My New Book: “Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf”
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
The original twelve-story Hotel Albert, a red-brick and cast-iron balcony structure, still stands on the southwest corner of University Place and 11th Street in Greenwich Village. It is now a residential cooperative. But the history of the Albert is much more complicated than the simple recitation above. We are fortunate to have an extensive, recently-published (April 2011) history of the Hotel Albert prepared by Anthony W. Robins, architectural historian, of Thompson & Columbus, Inc. Robins writes in his introduction:
The co-op apartment complex known today as “The Albert Apartment Corporation” began life as the Albert Apartment House, an early apartment building adjoining a hotel called the Hotel St. Stephen. By 1887, the apartment building had been converted into a second hotel, the Hotel Albert, and by the end of the 1890s the two hotels had become one institution. The Albert was not just any hotel: Over the course of a century- from the 1880s through the 1970s- the Albert played a significant role in New York’s cultural life, housing guests ranging from Robert Louis Stevenson, Hart Crane and Thomas Wolfe to The Mamas & The Papas and the Mothers of Invention, with many, many more in between. The list of famous residents easily puts the Albert in the same league as such better-known hotels as the Chelsea or the Algonquin, but perhaps because it stopped being a hotel several decades ago its history has been forgotten.
Today’s Albert Apartment Corp. consists of four buildings. The original Albert Apartment House, which became the core of the Hotel Albert still stands, largely intact, at the southeast corner of University Place and East 11th Street. It was built in 1881-82 to designs by Henry Hardenbergh, the prominent American architect who also designed such major institutions as the Plaza Hotel and the Dakota apartments. The 12-story extension to the Albert on University Place was added in 1903-04, and the shorter extension on the northeast corner of University Place and East 10th Street in 1922-24.
Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (1847-1918) began his own architectural practice in New York in 1840 and became one of the city’s most distinguished architects. His earliest midtown hotels, the Waldorf (1893) on Fifth Avenue and West 33rd Street and its addition, the Astoria (1897) on Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street, have all been demolished, but when constructed they set the standard for luxury hotel design, both on the exterior and the interior. The turrets, gables and balconies seen on the exteriors formed a picturesque composition, while the comfortable interior arrangements, and fine decoration added to the sumptuousness of the visitor’s experience.
The Hotel Albert was built by Albert S. Rosenbaum, a real estate investor who died in 1894. His obituary in the New York Times (February 18, 1894) stated:
Albert S. Rosenbaum, a retired tobacco merchant and proprietor of the Hotels Albert and St. Stephen died at his residence yesterday. Mr. Rosenbaum was sixty-three years old, and was one of the wealthiest Hebrews in this country. He was born in Cassel, Germany, and came to this country when eighteen years old.
He settled in California, and by dint of great business tact, shrewdness, and industry rapidly accumulated money, which he invested advantageously in San Francisco real estate. The tobacco firm of which he was President is at 165 Water Street. Several years ago Mr. Rosenbaum came to this city to take charge of his interests, and since then he had lived here….
He leaves a wife, four daughters, two of whom are married, and one son. His death was due to heart disease.
The hotel was managed by William Ryder and was erroneously thought to be named after his brother, the famous painter Albert Ryder (1847-1917). As Christopher Gray wrote in his Streetscapes column in the New York Times (April 17, 2011): “The Albert’s Albert was Albert Rosenbaum, not Albert Ryder.”
The painter Albert Ryder lived at the hotel and entertained so many of his impoverished Bohemian friends on the cuff, that the hotel nearly went broke. The Hotel Albert was such a haven for writers, artists, actors and poets that it became known as “the downtown Algonquin”. Its opening was a gala occasion attended by P.T. Barnum, General George McClellan of Civil War fame and other celebrities of the day.
Historian Robins reports:
In its earliest years, the Albert attracted a respectable clientele, and many professional societies held meetings there. It soon became known, however, for artists and writers, and eventually also for political radicals.
Writers who have stayed at the Albert include Robert Louis Stevenson, Hart Crane and Thomas Wolfe. A number of African-American literary figures stayed there in the 1950s including Chester Himes, Richard Wright, Charles Wright, and later Leroi Jones/ Amiri Baraka. Other writers who stayed include Louise Bogan, Samuel R. Delany, Horton Foote, Caroline Gordon, A.P. Herbert, William Dean Howells, Alfred Kazin, Robert Lowell, Anais Nin, Lynn Riggs, Aram Saroyan, and Allen Tate. Mark Twain lectured at the Albert in 1901.
My research at the New-York Historical Society turned up the following news:
The Hotel Gazette reported on November 3, 1923:
Part of Addition to Hotel Albert Will be Ready for Use Nov. 15
New Annex of 150 Rooms Under Roof – House Managed
by Sam R. Real
Turnaway business is the rule these days at the Knott brothers’ Hotel Albert, Eleventh Street and University, and Manager Sam R. Real is looking forward anxiously to the completion of the hotel’s 150-room annex, work on which began early last spring and is now in the final stages. The addition, six stories high and of steel and concrete fireproof construction, extends the hotel down to the Tenth Street corner able to take care of some of the good business that he is having at present to send to other houses. It goes to the Knott houses, whenever possible, but all the other ten houses of the Knott chain in New York are doing a pretty good business these days and aren’t able to take care of much of the Albert’s overflow. In fact, most of them have their own overflow pretty much of the time….
The new addition was designed by Sugarman, Hess & Berger, architects who have been winning fame in recent months as designers of hotel buildings in New York. Construction of the addition has been done by the Clough-Bourne Corporation. It adjoins the twelve-story part of the Albert, which was built a few years ago as an addition to the original Hotel Albert, seven stories in height, which dates back twenty odd years.
The Albert is one of several hotels operated by the Knott brothers in that section of the city. The Judson, Earle, Holley and Van Rensselaer hotels are all down in the Greenwich Village neighborhood. The Albert has been capably managed for the past year and a half by Mr. Real, who, although a young man, has had wide experience in New York hotels. He has been with the Knott brothers’ organization six years. For a time he managed the Van Rensselaer and also was at the Kew Gardens Inn and the Crocker House, New London. He began with the Knotts as room clerk at the Hotel Judson. Prior to aligning himself with the Knott organization he was connected with the Hotel Woodstock, under A. E. Singleton (now of the Martinique), and with the former Hotel Knickerbocker as one of James B. Regan’s staff men.
Manager Real has established a cigar, magazine and theater ticket stand in the lobby, the theater ticket end of it being conducted by the McBride agency.
Historian Anthony W. Robins reports that “In the post-World War II years, the eccentric Joseph Brody presided over the Albert French Restaurant (patrons included Rocky Graziano and Lady Bird Johnson). Brody maintained seven press agents to plant stories about his restaurant in the gossip columns. He hung art on the walls, and sponsored a poetry contest and a sidewalk flower show. Brody also offered his patrons a free bus tour of the Village, first on a “train” and then a larger bus both decoratively painted by Salvador Dali.”
Subsequently, the Albert became home to musicians. It was at the Albert that The Mamas & The Papas’ wrote their hit, “California Dreamin’ “, Lovin’ Spoonful wrote “Do You Believe in Magic,” and Tim Buckley wrote “Bussin’ Fly.” Other musicians who spent time at the Albert include the Mothers of Invention, Jim Morrison, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jerry Edmonton, Barry Goldberg, Gary Higgins, Howlin’ Wolf, The Cockettes, Jonathan Richman, Otis Smith, and Don Stevenson. Many of them used the Albert’s basement for rehearsals and impromptu jam sessions- as Lillian Roxon, author of The Rock Encyclopedia, wrote, “The basement became a shrine; and no musician feels he’s a musician unless he’s stayed at the Albert and rehearsed among the pools of water and the cockroaches.”
Today the Albert is a well-established residential cooperative apartment complex the pools of water and cockroaches are long gone. But it still bears witness to the remarkable history of a Greenwich Village and New York City institution.
*excerpted from my book “Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York”
To purchase a copy, visit my website (www.stanleyturkel.com) and click on the book title (Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf). You can then order a Softcover for $19.95 or a dust jacket Hardcover for $28.95 or an E-Book for $3.99 directly from the publisher (AuthorHouse).