Lower Midtown holds hidden gems bursting with sophistication. The most illustrious is The Wolcott Hotel, which opened on March 1, 1904. Our historic NYC hotel is the largest, most exuberant hotel in the area.
In the 1850s, this section of 5th Avenue developed large row houses belonging to the prosperous, such the two Astor family townhouses, located where the Empire State Building now sits.
The Astors built the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on their house sites located on 5th Avenue. The Wolcott Hotel was built between 1900 and 1910 amongst other hotels in this historic district.
William C. Dewey, a non-native developer, built The Wolcott Hotel. Dewey grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, and traveled home even when he worked in New York City businesses. In the 1880s, he lived downtown, but moved uptown later in the decade.
In 1902, Dewey began a short-lived career in real estate, filing plans for an apartment tenement, a lofting building, a 10-story apartment house, and The Wolcott Hotel. For the last two projects, he retained John H. Duncan as his architect.
At this time, Duncan held the title as one of the most famous architects in the United States, and he gained national attention in the early 1890s when he was selected as the architect of Grant's Tomb, the most popular American attraction at the turn of the century. This success led to townhouse commissions from some of New York's richest families.
Duncan constructed with a bold style, favoring large-scale, Beaux-Arts-type ornaments, which produced the shocking sophistication of our historic NYC hotel. The Wolcott Hotel's audacious, blocky precision made it stand out, combining discipline with exuberance.
On the lower floor, muscular-carved busts and blocky rustication, sharp leaf work, unyielding strap work, and giant dormers are trademark Duncan elements.
In September 1903, Architects' and Builders' Magazine described the exterior of The Wolcott Hotel as “Modern French” and noted the hotel’s “elaborately sculptured decoration.”
Unlike the interior of most hotels, The Wolcott Hotel interior seemed carefully planned and executed. The article shows detailed drawings for ceiling decoration and window hanging and discusses the “Neo-Greek” vestibule and Louis XVI-style dining room.
An original plan shows the lobby in its present position, but with the office on the right. The lobby extended to the rear, under a musicians’ gallery, into the dining room. The ground floor had a ladies’ Reception Room, a café, and a Smoking Room, Children's Dining Room, and Palm Room on the sides.
The Palm Room ceiling was stained or leaded glass over a trellis of vines, “giving the effect of being open to the sky.” Compared to other buildings of this type in Midtown, The Wolcott Hotel's interior is amazingly intact; ornamental iron, mosaic floors, and other elements remain. The guest rooms “were executed with artistic taste and the appointments are perfect to the last degree, including all the latest improvements for the comfort of hotel patrons.”
The hotel should have been finished no later than the end of 1903, but it took until March 1904 to complete construction, when Dewey leased it to James H. Breslin, a current leading hotel man. Labor strikes delayed the process past Dewey's construction financing repayment due date and an owner was appointed in October 1904. The American Mortgage Company took back the building in early 1905, and Dewey retired to obscurity.
James Breslin moved into The Wolcott Hotel when it opened on March 1, 1904. A brochure from that time called it “An Ideal Hotel.” It served transient guests and was also the permanent home for several dozen.
Many residents were accomplished, such as Finis Marshall, President of the Phoenix National Bank, and Ingalls Kimball, a Metropolitan Life executive. Other residents included Phillip J. Dwyer, racing enthusiast and owner of legendary horse Hindoo, and Harry L. Wilson, author of Ruggles of Red Gap and other stories, who coined the term “flapper” and shortly lived with his first wife who started the kewpie-doll craze. Another early resident was Henry J. Pain, who established his family's fireworks business and held displays during the inauguration of four Presidents: McKinley, Roosevelt, Wilson, and Taft.
The 1915 census reveals The Wolcott Hotel’s level of service. In addition to the guests, they recorded two cooks, 11 maids, two “glass maids,” a pantry girl, head cleaner, and 11 cleaning women.
The Wolcott Hotel has always been recognized as special by 1940s newspapers such as The New York Times and the legacy of this historic NYC hotel continues to leave its guests in awe.