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Hotel History - The Century-Old Hotel Martinique

Located in Greeley Square in Manhattan, the Beaux Arts landmark has seen many iterations.

Friday, May 07, 2010
Stanley Turkel
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The Hotel Martinique at the northeast corner of Broadway and 32nd Street was constructed in three phases: 1897-98, 1901-03 and 1909-11. Developer William R. H. Martin built and expanded his hotel because the center of theater life had moved up Broadway to 39th Street where the Metropolitan Opera House had been built in 1883. Martin, who had been head of the Rogers, Peet clothing company, hired the distinguished architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, best known for the Dakota Apartments (1884), the original Waldorf and Astoria Hotels (on the site of the Empire State building) and the Plaza Hotel (1905). He also designed the Willard in Washington, D.C. (1902) and Boston’s Copley-Plaza Hotel (1912).

Hardenbergh created a French Renaissance design which capitalized on the openness of Greeley Square to highlight the boldly scaled mansard roof with its towers and ornate dormers. The facade reflects Hardenbergh’s reputation for designing buildings for long-term use, not short-term profit. The glazed brick, terracotta- and limestone-clad structure also features stonework, balconies and prominent cartouches on all three of its main facades.

The enlarged Martinique opened on December 21, 1910 with a total of 600 rooms. It was well-located within walking distance from the newly opened Pennsylvania Station, Macy’s on Herald Square (which opened in 1904) and the PATH commuter railroad system’s Manhattan terminus at 33rd Street (1907). Across the street from the Martinique was the Gimbels New York flagship department store. Designed by Daniel Burnham, the structure offered 27 acres of selling space. When this building opened in 1910, a major selling point was its many doors leading to the Herald Square subway station. Doors also opened upon a pedestrian passage under 33rd Street, connecting Penn Station to those subway stations. The idea of a Thanksgiving Day parade originated in 1920 with Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia. Macy’s in New York did not start its parade until 1924.

A faded old Martinique brochure from 1910 contains the following information: “The Hotel Martinique is located at the intersection of Broadway, Sixth Avenue and 32nd Street, and the plaza thus formed is termed Herald or Greeley Square… One block east is Fifth Avenue, the great residential street of New York. Within a radius of three blocks are to be found the greatest of the city’s retail stores, making it an ideal headquarters for shoppers. The best theaters are centered in this vicinity, and the two great Opera Houses are within easy walking distance… The Gentlemen’s Broadway Caf? is a veritable architectural gem. The walls and columns of Italian marble give to this room a richness which is completed by Pompeiian panels of unquestioned merit.”

Even more elegant was the Louis XVI dining room: “The wainscotting and pillars are of Circassian walnut, enclosing panels of gold silk tapestry, producing a result described as the most refined public dining room in the city. No better evidence as to the quality of the cuisine can be given than that the restaurants are filled daily with a patronage of the very highest order. The food is invariably good, the wines of exceptional excellence, and the attendance unobtrusive.”

The brochure goes on to report that the building towers over all adjacent structures, “furnishing views and the degree of light seldom secured in a city hotel. The sanitary precautions, plumbing, etc. are the most complete.” Prices for rooms, according to the brochure, were $3.50 a day for room and bath, $6.00 and up for bedroom, bath and parlor.

On April 10, 1916, the Professional Golf Association of America was created at a meeting in the Hotel Martinique, where 35 charter members and 78 golf professionals formed the world’s largest working sports organization with more than 28,000 men and women professionals.

The WPA Guide to New York City (1939) cited the area around 34th Street and Broadway for being the city’s Rialto (where) diners frequented hotels such as the Martinique and the Herald Square and ordered lobster in the neighborhood’s seafood restaurants.

But when the theater district move uptown to the Times Square area and the best stores left Sixth Avenue for Fifth, the Martinique lost business and gradually became a delinquent hotel. By 1974 and through the 80s the city was warehousing homeless families there.

After years of bad publicity, the city decided to empty what had become a notorious welfare hotel with its dimly lit, squalid rooms and corridors and problems with lead paint and asbestos removal. (To get the full impact of the dreadful living conditions, read “Rachel and Her Children” by Jonathan Kozol, Random House, Inc., New York 1988).

When the last welfare family left the Martinique in 1989, the hotel was acquired from Season Affiliates in a 99-year lease by Harold Thurman, who owned the Hilton Hotel at JFK International Airport. It remained vacant until 1996 while Thurman renovated the hotel completely and secured a Holiday Inn franchise.

On May 5, 1998, in a move that provided reminders of its past glory, the Martinique was conferred landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Jennifer J. Raab, chairwoman of the Commission, said that they began considering landmark status out of concern that the new owner would seek to alter its exterior which is distinguished by ornate dormers, rusticated stonework, balconies and a mansard roof.

The hotel is now called the Radisson Martinique on Broadway and, against all odds, is a stunning Beaux Arts landmark building in the heart of midtown Manhattan just blocks away from the Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, Penn Station, Macy’s and the Chelsea art galleries and restaurants.

Given its checkered past, it is nothing short of an urban miracle that the Radisson Martinique on Broadway can describe itself as follows:

The Radisson Martinique on Broadway is conveniently situated in New York City on 32nd Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue… Enjoy classic architecture and comfort… Our spacious New York City hotel rooms feature high-speed, wireless Internet access and the exclusive Sleep Numbers bed… The Radisson Martinique Broadway Hotel New York City offers guests a wealth of services. Enjoy a 24-hour fitness center, spa, concierge services and jewelry store without stepping outside… The Radisson… features two on-site restaurants. The Martinique Caf?… features international and American cuisine, while Kum Gan Sang offers fine Asian cuisine.

Please take note that Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC has just published “Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry.” It contains 359 pages, 25 illustrations and 16 chapters devoted to each of the following pioneers: John McEntee Bowman, Carl Graham Fisher, Henry Morrison Flagler, John Q. Hammons, Frederick Henry Harvey, Ernest Henderson, Conrad Nicholson Hilton, Howard Dearing Johnson, J. Willard Marriott, Kanjibhai Patel, Henry Bradley Plant, George Mortimer Pullman, A.M. Sonnabend, Ellsworth Milton Statler, Juan Terry Trippe and Kemmons Wilson. It also has a foreword by Stephen Rushmore, preface, introduction, bibliography and index.

Visit www.greatamericanhoteliers.com to order the book.

917 628-8549
Stanley Turkel
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC operates his hotel consulting office as a sole practitioner specializing in franchising issues, asset management and litigation support services. Turkel’s clients are hotel owners and franchisees, investors and lending institutions. Turkel serves on the Board of Advisors and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. He is a member of the prestigious International Society of Hospitality Consultants. His ...
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