100 years ago, today, a very special building opened. It was the largest in the world of its kind and would go on to house some of the biggest stars in the world throughout the course of decades. It was operated by a well known hotel chain whose head loved the building so much, he decided to live in it until the day he died. It was designed by the finest architects in America- if not the world. It was a treasure to the city it so proudly stood in. Most importantly for me, it became a treasure in my life. For reasons I can’t fully explain, I remember some spark going off in my head when I first saw the building as a kid with my father. I vividly remember seeing it out of the corner of my eye and asking him what building it was.
My father passed down to me the appreciation of history and traditional architecture. From a young age he would show me books and articles about the original Penn Station and its eventual demise. All of that had an impact of how I viewed the world growing up but my thoughts weren’t solidified until that day I saw the hotel. Shortly after I first saw the building, I learned of the intentions to demolish it. From then, I guess you could say a healthy obsession began. I started researching the hotel and learning absolutely everything I could about it. Little did I know the crazy journey that was about to begin.
As I went through the courses of life, I kept continuing to learn about the building. I discovered what the original interiors looked like, how they were modified, who modified them and when, etc. Seeing the loss of the original interiors tore me apart inside but it inspired me to take certain paths in my life. It pushed me into this fantastic creative world I may have otherwise not been a part of. I took up an extreme interest in architecture and design. I studied it in school and later on in college. While being an architect ended up not being my calling, I stayed on that creative path and now work in a major photo studio for a high end department store. If it wasn’t for this building, I’m not sure where my life would have gone, what choices I would have made and what people I would have met. I have zero regrets whatsoever.
As far as Hotel Pennsylvania’s journey, it didn’t fair so well. As the city began to decline, so did the hotel. Perceptions of traditional architecture changed and became very unfavorable. Combine that with a very aged structure and you have a recipe for disaster. As mentioned above, in an attempt to keep the building up to date, the interior was virtually gutted and replaced with the bland modern design we see today. Some relatively substantial pieces of the original interior are hiding behind sheetrock and other coverings but the damage has been done, unfortunately. The hotel’s story hasn’t been the greatest, but life has taught me to focus on the positives. The building is currently undergoing a much needed renovation which will hopefully clear its reputation and bring it into the 21st Century. Luck and a lot of prayers are needed going forward but hopefully in 100 more years someone will still be celebrating the hotel! It is with great joy to be able to say today: Happy 100th Birthday Hotel Pennsylvania!
These pictures were taken exactly 100 years apart. January 25th, 1919 – January 25th, 2019
– Steven Lepore, Co-Admin