Music History Podcasts Preservation

Last Dance at the Hotel Pennsylvania

PODCAST When it opened in 1919, the Hotel Pennsylvania was the largest hotel in the world. Over a hundred years later, its fate remains uncertain. Is it too big to save? (NOTE: Alas the hotel was torn down in 2023.)

After the Pennsylvania Railroad completed its colossal Pennsylvania Station in 1910, the railroad quickly realized it would need a companion hotel equal to the station’s exquisite grandeur. And it would need an uncommonly ambitious hotelier to operate it.

Enter E.M. Statler, the hotel king who made his name at American World’s Fairs and brought sophisticated new ideas to this exceptional hotel geared towards middle-class and business travelers.

But the Hotel Pennsylvania would have another claim to fame during the Swing Era. Its restaurants and ballrooms — particularly the Café Rouge  — would feature some of the greatest names of the Big Band Era.

Glenn Miller played the Cafe Rouge many times at the height of his orchestra’s fame. He was so associated with the hotel that one of his biggest hits is a tribute — “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”

The hotel outlived the demolition of the original Penn Station, but it currently sits empty and faces imminent demolition thanks to an ambitious new plan to rehabilitate the neighborhood.

Is this truly the last dance for the Hotel Pennsylvania?

Listen Now – Last Dance at the Hotel Pennsylvania

Special thanks to preservationists and friends of the show George Calderaro and Brad Vogel for advising us on the current plight of the Hotel Pennsylvania.

Songs Featured On This Show

“Pennsylvania 6-5000” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra
“In The Mood” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra
“Kiss and Make Up” by Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra
“Night Owl” by George Olsen and His Music, Ethel Shutta vocals
“I Cried For You” by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra
“My Blue Heaven” by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra
“Moonlight Serenade” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra
“Pennsylvania 6-5000” by The Andrews Sisters
“The People’s Court Theme”

The Official Spotify Playlist

E.M. Statler, one of America’s most famous names in hotels. Photo courtesy Western New York Heritage
Dinner and dancing on the Hotel Pennsylvania rooftop.

UPDATE: The hotel has been demolished. Rather bittersweetly, the space stands briefly open, allowing some interesting views of the surrounding buildings. They’ve still managed to put an electric billboard however.


After you’ve listened to this show on the Hotel Pennsylvania, dive back into the back catalog and listen to these shows with similar themes:

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This episode was released on August 13, 1991

18 replies on “Last Dance at the Hotel Pennsylvania”

Yes and mold, at least one or fwo rats per room, structural damage, bed bugs, cock roaches etc. etc. With the renovation done in the 80’s it lost a chance to be considered a landmark and the cost to fix it is higher than a new glass tower… or two. This property caused so much pain and suffering to former employees and guests all over the world. It needs to go !!!!!!

The logic you use is the same logic used to tear down the original Penn Station because it had too much dirt on the outside and look what we got in it’s place. This hotel was once the pride of NY, designed by McKim Mead and White, a 3 building set along with the Farley Post Office and Penn Station and it is perfectly fixable! The most prestigious award in architecture, the Pritzker Award was given this year to two French architects for work on NOT destroying historic buildings. Demolition is violence and this place can be saved and repurposed!

. . . do we really (in this district of Manhattan or any other, for that matter) really need another monstrosity skyscraper(s) — particularly since this pandemic could possibly have made many of these huge office towers obsolete with so many still working from home? It’s time to preserve and respect our heritage and other historic structures such as this historic hotel — yes it would be expensive and complicated to refurbish this edifice however on several different levels it seems to very much be worth it. (simply my opinion)

Thank you for this fascinating field trip covering the last 120 years in our young America. As usual, I was riveted and entertained. This story makes me want to run to the hotel and tree hug it so the wrecking ball can’t swing in to action. If only my last name were Bezos, Musk or Gates – I would gleefully adopt and return this progeny of New York to it’s former glory. Your story made me yearn to be there in the 20’s, 30’s & 40’s. Thanks guys!

New York heritage is precious and really should be preserved. The Hotel Pennsylvania has meant so much to so many people for generations.

This makes no sense at all.
Unless you’re talking about – in the short term – money.

🇬🇧 I’m from London and now we’ve thankfully stopped destroying the buildings we have left that are beautiful authentic examples of their period in the old and new patchwork quilt that makes up the beauty and variety of a modern city.

This building is stunning example of its period and there are too few of them.

The new taller tower is being pursued because of pure greed.

Years from now when the moneys spent and developments like this mean New York is no longer historical or special and just another place with a jungle of towers just like any other city.
New york will have nothing special to offer, less people will visit and in the long term that quick buck made from knocking em down and building yet higher will cost you a loss.

People will look back and lament at the madness of this so called “progress”.

🇺🇸 And as a Brit i look at America and think – shouldn’t you be protecting what little historical architecture you have ?!

Build the new tower somewhere else – there’s loads of other buildings that are architecturally insignificant and will be missed by no one – build it there.

But this plan here is pure vandalism.

Please rebuilt the Hotel Pennsylvania. Do not destroy this valuable piece of architecture. Return the Hotel to its historic artifacts. Just because a Hotel is old, is no reason to destroy it.

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