I was back in New York last month for the 131st Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention at the Jacob Javits Center along the Hudson River in the Big Apple. When I was in New York four years ago we stayed at the stately Roosevelt Hotel (see that entry here). While it was in the heart of midtown Manhattan, the Roosevelt was a 15 minute cab ride to the convention center. Two years ago, my colleague Simon got smart and booked the guys in our company who attended AES in New York that year at the venerable New Yorker Hotel, a 15 minute walk to the Javits Center in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood on the west side (see map). This year, he booked our company into the New Yorker again.
The New Yorker is steeped in history. The hotel was built over a two year period just before the Great Depression. Developed and built by Garment Center owner Mack Kanner, the art deco building was designed by the architecture company of Sugarman and Berger and was one of the first designs of its kind in New York City. After the New Yorker opened up in January of 1930, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building opened a few months later cementing the art deco style of architecture in Manhattan.
In its day, the New Yorker was something else. It was one of the largest hotels in the world with 2500 rooms. It featured its own power plant of coal-fired steam boilers and generators that provided heat and direct current power throughout the building. In fact, the hotel was one of the few places in New York City that still had power during the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965. In 1969, the hotel changed its power system from direct current to alternating current. (I'm guessing they had to provide power adapters to patrons who used items such as electric razors and the like.) And something very ironic about the New Yorker - the man who invented alternating electric current, Nikola Tesla, lived in suite 3327 in the New Yorker for a number of years up until his death in 1943.
The New Yorker Hotel was classy, stately and THE place to stay in Manhattan in the 30's, 40's and 50's. Their bellboys were legendary, described as being as "snappy looking as West Pointers" (meaning they looked like Army cadets). The most celebrated of the New Yorker bellboys was Johnny Roventini, famous for his legendary signature phrase "Call for Phil-lip Morrr-orr-resss!" If you're under the age of 60, you probably don't remember the Philip Morris commercials that ended with the diminutive Roventini walking through the lobby at the New Yorker calling out in his distinctive high-pitched voice for Philip Morris. I couldn't find a particular commercial, but I did find a sort of obnoxious underground music video with Roventini that says the familiar catch phrase again and again. After about 10 seconds of watching the video, you get an idea of what he sounded like.
Before, during and after World War II, the New Yorker was the place to see and be seen. Big Bands such as those fronted by Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman played in the large ballroom at the New Yorker. Movie actors, politicians, celebrities, athletes and society's elite all stayed and/or played at the New Yorker. The New Yorker was a magic name to many who dreamed about going to New York to rub elbows with the stars.
At its height, the New Yorker had five restaurants, ten private dining "salons" all tended to by 35 chefs. It housed the world's largest barbershop with over 40 chairs and 20 manicurists. They employed close to 100 "telephone girls" (they weren't called operators at the New Yorker) and 150 laundry staff. Their web site says that as much as 350,000 pieces of laundry would be washed on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, New York's declining stature and changing economy caused the New Yorker to decay. It was sold many times beginning in the early 50's, it was owned by the Hilton corporation a couple times, and had fallen into bankruptcy a like number of times. In 1972, after years of declining guest numbers and the advent of newer and more modern hotels being built in New York City, the Hilton corporation closed the New Yorker. It sat empty for nearly three years as many proposed projects to either resurrect the hotel or turn it into either a hospital or low income housing were bandied about. Finally in 1975, the Unification Church bought the New Yorker and turned much of the 42-story building into use for its church members.
Nearly 20 years later, the Unification Church decided to turn part of the building into a hotel again and the New Yorker Hotel Management Company was formed to take over operation of the hotel. Initially, only 178 rooms were available for hotel use. But after two extensive remodeling projects totaling nearly $100 million dollars in capital improvements which were finally completed in February of 2009, the hotel boasts 912 rooms and two large ballrooms totaling 33,000 square feet. They also restored the art deco architecture and charm the New Yorker possessed in its golden age.
(Right - The lobby at the New Yorker Hotel with its art deco chandelier and 1930's feel.)
The rooms at the New Yorker, however, were still pretty small compared to much newer hotels you can find virtually anywhere. But you did get a pretty good view of the city if you were up pretty high. Below left is a view out my hotel window. The Empire State Building is located to the right of the building in the foreground.
The New Yorker is close to a number of major attractions in New York City. Madison Square Garden (above right) is located a block down the street and is fully visible from the front side of the New Yorker. Macy's flagship department store is located down the street on 34th St., as is the Empire State Building. Penn Station, the busiest train station in North America, is located underground, caddy-cornered from the New Yorker. The New York Times is located up 8th Ave., and the main post office (zip code 10001) in New York is a block to the south, across the street from Madison Square Garden. Times Square is a short walk - a block over on 7th Ave. and 8 blocks up through the Fashion District to 42nd St.
The New Yorker boasts a couple restaurants - The Cooper's Tavern (look for my take on that place in an upcoming Road Tips entry) - and the Tic Toc Diner coffee shop (pictured above). New York is proliferated with diners and coffee shops that cater primarily to the breakfast and lunch crowds in Manhattan. The Tic Toc Diner has been renovated with art deco architecture with neon lighting inside and out. Actually, the breakfasts weren't bad - I had French toast one day and an omelet another time, and while the meals weren't spectacular, they were certainly good enough to get the day going.
Other than the rooms being small, the elevators being woefully slow (and packed) on the weekends, and the showers having trouble keeping a regulated temperature (they'd turn cold, then hot, then back again), the New Yorker was a pretty nice place to stay. It is centrally located for shopping, entertainment, restaurants and conventions. The service staff was friendly and helpful. The hotel had a very nice gift shop in the basement. (I was able to get an FDNY t-shirt for one of our neighbors and a really nice New York sweat shirt for Cindy at a very reasonable price.) The rooms offer good views of the city and beyond, and you can't beat the history or the architecture in the building. I'm getting a little bit more into the pro audio side of the business these days and I'm hoping that I get to go back to AES in a couple years. I'm sure that I'll be back at the New Yorker if I do get to go.