Now in November 1913 the 29-year-old was in the Hotel Felix-Portland with his sister.  He had arrived in hopes of saving the sight in his remaining eye, which had become "seriously affected," according to The Sun.  The newspaper reported, "When the specialists here have done what they can for him, whether they save the eye or not, Menocal says he will return to Havana and marry Miss Tamayo."

Silent film actor Henry Carvill lived in the Hotel Felix-Portland by 1916.  World War I would present him with several roles in propaganda films, such as the 1918 To Hell with the Kaiser! and the 1919 movies The Great Victory, Wilson or the Kaiser? and The Fall of the Hohenzollerns.

A postcard showed the elegant dining room in a side-wise insert.

At the end of the war, the Hotel Felix-Portland continued to be a favorite of wealthy Hispanics.  Rosario de Blanck Tavernilla was still here in 1919 when her sister visited.  The Sun reported on July 21, "Senora R. de Blanck, sister of Senor de Blanck, Cuba's representative in the conferences of peace, is at Hotel Felix Portland."

On the same page the newspaper reported "Senor Dr. Juan Paneque and Senor Dr. Bayonne from Cuba recently came to New York on a pleasure trip.  They are staying at Hotel Felix Portland."  The newspaper also noted that "Senor Manuel Bonilla, formerly a Minister in the President Madero's Cabinet," was staying here.

The heavily Cuban and Puerto Rican guest list prompted an advertisement in The Sun on August 16, 1920 that read, "Cook wanted, assistant, Cuban or Spanish."

Room rates in 1924 were "$2.50 up."  The least expensive room would be about $38 per night in today's money.

In 1927, 31-year-old Joseph Burns not only lived here, but ran a nightclub on the ground floor.  Federal agents had a problem with that, since Prohibition was still in effect.  On October 31 he appeared before Judge Jesse Silbermann in Jefferson Market Court, charged with operating a cabaret without a license.

Spanish heavyweight boxer Paolino Uzcudun lived here in 1929.  That year The Standard Union called him the "contender for the heavyweight throne abdicated by Gene Tunney."  On the night of May 7 the fighter was driving on the East Side when he struck 15-year-old Charles Klopowitz, breaking the teen's ankle.

Uzcudun picked up the boy, placed him in his automobile, and rushed him to the Methodist Hospital on Seventh Avenue.  The Standard Union said "Charley is one of five children.  He lives with his parents at 536 third avenue.  He is employed in a Manhattan factory."

The prize fighter was celebrated enough to merit a cigarette card.

Uzcudun was unnerved by the experience.  "The incident apparently worried him," said the newspaper.  After he returned to the Hotel Felix-Portland, Charley was more focused on the famous pugilist than on his injuries.  "Gee, he's a great fighter and I guess he's a great guy too.  Maybe Mr. Paulino will come to see me?" he said to a doctor.  He was assured Uzcudun would probably be back.

"After all, it isn't every fellow who can be hit by a famous prize fighter's car," he said.

Two months later Uzcudun won his match against famed fighter Harry Wills in just four rounds.  

Turn of the century buildings like this one fell from favor in the second half of the 20th century.  The Hotel Felix-Portland was converted to a single room occupancy hotel, the Rio Hotel.  The conditions were so decrepit that the city's Department of Social Services deemed it unfit for use as a welfare hotel in 1972.  Robert Jorgen, director of the department's hotel task force explained "a hotel was made non-referable when a community group or the city complained about social conditions."

In the 1990's the building was known as the Portland Square Hotel.  There were 144 rooms in the building.  In her "Frugal Traveler" column in The New York Times on February 15, 1998 Susan Spano called it "a true bare-bones budget spot."  She cautioned, "Don't let the Portland's handsomely renovated red brick facade and Greek Revival porte-cochere fool you.  Inside, the lobby is Pepto-Bismol pink, decorated with security monitors and lockers....The front desk is behind glass, recalling a sleazy liquor store's checkout counter."

Change came in 2011 when a renovation resulted in the Sanctuary Hotel, a boutique hotel.  Berlitz New York said, "prices are reasonable, the style is hip and modern, and theater lovers will find the location ideal."  In 2019 the Sushi Lab restaurant opened, and on the roof is another restaurant, Haven Rooftop.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog


  1. I'm sure every hotel has its share of drama; but so much of this hotel's drama made its way into the press.

    Dr. Claude N. Finley had an interesting bedside manner. "You're a man, not a woman. You must change your sexual identity now. To help you along, I'm reporting my findings to the 'The Brooklyn Daily Eagle', where you live. Don't forget to pay your bill on your way out."

    Leopoldina Tamayo needed to think twice before marrying Hurbert de Blanck y Monocal. She's looking at a guy who decided to kill himself if she was disinherited for marrying him — did he not want her without her family’s money? Then he couldn’t even shoot himself in the head without just blinding himself in one eye.

    1. Doug, your critique had me laughing aloud. Thanks for this!

  2. September 6 1901 My great grand mother of Puerto Rico passed away at this Hotel, a month later Consuelo Disappeared from the Hotel.