Wednesday, January 2, 2013

From the Archives: Happy 100th Birthday McAlpin Hotel

Today our 34th Street archivist, Anne Kumer, helps us wish Happy 100th Birthday to one of our favorite residential buildings, the Herald Towers. This post also appears on NYC Circa.

It's now a residential building called the Herald Towers that somewhat blends in with surrounding tall architecture, but when it was first built in 1912, the McAlpin hotel was a formidable presence. At 25 stories tall, it was the largest hotel in the world with 1,500 rooms, not including the Turkish bath, roof garden (a solid amenity if there ever was one), ballroom (throwback to the Gilded Age), and convention hall (meh).

The McAlpin going up, March 1912. Photo: MCNY

The building was designed by American architect Frank Mills Andrews and besides its fortuitous location next to the Sixth Avenue El train, it was smack in the center of rapidly changing part of the city. In 1912, the Macy's store on West 34th Street and Broadway (across the street) was celebrating its tenth year, and the area was quickly transforming from the den of sin it was in the late 1800s to a retail and hospitality center. A few blocks away on 34th Street at Park Avenue, the Vanderbilt Hotel was under construction; the Titanic sank in April 1912, taking with it Macy's founder Isidor Strauss; and the first monument dedicated to a woman was celebrated in Bryant Park. One year earlier, the New York Public Library opened its doors to the public, and in 1913, the Grand Central Oyster Bar opened its doors. In short, people were traveling, shopping, and eating out more.

The hotel McAlpin opened for business on December 29, 1912, a Monday.

Photo: LOC

A year after the hotel's opening, members of the Blackfoot Confederacy from Montana visited the hotel. The visit was arranged by Louis W. Hill, fonder of the Northern Railroad Company to promote train service from western states.

Photo: MCNY
All sorts of PR stunts were staged, some with phonographs.

Photo: MCNY
The McAlpin was also one of the first hotels to rent ground-level space to retailers. By 1917,  the hotel's owners had purchased additional frontage along the 34th Street entrance, and were slated to add 200 more rooms.

Photo: NYPL
The McAlpin was also known for its restaurant located in the Alpine Cellar, called the Marine Grill, not so much for the food, as for the decor. The walls and ceilings were covered in Terra Cotta murals based on paintings by Fred Dana Marsh, and showed the history of the New York harbor. 

Marine Grill, c. 1924. Photo: MCNY
The restaurant eventually closed, but thankfully the murals were rescued and are now installed at the Chambers Street / Park Place A train stop as part of the MTA's public art program.

And . . . . as a bonus, I give you cartoon spats!
Postcard: From the collection of Dan Pisark


Usha said...

Love this for reasons you know!