781 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022
The hotel sits next to the Park Cinq, a cooperative apartment building. Its 18 floors have just 66 apartments.
Across 59th Street is the 50-story General Motors Building which was completed in 1968 on the site of the Savoy-Plaza Hotel. The facade is formed by piers of white marble with glass bays between. In a 1998 renovation the ground-floor car showroom was converted into the studio for CBS’s "Early Show"
Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ equestrian monument of the Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman sits at the corner of New York’s Central Park in front of the hotel.
The Early Years
The hotel site at the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 59th Street in Manhattan had been occupied by the New Netherland, built by William Waldorf Astor. The chateau like apartment tower facing Fifth Avenue was designed by William H. Hume. Its name came from New Netherland – the name given to a portion of the East Coast of North America by the Dutch Republic. The New Netherland’s provincial capital was New Amsterdam which was located at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan.
The New Netherland was completed in 1892. The neo-Romanesque steel-framed building was 17 stories (234 feet) and claimed to be the "tallest hotel structure in the world" when it opened.
Developer Samuel Keller Jacobs began demolition of the New Netherland in 1926. Replacing it was a new tower apartment hotel occupying the same footprint and frontage on Fifth Avenue. Jacobs contracted with the architect firm Schultze & Weaver to work with high-rise specialist Buchman & Kahn.
Originally it was to be a 36-story transient hotel to have the same name – New Netherland. The Grand Army Plaza area was becoming a fashionable area. The Fifth Avenue mansions were giving way to high rise apartment hotels. It was decided to have Schultze & Weaver design a building to insure the wealthy residents of the area could continue their grand life style – but in a high rise apartment. During the construction Jacobs sold the hotel to Louis Sherry, Inc., a subsidiary of Boomer-duPont Properties Corporation. Lucius Boomer was a noted hotel operator and was also affiliated with the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. Boomer was one of the early endowers to the Cornell Hotel School who made its establishment possible.
Louis Sherry (1855-1926) owned Sherry’s an extremely successful and regaled restaurant and caterer located at Forty Third Street and Fifth Avenue. Sherry thought it best to close his restaurant business due to prohibition (which commenced in 1920) and what Sherry described as "war-born Bolshevism". The NY Times quoted Sherry "I am not at the point where I cannot increase my staff of waiters without admitting Bolsheviki, but I will not submit my patrons to have their food thrown at them."
Sherry and Lucius M. Boomer formed a new corporation (Louis Sherry, Inc.) with the intent to continue the ice cream, candy and catering business and also provide catering services for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Boomer was the chairman of the board for the original Waldorf-Astoria at Fifth Avenue and was also the original owner of Boston’s Lenox Hotel.
Lucius Boomer renamed the hotel – The Sherry-Netherland – in anticipation of cashing in on the Sherry name known for its high standards of food and service. Louis Sherry died shortly before his name became associated with the new venture. An early brochure for the hotel states: "The Sherry tradition of perfection is drilled into every member of the personnel."
Also taking its name from Louis Sherry is the Sherry-Lehmann Wine and Spirits company. Their first store was in the Louis Sherry Building on Madison at 62nd. The store took its name from the name of the building – not the fortified wine of Spain.
During construction the hotel’s upper floors suffered a fire that was visible from as far away as Long Island. The $10 million 165 apartment hotel was finished in 1927 and at 38-storys was known for a while as the tallest apartment hotel in New York City and the world.
At the time of the hotel’s construction, the Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue (now the site of Bergdorf Goodman) was being demolished. Two limestone reliefs from that mansion were installed in the Sherry’s entrance vestibule. The ornamental friezes by sculptor Karl Bitter depict a group of girls.
Because of Prohibition, the Sherry was designed with smaller public restaurant square footage than other pre-War hotels. Its lobby also designed small – which allowed for maximum street side store rentals. It was reported by the NY Times that a single apartment in 1927 at the Sherry-Netherland rented for a low of $1,600 per month and up to $6,500 per month.
The Architects: Schultz & Weaver together with Buchman and Kahn
Schultz & Weaver were best known for design work on hotels, including the Hotel Lexington, Hotel Pierre and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The firm’s first completed hotel was the Los Angeles Biltmore now known as the Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles.
The hotel’s design is noted for its high peaked roof topped with an elaborate Gothic minaret, or fleche. The spire top houses the water tank and even has an observation balcony. Gargoyles protrude from its crown.
According to the 1981 Upper East Side Historic District Designation Report the architecture style contains elements of neo-Romanesque and neo-Gothic styles. It is a 38-story hotel with stone and dark brown brick facing. The first four floors are travertine marble with three two-story monumental arched windows facing Fifth Avenue. The cornice and balustrade sit over the third floor. The building setbacks begin on the seventeenth leading to a slender tower crowned with a fleche. The setbacks allowed for spacious outdoor private terraces beginning on the eighteenth floor. Single apartments occupied the entire floors from the 24th floor to the 37th floor.
The minaret distinguishes the building as one of the most recognized hotel profiles in New York City.
Little of the building’s architecture has changed since the Sherry-Netherland opened its doors in 1927. The canopy entrance, adorned with the hotel’s famous landmark clock and four Italianate lanterns, is guarded by gargoyles on the 37-story Baroque tower. The recently restored vaulted lobby was modeled after the Vatican library. Striking features include sculptured panels from the Vanderbilt Mansion, Louis XV chairs, lavish chandeliers and elaborately designed marble floors with French carpets.
The Sherry Netherland’s frontage is elegant, adorned with griffins holding four hanging lanterns on the façade and a sidewalk clock that is gilded in genuine gold leaf.
Two Big Hotel Hold-ups – 1974 and 1977
On December 9, 1974 a team of five bandits took over the Sherry Netherland hotel for two hours and looted safety deposit boxes of more than $900,000 in cash and valuables. The robbers entered the hotel at 3.25AM and handcuffed 11 employees and 2 hotel guests. General Manager Philip Landau described the heist as "a gentlemen’s robbery". The robbers used crowbars and screwdrivers to force open about 40 safe deposit boxes. The police reported the robbers seemed to know which drawers would contain the most bounty.
On October 10, 1977 four men walked into the Sherry Netherland’s lobby, pulled guns, handcuffed four employees and made off with cash and gems (some belonging to super star Diana Ross) from the hotel’ vaults. The haul could have been worth up to $1 million. The robbery was the second in less than three years at the Sherry Netherland.
No one was injured in the holdup before dawn Monday at the Fifth Avenue hotel, which was the scene of a similar stickup in 1974 that netted some $900,000 from the safe deposit boxes containing valuables of the hotel’s wealthy clientele.
According to police reports the hotel lobby was empty when the four heavyset men, dressed in business suits and wearing wigs and false mustaches, entered about 4:30 a.m. They walked up to the desk, pulled handguns and herded night manager Robert Clancey and three other employees into a storage room where they were handcuffed and left inside. As the night security man was "making his rounds on the upper floors, the bandits spent the next 45 minutes prying open more than 100 of the 154 small safety deposit boxes in the vault room.
Hotel general manager Philip Landau said after the robbers finished, they went back to the storage room where Clancey, bellman Steve McPartland, night auditor William Farragher and porter Jay Morton were handcuffed and told them not to move for 10 minutes.
Professional burglars Samuel Nalo and Robert Comfort were the significant ring leaders for several New York City hotel heists in the 1970’s.
The Later Years
In 1949 The Sherry Netherland was offered to two financiers, Floyd Odlum and Boyd Hatch at an attractive price. They named Serge Obolensky president of the holding company, hiring him away from Hilton which operated the Plaza across the street at that time.
During the early 1950’s Serge Obolensky focused on the Sherry’s profitability and the Carnaval Room- the hotel’s supper club. As the talent buyer he contracted with night club performers such as Helene Francis and James Symington (a future U.S Senator from Missouri).
Childs Restaurants acquired 90% of the stock in Louis Sherry, Inc. (but not the hotel) from Mrs. Lucius M. Boomer in 1950 for more than $2,000,000.
In 1954 the Sherry Netherland’s 165 apartments were converted to cooperatives. Today the hotel has approximately 97 co-op residences and 53 hotel room/suites. Co-op owners have the option of putting their apartment in the hotel rental pool while not in use or, “opt out” and use as full-time home. According to hausfitzgerald.com residents of the Sherry-Netherland over the years include Jack Warner, the head of Warner Brothers, Claire Boothe Luce, Diana Ross, Francis Ford Coppola and more recently Judith Sheindlin (Judge Judy).
The Sherry Netherland shares the block with the luxury cooperative apartment building, Park V at 785 Fifth Avenue. Usually called the Park Cinq, the eighteen-story building was constructed by the Fisher Brothers developers in 1960.
From 1965 to 1972 Jerry Brody (Club Caterers) operated the L’Etoile and the Cafe Bar at the Sherry-Netherland. Jerry Brody was Restaurant Associates founding president and recruited Joe Baum in 1953 to work the Newarker, the white table cloth restaurant at the Newark Airport.
In October 1968, the exclusive disco Raffles opened in the basement of the Sherry-Netherland. Jerry Brody was the club’s owner and Earl Blackwell managed the membership. Raffles occupied the space known as the Carnaval Room where Sere Obolensky had presided.
In 1975 real estate developer Joe Norban (a co-op owner) took over the nightclub hidden away in the belly of the Sherry-Netherland hotel. He named it Doubles and envisioned a private club – with backgammon games, dining and dancing. Daughter Wendy Carduner took over in 1982 and has sustained her father’s vision and grown the non-profit private club to 2,500 members. Doubles’ longevity is attributed to being consistent, never being snobbish, and having all kinds of members. Doubles’ Executive Chef is Steven Mellina who previously served at The Manhattan Ocean Club and The Helmsley Palace Hotel.
In 1985, Lord Charles Forte, with Trusthouse Forte wanted to open a restaurant on the ground floor of New York’s Sherry-Netherland Hotel. Forte and his son, Rocco, thought a Harry’s Bar–style restaurant in the building would persuade the owners to let their company, Trusthouse Forte, take over the management of the hotel. The Fortes flew Arrigo Cipriani to New York to check out the Fifth Avenue location. As soon as Arrigo saw the existing restaurant, called Le Petit Café, with its windows facing Central Park, he knew it was the perfect spot for what would be called Harry Cipriani.
So, at the former site of Le Petit Cafe, Giuseppe Cipriani, who founded Harry’s Bar in Venice in 1931, opened the street side Harry’s Bar at the Sherry Netherland in 1985. Following a brief eviction the family returned to the hotel in 1987 with the restaurant – Harry Cipriani. This restaurant is almost an exact duplicate of the original Harry’s Bar in Venice. It’s the sky-high prices that keep this jet setter’s restaurant so exclusive. In 2011 its house drink, The Bellini, costs $19.95. In 2007 the NY Times food critic Frank Bruni said the only thing compelling about Harry Cipriani’s is the prices.
Philip Landau was the general manager of the Sherry Netherland for 35 years – 1957 to 1982.
Louis N. Ventresca was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Sherry Netherland for over 20 years. He died at the age of 58 in 2003. He joined the Sherry Netherland Hotel in 1980 following stints at with PKF and Princess Hotels International.
In February, 2004 Michael Littler was appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at the Sherry-Netherland. Littler was the General Manager of the Four Seasons Philadelphia and for eleven year the general manager at the Millennium Broadway.
Michael Ullman was appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Sherry Netherland Hotel in April, 2010. Previously he was the Managing Director of the La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, California from 1995 to 2008. Ullman has served as General Manager at the Ihilani in Hawaii and the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Theresa Nocerino has been the Sherry Netherland’s Managing Director and Licensed Real Estate Agent from 1985 to present.
Text and photos compiled by Dick Johnson