31 May 2010 www.2600.com
There has been very little in the way of media coverage, but quietly and steadily the forces that want to demolish the Hotel Pennsylvania, site of the HOPE conferences, have been working to get their way and sidestep all of the opposition.
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Meetings and hearings on the matter have been scheduled with very little notice and at the most inconvenient times imaginable. In an extremely troubling move, the Manhattan Borough President gave his “conditional approval” for the demolition of the hotel. A sparsely attended meeting last Wednesday at 10 in the morning of the New York City Planning Commission focused primarily on the popular idea of reopening a pedestrian tunnel and obscured the fact that the demolition of the Hotel Pennsylvania was also a part of this plan, all of which led to the conclusion that “no one spoke in opposition.”
In addition to the hotel being our home for the conferences since the first one back in 1994, it’s also one of the only affordable hotels for out-of-towners located in a convenient spot, directly across the street from Pennsylvania Station, the country’s largest train station. Replacing it with a huge office tower would remove a valuable resource and would also be a slap in the face to the significant history surrounding the hotel.
There has been difficulty mounting a successful campaign to oppose this ill-advised move. For many in New York City, the hotel is just another old building from 100 years ago. Obviously, residents of New York don’t really make use of hotels in their own city. The people hurt most by this would be those coming from different parts of the country and the world. This is a significant number, as the hotel’s 1700 rooms are sold out night after night. Clearly, the people who depend on the hotel aren’t able to make it to these little known meetings. Even those of us in New York can’t take a full day off of work or school to attend on those rare occasions where meetings are adequately publicized.
Now that the threat has been clearly identified, we have no choice but to take action. To not do so will ensure that our next conference will indeed be our last, as there is no affordable space in New York with adequate facilities for a gathering of that size. In order to pull this off, we will need lots of help. This includes volunteers to contact the media, run websites, do research, organize leafleting campaigns and demonstrations, and basically get the word out so that this really bad idea is stopped before it’s too late.
We need to add a lot of energy to the ongoing conversation on our online forum in order to be able to organize and strategize. Please email us at email@example.com if you’re able to lend a hand or can feed us with any information.
We advise people to read through the Draft Environmental Impact Statement to see what’s planned by Vornado.
Finally, please follow savehotelpenn on Twitter. Having a large number of people showing up as followers to this Twitter account will demonstrate the fact that people really do care.
Special thanks to www.2600.com for fighting the good fight.
The Hotel Pennsylvania was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad and operated by Ellsworth Statler. It opened on January 25, 1919 and was designed by the firm of McKim, Mead & White, which also designed the original columned version of Pennsylvania Station located across the street. (The old Pennsylvania Station was razed in 1963 to make room for Madison Square Garden and the redeveloped below-ground station in use today.)
The hotel was acquired by the Hotels Statler Company in 1948 and renamed the Hotel Statler. Following the sale of all 17 Statler hotels to Conrad Hilton in 1954, the hotel became The Statler Hilton. It operated under this name until the early 1980s, when Hilton sold the hotel. It was renamed The New York Statler for a brief period, and was operated by Dunfey hotels, a division of Aer Lingus. It was then purchased in 1984 by the Penta Hotels chain, a joint-venture of British Airways, Lufthansa and Swissair, becoming The New York Penta. In 1992 Penta went out of business and the hotel returned to its original name, Hotel Pennsylvania.
The hotel has the distinction of having the New York phone number in longest continuous use. The number, PEnnsylvania 6-5000, is the inspiration for the Finegan, Gray, and Sigman song of the same name. The most popular version was performed by Glenn Miller with the Andrews Sisters’ version not far behind. Many big band names played in the hotel’s Main Dining Room, The Cafe Rouge, including the Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
Contrary to common floor numbering practice, there is a 13th floor. The hotel states it has 22 floors from street level to the roof, plus three additional levels in the penthouse. The highest penthouse level is numbered as the 21st floor. The discrepancy in floor numbering is due to several mezzanine-type levels that carry names such as “lobby mezzanine” instead of floor numbers.
The threat of the Hotel Pennsylvania’s demolition was first introduced in the late 1990s when Vornado Realty Trust bought the hotel. Vornado announced in 2007 that the hotel was to be demolished to make way for a new office building with Merrill Lynch as its anchor tenant. Owner Vornado Realty Trust intended to build a 2,500,000-square-foot (232,000 m2) building by 2011. The site is the only remaining area in Midtown Manhattan that would not require special permits for development of a new office project of that size.
Shortly after the announcement of Vornado’s plans, the staff of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, a magazine which sponsors biennial HOPE hacker conventions at the hotel, began investigating possible ways to save the hotel from demolition. They were joined by the new Save the Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation, whose members included a number of city organizations and politicians to aid in the landmarking of the hotel, including The Historic District Council, Manhattan Community Board 5, and Assemblymen Richard Gottfried. In November 2007, Manhattan Community Board 5 voted 21-8 to have New York City Council landmark the historic hotel. However in February 2008 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission denied the request for landmarking.
Preservation efforts have proven difficult. Emmanuel Goldstein of 2600 noted that while people overseas expressed concern over the fate of the hotel, “New Yorkers might not care enough to get involved. The hotel was old; the rooms weren’t as big and luxurious as other more modern facilities; and New Yorkers simply weren’t in a position to grasp the importance of such a place since they normally don’t need cheap and easily accessible hotels if they already live here.”
In May 2010 the hotel is again in danger of demolition. Borough president for Manhatten Scott Stringer gave a conditional approval overruling Manhattan Community Board 5.