Why Isn’t This Landmarked?: The Hotel Albert on University Place
Part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked.
Most of us remember the famous line from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller, Rear Window, “Meet me in the bar at the Albert Hotel,” delivered hauntingly by Jimmy Stewart to Raymond Burr. Today the building is a co-op complex comprised of four distinct structures functioning as a single entity and occupying the entire blockfront of University Place between East 10th Street and East 11th Street. The oldest of the buildings dates back to the 1870s, while another section was built by one of New York’s greatest and most celebrated architects. Collectively, the four buildings of the Albert Hotel have hosted a nearly unrivaled list of historically significant figures over the years. In 2012 the complex was listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places — a largely honorific designation. Yet to this day, none of the four buildings nor most of their surroundings south of Union Square enjoy any landmark protections, and thus could be demolished, altered, or otherwise compromised at any time.
The oldest part of this complex was built as the Hotel St. Stephen in 1875-76. This section, now 50 East 11th Street just east of University Place, resulted from combining and altering three row houses on the site by architect James Irving Howard for builder Albert Rosenbaum, so the building’s bones (so to speak) date back even earlier to the early 19th century. In a 1920s renovation, the building gained the simplified facade we see today.
The next part of the complex to be built was directly west of the St. Stephen. Also commissioned by Rosenbaum, it was the first section of today’s complex to use the Albert name (Rosenbaum’s given name), located on the southeast corner of University Place and East 11th Street. Built in 1881-82 as a high-end apartment house or “French Flats,” and called the Albert Apartment House, it was one of the earliest examples in New York of the then-novel concept of apartment house design for middle- or upper-class residents. It was designed by the great architect Henry Hardenbergh, designer of perhaps the most famous and beloved of all of New York’s early apartment houses, Central Park West’s the Dakota (1880-84), as well as other great New York City landmarks such as the Schermerhorn Building located just a few blocks away on Lafayette Street, and the Plaza Hotel. In 1887, the Albert Apartments was converted into a hotel, rechristened the Hotel Albert. Just a few years later in 1895 the Hotel Albert absorbed the neighboring St. Stephen, thus beginning the Albert’s outward sprawl.
The next part of this complex to be built was a 12-story extension on University Place, built 1903-04 and designed by the firm of Buchman & Fox.
The final section of the Hotel Albert to be built was the 6-story neo-colonial style building located on the northeast corner of University Place and East 10th Street. It was built 1922-24, and designed by William L. Bottomly and the firm of Sugarman & Hess.
In accepting the Albert for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, state and federal historic preservation authorities found that the complex qualified as both architecturally and historically significant. According to the designation report:
The co-op apartment complex known today as “The Albert Apartment Corporation,” at 23 East 10th Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, is architecturally significant under Criterion C as a handsome early apartment house design by prominent New York architect Henry Hardenbergh, with additions by the firm of Buchman & Fox, as well as William L Bottomley working with Sugarman & Hess.
The Albert is historically significant under Criterion A in the areas of art, performing arts and literature. Over the course of a century. from the 1880s through the early-1970s, The Albert played a significant role in New York’s cultural life. In its earliest years, the Albert attracted a respectable clientele, and many professional societies held meetings there. It soon became known, however, for artists and writers, and eventually also for political radicals. After World War II, the hotel fell on hard times and gradually decayed, but it was also in those years that the Albert became a haven to writers, artists and musicians. Due to this important last wave activity, the Hotel is considered on the local level to be exceptionally significant up to the early 1970s period.
Some of those writers who have stayed at the Albert (or St. Stephens) include Robert Louis Stevenson, Harte Crane, Richard Wright, Anais Nin, Diane di Prima and Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka. Political radicals stayed at the Albert as early as 1906 including Ivan Ivanovich Norodny (chief executive commissioner of the Russian Military Revolutionary Party). John Gages, editor of the Daily Worker, held a rally there in 1958. Many artists stayed there or gathered in the ground floor restaurant. Joseph Brody, who ran the restaurant from 1946 to 1968, hung the art of some of the many patron/artists on the walls and sponsored poetry contests; he also offered tours of the Village on a bus decoratively painted by Salvador Dali. Some of the famous musicians who spent time at the Albert during the 1960s and 70s included Jim Morrison, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor. The Mamas & the Papas wrote the hit “California Dreamin'” and Lovin’ Spoonful wrote “Do You Believe in Magic” at the Albert.
Today the Albert is a residential cooperative apartment complex which, according to the National Register designation report “bears witness to the remarkable history of a Greenwich Village – and New York – institution.” So hopefully we will continue to ‘meet at the Albert Hotel,’ albeit outside, as the bar is long gone. However, without New York City landmarks protections, there are no guarantees.
To support landmark designation of this area and protect its irreplaceable history and architecture, go to www.gvshp.org/letter.