50 East 46th Street
(The full block between 45th
and 46th Streets and Madison and Vanderbilt Avenues)
Developer: The New York Central
Architect: George B. Post
By Carter B. Horsley
The last remaining unaltered hotel of the original
"Terminal City" complex centered around Grand Central
Terminal (see The City Review article),
the Roosevelt Hotel provides a good example, because it was never
planned as luxury facility, of the high quality of architecture
design in pre-Depression New York that envisioned an ever improving,
ever more stately urbanity.
The only other well-preserved remnant of the
"Terminal City," apart from the terminal itself, is
the Helmsley Building (see The City Review
article), formerly the New York Central and then the New York
General Building, straddling the avenue at 46th Street.
The other hotels in the complex, mostly designed
by Warren & Wetmore, included the Biltmore, which was gutted
and rebuilt as the Bank of America Plaza Building between Madison
and Vanderbilt Avenues and 43rd and 44th Streets, the Commodore,
which was gutted and rebuilt as the New York Grand Hyatt, on the
northwest corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, and the
Ritz Carlton on the west side of Madison Avenue between 46th and
47th Streets and the 23-story Belmont on the southwest corner
of Park Avenue and 42nd Street, which were demolished to make
way for commercial buildings. Most of them shared similar designs
of indented light courts above a low-rise base and dark red and
brown brick facades and underground connections directly to the
The 16-story Ritz Carlton, whose chef for a
while was Escoffier, was the most luxurious, followed by the Biltmore,
then the Roosevelt and finally the Commodore, which was the largest
with about 2,000 rooms.
The hotels and the former New York Central
Building, which is an office building, set the stage for a remarkably
consistent flourishing of high-rise masonry construction that
included such highly compatible buildings as the former Bowery
Savings Bank at 110 West 42nd Street and the Pershing Office Building
at 100 West 42nd Street, as well as the similarly designed Brooks
Brothers Building at 342 Madison Avenue at 43rd Street and the
former Abercrombie & Fitch Company Building at 360 Madison
Avenue at 45th Street. Several other very fine masonry buildings
such as 270, 292 and 310 Madison Avenue and 41, 50 and 52 East
Exceptions to the consistent Adamesque style,
of course, were the 55-story Lincoln Building at 60 East 42nd
Street, the 56-story Chanin Building at 122 West 42nd Street and
the 77-story Chrysler Building (see The
City Review article) at 405 Lexington Avenue at 42nd Street,
but they at least used brick facades and their wonderful designs
enhanced the area without breaking the mold entirely. The former
Socony Building at 200 West 42nd Street did break the mold with
its embossed stainless steel facade, but it was already somewhat
What ruined the ambiance was the rebuilding
of the Commodore Hotel into the New York Grand Hyatt by Donald
Trump and Hyatt Hotels. Its reflective-glass facade broke the
teeth of the complex's smile (and its indented form did not lend
itself well to such a treatment apart from the context). The smaller
Abercrombie & Fitch Company Building, which was more attractive
than the Brooks Brothers Building, suffered a similar face subsequently
when it too was clad in reflective glass. The former Biltmore
Hotel was at least clad in polished red granite.
Despite my own nomination to the Landmarks
Preservation Commission of a special Grand Central Masonry Preservation
District, no action has been taken to preserve the remaining examples.
The 1,100-room Roosevelt Hotel was the first
large hotel to be built under the city's new zoning regulations
of 1916 and was named after President Theodore Roosevelt. According
to Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins in
their book, "New York 1930, Architecture and Urbanism Between
The Two World Wars," published in 1987 by Rizzoli, the Roosevelt
was the first new New York hotel to include ground floor stores
to offset a lack of revenues caused by Prohibition.
Interestingly, while the Madison Avenue frontage
has three bays, the Vanderbilt Avenue frontage has only two.
The Roosevelt was acquired by Pakistani interests
in the 1980's and its future is some doubt because it is on a
receiving site for transfer of Grand Central Terminal's unused
air rights. The hotel's base is particularly attractive in its
excellent articulation and modulation.
The hotel's north facade will face the new
headquarters building of Bear, Stearns & Co., Inc., as shown
in the photograph above.
The original "Terminal City" complex
by Warren & Wetmore and Reed & Stem was elegant and stately
in its details, its organization was brilliant and its scale was
enormous. Rockefeller Center, two decades later, may have achieved
more renown, but Terminal City was a far greater and much more
important achievement, the greatest in the nation's planning history.
What is truly remarkable was that its visionaries accomplished
so much of their dream.
What is truly outrageous is that Terminal City
was bastardized and raped after World War II when nouveau riche
Americans, including not a few New York real estate developers,
politicians and civic activists and socialites, had either no
taste whatsoever or total contempt for civilization, which has
a lot to do with cities. So patronize the Roosevelt, visit it,
remember that it was not even top-of-the-line Terminal City and
implant in your minds that the very essence of Park Avenue was
the architecture of Terminal City's "station hotels"
and that George B. Post honored very well the elegant dream of
Warren & Wetmore's Terminal City.