Friday, February 24, 2012

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Hilton New York Hotel & Towers (formerly The New York Hilton at Rockefeller Center) 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY On the 45th and 46th floors are bi-level Penthouse Suites. -------------------------- *The Zeckendorf Hotel - A big hole in the ground!* William "Big Bill" Zeckendorf - an earlier model of Donald Trump - announced in 1959 that he was going to build on Manhattan's Sixth Avenue the "Greatest Hotel Ever Built". To be called The Zeckendorf, the hotel would have 2,000 rooms in a 48 story tower, multiple banquet rooms and would cost $66 million and open in 1961. After Zeckendorf bought out saloon-keeper Toots Shor restaurant lease for $1.5 million (the lease at 51 West 51st Street had 9 years to run) and obtaining a bank loan to buy the land for $16.5 million he proceeded with demolition and excavation - creating a hole in the ground 35 feet deep and half a block long at 51st and 6th Avenue. Lacking further financing the hole soon was nicknamed Zekendorf's Folly by columnist Walter Winchell. Zeckendorf had to abandon the hotel development and sold the land to the Uris brothers in 1961. Percy and Harold Uris partnered with the Rockefeller Group and erected the 43-story Sperry Rand Building on the site at 1290 Avenue of the Americas. The Sperry Rand building opened in 1962, its design somewhat complimentary to the Rockefeller Center. *Laurance S. Rockefeller, Conrad N. Hilton and Percy and Harold Uris* The Uris family did have some earlier hotel development experience. Harris Uris and his son Percy Uris developed the 1,000 room 24-story Dixie Hotel in 1930. They lost the hotel during the Great Depression. Today the Dixie Hotel is known as the Carter Hotel - yes that one - also known as the world's dirtiest hotel. The Uris Brothers, Percy and Harold, were able to get a second venture started with the Rockefeller Group while working on the Sperry Rand Building. The Uris’s took Zeckendorf's hotel idea and moved it two blocks north to Sixth Avenue between West 53rd and West 54th Street. Plans filed with city in October 1960 for a $38 million 42-story hotel to be built by Rockefeller Center, Inc. and Uris Building Corporation. The original ownership entity was known as 1335 Sixth Corporation. A partnership was formed in 1961 - the Rock-Hil-Uris Corporation, 50% owned by the Uris Brothers and 25% each by the Rockefeller Group and the Hilton Hotel Corporation - its purpose to build and operate the New York Hilton Hotel at Rockefeller Center. Permanent financing was arranged with the New York Life Insurance Company. *The architects* The initial 2,000 room Hilton design was by Morris Lapidus and was a 38-storey curving slab. Lapidus was removed from the project when it was determined he was working on the nearby Americana Hotel which also had the gently curved building theme. The project was given to William B. Tabler along with Harrison & Abramovitz. The revised hotel design was a 45 story metal and blue glass tower (some called it New York's first blue skyscraper) with 2,200 outside rooms sitting on a five story masonry base. He created angled window bays for each room that allowed for the unusual placement of ducts used for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to run outside the main structure. The tower ends were clad in limestone. Tabler took note of the Waldorf Astoria's motor court and included a 350-stall garage and convenient drive-in, drive-out for motorists. It would allow guests to be able to check in at the motorist's lobby - eliminating the need to go to the front desk. The hotel's main ballroom (25,000 sq ft) was to seat 4,200 for dinner and more than 5,000 for meetings. A freight lift was designed to carry automobiles, trucks and boats from the hotel's loading dock to the hotel's exhibit space. William B. Tabler was involved with the design of over 400 hotels. He designed the 12-story Washington Hilton which opened in 1965 and the 1,200 room San Francisco Hilton in 1964. One of his last projects was the 376-room New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, which opened in 1998. *Grand Opening - June 26, 1963* The hotel opened on June 26, 1963. The hosts at the grand opening were Mr. Percy Uris, chairman, Rock-Hil-Uris Corporation; Mr. Conrad N. Hilton, president, Hilton Hotels Corporation; & Mr. Laurance S. Rockefeller, chairman, Rockefeller Center, Inc. also present was Joseph P. Binns, the president and ceo of Rock-Hil-Uris Corporation and the managing director of the New York Hilton at Rockefeller Center. Binns had previously served as general manager of the Palmer House, and evp and general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria, New York from 1949-1961. Eugene Voit, previously the manager of the Savoy Hilton, moved over to the New York Hilton as manager. According to the Architectural Record the final cost of the 2,165 room hotel, excluding land, was $52 million plus, representing a room construction cost of $24,000. When the hotel opened in 1963 it brought the number of Hilton Hotels in New York City to four. The other three were the Waldorf Astoria, The Savoy Hilton (demolished in 1965 to make way for the General Motors building) and the Statler Hilton (now the Hotel Pennsylvania). At opening the hotel lobby floor was a pink marble. Sculptural works within the hotel included Philip Pavia's sculpture group "Ides of March" in the Sixth Ave. driveway (no longer there) and James Metcalf's cast-iron sculpture in the lobby (no longer there). At opening the New York Hilton at Rockefeller Center had five fine restaurants extending the length of the 52nd Street side of the hotel. Someone coined the side street "Rue des Gourmets" for the five cuisines available - American, French, Spanish, Italian and Oriental. The restaurants were: *The Old Bourbon House - was a plush red and gold room of the Gay 90's. It actually opened with the house rule of "men only" after 3pm on Monday thru Thursdays. *The Valencia - an authentic Spanish restaurant offered casual entertainment and serious Spanish cuisine. *Place Lautrec - a French style cafe. *The Seven Hills Restaurant was designed with Rene Bouche murals who brought Rome's famous hills to the interior of the Italian themed dining room. *The Gold Horn had a cocktail lounge and dining room with the colors of the fabled city Byzantium. At opening the hotel had a Silversonic Dishwashing Machine - which reportedly could wash, polish and shine 30,000 pieces of silver per day. The opening room count was 2,153. In the early 80's the Hilton's restaurants were known as Hurlingham's (a polo theme and later called Grill 53), Sybils (promoted as New York’s most beautiful backgammon, dining and disco club â€" dancing till 4AM), Mirage Lounge, Kismet Lounge and the International Promenade served afternoon tea. Just three years after opening the hotel underwent a $50,000 face lift to remove dirt caught on the 5 story concrete facade fronting Sixth Avenue. According to the NY Times fly ash from smokestacks and dust from nearby construction projects came to rest on the hotel's main facade causing unsightly streaks of grime. To cover-up the dirt, cement panels were installed on the 200 foot by 40 foot high facade over the main entrance. The NY Times quoted Herbert Helprin, an assistant vice president of Uris Building Corporation "...with the dirt in New York we needed a new facade. Even marble or granite would probably stain. Look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that Rockefeller Center spends on its limestone." *More recently* An advertisement for the New York Hilton New Year’s Eve on December 31, 1980 offered guests for $95 each a beef filet dinner and a bottle of California champagne per couple at Sybils or Hurlinghams. Sybils had a disk jockey and Hurlingham's entertainment was the Music Man Quartet. In November 1974 The Prudential Insurance Co. of America acquired Uris Building Corp's 50% interest in three Hiltons including the New York Hilton for $38.5 million. Uris was owned by National Kinney (the parking and building services company). In September 1996 a Hilton Hotels Corp press release announced that it was purchasing substantially all of Prudential's ownership interest in the 2,041-room New York Hilton & Towers, 1,143-room Washington Hilton & Towers, 543-room Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., and 432-room Rye Town Hilton near New York City. Hilton placed the cost at $267 million. The transaction involved Prudential's interests held on behalf of its giant PRISA (Property Investment Separate Account) pension fund. PRISA, in 1996, was a $1.9 billion equity real estate portfolio managed by Prudential on behalf of 80 pension funds. In April 1999 Arthur A. Surin, SVP/managing director of the Hilton New York announced a $100 million renovation. The Master Plan project created a new sleek metal and stone facade, with strategic lighting, and a redesigned porte cochere. New dining venues and lobby level bars replaced existing outlets - Etrusca, an authentic Tuscan restaurant and the New York Marketplace with an authentic Japanese Breakfast Buffet, wood-fired pizza ovens and a display kitchen. The new Bridges Bar, designed in honor of Manhattan's seven famous bridges, and the Lobby Lounge. The new Spa and Fitness Center, located on the fifth floor, has saunas, steam rooms, treatment rooms, wet therapy facilities, state-of-the-art cardiovascular and free weight equipment. Brennan Beer Gorman/Architects provided design services for the project with Interior design by Hirsch Bedner Associates. As part of the renovation a lobby sculpture was added. The bronze work by Sophia Vari is titled "Là-haut, rien ne bouge" translated means - The above, nothing moves -. A description of Vari's work from her bio states: "Her forms become tangled, gather themselves, soar skywards, kink, unfold in extension, merge in ease..." In March 2000 Peter Kretschmann was named general manager of the 2,085-room Hilton New York & Towers, succeeding Arthur Surin, who retired after 32 years with the company. Kretschmann most recently served as general manager of the Hilton Pasadena. A 21-year Hilton veteran, Kretschmann was general manager of the Hilton Beverly Hills, from 1994 to 1998; the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., from 1991 to 1994; and the Hilton Miami Airport, from 1987 to 1991. He reported to Hilmar Rosenast, senior vice president, Hilton Hotels Corp., and executive vice president-select hotels. In 2002 Hilton Hotel Corporation made a move toward time shares in New York City with the conversion of two floors of its flagship hotel, the Hilton New York into 78 time-share units known as the Hilton Club. Buyers bought points redeemable for time in a unit, the minimum timeshare purchase was $20,000. Its success spawned the West 57th Street by Hilton Club, a 28-story ground-up time share vacation club property with 161 studios and one-bedroom suites in New York City. In July 2007 The Blackstone Group bought Hilton Hotels for $26 billion, or $47.50 a share. Somewhere in that $26 billion is the value belonging to the Hilton New York. In April 2010 Mark Lauer was appointed General Manager of the 1,980-room Hilton New York. He succeeded Conrad Wangeman, who was recently named Area Vice President, Operations â€" Northeast for Hilton Worldwide. Lauer had a nine-year tenure at the Waldorf=Astoria, where he served as Hotel Manager for six years and Director of Marketing for three years. All text and photos by Dick Johnson February 2012 richardlloydjohnson@hotmail 212-832-0098
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