Sunday, February 28, 2010
The Knickerbocker Hotel was built by the legendary millionaire John Jacob Astor the forth (1864-1912) in 1904. It was one of his many hotels in New York City. He built many and would have kept building, but he was on the Titanic and was not one of the survivors.
This was built in the heart of the theater district and home to many great singers and performers. This place was home to the great George M. Cohan (1878-1942) of Broadway fame.
It was also the home to the immortal operatic tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921). Another of the greats who lived there was the theatrical producer Charles Frohman (1860-1915). Sadly he would be lost in the Lusitania.
It was a hangout for many in theater. The bar downstairs was famous for not only coming up with the martini cocktail, but for having some of the finest foods ever.
The great operatic Contralto Ernestine Schumann Heink (1861-1936) She was 350 pounds of contralto and often ate her meals in the Knickerbocker. There is a great story about Caruso walking into the restaurant of the Knickerbocker and seeing Heink with a massive steak before her. He yelled "Madamme Heink are you going to eat that steak all alone?" She responded in her German-English, "No, mit potatos!"
Caruso ate most of his meals at the Knickerbocker till he and Cohan were moved out when the building was sold. It was made into an office building and all of its hotel items were moved elsewhere. One of the most famous pieces was moved to another hotel in NYC. But that will be another story.
Caruso sang from his suite in the Knickerbocker to everyone on Broadway to celebrate the end of WWI. I got to meet two people who saw that event. Helen Hayes who was there said it was the highlight of her life. It must have been something!
Today the Knickerbocker building is condos and stores. It has recently been sold, so perhaps by 2020 there will be another hotel Knickerbocker. Just like a century ago.