Times Square 1906 – The New Hotel Astor, Olympia Theatre & Surroundings
The view is titled, “New Astor Hotel and 20 story Times Building.” We are looking south from 46th Street towards the New York Times Tower. The flatiron-style building opened in 1905. The building was mutilated in 1965 when purchased by Allied Chemical. Today it is unrecognizable after it was altered again in the twenty first century to become a giant garish billboard.
On the right is the 500 room Hotel Astor comprising 14 city lots from 44th to 45th Street where Broadway and Seventh Avenue intersect. The 10-story Hotel Astor cost owner William Waldorf Astor over $7 million to build and furnish. The land was purchased decades earlier as farmland by his great-grandfather John Jacob Astor for $100 an acre. The Grand Ballroom was a baroque masterpiece.
After some labor related delays the Hotel Astor was formally thrown open to the public September 10, 1904. As one of the most popular and beautiful hotels in New York the Astor should still exist. Of course it does not.
As is usual in New York, the land occupied was too valuable to leave a 60+ year-old hotel to soldier on. The hotel sold for $10.5 million in 1966, which was the value of the land only. With the hotel soon coming down, the city began placing welfare recipients at the Astor. The once luxurious hotel in which nine U.S. Presidents had stayed, was now a dumping ground for New York’s poor. The Astor’s last year was a tawdry combination of drug addicts and lowlife occupants with smelly food cooking in rooms on kerosene stoves mixed with the aroma of baby diapers being changed on the once plush sofas in the lobby. A bellhop remarked to a startled hotel visitor who asked what had become of the beautiful Astor, “This was The Hotel Astor. Not anymore. The war on poverty or something.” Sounds familiar doesn’t it.
With Times Square in decline the Hotel Astor was not considered a significant structure. The Landmarks Preservation Commission did not contemplate stepping in to save the hotel and it was razed in the autumn and winter of 1967-68.
In the foreground behind the wagon making its way down Broadway can be seen a couple of the many small businesses that would soon be priced out of the emerging Times Square. The advertising sign for L. (Louis) Goldstein “Ladies Tailor Furrier Habit Maker and Golf Suits” is visible at 1539 Broadway. The ground floor has a sign for a laundry. Adjacent to the shops the fence is covered by clients of the New York Bill Posting Co.. There are dozens of wheatpasted ads for the Patten Line, a steamboat company making trips between New York and Long Branch, NJ. There is also a large poster for the Joy Line announcing a trip to Boston is only $2.50.
Pedestrians walk along the sidewalks as horse drawn wagons and several trolleys make their way up and down Broadway.
A Big Theatre
On the left side of Broadway between 44th and 45th Street, the immense building is Oscar Hammerstein’s Olympia Theatre. Oscar Hammerstein (1846-1919) was a pioneer for redefining the theater district within the Times Square area. Hammerstein was the grandfather of Broadway producer and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) who was responsible for such Broadway classics as: South Pacific; Oklahoma; The King and I and The Sound Of Music with composer partner Richard Rodgers.
The Olympia was a forerunner of the modern day all-in-one entertainment complex. Containing a music hall, concert hall and playhouse, the Olympia commenced business on November 25, 1895 to great fanfare. At opening night Hammerstein made the same short speech at the playhouse as he did at the music hall when patrons wildly applauded and called for him after the show.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have always liked life and I have always liked this world,” Hammerstein gushed, “but I have never been more pleased with life or the world than I am at this moment.”
However within three years the endeavor left Hammerstein bankrupt when the New York Life Insurance Company foreclosed on the mortgage. Hammerstein would rebound and build the Victoria Theatre at Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street in 1899. By 1906 the Olympia was the New York Theatre. The Olympia went through several ownership and name changes and when demolished in 1935 was known as the Loew’s New York and Criterion Theatre.
Two More Hotels
Beyond the Olympia a small portion of the Hotel Cadillac and its advertising signs can be spotted on Broadway and 43rd Street. The Hotel Cadillac was taken down in 1940.
A small bit of the Rossmore Hotel can be spotted at 42nd Street and Broadway and Seventh Avenue just past the New York Times Tower. It was a hotel with many different names over its 40 year life but continually referred to as The Rossmore. The hotel was built by architect John B. Snook, who also built the original Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street. The Rossmore Hotel opened on February 7, 1876.
The hotel was renovated and renamed the Hotel Metropole by proprietors George T. Putney and George Green in 1889. In 1898 it was renamed the Rivers Hotel when Colonel Robert E. Rivers of New Orleans leased the hostelry. The Rossmore Hotel name was used again in 1900 when George Putney reassumed control from Colonel Rivers. In 1907 it was called the Hotel Saranac. Another sale in 1907 could not revive business even with modernization and more renamings such as the Cafe de l’Opera and the Cafe de Paris. In 1915 the vacant hotel changed hands again. Brokaw Brothers a retail clothing titan, demolished the hotel and moved their business into their new eleven story building on the former hotel site in 1916.