Monday, February 25, 2019

The Curious Case of the Hotel St. James

The Hotel St. James 109 W. 45th Street

from the Library of Congress is a panoramic from the top of the new Times Square building taken April 11, 1905. Starting from the Hippodrome, it will pan around and the Hotel St. James comes into view at about 15:00 behind the Hotel Gerard.

undated photo from the New York Historical Society, 

Between stays at the Hotel St. James, first in October 2018 and again in January 2019, I discovered that the NYC Municipal Archives had released thousands of tax photos taken in 1940, making them available online, including one of the Hotel St. James. 

I inquired of Joey at the front desk whether he knew about the release, and he said he had not. I forwarded the link to the photo to the hotel email address for him to have. He said at the time, "It's so hard to find information on the history of this place."

Challenge accepted.

Herewith, the curious case of the Hotel St. James at 109 West Forty-Fifth St. Manhattan New York.

Curious because the hotel's website only uses the term "pre-war" regarding the history of the building, as well as the confusing phrase "a city staple since 1972."

This hotel is, at this writing, 118 years old and has been the Hotel St. James since it was constructed in 1901.

It's grand opening was June 14, 1901 and it has operated continuously at this address and this name since. 

This hotel is older than almost every other hotel on this list. Going by this, the St. James would rank as the third oldest hotel in continuous operation in New York City and the second oldest in the Times Square district, just 9 months younger than The Iroquois and a year older than The Algonquin.

Curious in many ways because it went by a number of titles in The New York Times' coverage including "The Hotel St. James", "The Saint James", and "The St. James Hotel" - which was the name of an even older hotel for many years at Broadway and 26th. This original St. James opened in 1856 in white marble. That is not the St. James of this post. That hotel was torn down in 1896 and the St. James building was constructed in its place, and remains there today.

As our Hotel St. James was not constructed until 1901, simply limiting the years of our search can help narrow down what happened in history on the premises of 109 - 113 W. 45th, but searching, too, is tricky, as just one address can be hiding out in the newspaper articles in a variety of ways. The first decades of the hotel's existence, "West Forty-fifth," spelled out, seems to be have been the convention, but newspapers of this era are notoriously riddled with typographical errors, so that searching more broadly sometimes sweeps out information you were never expecting.

And in other cases, when I would happen on the name of a tenant of the hotel in one article, searching that name would turn up hits on the St. James that do NOT come up searching by the hotel. Very frustrating. 

But the Hotel St. James was home to quite a number of people of note in the city during its first decades as an apartment hotel: generals and war heros, politicians, diplomats, movers and shakers, and some real characters. 

In 1905 it was also the scene of a New York Times' editor's murder. 

This hotel has history. 

It likely has MUCH more history than I can currently provide, but as I find more, I'll add to the roster of newsworthy events that took place at the Hotel St. James over the century.

Doubtless this will be only a portion of the history, but as it stands, it's staggering to me how little seems to be known about the place.

In places where there are more than 2-3 newspaper clippings in regards to a connection with the hotel, there will be a link to the additional information if you are curious about the story. This seems to be a bit better than endless scrolling past items made large enough to be readable.

To start at the beginning:

109 W. 45th Street was, as almost all the city's streets northward from the Battery, at first a quiet residential street. But businesses endlessly crept northward, and the earliest mention I've come across (to date) at this address, in February 1862, less than a year into the Civil War, is an advertisement regarding the First Class Eating House, handsomely fitted in two saloons on the property.

A decade later, March 17, 1872, Mrs. Sarah Morrison, born 1799, passed away and her funeral was at her home at 109 W. 45th.

In May, the house was being dispossessed of her estate at auction, with a list of items that spoke of the grandeur of the home she left behind rosewood, walnet, and mahogany Parlor Chamber and Dining room, french clocks, and a 7 octave rosewood piano. 


In the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of 1899 that encompasses this portion of Manhattan, the buildings at this address are almost entirely single family homes, with a livery and stable around the corner as well as PS 67 on 46th. 

(I put a little red X where the Hotel will be built the following year.)

You can see the encroachment of the theater and hotel district on its way north at the bottom of the map, with the Criterion & New York Theaters as well as the Hotels Cadillac and Gerard in place. 

Over the coming decade, dozens more will be added. The Hotel Gerard built in 1893 remains today, under the name AKA Times Square, and underwent numerous name changes. The Hotel St. James has always been the Hotel St. James. 

Here is a photo from the Museum of the City of New York a block down at 5th Ave. & 45th around this time


This was Times Square when the Hotel St. James was under construction

January 3, 1901 

The Times posts the submission of plans to build at Nos. 109 to 113 West Forty-Fifth Street for a twelve story brick and stone hotel by a young architect by the name of H.B. Mulliken at the cost of $310,000 -- nearly $10,000,000 in today's dollars.

The following year Harry Mulliken would go into partnership with Edgar Moeller and produce a number of New York edifices listed on Wikipedia. The St. James is not listed among them. It should be.

 The Times did a piece in the early 2000s remembering their work. It includes the description, also befitting the St. James, 

These share what was becoming Mulliken & Moeller's trademark: a vigorous contrast of flat brick and extensive, highly sculptured cream-colored terra cotta, often organized around a large central bay. Architecturally the designs were no more sophisticated than the usual speculative project, but Mulliken & Moeller so often repeated the same basic solution that their work has acquired a familiarity that gives it a stature beyond its actual accomplishment.


A year later, the first advertisement for rooms is found April 13, 1902. 

$100 a month in 1902 is very close to $3000 in today's dollars.

That same month, the Hotel St. James is listed among the Travelers' Guide to Hotels and Restaurants in the paper:

In May, a more affordable two room furnished apartment #128 is available for rent

Our first St. James tenant of note is one Mrs. Louise McAllister Young and her toddler, named Louisa.

In October of 1902 a custody dispute made the papers involving the recently divorced Mrs. Young, who had made her home at the St. James since August with her two year old daughter, Louisa. They were on a walk with the maid Sara Lowe on Fifth Ave. when Louisa's father, Alexander, a Hudson County, NJ attorney, grabbed the toddler, and not for the first time, nor the last.


If you're interested in following this crazy case, it includes the child being snatched (again) the following year at the dock of a French cruise liner as her mother was departing for France, as well as her ex-husband's third wife trying to kill his stenographer, click HERE.


In early 1903 D. Kellogg Baker killed himself at a different hotel but left a note for his widow, where they lived at the St. James. 

They had been married 3 years during which he was rendered penniless. 

He was 72, she 27. I don't think this worked out the way she'd planned.

1903 Advertisement in the magazine New Outlook

"A select family apartment hotel in the heart of the city"

The same year, the Hotel changes ownership


February 1904 carried news of the murder of one of the waiters of The Hotel St. James: 23 year old Nelson Laws, seemingly killed by his housekeeper. His two brothers were also employed as waiters at the hotel. In the next column over, First Negro Voter Dead, notes the historic achievement of Thomas Peterson who was the first black man to vote in any American election in the country, March 31, 1870.

That same month, Jacob Hess, a self-made man and NYC Alderman who had gone on to be involved with the major political players of the city, died. He had lived at the St. James until a few months before his death.

The next day, there were two articles on the same page. One small one mentioning a dwelling for sale a block away from the St. James at Forty-Fifth and Long Acre Square. That corner will become the Hotel Macklowe debacle decades later.

It will be forgotten as Long Acre Square very soon. 

In two months, it will be renamed Times Square. 

Because that second post on the same page, much larger than the first:

Meanwhile, down the street at the Hotel St. James, June 9, 1904, the manager, Mr. W.W. Wycoff, doesn't want to let the fire department inside to check on an awning that had caught fire on the top floor

The rest of 1904 was filled with discussions of the importance of the area, even when the area is just now reaching 42nd street. On January 1, 1905 the Times published information regarding this growing district and the first information regarding ridership on the brand new subway stations (all 28 of them) that opening in the fall of 1904.


In 1905 there are 17 theaters listed in the Times Square District

There are more clubs in the district than theaters, though, with 21 on the list

And there are 29 hotels listed in operation in the Theater District on Jan. 1, 1905.

There are exactly THREE hotels on this list still in operation. 

The oldest is the Iroquois, which opened 9 months prior to the Hotel St. James in October 1900.

The Hotel St. James is the second oldest, in operation since June 1901.

The third is the Algonquin, which opened the following year in 1902.

The other 26 no longer exist under these names or at these addresses.

In a real estate piece on 45th Street's rise, many of the buildings are listed by owners. The St. James is near the top right under owner E.H. Litchfield:

In September, the Hotel featured an ad for its "Fourth Season Open"

September was also prank month, apparently, which involved Mr. Reeves of the St. James Hotel chasing about trying to find Mr. Tompkins

In more sinister news, the first murder takes place in the St. James this month.

September 7, 1905 Mr. J.H. Thompson, working for The New York Times forty years, and resident of the St. James since its opening, was murdered in his 5th floor apartment. The Times offered a $1000 reward for the killer.

Click here to learn more about the case of Jacob H. Thompson's murder.


In 1908 an elevator fell from the top floor to the basement in the hotel and miraculously, both the elevator boy and his passenger, Mrs. Katheryn Olney, 26, went about the rest of their day without incident.


In 1909 Tompkins & Tompkins Law Offices included 109 W. 45th as an address

Mrs. Morris Wilkins who lived at the St James in 1911 was the treasurer for the St. Luke's Home for Aged Women in 1911. Mr. Morris Wilkins was a well-known real estate auctioneer in the city.

Miss Olive Hart, teacher of Speech and Lip Reading met with patients out of her rooms at the St. James.


Another person of note who resided at the St. James during this time was Mrs. Patten, the widow of Francis Jarvis Patten, an ardent supporter of Nikolas Tesla. Her residence at the St. James is listed in conjunction with the National Society of New England Women in 1909

Mr. Patten died suddenly at the age of 48, the son of the first Commissioner of Navigation of the United States, his great-grandfather serving as a commissioned officer in the American Revolution under General George Washington. 

He had attended Cornell and graduated from West Point in 1877, and was subsequently appointed to Idaho where he engineered the first telegraph line between that state and Spokane, Washington.  After a decade, he resigned his commission and took on the role of inventor full time, patenting multiple inventions, writing numerous articles promoting Tesla, and forming a stock company formed to manufacture his patented carbide explosive.

The President of the National Society of New England Women, Mrs. Newcomb Cushman Barney, also lived at the St. James. I believe this would be the widow of the son of the President of the original Wells Fargo and a direct descendant from one of the passengers on The Mayflower.


Another tenant of the day was Mrs. William Harman Brown, of the banking and capitalist Browns, and her daughter Lydia, who were residents of the St. James. While Lydia's daddy was a Princeton grad, she married a Harvard man in 1910. The reception was held at the St. James.

 At the close of its first decade of existence, the original owner of the St. James passed in 1910


In 1911, a new Sanborn Map survey was published. The Hotel St. James and the Public School are the only buildings constructed with fire-proof materials, which is why they are brown.

 Nov. 1911

Also in 1911 the St. James is involved with the case of a Mysterious Mrs. Whitney, who first has a husband, then doesn't, whose chauffeur disappears along with the license plates, and who never regains consciousness to tell anyone who she actually might be. 

Click here for more of this bizarre case.

About this time, a piece is published on the value of Times Square Real Estate and its change over the first decade of the century. It notes there are now 28 theaters in place and "seems destined for all time to be the absolute heart of Manhattan Island." 

You do have to smile at the prediction that "it seems very improbable that Fifty-Seventh Street . . . will ever  become a business thoroughfare."

The 1911 Theater List and seating capacities

The last part of the column lists all of the buildings by block that have been added in the past decade:


My favorite find in searching for the St. James came in February 1912, 
entitled "Cat Goes to the Theater"

The cat's name is King Edward VIII and he wore a crown and ermine robe.

"It sat on a rail of a downstairs box [at the Republic] and ate Japanese rice cakes"

He also loved to scamper up the fire escape of the Hotel St. James and play among its halls.

The Buffalo Times did a longer piece on Mrs. B and King Edward the VII, including this opening:

Ah, Mrs. Brooks, we hardly knew ye. Click here to learn more about Mrs A.A.A. Brooks.

In December 1912, The Edison Monthly did a two-page spread on The Hotel St. James, with a beautiful photograph of the exterior of the building as well as an interior of the study of one of its residents, a Mr. F.S. Blackall, who I find in 1905 incorporated as Blackall and Baldwin Company, (manufacturers of electric motors), thus the Edison connection. He served as President of the Hoe Company which manufactured printing presses during these years as well.

It describes the St. James as having 175 rooms and suites, each with a bath, and always filled to capacity. "The house is a family hotel with an enviable list of exclusive patrons. Among its guests are many who first entered by walking up a dusty plank before the hotel was entirely completed twelve years ago."

The close of the Edison piece mentions the enviable list of exclusive patrons including General Julius Stahel, whose obituary appeared the same week in The New York Times. He was 87. His portrait is held by the Smithsonian Museum.

As well as Rear Admiral G.P. Colvocoresses, U.S.N. Retired.

 Click here for G.P Colvocoresses bio 


Howard Bayley, manager of the St. James was listed among the victims of the "Count" Richard Romanoff, or Von Bromerhoff?, aka August Weinman, aka Charles Spies.

It appears the con man had run up quite a bill at the hotel. 

Other notable tenants of the hotel between 1913 and 1915:

Major E.J. Hale and wife were at the St. James, during the years he was appointed to serve as the American diplomatic ambassador to Costa Rica.

 A Mr. Turner placed a number of ads for automobiles identifying his home as St. James. The limousine below had 38 HP!


The 1914  the Woman's Who's Who of America lists Elise Strang L'Esperance, MD as a resident of the St. James. She had not yet become a professor of pathology at Cornell. 



Also in 1915, A Mrs. Annie L. Moore wins a judgment against the Otto Gas Engine Works for a water pump failure at the hotel. 



In 1917, Mr. Oscar E. Ballin, resident of the St. James, passed, with his obit in the Times

He was also in the paper in 1912 for trying to help an abused horse


This is a photo of Marie Tiffany taken in 1919, 
possibly in her sitting room at the Hotel St. James
She sang in more than 200 appearances with the Met


Another resident of note is Effa Ellis Perfield, who devised a  music teaching system widely used in the early part of the 20th century. Her address in all her correspondence and advertisements was 109 W. 45th Street and they conducted summer school sessions at the hotel during the month of June.


In July 1918, the owner, Edward Litchfield, leases the property to its new manager, William Quinn for 21 years for $21,000, or $1000 a year until 1939.

Mr. Quinn will live in and run the hotel until his death there in 1944.

In August of the same year, Raymond L. Carroll is listed as President and Manager

Also in 1918 tenant and doctor S.R. Ellison died. 

Mr. Ellison was also the founder of the Magician's Society in New York City.

In 1919 an announcement that E.L. Hawkins had left the Bartholda to take the chef's position at the St. James

Also in 1919, for the first time, rooms are advertised as available with rates by the day

A furnished three room apartment is advertised in the fall as available for the annual lease of $1500 (or roughly $22,000 a year a century later)

It appears at the end of 1919 11 of the rooms in the hotel are being rented nightly. 


The hotel also has a six ton ice machine on the premises.

 In 1920 the Hotel St. James is touted as "much favored by women travelling without escort"

1920 was also the year that a murder mystery took place with a Hotel St. James connection.

On July 23, 1920 a grisly discovery was made at the American Express warehouse. A steamer trunk that had been mailed from Detroit on June 17 had arrived in New York on June 27 and sat unclaimed for nearly a month before complaints of an odor led men to open the trunk on July 23 and discover the body of a young woman stuffed inside. 

What I cannot understand are the multiple news sources reporting that "no wounds were found on the body" when other reports describe stab wounds and the removal of organs (supposedly shipped in another trunk to another state!) Click here for more on this never solved murder mystery.

A couple from Detroit, the Trumbulls, who supposedly shared an apartment with the man that came to be the suspect in the murder of his common law wife, Katherine Lou Jackson stayed at the Hotel St. James in conference with the New York police who were on the trail of the killer, whom they also suspected in connection with two other murders both in the city and in Detroit. 


1921 Advertisement featured an illustration of the building. 
There are now 40 theaters in the district.

During the early 20s one of the biggest names in the Hotel's tenants was Mrs. Frederick Haviland who is featured in a number of society pieces hosting a who's who of New York society.

Miss Mardigan, escapee from a Turkish harem and film star, sues her guardian  Mrs. Eleanor Brown Gates, who lived at the St. James. 



In October 1923 Al Dubin, composer, was living at the Hotel St. James when he was sued for abandonment by his wife. 

His story? AMNESIA.

He then spent seven months as a deck hand sailing between New York and South Africa until he regained his memory . . . when he heard the playing of a South African orchestra.

 In 1924 Quinn invested in postcards of the hotel, albeit without buildings on either side of it.


That same year the sister of former Hotel manager Raymond Carroll who died leaving a sizable estate almost exclusively to his wife charges forgery and then questions his sanity in court. 


The next time the Hotel appears is obliquely in a 1928 photo of the neighboring property.

You can catch sight of the arches of the St. James far left

As the Great Depression worsened through the coming decade, the area around midtown fell victim to the increased crime rates and homelessness that would plague the city. 


While most reports suggest The Thirteen Clubs had petered out in the early 20s, there was a meeting at the hotel St. James on Saturday (which was the 13th, of course, but sadly not a Friday)


On May 28, 1931 likely the most dramatic and hopefully most deadly event took place on the premises when a policeman killed a man in the lobby, narrowly missing hitting the desk clerk.

the lobby of the Hotel St. James


In 1932, a pickpocket thieving at St. Bart's lists her address at 109 W. 45th.


In 1933, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers live at the Hotel St. James and are both out of work when she gets attacked by a talent "scout"






In 1940 the hotel has 21 employees 







Another postcard in 1950 was produced for the hotel featuring five photos. 
Check out the tiger rug in the sitting room.

If I'm visualizing the room set up, I think if you get one of the two bed rooms that line the sides of several floors, you will either be in the "front" sitting room now converted to a bedroom, or the original bedroom, which is a bit larger. I noticed when we checked in in January on the 9th floor and then needed to move rooms a couple of floors down but into the adjacent door on the same hallway, the second room on the right was slightly larger than the one on the left.

I believe the restaurant might have been where the large sitting area with the bookshelves and unused bar area still stands. The front lobby, however, remains very much the same.

In the little shop at 110 W 45th attached and in the same building, was Sam Simon's Umbrella Shop for many years, 44 at this writing, which means the shop had been neighbors and tenants since 1906. His father had founded the shop in 1866 in the Bowery before they moved here.

Sam's obituary appeared three years later


Next door to the hotel in the 50s was The Little Gypsy Cafe

In 1951, Clark Gable and party were entertained there.




the two in the center lived at 109 W. 45th 




Frenchy Mayronne split his time living at the Hotel St. James with a friend and Coney Island




The Inquiring Photographer column appeared for several years, and whoever wrote in with the question he would use on people on the street won $10. The people at the Hotel St. James were winners several times, but this one, with the husbands' answers was worth inclusion.




The city also released a batch of tax photos from 1980 online but these are abysmal in low resolution quality. Of course, the 60s and 70s were not kind to New York in general.

to wit. . .  the hotel was used in two movies from 1980

Al Pacino's Cruising, quite the controversy, has the murder take place at the St. James.
Radio Shack and the CB Hi_Fi Tape sign is fantastic, as well as that yellow cab.

And the 1980 slasher flick Maniac also used the front entry in its location shoots. 



The third movie that used the St. James was 1987's Big, as the scary place Josh first stays before he gets his first big VP paycheck from FAO Schwartz. The silly string scene may or may not have been filmed on the premises. Seems like only the lobby and exterior was used and the room scenes filmed on a set.

I grabbed these screenshots from I Am Not a Stalker's post, now a decade old. 

Note her arrow pointing out the sign "Firearms kept on premises" (facing inward from the front steps)

Facing the other direction looking toward the front doors, radiator in place to the right

The front seating area to the left

Front desk behind what we should assume is bullet proof glass and another "Firearms Kept on Premises" sign posted

Remember, sheets are extra.

The silly string scene -- that sink's placement suggest a set. 


I'm hopeful I'll be able to discover more information about the hotel, but that's all I've got for now.

Oh, except for my own photos!

Both the area and the hotel have cleaned up very nicely. 

Much more inviting lobby these days!!

The 118 year old staircase



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