Knickerbocker Hotel to reopen more than a century after its debut

Jessica Plautz, MashablePublished 11th February 2015
The Knickerbocker, left, opened in 1906 on Times Square. This postcard uses the square's former name.
(Mashable) — The Knickerbocker in New York City opens its doors to guests on Thursday, more than a century since John Jacob Astor IV built the hotel.
Designed in the Beaux-Arts style, "the Knick" first opened on October 23, 1906, and the building has collected many anecdotes -- like being the (rumored) birthplace of the original martini -- in the years since.
At its opening in 1906, the hotel was marketed as having "prices within the reach of all."
"While the Knickerbocker has not exactly furnished itself with a motto, the manager and his assistants will tell you that they are running 'a Fifth Avenue Hotel at Broadway prices,'" the New York Times wrote of the opening.
"Between the hours of 1 and 6 o'clock the fifteen-story structure on the southeast corner of Forty-second Street and Broadway was thronged with visitors," the Times wrote. "The lobby, on the Forty-second Street side, was much admired by the host of visitors, and all paused to take a look at the representation of Father Knickerbocker in the entrance hall."
Rates in 1906 averaged $3.25 a day (or about $78 in today's dollars after adjusting for inflation), according to the Times. Unfortunately travelers are unlikely to come by a room at that price in 2015: Room rates on the Knickerbocker's website start at $446.
When John Jacob died on the Titanic in 1912, his son Vincent took over, eventually closing the hotel in 1921. As for why he closed it, speculators have blamed either prohibition, or a lack of interest in (or ability to afford) elaborate accommodations.
In the years afterward, the building changed ownership several times. It was converted to offices and housed Newsweek magazine from 1940 to 1959.
The Knickerbocker was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and designated a New York City landmark in 1988. Landmark status brings with it certain protections for the exterior of the structure, which made the restoration complicated, according to the Knickerbocker's managing director Jeff David.
Exterior details — like the copper lion heads around the rooftop terrace — were meticulously preserved while the interior was completely redone.
The historic Knickerbocker exterior houses sleek, new rooms.
The historic Knickerbocker exterior houses sleek, new rooms.
Courtesy Rick Lew
"We're embracing the hotel's original DNA, while simultaneously offering guests intuitive service and relevant luxury," David said in a statement. "The Knickerbocker's history is something that most luxury hotels cannot offer."
Texas-based FelCor Lodging Trust, which purchased and funded the $240-million redevelopment of the Knickerbocker, owns more than 70 hotels in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal. The company originally planned to open the hotel in late 2013, later revising the date to 2015.
Times Square has changed nearly beyond recognition since the hotel first opened. Whereas the 16-story structure used to stand out, it is now surrounded by high rises and is one of the few Beaux-Arts buildings left.
The original Knick welcomed "glitterati and dignitaries," according to the hotel, and famous guests included F. Scott Fitzerald, who set a chapter of "This Side of Paradise" in the hotel bar; Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, whose wife gave birth in one of the rooms; and John D. Rockefeller, who ordered those original martinis with his Wall Street friends.
The 1906 hotel had 556 guest rooms.
The 1906 hotel had 556 guest rooms.
Courtesy The Knickerbocker
There were 556 sleeping rooms and 400 baths in the original hotel, accommodating about 1,000 guests.
The newly-opened hotel will have 330 guestrooms, including 31 suites.
For history buffs, there is one part of the Knickerbocker that unfortunately will not be re-opening: The sub-level ballroom, with a direct entrance from the subway platform.
When the hotel was built, the nascent subway was so exciting to John Jacob Astor IV he had a door — still visible today — installed to provide direct access to one of the early lines.
The area behind the door -- a corridor leading to the upper levels of the hotel -- is owned by the MTA, which apparently isn't interested in how much 21st century New Yorkers would be interested in a restored subway entrance.
The lower-level parlor was elaborately decorated in the hotel's early years, but now sits in disrepair.
David expects the history of the hotel -- with or without a refurbished subway parlor -- to attract guests.
"By drawing inspiration from our past to create a lifestyle experience that is beyond typical luxury hotel amenities, The Knickerbocker will undoubtedly appeal to both local New Yorkers and international travelers," he said.