Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Emery Roth's 1925 Buckingham Hotel - 101 West 57th Street

image via

In 1922, the doors of the upscale Buckingham Hotel on Fifth Avenue were closed forever.  The building was demolished to make way for the Saks Department Store.  A year later, developers Uris Brothers commissioned Emery Roth to design a new Buckingham Hotel at Sixth Avenue and 57th Street.  The 57-year-old architect was quickly becoming one of the most influential apartment house designers of the period.

Roth's Renaissance Revival design included double-height arcades at the 12th- and 13th-floors decorated with engaged terra cotta columns and elaborate Renaissance style spandrels and tympana.  A bracketed cornice originally crowned the 15th floor.  Opened in 1925, the Buckingham Hotel accommodated both transient guests and permanent residents.  For families who needed additional space for servants, maids rooms were available on the second floor.  A lavish penthouse and a "sunparlor" occupied the 16th floor.

Among the initial residents were Andre David and his wife, who lived on the sixth floor.  An importer, he sailed to Europe on business late in 1925.  On December 10, Mrs. David took in a Broadway show.  In her absence, thieves climbed the scaffolding of buildings being demolished next door and reached her windows.  The New York Sun reported they "rifled her bureau and closets and stole $5,000 worth of jewelry and furs."  The loss would equal about $83,500 in 2023.

Alphonse G. Kaufmann and his wife were also original residents.  He was the manager of the Great Northern Hotel on West 56th Street.  Among their neighbors was Bruce Edwards and his Airedale Terrier.  Disregarding their lease, the Kaufmanns moved out on February 1, 1926, leaving unpaid rent of $805.  The hotel sued and the case landed in court on May 17.

Kaufmann's defense was that he had been technically evicted.  He had complained repeatedly, he said, that Edwards's dog barked "day and night"  He was unable to sleep, and "it was so bad that it drove his wife almost into hysterics."  Management's failure to correct the situation "constitutes a technical eviction," alleged Kaufmann's attorney, Sheridan Abels.

Bruce Edwards and his dog were brought into the courtroom "to prove its good manners," reported The New York Times, "and while the lawyers argued, it wagged its tail in evident enjoyment.  It did not bark."  Sheridan Abels was quick to point out to the court that the dog was muzzled.  In the end, the jury sided with the defense, ruling that the Kaufmanns had been evicted.  They did, however, award the hotel $55 "which Mr. Kaufmann owed for meals and incidentals."

Buchanan Schley, Jr. was a respected member of the New York Cotton Exchange.  Living in the 15th-floor apartment with him and his wife, the former Nathalie Selbie, was their son, Buchanan Schley, 3rd.  The senior Schley died "suddenly" in the apartment on November 14, 1926.  (The term often suggested a heart attack.)  His funeral was held in St. Thomas's Church on Fifth Avenue two days later.

Four months later, on March 6, Buchanan Schley emerged from his bedroom around 7:00.  The New York Sun reported, "He looked for his mother and found her room unoccupied, as were other rooms in the suite. Then he discovered that a window in his mother's room was open. Looking down he saw her body on the roof extension." 

Suicide in the 1920s still carried the stain of disgrace for well-to-do families.  In almost every case, attempts at damage control were immediate.  Buchanan said his mother had been in good spirits the evening before, and the hotel manager "pointed out that the low sill of the window of her room made it possible that she had fallen."  One of Buchanan's former classmates, John P. East, told The New York Sun he believed "that she had perhaps found the room too warm, had opened the window and leaned out for air and had lost her balance."

In April 1928, John Gellatly moved into the Buckingham Hotel.  His wife, the former Edith Rogers, had died on July 17, 1913, leaving a collection of more than 200 paintings, including works by Frederick S. Church, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Albert P. Ryder and Abbott H. Thayer.  

Gellatly had continued to collect and, according to the Catalog of American and European Paintings in the Gellatly Collection of the Smithsonian Institution, "In the 1920's the importance of the collection was greatly increased by the addition of many outstanding items."  On May 12, 1929, just before the onslaught of the Great Depression, Gellatly donated his entire collection, valued at the time at $5 million (closer to $85.5 million today) to the National Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.

In September that year, the 77-year-old Gellatly married Charlyne Whitley in Maryland.  His bride was 34.  He did not mention to her that he had given away his massively valuable art collection.  Two years later, on November 9, 1931, The New York Times reported, "John Gellatly, who spent his life and his fortune collecting rare objects of art...died of pneumonia yesterday in the Medical Arts Hospital."

The art collector's body was barely cold when his widow Gellatly took action.  In the same issue that told of Gellatly's death, The New York Times reported that Charlyne Gellatly intended to "appeal to Congress to reject the collection which it accepted in 1929...If her appeal fails, she said she would retain lawyers to protect her interests."  She alleged that her elderly husband had donated the collection "to pose as a philanthropist."

On September 5, 1930, The New York Sun reported, "Mme. Schumann-Heink has taken an apartment in the Hotel Buckingham, 101 West Fifty-seventh Street."  Born Ernestine Amalie Pauline Rossler in 1861 in Lieben, Bohemia (today's Prague), Madame Schumann-Heink was best known for her performances of Wagnerian roles.  Her first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera House was in 1899 and she still regularly appeared there.  Her singing of Stille Nacht ("Silent Night") on the radio every Christmas Eve had been a tradition since 1926.

Madame Schumann-Heink at a war rally in 1917.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The repeal of Prohibition was highly celebrated by hotel managers throughout the country, including Edward Farrel of the Buckingham.  On February 27, 1933, The New York Evening Post reported, "A tap room has been opened in the Hotel Buckingham, 101 west Fifty-seventh Street. From old-fashioned bar to accordion music the rathskeller was complete."  The article quoted Farrel as predicting, "the tap room--a hotel tap room--would grease the skids that would put the speakeasy out of business, restore beer-drinking to respectability and bring prosperity back to the hotels."

In 1938, another venue was opened, the Crown Room.  An advertisement said it provided "wired music for dancing."  Supper "with favors" cost $2.50 (about $52 today).

The hotel often hosted well-known transient guests.  On October 16, 1940, for instance, the Herald-Tribune reported, "Artur Rubinstein, Polish pianist, and his wife were released from Ellis Island yesterday and have gone to the Hotel Buckingham, 101 West Fifty-seventh St."  The article explained that when they arrived a few days earlier, their seven-year-old daughter, Anna, was diagnosed with chicken pox.  She and her brother, Paul, who was five, were kept in the Ellis Island Hospital for observation.

Pianist and composer Ignazy Paderewski made the Buckingham Hotel his home during his 1941 tour.  It was here that he fell ill on June 27 that year, and died at the age of 80 two days later.

Journalist and short story writer Damon Runyon moved into the Buckingham Hotel in 1943.  His second wife, Patrice Amati del Grande, was in London at the time.  In April the following year, Runyon was stricken with a sharp pain in his throat.  He later wrote that in that instant he remembered his first cigarette.  Jimmy Breslin, writing in Newsday years later, said, "He figured he was 9 or 10, certainly not much older."

On April 10, surgeons removed a large tumor and a lymph node from his throat, leaving him no longer able to speak.  When he returned to the Buckingham Hotel after his recuperation, he received a letter from Patrice that revealed her romance in London with a 26-year-old named Bill Coffin.  It said in part, "He's wonderful.  And I hope to marry him.  Do take care of yourself."  Runyon replied, pleading for her to reconsider, but she went forward with the divorce.  

Alfred Damon Runyon (original source unknown)

On December 6, 1946, Runyon, weighing just 100 pounds, left the Buckingham Hotel for the last time.  Taken to Memorial Hospital in great pain, he fell into a coma and died there on December 10.  Jimmy Breslin wrote, "Two days later, Eddie Rickenbacker flew a plane over New York, with Mike Todd, a producer, and Damon Runyon Jr. in it.  When the plane was directly over Times Square, the son shook Runyon's ashes over the Big Street."

Pianist Van Cliburn added to the list of celebrated residents when, according to Nigel Cliff's Moscow Nights, he moved in by the spring of 1955. 

A single line from Adrian Mourby's Rooms of One's Own, 50 Places that Made Literary History, mentions that nearby the Buckingham was where "Georgia O'Keeffe and Marc Chagall had at various times been Runyon's neighbours."  That citation has led to the apparently erroneous retelling on the internet that those illustrious figures lived in the Buckingham.  

As the 21st century dawned, Manhattan saw a flush of hotels being converted to condominium residences.  In reporting on the trend, Newsday reported on July 22, 2005 that the Buckingham Hotel "is actually benefiting from the conversions."  The demand for rooms prompted the hotel to add to its staff.  The article noted, "The neighborhood around the Buckingham has lost four hotels in the last 18 months...The hotel's 30 employees soon won't be enough."  

Three months earlier, on April 17, The New York Times reported, "At the Buckingham Hotel, on 57th Street...the operator has recaptured its rooftop Martinelli Penthouse--named for the renowned tenor Giovanni Martinelli, who lived there for many years--from a long-term lease.  The space has been refurbished, and it is being offered for meetings and conferences."

Change came in 2023 when a two-year renovation by Perkins Eastman resulted in the Buckingham Hotel's becoming The Quin, an upscale hotel.  Other than redesigning the entrance and removal of the terminal cornice, Emery Roth's facade was left mostly intact.  The hotel includes the Quin Arts Program, which provides contemporary artists residencies while they work with curator DK Johnston.

Enigmatic brick letters A C C are emblazoned on the northern edge of the building.  photos by Claudia Keenan

The great enigma of the structure are the initials A-C-C executed in brick along the northern edge of the upper facade.  The monogram has no connection to Uris Brothers, the architect, nor seemingly any subsequent renovations.  

photo by Jim Henderson

many thanks to reader Claudia Keenan for prompting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to 


  1. There's something wrong with your timeline. You wrote, "On May 12, 1929, during the Great Depression, Gellatly donated his entire collection..." But Black Friday did not happen until months later, and the Depression did not start until late in 1929.

  2. Paderewski DID live in the Buckingham. As the Hotel's owner for many decades and having researched its illustrious guests (Carnegie Hall is catty corner on 57th Street), I have read quotes from the great composer and Polish President himself that explained why he chose the hotel during his exile from war in Europe: the food!

    I have also visited the Polish Museum of America in Chicago where some of Paderewski's personal belongings from his stay there are displayed along with Buckingham-branded things like dishes; sheets and towels. His practice piano from his Buckingham suite is also there.

    The New York Times on July 25, 1941 reported an exhibition of his personal things at Steinway Hall, next door to the Buckingham Hotel (the reason so many musical performers stayed at the Hotel). The cost of admission was to benefit "suffering Poles" following WWII. "Cases containing personal articles, such as watches, cuff links, and cigarette cases, stand with the furnishings of Mr. Paderewski's living room and bedroom at the Buckingham Hotel, in which he died."

    Other than this, and the omission of some names like opera stars Giuseppe De Luca, Renata Tebaldi and Regina Resnik (a personal friend), you turned up more names than I did in my research! One that I didn't know was Rubinstein, whose beautiful portrait, coincidentally, hung in our lobby courtesy of Ms. Resnik, whose husband Arbit Blatas painted it.

    Thank you for this.

    1. Thank you for clearing up that piece of misinformation on my part. I reworded that section.

  3. It's a great piece. FYI, Paderewski actually lay in state at the Buckingham, and the train of well wishers including police and fire regiments as well as VIPs, went down Sixth Avenue past Radio City Music Hall it was so long...