Here’s a snapshot of New York, ca 1962: John F. Kennedy is POTUS. The Cuban Missile Crisis revs up the Cold War. The first James Bond movie makes a splashy debut. The average annual income is $5,556.
And the Americana Hotel opens in a gleaming 51-story concrete tower designed by Morris Lapidus.
Historic hotels aren’t exactly a rarity in New York, even if oldies like the Algonquin (1902), the Plaza (1907) and the Waldorf=Astoria (1930) grab most of the attention. Still, it’s hard to argue that 1962 was yesterday.
“The hotel was built with the idea it would play a significant role in the New York World’s Fair of 1964,” says Mark Sanders, General Manager of the Sheraton New York Hotel, long-time occupant of the impossible-to-miss building that’s celebrating its 50th birthday with a special deal September 1 (more on that later).
They built it, and people came; among the images in the hotel archives are John Lennon and Paul McCartney at a press conference announcing the formation of Apple Records and Rock Hudson autographing photos for Playboy bunnies. Scenes from the 1972 movie The Godfather were filmed in a suite. The 1976 Democratic Convention unfolded in the Imperial Ballroom.
With a bending slab façade adorned with yellow glazed bricks, the hotel looked optimistic, futuristic and sleek in a brute sort of way, an embodiment of its era. It boasted technology that left older models in the dust and was a feast of mid-century superlatives — the tallest concrete-framed structure in New York with five restaurants, 10 ballrooms, 1,780 rooms and 350 parking spaces equaling a jaw-drop total of 1 million square feet.
American Airlines owned the property for several years at the height of air travel’s heyday before Sheraton acquired and renamed it in 1979. As part of the Sheraton group, it was the first hotel in town with an 800 number.
But times change. A boutique hotel it was not. In recent years the hotel confronted a midlife crisis and often looked worn out.
So the Sheraton did what a lot of almost-50-year-olds do: the building underwent a
major facelift touching upon every inch, from infrastructure changes to accommodate new climate systems, high-tech wiring and a plethora of outlets in every room to updated guest rooms and a new restaurant overlooking Seventh Avenue. Some $200 million later, the hotel can observe its 50th birthday with upbeat room décor that includes daybeds by the windows and renovated — but snug — bathrooms as well as a lobby lined with marble and dark wood, and a large up-to-date fitness center. Up next: a makeover for the ballrooms.
Sanders praised the Lapidus building, which is enjoying renewed appreciation as a standard bearer of mid-century modernism. “I think it’s held up well,” he says. “The bones are essentially the same, which speaks not only of a timeless design but an effective design.”
Given the exterior, the renovation could have taken a mid-century modern turn. We’d love to have seen that – low sofas with tight upholstery and round pillows, amoeba-shaped coffee tables, platform beds.
But as old photos of the hotel show, the hotel was never that. “We’re a traditional hotel,” says Sanders. And the Sheraton looks comfortable in its skin.
Book the 50th Anniversary Package for September 1, and get a double room and two cocktails in the lobby for $196.20 plus tax – not quite 1962 prices but 50 percent off normal rack rates.
Sheraton New York Hotel, 811 Seventh Avenue at 52nd Street; 212 581-8000; 212 841-6400.