Friday, October 1, 2021

The 1904 Hotel Seville (The NoMad) - Madison Avenue and 29th Street


At the turn of the last century the neighborhood north of Madison Square saw the rise of several lavish Beaux Arts style residence hotels.  In 1901 ground was broken for the Hotel Seville, intended to equal or surpass its rivals.  Then, two years into the project, things ground to a halt when the developer ran out of cash.

The property was sold at foreclosure in the fall of 1903 for $489,000--a staggering $14.9 million today.  The Real Estate Record & Guide reported, "it was estimated at the time that it would cost about $150,000 to complete it."  That would add another $4.5 million in today's money to the total outlay.  Construction resumed, but infighting among the newly-formed syndicate, the Twenty-two East Twenty-ninth Street Company, became unworkable.

On January 9, 1904 the Record & Guide reported that two members of the firm, attorneys Louis C. Raegener and Harold Binney, had bought out their partners.  The men promised, "The hotel will be opened in the near future."

Designed by Harry Allan Jacobs, the 13-story brick-and-stone structure would be adorned with frothy French decoration.  Jacobs gave the red brick, seven-story mid-section added dimension and color with bowed metal bays.  The chamfered corner provided sweeping views from the upper rooms and from the first floor main dining room.  The entrance, centered on the 29th Street elevation, sat within a dignified, columned portico.

photo by Wurts Bros from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Hotel Seville catered to both transient and permanent residents.  Its upscale accommodations and relative proximity to the 23rd Street theater district prompted the world-famous London actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell to check in shortly after the doors opened.  She was best known for her roles in plays by James Barrie, George Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare.

Mrs. Patrick Campbell from the collection of the University of Washington, special collections

The "Marian's Chat" column of The Morning Telegraph on September 19, 1904 reported somewhat cattily: 

Mrs. Pat Campbell is here.  Yes, with her gowns, her maid, her accent, and her daughter.  They are all stopping at the Seville Hotel, a select hostelry, done in pale yellow, on Madison avenue.  Mrs. Pat is so fatigued by her trip, has so many trunks to unpack, is so busy unpacking them, is so anything else you can think of, that I suggest we all bury ourselves in tanbark, and be quiet.

Mrs. Campbell may have thought twice about stopping at the Seville had she been aware of an incident a week earlier.  On September 10 The Evening World had reported, "Another of the jewel robbers in the hotels of the 'Tenderloin' that have become so frequent of late was revealed to-day in the Jefferson Market Court."  George Potter had been arrested and charged with grand larceny.  Potter, who worked as a hallboy in the Hotel Seville, was accused of robbing a permanent resident, Mrs. Arthur Paton.

Glass panels installed across the portico prevent drafts inside during the cool months in this photo taken around 1917.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

The Evening World explained, "Mrs. Paton, who is an invalid, said that she lay down for a nap yesterday afternoon, and the last person she saw was Potter, who had carried a glass of lemonade to her room."  Mrs. Paton had secreted a sealskin bag with her jewelry under a pillow.  She drifted off to sleep and when she awoke discovered it was missing.  She notified the manager who was told that Potter had left the hotel.  He had made off with nearly $40,000 in gems in today's money.

The New-York Tribune pictures the marble-lined lobby (above) and the Tudor ceilinged dining room on May 18, 1905 (copyright expired)

In March 1905 Mary Gallaway took a three-room suite, "one of the finest in the hotel," according to the New-York Tribune.  She was accompanied by a full-time attendant, Margaret Withers.  Mary's decision to move into the Seville was a complicated one.

The 27-year-old was the only daughter of millionaire Robert M. Gallaway.  He was president of the Merchants' National Bank , president of the New-York Mutual Gas Light Company, and a director of several railroads.  The Evening World described Mary as "thin and delicate and suffer[ing] from a complication of complaints that had superinduced neurasthenia."  The condition resulted in extreme fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

Mary's mother, a "dominant, forceful woman," according to The Evening World, was suffering from heart problems.  "The daughter, so nervous that the least disturbance or untoward happening threw her into the boarders of hysteria, discovered that her condition was detrimental to the state of health of her mother," said the newspaper.

It was decided that by moving Mary out of the house the chances of recovery for both would be improved.  Mary spent most of her time here in bed, attended to by the family doctor.  When she did venture out, Margaret Gallagher accompanied her.

Two weeks after she move in, at 5:30 on the afternoon of April 9, 1905, Dr. Ellsworth Eliot, Jr., arrived for his usual visit.  Notified by the front desk that he was there, Margaret informed Mary.  Mary asked her to get a dress from the wardrobe, and as Margaret turned her back to retrieve it, she heard a pistol shot.  She swirled around to see Mary on the bed with blood streaming from her mouth.

Dr. Eliot later told reporters, "the only explanation I can give for her shooting herself is that she became tired of living the life of an invalid and decided to make way with herself."  Now there was the additional matter of her mother.  He called the Gallaway house, but Robert was not home.   After telling the butler what had happened, he "told him not to breathe a hint of it to Mrs. Gallway, not even to tell her that he had called up the house, but to go at once in search of Mr. Gallaway," said The Evening World.

The success of the Hotel Seville was such that only a year after it opened, Louis C. Raegner purchased the property next door on East 29th Street running through the block to East 28th Street as the site of an annex.  On December 9, 1905 the Record & Guide reported he had hired architect Charles P. Mott to design the 10-story addition.  "The new part in design will harmonize in exterior and interior with the old part," said the article.

Indeed it did.  Although noticeably shorter, the annex melded nearly seamlessly with the original structure.  The addition doubled the size of the hotel, with an additional 21 rooms and 19 bathrooms per floor.

The slightly shorter annex is seen in a vintage postcard.

The Hotel Seville was now among the largest hotels in the city with a total of 400 rooms and 300 baths.  Upon completion of the addition, the New-York Tribune reported on September 15, 1907, "The entire first floor, on which are the office, foyer, restaurant, ladies' parlor and palm garden, is wainscotted in Siena marble.  The ladies' parlor is finished in white and gold."

The 1907 addition extends through the block to East 28th Street.

The affluent residents of the Hotel Seville were not accustomed to the presence of police, of shouting in the hallways, or the beating on doors.  But on March 11, 1908 The Evening World reported that detectives and Post-Office inspectors "kept the usually quiet and exclusive Seville in an uproar last night."

Frances McLean and her husband, Thomas O'Connor, had been charged with using the United States mail "to further a swindling scheme manipulated from Wall Street," according to the newspaper.  That evening officials arrived at their seventh-floor suite to arrest them.  The couple would not go quietly.

From behind their locked door, according to The Evening World, "'Have you a warrant?' asked Miss McLean, in a shrill, angry voice."

"No, we have not.  But there are warrants out for both of you."

The newspaper reported O'Connor yelled back, "You go to hell and get that warrant.  I defy you to arrest either of us."

While a messenger rushed to obtain the warrants, police scaled the fire escapes to prevent escape.  The siege continued until 2 a.m. when, with warrants in hand, Marshall Henkel beat loudly on the door, yelling "Open! Or I shall break down the door."

The door opened.  The Evening World said, "the woman, fully dressed for the street, and smiling blandly, stood before the inspectors and detective.  She was followed by O'Connor."

The article concluded, "The halls of the hotel were crowded with guests who had been aroused by the disturbance.  The prisoners passed through the crowd, still smiling and apparently amused.  They were taken to the Tombs."

Rates for transient rooms ranged from $2 to $6 per day in 1910.  That would translate to around $170 a night for the most expensive accommodations today.

In the fall of 1911 John J. McCarthy came to New York on business and brought his wife, Frances along.  They checked into the Hotel Seville.  The New-York Tribune described McCarthy as "one of Holyoke's wealthiest residents" and said the couple "are socially prominent in Massachusetts."  

On September 27, while her husband conducted business downtown, Frances went shopping on Sixth Avenue.  In one emporium, she caught the attention of store detective John J. McCarthy.  To avoid her notice, he watched her in the reflection of a mirror with his back turned.  The New-York Tribune reported, "He trailed and watched her go about the store, up stairs and down.  Finally, he alleges, he saw her carefully roll up a waist and slip it into her blouse jacket and then go to the women's waiting room, and then out of the store."

He seized her on the sidewalk.  As it turned out, the blouse was not the only item she had taken.  She also had "corset covers, a waist, lingerie and the like--in all amounting in value to $21," said the newspaper.  Frances broke into tears, pleading to be let go and saying she did not know why she did it.

Instead, she was arrested.  The manager of the Hotel Seville, Edward Purchas, appeared in court, provided bail, and took Frances back to the hotel.  Reporters followed and were in the lobby when John McCarthy returned.  He had apparently been notified of the incident ahead of time.

"It is all a mistake, it is all a mistake," he said as he pushed through the reporters, "and it has been practically admitted.  I have nothing else to say."  

One can imagine he had much more to say to his wife when he reached their rooms.

Guests paid as much at $10 per night for a parlor, bedroom and bath in 1915.  New-York Tribune, May 23, 1915 (copyright expired)

Advocates lauded the enactment of Prohibition as the removal of the scourge of alcohol from society.  But officials soon found that it was being replaced by a far deadlier substitute--drugs.  A sedative called veronal become popular within months of the new law.

By October 10, 1920 the New York Herald reported that an investigation by the Department of Health, "already shows that the drug is being used extensively by persons who formerly found exhilaration in alcohol."  The article said, "This latest phase of the peril of drug addiction which threatens every community came to light only a few days ago through the death of a young woman at the Hotel Seville from an overdose of this sleep inducing agent."  

In the early 1960's the Seville Galleries occupied space in the ground floor on 29th Street.  On May 10, 1964 The New York Times reported on an auction held there of "Persian, Chinese and other oriental rugs, including some rare examples."

But things were declining in the aging hotel.  On September 20, 1971 narcotics detectives raided a room and arrested four men for possession of heroin and amphetamines.  And on October 6, 1975 the Herald Stateman reported that resident Thomas Keough had been arrested on charges of passing counterfeit travelers checks.  The article said that Keough, who had at least 12 different aliases, "had a prior record of convictions for forgery, robbery, burglary, narcotics violations and other crimes."

In 1980 police were dealing with a series of brutal murders of prostitutes whose bodies were subsequently mutilated--the heads and hands severed.  On May 15 firefighters responded to a fire in a room in the Hotel Seville.  Inside they found the body of Jean Reyner a "high-class prostitute" who normally operated from far classier hotels.  In addition to evidence of bondage and torture, her breasts had been removed and displayed on the bed's headboard.

Rather surprisingly, given the recent history, in 1985 New York University rented 350 rooms on the top floors as additional dormitory space for freshmen and transfer students.

Change came in 2000 when a $60 million restoration began that would result in the Hotel Carlton.  Five years later John Holusha, writing in The New York Times, reported that after an eight-month restoration, the stained glass dome in the bar (the former café) had been completed.  "The layers of tobacco tar and dirt were so thick that the dome appeared to have been painted black," he said.  "In fact, the glass held a cornucopia, its contents depicted in bright colors."

A three-story addition on Madison Avenue was part of the renovation.  The new entrance on Madison Avenue opened into a new lobby with a waterfall.  On November 11, 2007 The New York Times journalist Frank Bruni wrote, "The presence of Country, owned and run by the chef Geoffrey Zakarian, is a big point in the Carlton's favor."  The reputation the hotel enjoyed in the Edwardian era had been restored.  Bruni added, "the Carlton gives a much greater sense of luxury than a Sheraton, say at a similar price."

Today it is NoMad, operated by The James Hotels.  And while nearly nothing survives of the early 20th century interiors, outside the ebullient Beaux Arts design is wonderfully intact.

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


  1. In the early 1970's the Seville, and the Hotel Collingwood, ran a heavy TV ad campaign to attract travelers on a budget.

  2. I was one of those NYU transfer students you mention, having come to New York to attend NYU in 1985. I met my first wife in the lobby, as some of us gathered to watch filming of a scene of the Michael Keaton film Johnny Dangerously. I recall he ran up the stairs and into the lobby then said a few lines, over and over and over again! I think we lost interest after a while. Thank you for this post.

  3. Love learning about this. I actually work in the restaurant in the building and this is all so fascinating. feeling nostalgic lol

  4. I remember the 1970s Seville/Collingwood hotel commercials...I understand that at the time the two hotels were owned by a company called AdMarketing that was in the business of buying blocks of television time from stations and reselling the time to advertisers at a markup,with any time they did not manage to resell being used to advertise their hotels.

  5. My grandmother who was a model lived there for many years during the 1930-1980's.