Monday, May 9, 2022

The Lost Cadillac Hotel - Broadway and 43rd Street

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

On January 16, 1882, brothers Robert and Ogden Goelet purchased the vacant land at the northeast corner of Broadway and 43rd Street from Edwin A. Cruikshank.  They commissioned architect Hugo Kafka to design an upscale hotel on the site--a move that surprised most New Yorkers.

The neighborhood, known as Longacre Square, was the center of the carriage making industry and was far north of the business and entertainment districts.  The New York Times later said, "A few blocks to the north, at the upper end of the square, stood the large Brewster carriage factory, and in the adjacent blocks other firms in what was then a flourishing industry operated successfully."

Hugo Kafka was born in Austria and had studied under the well-known German architect Gottfried Semper.  For two years he served as the "principal assistant architect" at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition."  His plans for the Goelet project called for "one eight-story brick and Belleville stone hotel."  His Second Empire style design was the latest in architectural taste.  

The main entrance on Broadway sat with a columned portico that provided a balcony to the second floor.  A second entrance on 43rd Street was most likely for unescorted ladies.  Intermediate cornices divided the heavy mass of the upper floors into three sections.  By chamfering the corner, Kafa provided visual interest, extra light and ventilation, and downtown views to the corner rooms.  The building was crowned by a parapet that housed a large clock.

The fortunes of Robert and Ogden Goelet came from real estate.  Their business philosophy was to acquire properties while never selling properties.  They were not, however, hoteliers.  And so they leased the new structure to William and Hooper C. Barrett, known as the Barrett Brothers.  Named the Barrett House, it opened on September 29, 1883 "on the European Plan," meaning that meals in the dining room were not included in the room fee.  The suites cost "$1.50 and up," an affordable $40 per night in today's money for the cheapest accommodations.

Like many other hotels, the Barrett House accepted both long-term and transient guests.  The permanent residents were mostly well-to-do professionals, like broker Richard M. Collins, and George W. Sutton, Jr., an executive with the dry goods firm of Passavant & Co.  Perhaps the first theatrical guest was well-known actor James O'Neill.  He took a suite in August 1888 for himself, his pregnant wife, Mary Ellen Quinlan, and their two young sons, James and Edmund.

James O'Neill's career was tainted by repeated scandals involving women.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

O'Neill was best known for his leading role in The Count of Monte Cristo.  A year before he moved into the Barrett House, the San Francisco Morning Call had estimated his personal fortune at $250,000--more than $7 million today.  He may have been eager to get his family settled because he was about to leave on tour.  In his absence, on October 16, 1888, Mary Ellen gave birth to a baby boy in their suite.  Named Eugene, he would go on to become one of America's greatest playwrights and a Nobel laureate.  Reportedly, Eugene O'Neill kept a picture of the Barrett House among his possessions throughout his lifetime.

The dining room (above) and the cafe.   photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

A heart-breaking story had played out in the Barrett House a few months before the O'Neills moved in.  On the evening of July 28, 1886, a young woman checked in as "Mrs. Stanly, Philadelphia."  She had dinner in the dining room later, and mailed a letter in the lobby.  The New York Times reported, "That was the last seen of her until the chambermaid found her dead body" the following morning.  She had shot herself in the head, leaving a note for the coroner that read:

Dear Sir:  I leave this note so as to obviate the necessity of holding an inquest, as I have deliberately committed suicide for my family's sake.  I beg of you not to try and find out who I am.  Trusting that you will grant me a resting place among God's poor and unfortunate ones in Potter's Field, and conduct this matter as quickly as possible, I am respectfully yours.

Her hopes of remaining anonymous would not come to be.  Just as the hotel's messenger reached the Coroners' office, "an agitated gentlemen went in too, and he heard the messenger describe the suicide," said The New York Times.  "'My God!' he cried.  'She is my daughter.'"

Colonel Robert Johnstone, a lawyer, had already received the letter mailed from the lobby the previous evening.  His daughter, Elizabeth, had married John Clairmonte six years earlier when she was 21.  Clairmonte was "complaining, tyrannical and abusive," according to friends.  The couple had two children.  In December 1885, Clairmonte divorced Elizabeth, accusing her of infidelity.  Elizabeth lost custody of her children.  The New York Times reported, "She was a woman of great will power, and outwardly she made no sign.  but evidently her trouble prayed upon her so that she felt she could to bear it and determined upon suicide."

On the day of her funeral, John Clairmonte rushed into the undertaker's establishment.  Elizabeth had sent him a letter, as well.  The New York Times said, "Young Clairmonte seemed to be not very much grieved over the sad death of his pretty wife."  Her letter had told him of her intended suicide, asked his forgiveness "for all the misery I have caused you," and ended saying, "Kiss Lewis and Emme for me and accept the love of your unfortunate."

William Barrett died of blood poisoning following an operation in 1893 at the age of 46.  Hooper lost the hotel to bankruptcy in 1900.  Next door, on West 43rd Street, was the Cadillac Hotel, which also sat on Goelet land.  On June 22, 1902 the New-York Daily Tribune reported that the Goelets had leased both buildings to Quartus A. Graves for 15 years.  He operated them jointly as the Cadillac Hotel.  

Apparently part of the negotiations was the replacement of the old Cadillac Hotel building with a modern structure.  On March 15, 1903, The Sun reported, "Plans have been filed with the building bureau for a new twelve-story be built by the Ogden Goelet estate at 153 and 155 West Forty-third street."  The new building was projected to cost $180,000, or nearly $5.5 million today.

The new building made no attempt at melding with its vintage neighbor.  Other than signage, there was no hint that the two structures composed a single hotel.

The lobby and the main desk in 1907.  photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Cadillac Hotel was the scene of a bizarre hoax in December 1903.  Colonel Henry Gillum, described by The Evening World as "a lawyer and member of an old Virginia family," told police he had come to New York to present the Museum of Natural History with a unique item--a gold watch in the shape of a green beetle which had been fashioned for Queen Maria Christina, the great-grandmother of King Alfonso of Spain.

He said his father-in-law, Colonel William C. Duffield, had purchased the watch in Cuba in 1834 for $500.  The Evening World described the timepiece saying:

The bug watch is two and a quarter inches long.  I has curved horns projecting from the front of the head, six jointed legs, three on each side, wings of solid gold, body of enameled bright green, springs under the hindermost legs which when pressed cause the wings to open and reveals a very small watch with perfect works and white face.

Police Inspector McClusky sent out a general alarm to all pawnbrokers in the city.  He told reported "There is not another watch like it in the world."  The Evening World noted, "When lost the bug watch was in a brown morocco case lined with white satin and containing a peculiar key.  The case bore the name of Tiffany & Co., where the watch was repaired in 1878."

But then, on January 21, 1904, having read the description in the newspapers, attorney Abe Levy called the inspector saying he had the "bug watch."  He had purchased it at a sale on Maiden Lane in December 1899, and had the sale papers.  The Sun wrote, "Why Col. Gillum, of the South, should announce that he'd lost it and that he wanted to present it to the Metropolitan Museum McClusky didn't explain."

Two of the parlors in the suites as they appeared in 1907.   photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

In 1910 the Wallick Brothers took over the lease, renaming it the Hotel Wallick.  Hotel World recalled in 1919, "When the Wallick Brothers took hold of the hotel, they enlarged it and spent a large sum on improvements."  Indeed, in October 1911 the Goelet Estate hired architect John H. Duncan to alter the original building.  The Real Estate Record & Guide said "Alterations consist of changes to the entrance and sidewalk of the 'Cadillac Hotel.'"  It was most likely at this time that the portico was removed and the entrance shifted to the corner.

By now Longacre Square had been renamed Times Square.  It was the new center of the theater district.  The hotel saw an increasing number of theatrical residents, like actor James Garrison who lived here in 1912.

What the Wallick brothers had not foreseen, however, was the coming of Prohibition, which caused the closing of thousands of restaurants and hotels across the country.  On August 9, 1919 Hotel World announced, "The effects of prohibition, it is said, influenced the Wallick brothers in giving up control of the hotel."  Under new management, the hotel once again became the Cadillac Hotel.

For its 50th anniversary, the vintage building received a facelift in the spring of 1933.  On May 28, 1933, The New York Times reported, "The exterior of the building has been restored to its original freshness by sandblasting and the familiar clock in the little tower surmounting the roof has had its face washed and its works renovated for another long period of utility."

Despite the restoration, in 1935 the lower floors were heavily altered and plastered with advertising.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

That "long period of utility" was not to be.  Only seven years later, on March 19, 1940, The New York Times reported, "The busy Times Square district is about to lose one of its earliest landmarks."  The newspaper said the hotel "soon will bow to the changing times," noting that the "weather-worn clock at the top of the building, which for half a century was a dependable timekeeper known to thousands who passed the corner daily, has outlived its usefulness."

The land was still owned by the Goelet family.  The New York Times noted that Ogden Goelet had passed title to his daughter, May, "who became the wife of the duke of Roxburghe.  Her son, the present Duke of Roxburghe, now owns the property."  The article noted that the duke's representatives had taken bids "from wrecking firms for tearing down the old structure."

Today the 34-floor 1500 Broadway, designed by Leo Kornblath and completed in 1972, occupies the site.

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