Tag Archives: classic hotels

The Story of SoHo: The Iron-Clad History of ‘Hell’s Hundred Acres’

PODCAST The history of SoHo, New York’s 19th century warehouse district turned shopping mecca

Picture the neighborhood of SoHo (that’s right, South of Houston) in your head today, and you might get a headache. Crowded sidewalks on the weekend, filled with tourists, shoppers and vendors, could almost distract you from SoHo’s unique appeal as a place of extraordinary architecture and history.

On this podcast we present the story of how a portion of “Hell’s Hundred Acres” became one of the most famously trendy places in the world.

In the mid 19th century this area, centered along Broadway, became the heart of retail and entertainment, department stores and hotels setting up shop in grand palaces. (It also became New York’s most notorious brothel district). The streets between Houston and Canal became known as the Cast Iron District, thanks to an exciting construction innovation that transformed the Gilded Age.

Today SoHo contains the world’s greatest surviving collection of cast-iron architecture. But these gorgeous iron tributes to New York industry were nearly destroyed – first by rampant fires, then by Robert Moses. Community activists saved these buildings, and just in time for artists to move into their spacious loft spaces in the 1960s and 70s. The artists are still there of course but these once-desolate cobblestone streets have almost unrecognizably changed, perhaps a victim of its own success.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #232: THE STORY OF SOHO

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A map of the Bayard farm and how it was broken up and carved into the streets we know today.

Niblo’s Garden, located at Broadway and Prince Streets, was one of the finest theaters along Broadway in the area of today’s SoHo.

Looking north along Broadway between Grand and Broome Street. The St. Nicholas Hotel is the white structure in the center of the photo.

Photo attributed to Silas A Holmes

 

An auction poster from 1872 advertising a property on Broome Street and “South Fifth Avenue or Laurens Street” — today’s West Broadway.

MCNY

 Here is that corner at 504-506 Broome Street — in 1935 (photo by Berenice Abbott). Per Sean Sweeney on Facebook: “The two buildings were demolished and for years were a parking lot. Now a new 3-story retail building sits in their place.”

NYPL

 

 

The house at 143 Spring Street — in 1932 (photograph by Charles Von Urban) and today (it’s a Crocs shop!)

Museum of City of New York/Charles Von Urban collection

 

491 Broadway at Broome Street — in 1905 (photograph by the Wurts Bros.) and today

James Bogardus, the man who helped give SoHo its distinctive appearance thanks to his vigorous marketing and promotion of cast-iron architecture.

The first cast-iron structure in New York, built in 1848, was further south at the corner of Centre and Duane Streets.

NYPL

 

Robert Moses’ view of Broome Street via his project Lower Manhattan Expressway project. Broom Street would have had an elevated highway, enclosed within modern buildings. A view of surviving cast-iron architecture on the right.

 

SoHo would have been eliminated (or greatly reduced) by Moses’ project which was thankfully nixed.

Map produced by vanshnookenraggen

A map of the art galleries in the SoHo art scene during the 1970s.

SoHo Artists Association Records, 1968-1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

From a 1971 SoHo newsletter: The criteria for qualifying as an artist — and eventual resident — of a specially-zoned loft in SoHo. M1-5A and M1-5B were the newly created work-living zones.

SoHo Artists Association Records, 1968-1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

 

We greatly encourage you to check out the SoHo Memory Project for a lot of fantastic and often deeply personal recollections about the SoHo days of yore.

For further listening, check out the following Bowery Boys podcasts which were referenced in this week’s show:

Before Harlem: New York’s Forgotten Black Communities (#230) for information on first farms of the city’s first black New Yorkers

Niblo’s Garden (#113) for the history of the district’s most famous entertainment center

Our podcasts on Robert Moses (#100) and Jane Jacobs (#200)

 

And we really hope our show inspires you to check out two films that features interesting views of SoHo during its chic gallery phase — The Eyes of Laura Mars and After Hours

 

History in the Making 11/18: Celebrated Jumping Frogs Edition

Hoppin’ History: Samuel Clemens broke through 150 years ago today.  The man who would become Mark Twain first published his now famous short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (under its original title “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” 150 years ago today in the New York Saturday Press.  I speak about this important date in American literary history in the Bowery Boys podcast on Mark Twain’s Adventures in New York. Blog post: [Bowery Boys] Listen to it here: [#117 Mark Twain’s New York]

Queen of the Ice: A fun story about a New York skating star named Ellen Dallerup, one of many ice skating celebrities from 100 years ago. “At one point during her early career, she even skated with a prop zeppelin attached to her.” There’s even a picture! [Skate Guard]

World’s Fair Nightmare:  Somebody set a bomb off at the 1940 World’s Fair in Flushing-Meadows, Queens, killing two police officers. Seventy-five years later, that crime has not been solved.  [Atlas Obscura]

A Capital Idea: An interview with Kenneth Goldsmith about his unusual new book of New York City history. [Vanishing New York]

Have a Groovy Stay: A journey to Hotel Woodstock, one of Times Square’s forgotten highlights. “The main Dining Room was lit by an immense stained glass skylight.  Decorated “in the style of Louis XVI,” its cuisine and service were touted by management ‘as good as it is possible to have them’.”  [Daytonian in Manhattan]

Postcard courtesy Daytonian In Manhattan
Postcard courtesy Daytonian In Manhattan

 

Checked Out:  What’s to become of the Gould Memorial Library, one of the greatest buildings ever designed by Stanford White and a genuine treasure in the Bronx? Why is it just sitting there? David W. Dunlap investigates. [New York Times]

Vive La France: A mini-tour of Manhattan’s former French quarter in the 19th century, known for cuisine — and some genuine oddities. [Ephemeral New York]

 

Top picture:  Oddly enough this is a rifle ad from 1880.  The “Cheapest and best. Office, 281-283 Broadway, New York.” Copyright by John Gibson. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Remington also made typewriters and sewing machines!

“Hey mama look! The sewing machine delivery man has arrived.”

Courtesy Quilting on the Crescent
Courtesy Quilting on the Crescent

 

 

 

Billie Holiday’s New York: Here’s to Swing Street, Harlem’s 133rd Street and other landmarks of jazz

Courtesy Columbia Records

 

PODCAST Grab your fedora and take a trip with the Bowery Boys into the heart of New York City’s jazz scene — late nights, smoky bars, neon signs — through the eyes of one of the greatest American vocalists who ever lived here — Billie Holiday.

Eleanora Fagan walked out of Pennsylvania Station in 1929 and into the city that would help make her a superstar. Her early years were bleak, arrested for prostitution and thrown into the Welfare Island workhouse. But music would be her savior, breaking out in Harlem first in the nightclubs on 133rd Street, then in the basement clubs of ‘Swing Street’ on 52nd Street.

Her recordings make her an international star, but the venues of New York helped solidify her talents — from the Apollo Theater to Carnegie Hall. But one particular club in the West Village would provide her with a signature song, one that reflected the horrible realities of racism in the mid 20th century.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #176: Billie Holiday’s New York

Billie Holiday at Club Downbeat, 1947

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Locations featured in this episode:

1) Pennsylvania Station (circa 1930s-40s)

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

2) Jefferson Market Courthouse, pictured here in 1935

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Photographed by Berenice Abbott, courtesy New York Public Library

 

3) Welfare Island, pictured here in 1931

Photographed by Samuel H Gottscho, courtesy Museum of City of New York

 

4) 133rd Street — “Jungle Alley” or The Street — outside Connie’s Inn

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

5) Apollo Theater, pictured here in the mid 1940s

Courtesy Library of Congress, photographer William Gottlieb
Courtesy Library of Congress, photographer William Gottlieb

 

6) Lincoln Hotel

Hotel Lincoln, 44th to 45th Street at 8th Avenue New York City
Hotel Lincoln, 44th to 45th Street at 8th Avenue New York City

7) Billie Holiday at Cafe Society 1939

Photo by Charles B. Nadell
Photo by Charles B. Nadell

8) 52nd Street aka Swing Street

5268914553_ca77a01af0_o

 

Billie at Club Downbeat (with her dog Mister) — June 1946

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

9) Town Hall, sometime in the 1940s

Exterior view of The Town Hall, courtesy New York Public Library
Exterior view of The Town Hall, courtesy New York Public Library

10) Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall for her rave 1948 concert

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

An extraordinary performance of ‘Strange Fruit’, performed in February 1959, months before she died. This was recorded for a British television show called ‘Chelsea At Nine’.

 

Billie Holiday — playing a maid — in the 1947 film New Orleans

 

And a live performance of one of her greatest songs — well, really, one of the greatest songs — “God Bless The Child”

Union busted: Hotel and restaurant workers end their strike

Above: Restaurant workers walk off the job at Sherry’s Restaurant at Fifth Avenue in 1912

One hundred years ago today, a rather peculiar worker’s strike ended, a protest which had paralyzed New York’s restaurant and hotel industries for almost two months. The strike had begun in early May, and by the month’s end, thousands of employees had walked off their jobs, leaving diners in emptied restaurants and wealthy hotel guests to carry their own luggage.

What made this particular walkout unusual weren’t the demands — improved conditions and pay, recognition of their newly formed union — but the locations where the strikes occurred. The employees of the very toniest and best known restaurants and hotels left their jobs in unison. Establishment affected included the Plaza, the Hotel Astor, Hotel Knickerbocker, the Waldorf-Astoria, the St. Regis, the Vanderbilt, and restaurants like Delmonico’s and Sherry’s (pictured above), among dozens of others.

Workers decided to return to work after a mass gathering on June 25, at the old New Amsterdam Opera House at 44th Street and Eighth Avenue. While some employers agreed to a few paltry changes, most of the strikers demands were not met, including the recognition of their union. (And to this day, they’re not unionized.)

Some hotels actually refused to hire back anybody who had join the strikers. Or as the proprietor of the Waldorf  put it: “I told these men that a job at the Waldorf is not an apple hanging on a tree. I told them that we were doing better than ever, then I told them goodbye.”

And even their timing was lousy. Drama at the Democratic presidential convention in Baltimore knocked the strike almost completely out of the headlines that week.

The Fifth Avenue Hotel: Opulence atop a potter’s field, and accommodations for heated Republican power brokering



By the date of this photo (1890), the Fifth Avenue Hotel, facing Madison Square Park, had already seen its share of American political drama.


The double-breasted, cigar-chewing gentlemen who gathered in the sumptuous rooms of the Fifth Avenue Hotel were occasional connoisseurs of New York City history, and in particular, these amateur historians spoke of the very street corner where their hotel stood.

Before Madison Square, when the area was a barren parade ground, one Corporal Thompson opened a roadhouse and stagecoach station in the area that was to become 23rd Street and and Fifth Avenue. Many spoke fondly of Thompson’s establishment, called Madison Cottage, because they remembered the place as young boys. They recalled the area’s rural quality, with carved rectangular blocks carved into the land and a dirt-road Broadway meandering north.

But that was the 1840s. Forty years later, Madison Square Park was the center of New York, a focal point of class, business and luxury that stretched south to Union Square, through that attractive collection of fine stores known as Ladies Mile, and up Fifth Avenue into the fabulous mansions of the rich. And dead center of all that activity was the Fifth Avenue Hotel, not only the “finest [hotel] in this metropolis”, the “leading hotel of the world ,” but quite simply one of the most surprising stages for American politics of the mid and late 19th century.

Hotels were fast becoming the center of New York life from at least the days of the Astor House, located near City Hall, in the 1830s. Within two decades, trendy new hotels (such as the St. Nicholas and the Metropolitan) spread up along Broadway and eventually clustered around Union Square. By the Civil War, the thrust of New York society was so defined by them that Confederate conspirators tried setting fire to a several of them.

The Fifth Avenue Hotel opened in 1859, the venture of wealthy merchant Amos Richards Eno, who accurately gambled that the center of city commerce would soon settle at 23rd Street. So confident a speculator was Eno that he moved from his brownstone at 74 Broadway (the first New York brownstone, he claimed) to a massive home nearby the hotel.

Some thought it unwise to build so far north, and when workers unearthed dozens of skeletons during construction — the area once being a potter’s field — the corner was even considered cursed. Eno defied the naysayers, pouring his wealth into the hotel to make it the most modern, most luxurious accommodation of the day.

The Italian exterior was awash in five stories of imported marble, while austere, carpeted interiors of French design drew comparisons to European palaces. Guests enjoyed reading rooms, a luxurious bar, a barber shop, a dedicated telegraph office, and a variety of dining and drawing rooms, not to mention the first passenger elevator ever built in the United States, a steam-powered monstrosity whisking passengers to their floor.  The private quarters were soundproofed, fixtured with the modern innovations in plumbing, and lavishly decorated, becoming to many “the safest, the most healthy and most comfortable hotel in the world.

As the finest hotel in the city in the post Civil War years, it naturally became a magnet for politicians and financiers. Of all the ‘backrooms’ of American politics, none were as gleaming as the Fifth Avenue. Bankers huddled in the legendary ‘parlor D. R.’ during the tense days of the financial panic of 1873. In particular, the hotel became a de facto headquarters for New York Republicans. While often secondary to the city’s Democrats — this being the era of Tammany Hall‘s swelling power — Republicans were frequently in control of state government, and the Fifth Avenue Hotel became a smoky center of political wheeling and dealing.

During the 1870s, New York republicans became national power brokers and frequently hashed out crises here at the Fifth Avenue. In the years before the Waldorf-Astoria, presidents and dignitaries all stayed here during visits. Seamier political maneuvers took place in the chambers of prominent politicians who held court here, including the inimitable Roscoe Conkling (at left), senator of New York and leader of the Republican faction known as the Stalwarts.

When fractured Republicans at their convention in 1880 nominated non-Stalwart James Garfield for president, the nominee had to basically grovel for their support by symbolically ‘kissing the ring’ of the Stalwarts during a visit to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, partially agreeing to their system of patronage and taking Conkling ally Levi Morton as a member of his cabinet. (Garfield later backed out on this arrangement.)

Another frequent guest here was Chester A. Arthur, Garfield’s eventual vice president. When Arthur became president after Garfield’s assassination by Charles Guiteau (who had himself wandered the hotel’s hallways in delusion), he would set up his entire administration here during visits to his adopted city.

By the 1890s, a corridor of the hotel known as the ‘Amen Corner‘ was a famous congregation spot for Republican political bosses and reporters. As they frequently powwowed here on Sundays, gatherers would caustically shout ‘Amen!’ during heated discussions.

The hotel became a magnet for shenanigans of all varieties. In 1893, a couple hundred proponents of a U.S. monetary silver standard erupted into a riot that included two U.S. senators. The bank robber Robert Montague was arrested here in 1896 thanks to a tip-off from a chambermaid. An early vestige of baseball’s National League met here annually, and the national pool competitions were held in the hotel’s billiard room.

By the new century, of course, the locus of New York activity was hastily moving uptown, and the Fifth Avenue Hotel was deemed a relic, even as a brand new structure across the street — the Flatiron Building — was being proclaimed the finest building in the city. In 1908 the Fifth Avenue Hotel was torn down and replaced by the 16-story Toy Center (called the Fifth Avenue Building back in the day), the epicenter of toy manufacturing for much of the 20th century.

Pictures courtesy New York Public Library (source)

Troubled times: Dr. King and Abe Lincoln visit New York


February 1961: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is presented with an award by the Americans for Democratic Action. On either side of him is former New York governor Herbert H. Lehman and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited New York University and spoke to the campus about the philosophies of non-violent protest and the rising civil rights struggles of the day.

Putting this in context of other King visits to New York, this stop at NYU comes about two and a half years (Sept 20, 1958) after a “demented” woman stabs King at a book signing in Harlem, hospitalizing him for two weeks. Three months after visiting the campus, Mayor Robert Wagner declares May 16, 1961 as ‘Desegregation Day’ in honor of King. Later that very same day began the violence in Alabama against the Freedom Riders, black and white activists riding buses through the South.

NYU commemorates King’s February 1961 appearance tonight with an event that features a humanitarian award presented to Dr. Fritz Francois for his Haitian relief efforts and an appearance by former governor David Paterson. [More details at NYU’s website]

Coincidentally, it was almost 150 years ago (February 19-20, 1861) that another man with his own winter holiday visited New York City — Abraham Lincoln. Although it was a month before his inauguration, Lincoln would not have been in a very good mood; Southern states were peeling off in fast secession and military action was a growing certainly. Two months later, Confederates attacked Fort Sumter, igniting the American Civil War.

During Lincoln’s brief stay, he spoke to crowds from his balcony at the Hotel Astor across from City Hall. The next day, Lincoln met slavery sympathizer and New York mayor Fernando Wood. I wasn’t there, but I’m sure you could have cut the tension with a knife. Meanwhile, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln was across the street at Barnum’s American Museum, whose displays of human disfigurement and tanks of inadequately kept aquatic animals could not have been good on her mental state.

The excellently detailed website Mr. Lincoln and New York gives a thorough recounting of events.

ALSO: I recommend you check out Eleanor Roosevelt’s ‘My Day’ column from February 6, 1961, regarding her experience with King from the Americans for Democratic Action dinner that the picture at top is from.

The ADA dinner, incidentally, was at the other Hotel Astor in Times Square. Lincoln’s speech was at the original Hotel Astor.

Try getting this catchy tune out of your head!

And a little something silly for Friday: The Hotel Seville was a brilliant Beaux-Arts jewel exemplar of the glory days of Madison Avenue, opening in 1904 — just days before the New York subway — and designed by Harry Allen Jacobs. The architect was a master of the ebullient Beaux-Arts style, applying it to apartment buildings, homes and hotels that are still scattered throughout the city, including the Hotel Marseilles (built around the same time as the Seville).

Times were good for the Seville, as reflected in its signature Tiffany-inspired skylight, but by the 1970s, it was luxuriant no more. The hotel hit hard times, went ‘budget’ and produced the following television advertisement. Picture any hotel that presently exists today trying to promote itself with this sort of schmaltz:

One guest who stayed here during this period was Sid Vicious, distraught over the death of Nancy Spungeon, who slashed his arm and overdosed on methadone in one of its rooms in October of 1978. He would survive, of course, suffering another brief stay at Riker’s Island before dying of a heroin overdose at an apartment on 63 Bank Street in the West Village.

The hotel slid to some very sorry places before being purchased in the 1980s. Today its the Carlton Hotel, extensively renovated, featuring high-end bars and restaurants and a lobby waterfall. And Jacobs’ notable architecture was finally honored in 2005 when it made the National Register of Historic Places. I haven’t seen any television commercials for the Carlton recently, but I hope they’re as catchy as those of its predecessor.

A TV shout-out to a debonair palace for independent women


postcard from Old New York

With Mad Men making its return last night on AMC, myself and many other bloggers (like the fabulous Natasha Vargas-Cooper and the folks over at the City Room) are scouring the episodes for fun New York City history references. One of my favorite buildings in the city made an appearance (or at least a notable mention) when, after a blind date, Don Draper drops his actress lady friend off at her home at the Barbizon Hotel for Women at 140 E. 63rd Street.

The Barbizon was a high-end complex for actresses and models, “a combined charm school and dormitory,” “the city’s elite dollhouse” according to Vanity Fair, offering single woman a luxurious address and a home base to pursue career and network. Some of its inhabitants, naturally, would go on to become major stars — Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Cloris Leachman, Liza Minelli. Little Edie, of ‘Grey Gardens’ fame, lived here from 1947 to 1952 while trying to break into show business.

I personally love the dark grown, arch-heavy exterior, which the AIA calls a “romantic, neo-Gothic tawny brick charmer.” The building opened to men in 1981 and, as the Barbizon 63, is still a rather swanky address.

The Barbizon, however, was not known for sumptuous living back in the day. Apparently, a lady was just supposed to be grateful to be admitted here. The rooms were “not luxurious,” according to a biography on Kelly, “and a new girl’s first impression might have been that her austere quarters resembled a convent cell or a house of correction.” Kelly lived here as a teenager in 1947, quietly reading or having tea in the Barbizon’s dining area.

The building was designed in 1927 by the curiously named design firm of Murgatroyd & Ogden, who specialized in brick hotels and apartment complexes with quirky flair. Two years later, their Hotel Governor Clinton opened across the street from Pennsylvania Station.

(New Yorker ad from 1966 courtesy Ephemeral New York)

Before CBGB’s, parties at 315 Bowery were for the birds

Above: The first of hundreds of Bowery hotels — the old Gotham Inn in 1862. The inn, which dated from the 1790s, sat quite close to where 315 Bowery is today, just north of Houston Street. (Pic courtesy NYPL)

The early history of buildings at 315 Bowery — the address that would later become the club CBGB’s — is spotty indeed, but some early references to the address reveal some rather odd events that took place here.

In the 1860s, the Bowery neighborhood would still have been a de facto theatrical district for the lower classes, “New York’s primary locale for down-market entertainment – saloons, beer gardens, amusement halls, dime museums, street vendors and oyster houses,” according to David Levinson. Not quite given over to the truly seedier elements which would define the street for over 100 years.

In the early 1860s, it appears a pet shop or bird supplier resided at the address 315 Bowery. One William F. Messenger, with profession listed only as ‘birds’, lived at this address in May 1861.

On January 31, 1862, the New York Times reported on a strange gathering at 315 Bowery and presumably at Messenger’s shop — the Bird Fanciers’ Third Annual Exhibition of prized fowl. Little is known of the group, which had reportedly been in existence over a decade by this time.

Prizes were awarded to bird lovers who kept roosters and hens, with a gentleman by the name of William Manson really cleaning up:

“First prize, yellow cock, WM. MANSON; second prize, yellow cock, JOHN WILLIAMSON; third prize, yellow cock, JOHN HIGGINBOTHAM. First prize, mealy cock and best bird exhibited, WM. MANSON; second prize, mealy cock, —- BAKER; third prize, mealy cock, —– BAKER. First prize, yellow hen, WM. MANSON; second prize, yellow hen, WM. MANSON; third prize, yellow hen, —-MURRAY. First prize, mealy hen, JOHN HIGGINBOTHAM; second prize, mealy hen, JOHN HIGGINBOTHAM; third prize, mealy hen, WM. MANSON.”

However, despite its avian beginnings, I was able to find mention of the address’s musical heritage during this period: a John Bogan is listed as living or working at the address in 1867-68 as a “banjoist”, a teaching instructor (and possible manufacturer) of banjos.

Antoni Gaudi’s grand New York hotel — built by sci-fi


Joshua Jackson, looking down at Gaudi in an alternate universe. Courtesy Fringe Files

I promise, this is my last post on fake New York City history for awhile, but I couldn’t let the season finale of the FOX sci-fi series Fringe pass without comment.

A running scientific theory running through the series is the notion of a parallel universe co-existing with ours, with some not so subtle differences. We discovered this alternate universe last season when a character popped inside the still-standing World Trade Center. In the harbor sits the Statue of Liberty, in her original copper sheen, assumably off-limits to tourists and since 1989, home of the nation’s Department of Defense.

In this universe, it appears the grave threat comes from within its very fabric, not terrorists. Madison Square Garden — and the 10,000 people within it — fall victim to an expanding wormhole in 1999 and are contained in ghastly amber cocoon. And if you think that’s bad, you should see Boston!

Silhouetted above this frightening fantasy skyline, however, is a work of art straight out of a New York City dream — the Grand Hotel, built in 1908, and designed by one of the world’s most eccentric architects, Antoni Gaudi. A spacecraft like mound of rounded forms, zeppelin-like curves shooting in the sky, mocking the Beaux-Arts and seeming like something that could be built in the city today (or tomorrow). Unlike the city’s space-time mishaps however, the Grand Hotel, believe it or not, was really planned by Gaudi to be an actual skyscraper.

Gaudi’s original sketch:

Gaudi’s talents lived apart from the styles of his contemporaries at the turn of the century, appreciated daily by the citizens of Barcelona in many otherworldly buildings he created, most famously La Pedrera, and growing spires of the Sagrada Família. In 1906, it appears Gaudi was approached by two businessmen with property in New York, asking him to design a luxury hotel in the style of the Waldorf-Astoria on 34th Street.

This being Gaudi, of course, the resultant sketches (for a structure he called Hotel Attraction) were nothing like the rectangular and domed objects currently rising above New York. At 1,016 feet, the monstrous hotel would have towered over the plans of F.W. Woolworth, whose own skyscraper was still in the planning stages in 1908.

This odd shape would have glistened with alabaster and bits of glass and tile. The interior would have included an immense hall ringed with circumferal galleries above it and decorated with sculptures of every American president. Below this, guests would enjoy a cavernous restaurant decorated with cosmic murals and a concert hall with ceilings 100 feet overhead. This alien masterpiece was slated to sit in the exact area where the World Trade Center would later be built.

The Hotel Attraction never made it off the drawing boards, but there were some efforts by ardent Gaudi fans championing it as the ideal replacement for the Twin Towers after 9/11. Could you imagine if they’d actually decided to build it today? It’s not so strange an idea. Gaudi’s cathedral is still being built in Barcelona. And in our alternate universe, the Gaudi’s grand hotel looks just spiffy.