In the Academy Award winning movie Green Book, pianist Don Shirley and his driver, nightclub bouncer Tony “Lip’ Vallelonga used the titular guide book to find places that served black travelers during Shirley’s 1962 concert tour of the Deep South.
From 1936 to 1965, the The Negro Motorist Green Book, later The Traveler’s Green Book, provided a no-frills listing of restaurants, hotels and services like garages, beauty parlors and barber shops throughout North America where black travelers knew they would be welcome and safe.
That included New York City, home to Green Book author Victor Hugo Green (1892-1960), the African American postal employee, and later travel agency owner, who created the guide. Indeed, the first edition, priced at 25 cents, focused on the New York area, where Green lived.
A precursor of crowd sourcing, Green asked readers to share recommendations. As he wrote on the 1937 introduction page: “There are thousands of places that the public doesn’t know about and that aren’t listed. Perhaps you know of some?”
Which New York City hotels were included in the Green Book? The New York Public Library’s digital collection features editions from a number years. In the 1937 edition, just 12 hotels were listed in New York City. None appear to be in business today.
But in the 1963-64 edition, there were 93 hotels listed in Manhattan, seven in the Bronx, eight in Brooklyn, 22 in Queens and one on Staten Island, a reflection of the Civil Rights movement and the postwar growth in the number of the city’s hotels. Many no longer exist, like the Mayflower at 15 Central Park West (now a Robert A.M. Stern megabuck condo) and Harlem’s fabled Hotel Theresa, now a satellite campus for Columbia University’s Teachers College, among other things.
But plenty do, often with different names and updated decor (they wouldn’t be in business otherwise). They include the Algonquin, Americana (now the Sheridan New York Times Square), Buckingham (now the Quin), Commodore (now the Grand Hyatt), Empire, Edison, Essex House, Governor Clinton (now the Stewart), Holiday Inn (now the Watson), Lexington, New York Hilton, New Yorker, Paramount, Park Lane, Pierre, Plaza, Regency, Roger Smith, Shelburne, Skyline Motor Inn, Warwick, Waldorf-Astoria and Wellington.
Green Book listings included prices. For some perspective, a room at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1963 cost $11.50 for a single, $19.50 for a double. That’s $94.37 and $160 in today’s prices, a lot less than when the hotel closed for renovations in 2017.