IN THE LIMELIGHT: THE CHATWAL NEW YORK
Looking Back at the History of a Landmark Building in Manhattans Theater District
Before becoming The Chatwal New York, the iconic Stanford-White designed building at 130 West 44th Street was the epicenter of American theater for the 20th Century. The building was originally opened in 1905 as home to the prestigious Lambs, America's first professional theatrical club. Organized in 1874 by a group of actors and theatre enthusiasts, the Lambs occupied a series of rented quarters before settling at 44th Street. The American club took their name from a similar group in London, which flourished from 1869-1879 in the name of Charles Lamb, a drama critic and essayist who died relatively unknown in 1834.
Stanford White, a partner at prominent architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White, was the original architect of the Lambs clubhouse on 44th Street. His design principles embodied the American Renaissance, as seen in his work on summer homes for the Astor and Vanderbilt families and such formidable structures as The Washington Square Arch, Madison Square Garden and the New York Herald Building. For the Lambs, he designed a six-story, neo-Georgian brick building featuring a faade ornamented with six rams' heads and two rams' profiles. On the first floor were the lobby with a bank of telephones, a grill room and billiard room; on the second floor was a banquet hall; and on the third floor a small theater. The top floors provided space for offices and sleeping quarters for members. The size of the building was doubled in 1915 when an addition was constructed on the west end of the building, a virtual copy of the original. In 1974, the 44th Street building was designated a Landmark by the New York City Landmarks and Preservation Commission.
Since the club's founding, there have been more than 6,000 Lambs, with an elite roster reading like a Whos Who of American Theatre: Maurice, Lionel and John Barrymore, Red Barberv, George Michael Cohan, John Wayne, Douglas Fairbanks, and Fred Astaire (who was famously quoted as stating, "When I was made a Lamb, I felt I had been knighted"). The luminaries who have graced these halls would make Broadway and Hollywood history. Some, such as the dashing John Barrymore or Jack as he was more commonly known even resided in dormitory quarters at the Lambs Club for short bouts. Coincidentally, there was a brief time when Jack fell under the common spell of a young Broadway vixen, one who had yet to play the biggest role of her life, in a true drama known as the crime of the century.
Architect Stanford White was an extrovert with a penchant for young, beautiful women and he was notorious for often hosting scandalous parties boasting over-sexed, scantily clad maidens, and French champagne. His apartment on the second floor at Madison Square Garden was infamous for its red swing that hung from the ceiling, often occupied by the nubile and willing body of one of his girls. One such occupant of the notorious red swing was a seventeen year old red-headed beauty from a small town in Pennsylvania named Evelyn Nesbit. White had a scandalously secretive love affair with Nesbit, which ended just as discretely as it began when his wandering eye went to newer and younger ladies of Manhattan.
Evelyn went on to a brief and innocent love affair with Jack Barrymore before settling on a darker kind, a marriage to a violent and over privileged millionaire named Harry Kendall Thaw. After learning of Nesbits tempestuous history with White, Thaw sought out and fatally shot the architect during a show at Madison Square Garden (a venue White had himself designed). Thaw was found guilty of the killing of Stanford White by reason of insanity, a landmark case in American jurisprudence because it is the first time that a defense attorney invoked the plea of temporary insanity and won.
As one chapter of this iconic buildings history concludes, another begins with The Chatwal New York. Under the direction of Master Architect and Designer Thierry Despont, the circa-1905 building has been meticulously restored and modernized as an 83-room hotel of traditional glamour and contemporary luxury.
Paying homage to the buildings original occupants, actress Drew Barrymore has graciously lent her celebrated family name to The Chatwals 4,500-square-foot Penthouse Floor. The Barrymore Suite offers exclusive use of the tenth floor, including four spacious guestrooms, four full bathrooms (one an oversized master with a Jacuzzi bath and raindrop shower), and two sitting rooms, dining rooms, and kitchenettes. Guests also enjoy a huge amount of private outdoor space with the private heated outdoor terrace and 1,000-square-foot roof deck overlooking 44th Street.
Throughout the property, Despont has made subtle nods to the buildings theatrical and historical origins. A striking floor-to-ceiling 18th-century stone fireplace, which was originally a gift from Stanford White to the Lambs, acts as a centerpiece for the hotels restaurant, lovingly named the Lambs Club (the walls of which will be lined with black-and-white photographs of original Lambs members). Distinctive elliptical doors, originally part of the Grill Room, have been restored and reinstalled in The Chatwals private function room. These meeting rooms also feature elliptical wine cellars designed by Despont to match the existing doors and lacquered wood wainscot and ceiling beams that recall the original Grill Room. The landmark faade of the building has been restored to its former glory, complete with original marble Rams heads and a marble plaque alluding to the glory days of the Lambs.
Additionally, a signature landmark suite has been named for the original master designer The Stanford White Studio. Originally serving as the club library, the entire room has been delicately refurbished and reinstalled, complete with the original oak wood paneled walls and beams, a working granite fireplace with richly detailed wood mantle and a fully furnished private outdoor terrace.
Akin to the exclusive nature of the buildings original occupants, the hotel is a member of its own exclusive club, named the first member of the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World in Manhattans theater district.