Transformation of the Shelton Towers Hotel;
One Hotel’s Fate 119 Years Ago
|By Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC
April 14, 2009
1. Transformation of the Shelton Towers Hotel - Some years ago, I was the General Manager of the Summit Hotel of New York at 51st Street and Lexington Ave (now the DoubleTree), which was the first new hotel in New York City in thirty years. It was built in 1969 by Loews Hotels and designed by the famous Florida architect Morris Lapidus. When it opened, Ada Louis Huxtable, the architectural critic of the New York Times criticized its wavy green façade by saying, “It’s too far from the beach.” In its forty years of existence, it has become an iconic hotel property.
Just two blocks away at 49th Street and Lexington Avenue is the New York Marriott East Side Hotel. This 84-year old historic hotel was formerly the Shelton Towers Hotel. It was designed in 1924 by Architect Arthur Loomis Harmon, who later contributed to the design and construction of the Empire State Building and Hunter College.
The former Shelton Towers Hotel was one of the first major buildings to comply with the setback requirements of New York’s first Zoning Resolution of 1916 to insure light and air to the street. The 34-story, 1200-room hotel was the world’s tallest when it was built and Harmon received a gold medal from the Architectural League of New York and the American Institute of Architects.
In their book, “New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars”, published by Rizzoli in 1987, Robert A.M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins wrote:
The two great architectural problems of the era- that of the skyscraper and that of skyscraper living- came together in 1924 in Arthur Loomis Harmon’s remarkable and totally unexpected Shelton Club Hotel… it was not the Shelton’s height but its design that thrilled the public and the profession alike. Here, for the first time, one could see the new zoning laws skillfully translated into a complexly massed, powerfully modeled composition that combined bold scale with a fine sense of detail so that the building’s appeal was not only as a virtual lone icon on the east midtown skyline, but also as a subtle insertion into the architectural of the city’s streets. Fiske Kimball proclaimed that ‘from the front, the building seems not merely to have a tower, but to be a tower. In three leaps of rhythmic height it rises, gathering in its forces for the final flight.’ The Shelton’s tower was the first tall building of the postwar era in New York to convincingly inhabit its height, and even to seem greater than its size.The Shelton was built by the developer James T. Lee who was the grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. It had great paneled lounges, a dining room with a recessed and beamed ceiling. 400 of its rooms had shared baths when it opened as a men-only hotel. Christopher Gray, the great New York Times Streetscapes columnist wrote (on March 29, 2009): “A high gallery ran around the basement pool, which was decorated with polychromed tile. In 1926, the escape artist Harry Houdini was lowered to the bottom in an airtight coffinlike case, equipped with a telephone in case of trouble. He remained submerged for an hour and a half, stepping out fatigued but alive. He dismissed any suggestion of magic, saying that a positive attitude was the key. “Anyone can do it,” he told The Times.”
In 1978, when it became the Halloran House, its interiors were redesigned by Stephen B. Jacobs. By 1990, when Marriott took over management for Morgan Stanley, there was not much left of the original interiors. In 2007, Morgan Stanley invested $25 million to upgrade the guestrooms and bathrooms. The Marriott now has 646 rooms and the squash courts have become a fitness center on the roof with spectacular views.
On your next visit to New York, make your way between 48th and 49th Streets on the west side of Lexington Avenue. Look up at the façade of the Marriott East Side Hotel to see the setbacks, the high-up details including heads, masks, griffins and gargoyles. Take notice that architect Harmon made the walls lean in slightly to give the Shelton a greater solidity. The effect is evident at ground level.
2. One Hotel’s Fate 119 Years Ago - On April 24, 1890, during an economic recession, the 100-room Windsor Hotel and its contents was sold at auction at Mechanics Hall in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The list of furniture, fixtures and equipment was valued by the auctioneer, H.B. Fairbanks, at $15,000. But what a list it was! If a contemporary hotel were to contain the furnishings that were auctioned, it might surpass the amenities of even the most luxurious hotels of today:
3. Quote of the Month
Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, But there is one thing about it-once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place is good enough.
Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC operates his hotel consulting office as a sole practitioner specializing in franchising issues, asset management and litigation support services. Turkel’s clients are hotel owners and franchisees, investors and lending institutions. Turkel serves on the Board of Advisors and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. He is a member of the prestigious International Society of Hospitality Consultants. His provocative articles on various hotels subjects have been published in the Cornell Quarterly, Lodging Hospitality, Hotel Interactive, Hotel-Online, AAHOA Lodging Business, etc. Don’t hesitate to call 917-628-8549 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC
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