Wednesday, May 15, 2024

George F. Pelham's 1927 Beekman Hotel - 575 Park Avenue


photograph by Deans Charbal

On October 16, 1926, an advertisement appeared in the New York Evening Post that announced, "A City Home Palatial in Appointments and Conveniences."  Construction of the Beekman residential hotel was nearly complete at the time and "reservations" were being taken.  Designed by George F. Pelham for the 571 Park Avenue Corporation in the Italian Renaissance style, it loomed 15 stories above the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 63rd Street.  Pelham's tripartite design included a three-story rusticated base, and a nine-story midsection faced in variegated brick.  Stone balconies both carried on the Renaissance motif and provided interest.  The three-story top section sat above a decorated bandcourse.  It was distinguished by double-height terra cotta arches with engaged columns.

Potential tenants could chose among suites of "2, 3, 4 rooms or larger with private bath for each chamber."  Like transient hotels, residential hotel suites did not have kitchens.  To make up for this, the ad explained, "They contain individual serving pantries with automatic refrigeration and circulating ice water."  Residents would enjoy "unexcelled maid service."  On the ground floor was the Beekman Restaurant, described in the advertisement as being "owner-managed" and providing "a type of service and a quality of food that would delight the epicure."  Completed early in 1927, the Beekman Hotel cost its owners $600,000 to erect--or about $10.3 million by 2024 conversion.

Among the first residents were Benedict J. Greenhut and his wife, who signed a lease in July 1927.  He was the son of Captain Joseph B. Greenhut, who had distinguished himself in the Battle of Gettysburg.  In 1902, Benedict and his father purchased the massive Siegel, Cooper & Co. department store on Sixth Avenue.  Two years later, they purchased the Benjamin Altman store across the avenue, merging the two as the Greenhut & Co.  Upon Captain Greenhut's death in 1918, Benedict became president of Greenhut & Co.  The store failed that year, however, Greenhut's other business interests and extensive real estate holdings preserved his wealth.

The couple's moving into the Beekman Hotel in July may have upset their summer plans.  For whatever the reason, they did not occupy the five-room suite they had reserved for eight weeks at the Briarcliff Lodge in Briarcliff Manor, New York.  The following year, on November 22, 1928, The Larchmont Times reported that Greenhut had been ordered to pay the luxury resort the $110 per day rental--a total judgment of $4,480 "less cost of meals."  (The Greenhuts' bill, equal to $78,600 today, reflects the amounts that well-heeled New Yorkers spent on summer accommodations.)

Morton D. Hutzler and his wife, the former Antoinette Salomon, were also initial residents.  Born in 1878 in Baltimore, he was initially associated with his family's business, the Hutzler Brothers Department Store.  In 1905, he changed course, purchasing a membership on the New York Stock Exchange.  He became a member of Salomon Bros. & Hutzler in 1910.

The Hutzlers chose an unexpected spot to spend the summer of 1928.  On August 25, The Reform Advocate reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Morton D. Hutzler of 575 Park avenue, New York, will visit Chicago before returning to their home.  They have been vacationing at Battle Creek, Michigan."

On September 29, 1927, the New York Evening Post reported, "Mr. Thomas W. Strong has taken an apartment at 575 Park Avenue.  He will come down from Lenox on Saturday, where he has just sold his place."  The wealthy bachelor would not enjoy his new home for long.  He died on September 7, 1928.  Strong's will received national press coverage when it was revealed he had left his chauffeur of 20 years, Thomas Walsh, $25,000 (a significant $445,000 today).  The wife of a nephew, Cyril K. dos Passos, told The New York Times that Walsh was "worth every cent he got," noting that he had "proved faithful and able."

Another wealthy bachelor in the Beekman Hotel at the time was Edward Dean Richmond, who traced his American roots to 1635.  The grandson of Dean Richmond, the first president of the New York Central Railroad, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1915.  Shortly afterward, he moved to New York "to engage in the investment banking business and to manage his family's estate," according to the New York Sun.  In addition to banking, Richmond was secretary and director of the United States Dairy Products Company, and secretary of three major corporation.

Richmond's library was later described as "splendid."  The American Art Association called it "a remarkable collection of Oscar Wilde manuscripts, first editions and associated items."  It included first editions of James Boswell, Samuel Johnson, George Moore, Rupert Brooke, Aubrey Beardsley and others.

On November 14, 1929, The New York Times reported on the engagement of Elizabeth Cecilia Detwiller to Edward Dean Robinson.  The article listed the 37-year-old Robinson's numerous club memberships, which included the St. Nicholas Society, the Mayflower Descendants, Society of Colonial Wars and Society of the Cincinnati.

The wedding was planned for January 25, 1930 in St. Bartholomew's Church.  But shortly after the announcement, Robinson fell ill.  On January 16, The New York Times reported, "Owing to the illness of Edward Dean Richmond, his marriage to Miss Elizabeth Cecilia Detwiller...has been indefinitely postponed."  The article explained that Richmond, "who has been ill at his home, 575 Park Avenue, suffered a relapse yesterday."  

Unfortunately, the wedding would never come to be.  On July 4, 1933, Robinson died at the age of 41.  The Sun commented, "His long illness compelled him to withdraw from most of his business activities."

Another Beekman resident who suffered a long ailment was Benedict J. Greenhut.  He fell ill in 1931, his condition worsening to the point that he was confined to bed in November.  He died in the apartment at the age of 61 on March 29, 1932.

Resident Henry Theodore Leggett had a broad resume.  Born in Brooklyn to Theodore Leggett, one of the founders of the Francis H. Leggett Company, he was the administrative assistant to Herbert Hoover during World War I.  At the time, the future President was head of the Food Administration.  A member of the Union Club, Leggett was a well known artist by the time he moved into the Hotel Beekman.  He died in his apartment on March 24, 1947, at the age of 74.

In 1946, the first Macy Foundation Conference was held in the dining room here.  Sponsored by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, they "brought together at regular intervals some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century," according to Jean-Pierre Dupuy in his 2000 book On the Origins of Cognitive Science.  The group pioneered what would be known as the cybernetics movement.  It would meet at the Beekman Hotel every year through 1952.

In 1950, the Beekman Restaurant closed.  It was replaced by the famous Park Avenue French restaurant Voisin, which had operated from 375 Park Avenue since 1913.  The fame of the restaurant earned it a place in Ian Fleming's 1956 Diamonds are Forever.  Set in 1953, Fleming's spy James Bond is staying at the Hotel Astor.  The author wrote, "Bond...had his fourth shower of the day and went to Voisin's where he had two Vodka Martinis, Oeufs Benedict and strawberries."

The closing of the Beekman Restaurant foreshadowed the closing of the Beekman Hotel.  In 1951, the building was converted to apartments, nine each on floors two through fifteen, and five in the new penthouse level.  The "Hotel" was dropped from its name and the building was now known as The Beekman.

Another change in the restaurant would once again foretell of changes in the building.  In 1962, Voisin moved to the Colony House at 30 East 65th Street.  A renovation completed two years later resulted in reconfigured apartments.  In 1969, The Beekman was converted to a cooperative.

The residents continued to be white collar professionals, like Frank Schulman, the chairman of four paper manufacturing companies; and Michael J. Merkin, the senior vice president and director of the Federation Bank and Trust Company, chairman of the Lewis Asphalt Engineering Company, a director of the Edison Savings and Loan Association, and the First Westchester Corporation.  He was also a director of the 1964 New York World's Fair and president of the 575 Park Avenue Corporation.

The former Voisin's space became Le Perigord Park, formerly on East 52nd Street.  It received an unusually tepid review by Raymond A. Sokolov of The New York Times on June 23, 1972, who sniffed in part, "Its menu is among the most unremittingly complex French bills of fare in the city.  The food does not quite fulfill one's expectations, but it is very good all the same."

Attorney Moses Polakoff was one of several well-known attorneys living in The Beekman in the 1970s.  On February 6, 1977, he received a telephone call from another resident, Sylvia Sherman, who lived on the 15th floor.  The 60-year-old worked for a real estate firm and Polakoff had recently drawn up her will.  She said succinctly, "I'm going to jump, Moe.  Take care of my things."

Polakoff blurted, "Wait a minute," but the 60-year-old had already hung up.  He notified an building employee who went to Sherman's apartment and found an open window.  Sylvia Sherman had leapt to her death.

Born on the Lower East Side in 1896, Moses Polakoff was a widower.  His wife, Ruth Kitsch, whom he married in 1924, died in 1955.  He was appointed an Assistant United States Attorney in 1921, then resigned in 1925 to establish his private practice.  He became best known for representing notorious gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky.  He remained in his apartment until his death at the age of 97 on June 14, 1993.

Equally well-known was lawyer and politician Louis J. Lefkowitz, who was married to Helen Schwimmer.  Lefkowitz had served in the New York State Assembly in the late 1920s, and in 1957 was elected New York Attorney General.  Known as "the people's lawyer" he spurred investigations and initiated laws to protect the public against such dangers as unscrupulous cruse ship operators and unregulated theater ticket sales.  Following his death at the age of 92 in 1996, the State Office Building at 80 Centre Street was renamed in his honor.

Another celebrated attorney, Chauncey Belknap, and his wife Dorothy Lamont lived here in the 1970s.  Born in 1892 in Roselle Park, New Jersey, Belknap was orphaned at the age of 3.  He graduated from Princeton University in 1912 and the Harvard Law School in 1915.  His career started at the top--he became legal secretary to Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the United States Supreme Court.

Back in New York, he co-founded the law firm of Stetson, Jennings & Russell.  The New York Times recalled later, "His partners included Raymond B. Fosdick, who had been Under Secretary General of the League of Nations; Robert Patterson, a former Federal judge and Secretary of War; and Robert M. Morgenthau, Manhattan District Attorney.  Dorothy Belknap died in 1980.  Her husband survived her by four years, dying in their apartment here on January 25, 1984.

In the early 1990s, Woody Allen leased a suite here not as his residence, but as an editing space.  On November 2, 1995, The New York Times writer Ira Berkow interviewed the filmmaker, actor and comedian "in his home-away-from-home, the suite at the Beekman Hotel on Park Avenue where he edits his movies."  In her The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, Marion Meade wrote that rather than being driven, "he preferred walking the thirteen blocks to his office at 575 Park Avenue, usually following the same route."

By then, Le Perigord Park had been gone for several years.  It had been replaced by Huberts in 1987, which gave way to the Park Avenue Café by 1993.

photo by Deans Charbal

After nearly a century, George F. Pelham's dignified neo-Italian Renaissance structure survives unchanged outwardly.  

many thanks to reader "Fregan" suggesting this post
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  1. It looks like the restaurant, which takes the address 100 East 63rd Street, is now the home of Cafe Boulud.

  2. Thanks, Tom, for another well-researched well-written article.