News for the Hospitality Executive
Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 82
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC
November 2, 2011
Just Published and
Available For Holiday Gift-Giving
I got to know the inside story of the McAlpin and Traymore Hotels as a young man when I landed a job with the leading laundry consulting firm in the United States. Victor Kramer Company’s clients were mostly large state institutions, medical centers and individual hospitals. All of them had large complex laundry facilities and linen control problems. However, one of our clients was the Tisch Hotel Corporation which, among others, operated two classic old hotels: the Hotel McAlpin in New York City and the Traymore Hotel in Atlantic City. Later in my career, I was lucky enough to become the General Manager of the Drake Hotel in New York City. Subsequently, I was recruited by the International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation to help oversee the Sheraton Corporation of America, including the French Lick Sheraton Hotel in French Lick, Indiana. Thereafter, my hotel management company operated the Vernon Manor Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. When I established my own hotel consulting business, I served for six years as asset manager for the owners of the Pierre Hotel overseeing the Four Seasons management. By then, I was hooked on classic old hotels and did as much research as my busy life would permit in anticipation of writing this book.
McAlpin (1912), New York City
The 1500-room Hotel McAlpin was designed by Frank Mills Andrews (1867-1948), one of the most prolific early 20th century architects and developers, especially of hotels…..
The largest hotel in the world at the time, the New York Times commented that the McAlpin was so tall at 25 stories that it “seems isolated from other buildings.” The top floor had a state-of-the-art fitness center with Russian and Turkish baths. There was an entire floor set aside for women and children with its own check-in desk. That floor had an outdoor playground and a library, in addition to a large lounge and a hair dressing parlor. Another floor was designated the “sleepy 16th” for night workers which was kept quiet during the daylight hours….
Hotel (1879), Atlantic City, N.J.
This resort in Atlantic City began as a small boarding house in 1879. Over the years, the Traymore expanded and ultimately grew into the city’s largest hotel with 450 rooms. By 1906, owner Daniel White hired the famous architectural firm of Price and McLanahan to add a new wing and subsequently a majestic 14-story masterpiece with 600 rooms and a Grand Ballroom large enough to hold 4000 guests. It opened in 1915 and long before Donald Trump, it was described in 1924 as the “Taj Mahal of Atlantic City”…. As Atlantic City declined in the 1960s, the Traymore suffered as well and by 1972, the Traymore was demolished in the largest-ever controlled demolition. Four years later, gambling was legalized in Atlantic City.
Drake Hotel (1927), New York City
The Drake Hotel, Park Avenue at 56th Street, was built in 1927, with 21 floors when it opened its doors in the “Roaring Twenties.” Bing and Bing, noted builders, owned and operated the hotel for more than 35 years. In the early 1960s, real estate developer William Zeckendorf acquired the hotel, added a new wing with 150 guest rooms and opened New York’s first discotheque, Shepheard’s. In 1965, the Tisch brothers acquired the Drake and hired me to be Loews first General Manager. My memories are, therefore, based on the two and a half years that I served as GM.
The hotel’s restaurant was the Drake Room which opened in December 21, 1945 and was a success from the start with its unique ceramic tree, great food, and impeccable service under the direction of Maitre de, Nino Schiavone. Stars of the entertainment world, bankers and politicians made the Drake Room one of the most cosmopolitan restaurants in New York. It featured Cy Walter, the great salon piano player who remained a fixture for six years. When I became GM, I brought Cy Walter back to the Drake Room and got MGM Records to produce a fabulous LP: “Cy Walter at The Drake,” with a cover photograph of Cy at a Steinway grand piano on the 56th Street sidewalk under the Drake Hotel porte cochere….
On my office wall, the following framed note on Drake Hotel letterhead with a signed photograph is hung in a prominent location:
Dear Mr. Turkel,
I was very touched by your remembering my birthday and sending me this lovely bottle of Moèt et Chandon, which we drank with great pleasure. At the same time, I wanted to tell you that we find ourselves very comfortable in the Drake and are delighted with the service and attention we get.
Artur Rubenstein (world- famous classical pianist)
In 2006, the Drake was sold for $440 million to Harry Macklowe who demolished it in 2007.
French Lick Springs Hotel (1879), French Lick, Indiana
The first hotel built on this site opened in 1845 to take advantage of the natural sulphur springs and Pluto mineral water. The original hotel burned down in 1879 but was rebuilt on a grander scale by Thomas Taggert, the mayor of Indianapolis (and later a U.S. Senator). The Monon Railroad built a spur directly to the hotel grounds with daily passenger service to Chicago. Casino gambling, although illegal, flourished at the resort. In its heyday in the Roaring Twenties, the surrounding Spring Valley had 30 hotels and 15 clubs. At the time, it was a lively community for gamblers, politicians, sport figures, entertainers and gangsters. The town got its name from the French traders who founded it and the salty mineral deposits that attracted wildlife….
In the 1950s Sheraton acquired the six-hundred room French Lick Springs Hotel plus 1700 acres of land, the makings of an artificial lake, a shooting range, bridle paths, sulphur baths and two championship golf courses. After extensive remodeling, air-conditioning and modernizing, Sheraton president Ernest Henderson wrote that “the renovated resort is definitely one of the brighter stars in the Sheraton constellation.” However, despite hotel-sponsored jazz and music festivals featuring the Duke Ellington band and Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops, the hotel never fulfilled Henderson’s prediction. I visited the French Lick Sheraton Hotel when I served as the Product Line Manager for Hotels at the International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation….
Vernon Manor Hotel (1924), Cincinnati, Ohio
Since 1924, the nine-story Vernon Manor Hotel has maintained a stately presence in Cincinnati’s Pill Hill district, not far from the University of Cincinnati. It was built as a retreat for wealthy Cincinnati residents on one of the city’s Seven Hills to escape from the busy downtown Riverfront district and to enjoy wonderful service and a fabulous view….
The forward-thinking architect, Frederick W. Garber provided the most modern conveniences, including fireproof floors and refrigerators in every room. His blueprints included large guest rooms, a variety of suites, wide corridors, and gardens with wonderful oak trees. This spaciousness attracted long-term guests and many permanent residents. Their presence helped the Vernon Manor Hotel to weather the tough times that many elite hotels of the era were unable to endure…. From 1983 to 1986, the Vernon Manor was acquired by Jay Thompson Properties who embarked on an extensive renovation program. During those years, the hotel was managed by the Sterling Management Company which was owned and operated by me and my partner, DieterSeelig.
Hotel Pierre (1931), New York City
“Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York” contains 380 pages, 35 illustrations, 32 chapters, foreword, preface, introduction, bibliography and index. Bjorn Hanson, Ph.D. writes in the foreword,
Did you read that a penthouse triplex at the Hotel Pierre in New York City was for sale for $70 million, the highest price ever listed for a New York hotel residence? At 13,660 square feet, that works out to $5,124 per square foot. The major feature of the triplex of the triplex is the 3,500 square foot Grand Salon which was the Club Pierrot, an exclusive supper club when the hotel opened. But in the depths of the Depression, the Club disbanded after only three months. Later, the Pierre Roof was the favored site for debutante receptions, weddings and gala banquets. During hot New York summers before effective air conditioning, the Pierre advertised “the highest and coolest hotel roof in Manhattan” to compete with the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf-Astoria….
Designed by Schultze & Weaver (who also designed the Waldorf-Astoria and the Sherry-Netherland), the 42-floor, 714-room hotel offered very large suites and mixed permanent residents with transient guests….
During the Depression, the Pierre went into bankruptcy in 1932 and was bought six years later by John Paul Getty for $2.5 million. In 1958, Getty converted the Pierre into a cooperative…. Some 70 coop-owners purchased ownership of the 200 transient guestrooms, restaurant, lounges, meeting rooms and public spaces….
In 1990, the coop board decided to renovate the 41st and 42nd floors and in 1993 sold them for $12 million to Lady Mary Fairfax, an Australian media heiress whose husband had recently died, Lady Fairfax hired Balamotis McAlpine Associates to create a stunning palace in the sky. They installed an 18-foot high limestone fireplace and mantle (originally from a French chateau) at the east end of the 75’ x 46’ x 23’ Grand Salon. Lady Fairfax told me that the chandelier was salvaged from a demolished Melbourne, Australia theater. Some six years later, Lady Fairfax sold the triplex to investment banker Martin Zweig for $21.5 million, then a record.
From June 1995 through August 2001, I served as the Executive Vice President of the 795 Fifth Avenue Corporation providing asset management oversight of Four Seasons for the owners of the Hotel Pierre….
Stanley Turkel has gathered information that reveals how history, the economy, society, technology and entrepreneurship have created among the most iconic and distinctive hotels in the world….
My new book was just published and is available for holiday gift-giving. Go to www.centuryoldhotelsinnewyork.com and click on the order link.
2. Quote of the Month“It was a labor of love, and brought me a good deal of pleasure, and some satisfaction, although I now realized that it involved an expenditure of time, energy and money, which was probably out of proportion to the results achieved, and consumed many hours which should have been devoted, not only to my office, but to my family, and to social amenities, so that, on the whole, I suspect that it has proved a rather selfish, perhaps even a narrowing, influence in my life.”
Architect I. N. P. Stokes, nephew of the builder of the Ansonia Hotel, who wrote the Iconography of Manhattan Island which was published in six volumes from 1915 to 1928. Stokes described his extraordinary effort in terms that apply to those who spend years doing the research and the writing of books.
Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC
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