Travel Tuesday: NYC
Hotel: The Warwick
William Randolph Hearst, the Donald Trump of his day, made money in the early twentieth century as a media king and a property developer. He collected glamorous friends and stirred up equal parts of envy and admiration. In 1927, Hearst spotted property on the Upper West Side of New York that had not been touched by the building spree that had transformed the Upper East Side. He bought several lots a few blocks south of Central Park where he and Florence Ziegfield built a Ziegfield theater. Across the street he constructed a luxurious apartment hotel to accommodate his Hollywood pals and business partners who needed a convenient pied a terre in the city. His hotel, the Warwick, boasted unobstructed views of Central Park and the Hudson River. One whole floor was reserved for his mistress/sweetheart Marion Davies.
You can’t rent a whole floor, but if you are lucky, you may snag one of the suites with a balcony hanging over 54th Street or 6th Avenue at the Warwick. For twelve years Cary Grant’s movie studio reserved an apartment for his trips to New York. A balcony wrapping around his corner living room on a high floor could have starred in a movie itself. To get a look at his suite, and other features, go to their virtual tour feature.
Over 78 years the Warwick Hotel has seen plenty of brash newcomers come along, blocking its views and dwarfing its 36 stories. But the location still can’t be beat.
Most New York hotel rooms tend to favor thin people who can squeeze between a bed and a TV set. Not so at the Warwick. High ceilings and tall windows make even the smallest double-bed rooms light and airy as well as extraordinarily large. On the other hand, the lobby is small but posh. The Beatles liked the Warwick for just that reason—mobs of fans could not lay in wait for them at the bottom of the elevator.
Across the lobby from the bar, a restaurant lined with murals pays tribute to Sir Walter Raleigh. Although museums would like to acquire the murals, the owners believe they belong right where they are. Pre-eminent American illustrator Dean Cornwell painted them in 1937 and 1938. At some point a tiff developed over the amount of money being paid for the paintings, and the artist got even in a novel way. He added a number of obscenities to the paintings that would have insulted even Hearst’s freewheeling friends. Hence for forty years draperies hid the worst of the artist’s revenge (note the Indian mooning the viewer in the inset picture).
Uncovered and unburdened of layers of cigar smoke, the murals now shine in the Murals on 54 restaurant. Diners can amuse themselves by trying to spot how many ways the artist had the last word—or in this case brush stroke—in the argument. A Native American bends over with his very bare bottom pointed at the viewer. These small obscenities are woven into the complex and well done painting in such a way that it takes a moment for the reality to sink in. But never fear, the waiters at Murals will be delighted to point out the details.
In a world of gimmicks and plain vanilla chains, the historic Warwick provides a grown-up’s hotel and restaurant art with a sense of humor. Thank you Mr. Hearst and Warwick International.
*This originally was written about five years ago, so please forgive anything that may have changed. The hotel did give me a slight reduction in price and upgraded me to a suite at that time. But I have to be honest– I totally loved that hotel and heartily recommend it, even at full price.
The top two photographs were taken by Vera Marie Badertscher, all rights reserved. The Sir Walter Raleigh Picture is from a Warwick site, and you can click on the image to see more pictures of the Raleigh murals.
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