(formerly the Gotham Hotel, the Nova Park Hotel, Hotel Maxim's
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
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.
Completed 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
The 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.
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.