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Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 51
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Transformation of the Shelton Towers Hotel; 
One Hotel’s Fate 119 Years Ago
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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.

Erected as a bachelor hotel, the Shelton had reading rooms, billiard rooms, solariums, roof gardens, a swimming pool, an infirmary and three squash courts, but by 1925 it began to be used for “mixed-occupancy” transients, inaugurating the development of Lexington Avenue as midtown’s avenue of moderately priced hotels.  The building gained added celebrity by being depicted in some of the works of two of its most legendary tenants, Alfred Steiglitz, the photographer, and Georgia O’Keefe, the painter.  Both utilized the higher floor views to photograph and paint the city.  

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:

  • Black walnut chamber sets, marble top, many high cost and richly carved
  • High cost parlor sets in elegant frames, in silk and crushed plush
  • Hair cloth parlor sets, with high puffed backs
  • Turkish chairs in silk and plush
  • Parlor and library tables in marble and cloth top and fancy carved
  • French plate mirror 96 x 70 inches, heavy carved walnut frame
  • Pier mirror, French plate, gold gilt frame
  • Dressing cases in walnut and ash, marble top
  • Wardrobes, walnut bureaus, fancy stands, cabinets, marble-top tables, walnut framed mirrors, portieres, high cost lambrequins and poles
And look at this list of guest room furnishings:
  • Woven and U.S. spring beds
  • Curled hair mattresses
  • Live geese feather-beds
  • Pillows with hair and geese feathers
  • Carpets in moquette, brussels, tapestry and all-wool
  • The Windsor Hotel apparently catered to a fairly luxurious trade when you consider the following facilities:
  • Barber shop- 2 reclining barber chairs, fixtures, mirrors, racks drawers, shelves, pictures
  • Billiard room- 2 billiard tables, 1 pool table, balls, racks, cues, long settees upholstered, National cash register, sideboard with pumps, hot water tank, nickel-plated show case, clock, ice tank, high-cost mirrors, beer pumps, champagne, wine and ale glasses, fancy bottles, decanters, nickel-lated punch bowl, etc.
Even the list of miscellaneous equipment contains fascinating items and descriptions:
  • Fifteen horse-power horizontal engine with shafting and pulleys
  • Ice cream freezers and blowing apparatus, complete
  • Laundry fixtures, mangle, flat heaters, irons, and also the table linen, sheets, pillow cases, quilts, spreads, and napkins usually found in a first-class, well-furnished hotel
The auctioneer published a large poster (which I own) announcing the sale on behalf of the firm of T.A. Barber & Co., Mortgagees and called attention of “hotel men, furniture dealers, owners of seaside houses and boarding houses”.  Auctioneer Fairbanks said that “the furniture is first-class, many of the rooms having been refurnished within a short time and all must be sold.”

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.
        John Steinbeck




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 stanturkel@aol.com.
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Contact:

Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC
917-628-8549
stanturkel@aol.com

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Also See: Nobody Asked Me, But No.50 / Do You Know About O8A? Do Hotel Franchisees Need Independent Associations?The Best Franchise Advisory Councils / Stanley Turkel / March 2009
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 49 / Slave Trading at the Saint Charles Hotel in Washington DC, Why Are Some Hotel Franchise Companies Defranchising Exterior Corridor Hotels / Stanley Turkel / February 2009
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 48 / New President of Wyndham Ignores the Real Issues; Hotel Franchises Compared to Auto Dealer Franchises / Stanley Turkel / January 2009
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 47 / New CEO of Choice Misses an Opportunity; Lost and Forgotten Hotels; Little Known Hotel Facilities in New York / Stanley Turkel / December 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 45/ Remembering John Curry; Hotel Owners Have The Power / Stanley Turkel / October 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 44 / Hotel Franchise Companies Performance Appraisal Report, a Down-to-earth Assessment of the Hotel Capital Markets / Stanley Turkel / September 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 43  / Hotel Franchisor Companies Ignoring Critical Franchising Issues,  Marriott Leads the Way with Aggressive Environmental Strategies / Stanley Turkel / August 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 42 / Remembering Jack Craver; World Record-Setting Hotels; At Last: A Major Gaming Facility in the Catskills / Stanley Turkel / July 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 41 / Landmark Belleview Biltmore Resort Saved; Hotel Developers Take Note - the Borough of Bronx in NYC Has 1.5 million Residents and Just One Hotel in the AAA Guide; Boutique Hotel Bandwagon / Stanley Turkel / June 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 39 / Say Goodbye To The UFOC; Dunfey Brothers To Be Honored; The Plaza Hotel Reopens After a $400 Million Renovation / Stanley Turkel / April 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 38 / Super 8 Owners Form an Independent Franchise Association; Why Is There a Bible in Every Hotel Room? / Stanley Turkel / March 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 37 / Remember the Savoy Plaza Hotel?; Is Economic Disaster Imminent; Cuba at the Crossroads / Stanley Turkel / February 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 36 / What the Advertisements for the Largest Hotel Franchise Companies Never Mention - Also Measuring Hotel Brand Value / Stanley Turkel / January 2008
Nobody Asked Me, But No. 35 / Casino Expansion Has Transformed America, Exercise Awareness / Stanley Turkel / December 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 34 / IHG’s Great Idea, Sound-Proofing Hotels, Best Western Enters the Upper Midscale Segment, How to Convert Confusion Into Order,  Sign at a Tarrytown, NY Inn, 1798 / November 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 33 / 1957 Murder at the Park Sheraton Hotel; How Much Does A Franchise Really Cost?A Marriage Made in Heaven?; A Good Night’s Sleep at the Benjamin Hotel / Stanley Turkel / October 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 31 - Rhode Island Improves Franchise Rules, What’s Up With Canada? Conversion of a Jail Into a Hotel, The Richest (and Poorest) Places in the U.S. / Stanley Turkel / September 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 31 - Blackstone's Acquisition of Hilton, The Art of Groveling, The Origin of Franchising / Stanley Turkel / August 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But…. No. 30 / Impertinent Questions In Search of Pertinent Answers: Carbon monoxide detectors, exterior-corridor properties / Stanley Turkel / July 2007
How American-Owned Can You Get?, ISHC's CapEx 2007 Report, The Bowery Hotel / Stanley Turkel / June 2007
Hotel Franchising and State Laws, Is Immigration Important? Save the Biltmore, The Good Old Days, Quote of the Month / Stanley Turkel / May 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But - No. 27 / Hotel Franchise Agreements: Mediation, Arbitration or Litigation? / Stanley Turkel / April 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But - No. 26 / Energy Usage and Potential Savings; Great Art in Hotels; Lifestyle Hotels; The Minimum Wage Issue; Quote of the Month / Stanley Turkel / March 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But - No. 25 / Guestroom Design & Amenities, Get a Human, Best Luxury Hotels in the U.S., Turnpike, The Pineapple as Symbol of Hospitality, Fair Franchising / Stanley Turkel / February 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But - No. 24 / Loose Cannon, Fair Franchising, Manhattan Hotel Profits, Hotels of the Future, Interesting Miscellany, Quote of the Month / Stanley Turkel / January 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But - No. 23 / Biting The Hand That Feeds You?, By The Numbers, Shortage of Hotel Rooms, There is No Free Lunch, Iron Laws of Business Travel, Happy New Year / Stanley Turkel / January 2007
Nobody Asked Me, But - No. 22 / Smart Elevators, Tony Marshall’s Memorial, Women in the Hospitality Industry / Stanley Turkel / December 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 21 / The Drake Hotel in New York, Fair Franchising is Not an Oxymoron, By the Numbers, Another Secret Underground Shelter, Passing of Anthony G. Marshall / Stanley Turkel / December 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 20 / Turnabout Is Fairplay, Secret Underground Shelter, By the Numbers, Genuine Fair Franchising/ Stanley Turkel / November 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 19 / International Society of Hospitality Consultants, Great Miami Hotels, Reduce Carbon Monoxide Emissions, Turn Gray Into Gold / Stanley Turkel / November 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 18 / John Q. Hammons, Save the Belleview Biltmore, Chinese Tourism, CFLs, Ernie Byfield, Guestroom Entertainment in 1905 / Stanley Turkel / October 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 17 - AAHOA's 12 Points of Fair Franchising, Protected Territories, / Stanley Turkel / September 2006
The Newest Independent (and Oldest Partially Independent) Franchise Association in the Hotel Industry / Stanley Turkel / September 2006
In Hotel Franchising, Reality Trumps Wishful Thinking / Stanley Turkel / August 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 14; Impact Studies, Stretching Segments, Short-Stay Rentals, Smoke-free Marriotts, Franchising in China, Save the Belleview Biltmore Hotel / August 2006
The U.S. Population Age 65 and Over is Expected to Double in the Next 25 Years; What Does this Mean for the Hotel Industry? / Stanley Turkel / July 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 12; Portman, Women Homeowners, Minimum Wage, Tipping, Brooklyn Bridge, Chinese Tourism, Impact Studies / Stanley Turkel / July 2006
Do Hotel Franchisees Need Independent Franchise Associations? / Stanley Turkel / June 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 10 / Chinese Tourists, Gasoline Prices and Alternatives, GLBT Segment, Travel Agents, FAC's, Manhattan's Record Breaking Year, Impertinent Questions / Stanley Turkel / June 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 9 / Blang, Bathtubs, Best Green, Arbitration, Best Western, AAHOA, State Franchising Laws, VFR / Stanley Turkel / May 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But… No. 8; Bathtubs, Smokefree Hotels, Maps, Saving Water, Nevada Revenues, H.P. Rama, Ritz-Carlton, Statler Service Code, Mother’s Day / Stanley Turkel / April 2006
Nobody Asked Me, But….No. 7 / Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC / March 2006
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