A Luckless Landmark

The Keller Hotel (l.) in 1929 (photo via NYPL), and (r.) today.

The Keller Hotel (l.) in 1929 (photo via NYPL), and (r.) today.

When the building at 150 Barrow Street, known as the Keller Hotel building, was landmarked seven years ago today, the future looked bright for this historic waterfront treasure. Although vacant for many years before it was given landmark status, new plans for a residential conversion had been filed with the city. Alas, those plans never came to fruition. Today the building sits vacant, and after some prodding from GVSHP, the Landmarks Preservation Commission recently issued a Notice of Violation against the building owners for their failure to maintain the Renaissance Revival style-landmark.

The Hotel Keller was given landmark status in 2007 following a push by GVSHP and allied community groups to extend landmark protections to the Far West Village and the Greenwich Village waterfront (this was one of several sites landmarked and/or downzoned from that effort; see map here).  The Landmarks Preservation Commission recognized the building as one of the last surviving examples by architect Julius Munckwitz (who designed the landmarked Central Park Boathouse) and one of the last “surviving turn-of-the-century Hudson River waterfront hotels.” The designation report, which you can access on the GVSHP website, also reflects on the maritime history of the neighborhood and the building’s role in that history.

“The building, situated along the Hudson River, is a significant reminder of the era when the Port of New York was one of the world’s busiest and the section of the Hudson River between Christopher and 23rd Streets was the heart of the busiest section of the Port of New York.”

The Keller Hotel on the corner of Barrow and West Streets. Photo via AbandonedNYC.

The Keller Hotel on the corner of Barrow and West Streets. Photo via AbandonedNYC.

The building, which was erected in 1897-98, has a long history as a hotel. While it is uncertain at what date the Knickerbocker Hotel was established, it remained through 1910. From 1911-1929, the hotel that operated there was called the New Keller Hotel and from 1929 to 1993, the Keller Abington Hotel. It’s close location to the ferry and transatlantic cruise lines made the hotel popular with those just disembarking, and as the neighborhood began to decline, by transient sailors. In 1993, the city transformed the hotel into a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotel for the indigent.

The storefronts in the building remain unoccupied as well. Perhaps the most well-known tenant of the building was the Keller Bar, which occupied the West street storefront from 1956 to 1998. It is reputed to be the oldest gay “leather” bar in New York City.

Keller's Bar was located in a storefront of the Keller Hotel from 1956 to 1998.

Keller’s Bar was located in a storefront of the Keller Hotel from 1956 to 1998.

Though it is hard to tell on first sight, the Keller Hotel sign that still graces the building is a neon sign, though it is not lit. Our friends at New York Neon spotlight the sign and the building’s history.

So how does this building, located in an area that has seen significant development in recent years, fall into disrepair and remain unoccupied for so long? The building is owned by the estate of William Gottlieb, which owns a vast number of properties in the Village. Mr. Gottlieb was known before his death for not selling, or investing money, in his properties. The Estate seems to be continuing this trend.

Thanks to a watchful Villager, we were able to alert the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the decline of the Keller Hotel and begin the process of getting this luckless landmark some much needed attention. Do you know of other landmarks in the Village that are languishing of neglect? GVSHP’s “preservation watch” program helps ensure that serious landmarks violations are reported and the landmarks law enforced, and to preserve our neighborhood’s historic integrity.

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Sheryl

Sheryl Woodruff was GVSHP’s Senior Director of Operations until December 2014.