THE PENINSULA HOTEL
(formerly the Gotham Hotel, the Nova Park Hotel, Hotel Maxim's de Paris)
2 West 55th Street
Architect: Hiss & Weeks; Stephen J. Jacobs & Assocs. (Nova Park expansion); Hirsch/
Bender (Hotel Maxim's de Paris alteration)
Erected: 1905; altered 1984 and 1987

Entrance to the Peninsula

By Carter B. Horsley

Survival is all and this wonderful structure has gone through a bevy of owners and hard financial times like a trooper that should be highly decorated.

Penisula HotelCompleted one year after the St. Regis Hotel across Fifth Avenue, the Peninsula, shown at the right behind the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, is one of the great Belle Epoque pillars that support and helped create the cosmopolitan flavor of Fifth Avenue.

The patrician tone had been set, of course, six years earlier by the University Club, the Peninsula's great neighbor to the south on the avenue.

Both the St. Regis, which has always been a bit more elegant, and the Peninsula are surprisingly small for all their grandeur and one would have thought they were designed in tandem as a gateway at more prominent sites. The Peninsula's facade is more robust and pronounced than that of the St. Regis (see The City Review article), but the latter has finer interiors.

In the early 1960's, this hotel had one of the city's first public discotheques, L'Interdit, in its basement. It became one of the most popular and elegant in the city and survived longer than most. Its hotel ownership, small size and attractive decor based on European traffic signs, gave it a longer than usual life.

René Hatt, a Swiss hotelier who loved discos and jazz, acquired the hotel and gutted most of it while creating a very luxurious roof-top health club and lounge with very rare woods and its own wave-making machine for its pool. His scheme called for bathrooms to be separated from the main guest rooms only by a curtain and a Corinthinian column. His plan ran out of money and the next two owners have sought to restore and recreate the Belle Epoque elegance the hotel once had.

lobby of the PeninsulaThe current plan has a grand staircase in the center of the lobby, shown at the left, which leads to reception desks, a bar and an attractive restaurant on the second floor overlooking Fifth Avenue. It is nicely done except that the upper spaces are not as good as the staircase, entrance hall and impressive chandelier would imply.

Happily, the building's retail tenants on the avenue have been upgraded in quality considerably by the new owners, which is appropriate since the Peninsula chain's flagship hotel in Hong Kong is widely considered one of the world's greatest and most luxurious.

This hotel building combines Parisian elegance with the strength of a major Italian palazzo whereas its rival across the avenue, the St. Regis, is a fine adaptation on New York scale of French Art Nouveau detailing.

The hotel was designed originally as an apartment hotel intended for bachelors and young families. In their book, "New York 1900 Metropolitan Urbanism 1890-1915," published in 1983 by Rizzoli, Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins observed that this building type "supplied the services of a hotel to permanent or long term residents and helped forged a sociological link between the Cosmopolitan Era, which disdained apartment houses, and the Age of Convenience, which saw people flocking to them." These authors described the former Gotham as "the most glamorous of the apartment hotels," noting also that its architects consciously designed their project to be compatible with McKim, Mead & White's palatial University Club that shares the block's Fifth Avenue frontage with the hotel.

Roof of Peninsula Hotel View from the north

Penisula's roof has health club and cocktail lounge and sundeck above its great cornice

The roof of this quite expensive hotel has a cocktail lounge with two large outdoor terraces that provide very impressive views up and down the avenue and over the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church just across 55th Street. The floor beneath is a health club facility with pool for the hotel's guests. The cocktail lounge and its terraces are among the very best places in midtown in good weather as well as one of the very few spots the public can get a skyline perspective.

The Peninsula, whose entrance is shown above, is one of the most famous hotel names in the world and in choosing the former Gotham Hotel it indicated it has not lost its good taste.

 

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Entrance to the Peninsula