The Park Central Hotel (formerly the Omni Park Central, The Park Sheraton)
870 7th Avenue
New York, NY
The Manhattan Club is a time share "resort" affiliated with Resort Condominiums International (RCI).
Construction started in 1926 on the Park Central Hotel. The 25-story renaissance revival style building at 870 Seventh Avenue was designed by Gronenberg & Leuchtag. The 1,600 room hotel was named Park Central due to its close proximity to Central Park, its rooms though, did not have actual views of the park. Previously at this location was the Van Corlear apartment house, designed by Henry Hardenbergh for builder Edward Clark and put up in 1878.
Gronenberg & Leuchtag were noted for many of Manhattan’s apartment buildings and for one previous hotel – the Times Square Hotel (now the Common Ground Times Square Building – housing for 652 low income individuals) built in 1922 located at 255 West 43rd Street.
The hotel was built for approximately $15 million in the pre-Depression building frenzy of the late-twenties; its grand opening took place on June 12, 1927. The NY Times described the hotel as 31-stories and had a swimming pool and an elaborate roof garden. The hotel’s mural paintings were done by William Clark Rice and J Scott Williams. The hotel’s lobby had wood carvings and marble designed by Leo Lentelli. In 1929 the hotel opened a sales office in Paris, France.
The owner was Harry A. Lanzer who operated the 1,600 room hotel through the Great Depression and managed to make ends meet and hold on to it until he sold it in 1948 to the Sheraton Corporation of America. Ernest Henderson, president of the Sheraton Corp., led the negotiations, and the Park Central Hotel became the 28th hotel within the Sheraton chain – renamed Park Sheraton Hotel.
*Arnold Rothstein Murder*
Arnold Rothstein was known coast to coast as the nation’s most notorious gambler. He was heading to a meeting in room 349 of the Park Central Hotel on Sunday, November 4, 1928, but never made it. He was found shot and mortally wounded in a first floor service corridor at the Park Central Hotel.
Rothstein had lost $300,000 at a 3-day poker game in September of 1928 and refused to pay the debt. More famously he was known as the man behind the Black Sox scandal in which the 1919 World Series was fixed. No one is ever convicted of his murder. Rothstein’s show biz girlfriend, Inez Norton, opens in the Broadway play "Room 349" at the National Theater (now the Nederlander Theatre) on April 21, 1930 – it closes after 15 performances.
Prior to the Park Central opening the radio station WFBH (the Voice of Central Park) was given notice in 1927 its antenna located atop the Hotel Majestic would have to move since the Majestic was to be demolished. WFBH moved its broadcasting facilities and transmitting towers to the Park Central Hotel. The move to the Park Central Hotel ended the WFBH call letters and the station became known as WPCH, incorporating the new hotel’s initials into their call sign. It seems that once the Park Central installed its electrical roof signage there were transmission problems and WPCH had to again relocate – this time to the Hotel McAlpin. WPCH went silent in 1933 and was absorbed by WMCA – named after its transmission tower location – the Hotel McAlpin.
Prohibition was lifted in 1933. The Park Central Hotel was opened without any consideration to the possibility of storing or serving alcoholic beverages. To prepare for the expected demand of wine and spirits the NY Times reported Park Central Hotel’s Chief Steward, J.J. Mullins, authorized the excavation through the hotel’s bed rock of a wine cellar some 30 feet below the hotel. The wine cellar would hold up to 150,000 bottles. In those days it was thought that vibrations from subways would rattle the wine and spoil it, hence the need to go in to the bedrock.
*Albert Anastasia Murder*
Albert Anastasia was a founder of the American Mafia. A Brooklyn gangster, he was an accomplished underworld enforcer, earning the nickname of "Lord High Executioner." Anastasia was gunned down in what was probably the most sensational public and daytime assassination in mob history.
On the morning on October 25, 1957, Anastasia went to his usual barber at Arthur Grasso’s Barber Shop at the Park Sheraton Hotel for a shave and haircut. He sat in the fourth of twelve barber chairs manned by Joseph Bocchino. Starbucks is now located at approximately this location on the hotel’s first floor at 55th Street and Seventh Avenue. According to www.mafiahistory.us two masked gunmen burst into the shop and unloaded handguns into the 55-year-old Anastasia’s body. The former Murder Inc. chief was hit in his head, back, right hip and left hand. Witnesses said he lunged from the chair and attacked the reflection of his attackers in the mirror in front of him before collapsing dead in a pool of blood on the floor.
The murder has never been solved. The killing allowed Carlo Gambino to take control of the crime family that would now bear his name.
Two weeks after the killing the Park Sheraton Hotel attempted to evict the operator of the barber shop claiming the shop served objectionable patrons. Thomas C. de Veau, the Park Sheraton Manager said the Anastasia killing was a ghastly incident that resulted from Arthur Grasso’s failure to heed the term of the lease for maintaining an orderly shop. The complaint alleged that Grasso solicited and encouraged the patronage in the barbershop of notorious underworld characters.
In 1953 Jackie Gleason negotiated a two year deal with CBS TV to produce 39 episodes of the Honeymooners to be filmed live at the Adelphi Theater. Upon signing the contract Gleason leased a penthouse atop the Park Sheraton Hotel to be the headquarters of his entertainment company. The 7-room 23rd floor suite had a terrace and sweeping views of Manhattan. According to www.drunkard.com Gleason outfitted the penthouse with a pool table, dance studio and four bars, staffed by a live-in bartender. It resembled a sultan’s palace more than a place of business. Gleason used the penthouse from 1953 to 1957, the heady years of ”The Honeymooners.”
In 1987 the Omni Park Central Hotel named "the Great One’s” penthouse suite ”The Jackie Gleason Suite”.
Hilton New York owned the Adelphi Theater (demolished in 1970) which was adjacent to the hotel and held the site for expansion. In 1989 an office tower 1325 Avenue of the Americas was built on the site.
Eleanor Roosevelt was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt and married her father’s fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt who was president from 1933 to 1945. After FDR’s death, the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt rented suites at the Park Sheraton Hotel from 1950 to 1953. She returned to the Park Sheraton Hotel in 1958 as she waited for renovations on a new house to be completed. During the 1950’s long term guests were using the 202 West 56th Street address (today 200 West 56th Street is the address for the Manhattan Club).
According to a 1956 Walter Winchell column it was Eleanor Roosevelt who forced the hand of hotel management to cover the bare breasted mermaids hanging from the Mermaid Room’s ceiling. The room was celebrated for its Mermaids… but Eleanor Roosevelt complained the undraped sea sirens were indecent. Bras made of fish net were made to cover their frontages.
*The Mermaid Room*
The Mermaid Room was established on the main floor of the Park Central Hotel in the late 40’s. Its fare was cocktails, steak, lobster lamb chops with dinner music 6.30 to 9.30pm and star entertainment from 10pm to 4am. The Mermaid Room had a large curvaceous bar and dance floor. It was known for its four very large terra cotta mermaids on the walls.
The Mermaid Room was designed by night club designer Franklin Hughes – live orchids in his night clubs was his signature. He also designed the decor for El Morocco and the Copacabana.
Irving Fields and his Trio found a home at the Mermaid Room and played for 16 years, 1950 to 1966. His hits included Miami Beach Rhumba and "Managua Nicaragua." Other Mermaid Room entertainers included pianist Belle Gale, Rosa Linda, The Milt Herth Trio, the Pepe Morreale Trio and the renowned organist, Ashley Miller.
*Cocktail Hostess Sues Widow of Park Sheraton Hotel Manager for Husband’s Estate*
In 1952 Ralph H. Freeman was appointed General Manager of the Park Sheraton. He brought with him from the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago his mistress Delores Dunn, a cocktail lounge hostess. Freeman died unexpectedly in 1957 at the age of 54. A lawsuit was filed by Dunn against Freeman’s widow for $100,000 claiming she had a relationship with Freeman for 8 years, that he induced her to move to New York and performed all the nursing, housework and cooking for him. Freeman had been a prominent hotelier serving as a director for the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau and a director for New York City Hotel Association. At his death he was the Sheraton Hotel’s Regional Manager for the Atlantic Division.
*70’s and 80’s*
The Park Sheraton Hotel changed its name to the New York Sheraton in 1972. A press release issued by Jim Sheeran, the public relations spokesperson for the Sheraton chain said there was a corporate decision made to boost New York and the West Side of New York with the name change.
In May, 1983 V.M.S. Realty, a Chicago-based national real estate investment firm, acquired the New York Sheraton Hotel, on Seventh Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets, from the Sheraton Corporation. V.M.S. paid $60 million for the 1,450- room hotel, at the time the city’s fifth largest. V.M.S contracted with Dunfey Hotels Corporation (owned by Aer Lingus) to manage the hotel. Peter R. Morris, the chairman of V.M.S., called the acquisition a ”once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He added that the company’s decision to take over the Sheraton reflected its strong belief in the renaissance taking place on the West Side between Times Square and Lincoln Center. In January 1984 Dunfey changed the name to Omni Park Central. V.M.S. and Dunfey provided the 1,450 room hotel with $15 million in improvements. Philip Grosse was the Omni Park Central’s general manager in 1984.
Since its beginning in 1977, V.M.S. has acquired 3,500 hotel and motel units. VMS was one of the largest real estate syndicators, raising more than $1.5 billion through more than 100 real-estate limited partnerships. The firm’s hotel properties included the Boca Raton Hotel in Florida, Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara, California and Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands. By 1989 VMS Realty Partners disclosed that it is suffering cash-flow problems and would replace its top management and lay off some of its 500 employees. The dismantling of VMS Realty Partners was one of the largest liquidations in real estate history.
*Ian Bruce Eichner and The Manhattan Club*
In 1995 New York developer Ian Bruce Eichner acquired the Omni Park Central Hotel in a bankruptcy sale from VMS Partners for $60.225 million. The hotel has more than 1,430 rooms and is the fifth largest in the city with more than 800,000 square feet. That translates into a purchase price of $42,115 per room. Upscale hotels were selling at that time for per room prices ranging from $75,000 to $200,000. Eichner said the Sheraton hotel chain still held the first mortgage for V.M.S that had failed in the early 90’s. Sheraton agreed to maintain the mortgage for Eichner who had bid $60 million — or $20 million more than the next highest bidder.
Construction began in 1996 on a $40 million conversion of half the 26-story Park Central Hotel into New York City’s first time-share condominium. Eichner would keep the eastern half of the building as a "lower-end hotel" with its entrance on Seventh Avenue. They would have separate lobbies, separate entrances, separate heating systems. The western half transformed to a 360-unit time-share operation called the Manhattan Club, with a new entrance on 56th Street. The "intervals" or weekly shares initial price for seven days’ use a year of a 650-square-foot one-bedroom would be $15,000; a two-bedroom will be $23,000. Annual maintenance fees would average $575, including real estate taxes. Manhattan Club buyers would be able to trade their weeks for any one of Resorts Condominium International’s (RCI) 3,500 locations in 85 countries. Eichner thought that if The Manhattan Club ever sells out, there is a whole other side-full of rooms to tap! A sell-out of the timeshares would produce more than $300 million.
Eichner was developing a product that had never before been offered in New York City. Eichner even negotiated with the hotel unions to come up with a set of job rules and qualifications for a time share project.
The 1996 cleaning of the hotel’s 1925 Tuscan Renaissance facade — found a beautiful mixture of arches, bas relief squirrels, deer and pelicans and Corinthian half columns that had been hidden for years by gold-colored aluminum panels.
In July 2011 Ian Bruce Eichner, the developer and the operator of The Manhattan Club, was sued for fraud by five buyers of time-shares in The Manhattan Club. According to the documents they are alleging fraud and “breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” The timeshare owners allege that Eichner is not granting them access to their timeshares, despite their attempts to book up to nine months in advance, and is instead renting them out to the general public.
The 1740 Broadway Building shares the block with the Park Central Hotel and was once the headquarters of the MONY (Mutual of New York). In 1968 the insignia "MONY" was located where *1740* is today. Tommy James was struggling with the lyrics for a new song when he looked out of his apartment building in New York and saw the sign "MONY".
Sung by Tommy James And The Shondells: "Here she comes now sayin’ Mony Mony Shoot ’em down turn around come on Mony" …
In December 2004 the 935-room Park Central was sold by H. Park Central, LLC to Goldman’s Whitehall Real Estate Funds and Highgate Hotels for $215,000,000 or $230,000 per room. Following this sell Bruce Eichner went on to develop the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas however, in 2008 he defaulted on a $768 million construction loan from Deutchse Bank. Deutchse foreclosed on Eichner and took control of the property.
In October 2010 owners Rockpoint and Highgate Hotels put the 1,000-room Park Central Hotel on the market. The hotel had recently received a $65 million renovation.
In a January 2012 press release Lasalle Hotel Properties (LHO) announced it acquired the 934-room Park Central Hotel in New York City for $396.2 million. Michael D. Barnello, President and Chief Executive Officer of LaSalle Hotel Properties said “We remain excited about this well located New York City asset and our ability to acquire the hotel at an attractive purchase price.” Lasalle plans to implement a renovation of the hotel, currently estimated at between $30.0 and $35.0 million, including guestrooms and guest bathrooms, corridors and the hotel’s lobby. The renovation is expected to commence late 2012 and conclude during 2013. Highgate Holdings will continue to manage the Park Central.
All photos and text by Dick Johnson, February 2012