Friday, May 20, 2022

The Hotel Wellington - 871 Seventh Avenue


On March 2, 1901 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that Charles F. Rogers had leased "the new hotel building...on the east side of 7th av." midblock between 55th and 56th Street to hotelier Arthur W. Eager.  The article noted, "Mr. Eager will conduct the new building, to be known as the Hotel Wellington, in conjunction with his other houses," the Schuyler and Orleans Hotels.  
Interestingly, ground had not yet been broken for the structure.  

Charles F. Rogers acted as his own architect.  His 12-story Hotel Wellington was completed in 1902.  Faced in red brick, the Renaissance Revival design included a faux balcony at the fourth floor, and a full-width stone balcony at the tenth.  Rogers gave the ground floor a welcoming, almost cottage-like entrance above brick steps, flanked by flower boxes.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

A residential hotel, the Wellington accepted both permanent and transient guests.  It became a favorite among theatrical circles and among the initial residents was actress Julie Opp.  The year she moved in, she co-starred with the handsome and popular William Faversham in The Royal Rival.  She was married at the time to British actor Robert Loraine.

Julie Opp.  Country Life magazine, May 12, 1900 (copyright expired)

Julie Opp's stay at the Hotel Wellington would be short, indeed.  Although her co-star was married to socialite Edith Campbell, a romance blossomed off stage.   Both divorced their spouses and on December 29, 1902 The Evening World reported, "Miss Julie Opp left her apartments in the Hotel Wellington to-day and, accompanied by her mother, went to Greenwich, Conn., where she was married at noon to William Faversham."  (The couple had to marry there because Faversham's divorce decree forbade him to remarry in the state of New York.)

The couple moved into Faversham's apartment in the Milano on West 58th Street.  The Evening World commented, "Before Miss Opp was married to-day her maid carried several bags and boxes from the Hotel Wellington to the Milano."

The hotel's entrance was quite English and equally charming.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Another actress living here at the time was Etta Butler.  She had first stepped onto the stage at the age of 19 in San Francisco.  She was featured in Charles Frohman's comedies, and landed a long-term contract with David Belasco.  In 1902, the year she moved into the Hotel Wellington, she was among original cast of the Liberty Belles.  

Etta Butler, from the collection of the New York Public Library

On December 1, 1902, Etta fell ill with typhoid fever and was taken to a private room in Roosevelt Hospital.  The Evening World reported, "Miss Butler's parents, who reside in California, were notified of her critical condition and hundreds of sympathetic friends constantly inquired about her at the hospital."  The parents boarded a train in San Francisco, "hoping to see Miss Butler before she died."  But they were too late.  The popular actress died on January 6, 1903 at the age of 24.

The lobby and dining room of the original hotel.  photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Among the well-heeled permanent residents in 1909 was  bachelor Frederic C. Osborne, who worked as a salesman for the International Bank Note Company.  An associate, G. D. Webber said he was "known among his business associates as 'Earnest' Osborne, and was one of the highest paid salesmen in the bank note industry."

Although he had no financial worries, Osborne was suffering from what his brother said was a "chronic malady" which had "greatly depressed him."  When Osborne did not answer a telephone call on January 20, 1909, a bellboy was sent up to check on him.  The Evening World reported he "found Mr. Osborne dead on the floor.  The room was full of gas and every fixture in the room was wide open."

His brother, L. A. Osborne, attributed his death to "the cheerlessness of life in a hotel" and said, "He had often threatened to take his own life unless he could find a more cheerful way of living."  

Two views of the upscale parlors in the original hotel, one even furnished with a piano.  photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Several of the tenants used their apartments both as living quarters and artistic studios.  In 1915, for instance, the studio of Ellmer Zoller, a pianist and accompanist, was in his apartment; as was that of William Reddick, and Alise Nielsen, also pianists, accompanists, and teachers.  Voice coach Adreinne Remenyi-Von Ende's "residence studio" was in the building by 1921.

In 1929 The New York Times headlined and article, "Hotel Wellington to Have Annex," and reported, "A twenty-five story structure to be erected at the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street as an annex to the thirteen-story Hotel Wellington, adjoining on the north, will cost $850,000."  That figure would amount to $12.8 million today.  The Hotel Wellington's owners, the 817 Seventh Avenue Hotel Corporation, had no way of knowing that the Stock Market would crash six months later, initiating the Great Depression.

The addition, designed by Robert T. Lyons, greatly overshadowed the original building.  Its Art Deco mass rose high above the Charles F. Rogers structure, making it merely a footnote.  

As seen in this postcard, the original building was modernized as well.  The balconies were stripped off and a modern marquee installed.  

A much different type of resident arrived in 1938.  General Alexander Orlov had played a major role in the Soviet Union's intelligence operations in England and in Spain.  Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, he convinced the Spanish Government to relocated nearly 500 tons of gold--the fourth largest reserve in the world--to Moscow for "safekeeping."

Alexander Orlov's photo for a fraudulent passport. (image in public domain)

But despite his achievements, he was ordered back to Moscow from Spain in July 1938 at the pinnacle of Joseph Stalin's political and military purges.  Rather than obey and be executed, he embezzled between $22,000 and $60,000 in Soviet cash and fled with his family to Canada, leaving behind a letter to Stalin saying he would reveal everything he knew about Soviet intelligence if he were followed.

From Canada, he slipped south to New York City and registered at the Hotel Wellington as Leon Koornick.  The world-class spy managed to avoid discovery by either the Soviets or the FBI.   He left the Wellington eventually, moving ever westward.   He remained reclusive until a month after Stalin's death when he published an article, "The Ghastly Secrets of Stalin's Power" in the April 6, 1953 issue of Life magazine.

In the latter part of the 20th century, the Hotel Wellington suffered from old age.  Claire Berman, writing in the October 12, 1970 issue of New York Magazine, said:

In Hilton country and immediately opposite the Park Sheraton sit the Wellington, an undistinguished building containing 838 rooms--all with combination tub and shower, TV, air conditioning.  In short, the basics are here, but little else.  The rooms are decorated with dime-store art and other touches from the same school of design.  Nevertheless, they are cheerier than, say, those at the Commodore, and you will be able to stay here in comfort if not in style.

Nonetheless, there were still those who were permanent residents.  Among them was summer theater impresario Milton Stiefel, whose other home was in Essex, Connecticut.  It was at his Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut that Katharine Hepburn made her professional debut in 1930.  Stiefel died of a heart attack in his apartment in the Hotel Wellington on November 18, 1983, at the age of 83.

Three years later, in September, Federal agents arrested four members of a foreign heroin ring in the hotel, seizing more than half a million dollars in cash.  Much of the information that led to the bust had come from the Royal Thai Police. 

On December 5, 2021 Steve Cuozzo, writing in the New York Post, said, "The Wellington Hotel, a tourist landmark at 871 Seventh Ave. and West 55th St. since 1902, appears headed for its final check-out."  The building's owner, Richad Born, had invoked a demolition clause to evict four retail tenants, including the Greek restaurant Molyvos, which had been in the hotel since about 1997.

image via

And yet, according to Cuozzo, "Born's plans remain a mystery.  Neither demolition nor construction plans have yet been filed with the Department of Buildings."  Despite it all, the Hotel Wellington is still accepting reservations, so its fate seems to be undecided.

many thanks to reader Keith Leong for requesting this post.
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