Why not, I often wonder? – Growing up in New York City is what gave me the fascination for Design and Architecture and one of my all time favorite areas in NYC are the surrounding blocks of Grand Central Station, along with the station itself.
Part of this area had The BILTMORE HOTEL, located on 43rd Street and Madison Avenue and built in 1913. In 1981 the interiors were destroyed to make way for none other then a bank. Working at the time for a company responsible for the new interior design, we were at least able to save the clock.
The Biltmore Hotel was constructed by New York Central Railroad as an accessory to Grand Central Terminal across the street, the Biltmore appealed to lovers for decades. Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald honeymooned there so boisterously that they were asked to leave, and the Biltmore’s solid bronze clock was a popular meeting place for amorous couples.
When Holden Caulfield showed up in the lobby for a date in J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” the crowd of young women struck him. “I was way early when I got there,” he recounted, “so I just sat down on one of those leather couches right near the clock in the lobby and watched the girls. A lot of schools were home for vacation already, and there were about a million girls sitting and standing around waiting for their dates to show up. Girls with their legs crossed, girls with their legs not crossed, girls with terrific legs, girls with lousy legs, girls that looked like swell girls.”
Gustav Baumann, who purchased the lease from the New York State Realty and Terminal Company, a division of the New York Central Railroad, founded the New York Biltmore. The design was by the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore, which also created the adjoining Grand Central Terminal. The hotel had its own arrival station within the terminal, nicknamed “The Kissing Room,” with elevator access to the lobby. A private elevator served only the Presidential Suite. The Tea Room (a.k.a. Palm Court) echoed the design of the main concourse at the Terminal. On the 22nd floor of the hotel was the grand ballroom, called the Cascades; Bert Lown was the conductor in the hotel’s early years. Between the north and south towers was the Italian Garden, which overlooked Vanderbilt Avenue and Grand Central Terminal. In the winter months the garden was transformed into a ice skating rink. Henry Ford tried to Broker World War I headquartered at The Biltmore, 1915.
The hotel opened on New Year’s Day 1913, and was operated by Baumann until his tragic death on October 15, 1914. John McEntee Bowman, the Biltmore’s manager under Mr. Baumann, took control of the lease and operated the hotel thereafter.
The New York Biltmore Hotel ceased operation when its then owner the late Paul Milstein gutted the building in August 1981. The demolition took place despite the building’s landmark status and concerted protests by preservationists. The hotel was stripped down to its steel structural skeleton and rebuilt as Bank of America Plaza. Though the bank is still the largest tenant, the building is today known simply by its address, 335 Madison Avenue.