Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hotel St. George -- Brooklyn Heights

IN 1931, the St. George was New York's largest hotel, with 2,632 rooms spread out over the full block bounded by Clark, Hicks, Henry and Pineapple Streets in Brooklyn Heights. Now it is divided into multiple parcels in multiple ownership, including a student residence, an Art Deco tower, a fire-damaged section -- and the shell of a new building. Although there are approved plans to rebuild the section swept by fire in 1995, the project appears to be stalled.

Capt. William Tumbridge, who was born in Cape Town in 1845 and who served in the Union Navy in the Civil War, built the original structure on the north side of Clark Street, between Hicks and Henry Streets, in 1885. The 10-story building, designed by Augustus Hatfield, must have been one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn Heights.

In 1895, Tumbridge was fined $25 for slapping and punching Ira Morley, a broker, who had no money to pay his hotel bill. And in 1901 Tumbridge was arrested for disorderly conduct after assaulting a policeman in a quarrel on a Gates Avenue trolley car.

Like other hotels before the advent of the better-class apartment building, the St. George offered shelter to both transients and permanent residents. The 1905 census records the family of the prominent chinaware merchant Theodore Ovington, including his daughter Mary White Ovington, 40, a Radcliffe graduate. In 1909 she was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; in 1911 her book ''Half a Man'' cast light on the troubles of African-Americans. Tumbridge died in 1921, and the next year his family sold the St. George to the real estate development group Bing & Bing. In 1928 Bing & Bing added a giant revolving beacon on the roof, visible for 50 miles and meant to serve as a navigation marker for aircraft. The McAlpin and Beacon Hotels in Manhattan also had such beacons, although they were soon discontinued at the request of the government, which felt they might distract pilots.

Grand Colorama Ballroom

IN 1974 The Times reported that half of the 2,100 rooms were being closed because of high fuel costs and that 600 permanent guests, who were paying up to $150 a month, were being consolidated into one part of the hotel.

At the same time the many elderly tenants still in the older hotel section were the victims of muggings by drug addicts and derelicts who had access to what had become one of the city's largest problem buildings, with a topless club called Wild Fyre on the ground floor.

The shell of a new building has risen on the Clark Street site. Gerard Vasisko, a partner with Gruzen Samton Architects, said his firm was not involved with the construction but did develop a contextual design for the empty lot for the owner, Moshe Drizen, ''picking up on the elements of the adjacent Clark Street building, with similar brick and window patterns.''

Art Deco Swmiming Pool


Virginia said...

I"m partial to a nice hotel connected with a liquor store myself.

Melanie said...

I love the pool shot--the St. George Hotel is famous in Brooklyn and I was there when I was a little girl with my Mom and Dad.

Sean said...

Interesting post, and nice photos. I enjoyed this alot!

Luis Gomez said...

Love the images and the information. Such a great building.

Mitch said...

Everyone should know that the less attractive building in the photo to the side is also part of the hotel, as are a number of structures on the other streets. The full hotel occupies most if not all of the block (or at least it once did). There was a fire on the Clark St side a few years ago, and the rebuilding of that is presumably where the new building is going.

As to the "Liquor Store" sign: When I lived near there, (in the late 1970's) the sign, which is located right above a liquor store on the corner of Clark and Henry Streets, still said "Swimming Pool". I don't think that the pool had been open for years. Presumably the liquor store must have wanted some space on the sign that hangs right over their entrance.

rchrd said...

In 1962 I lived at the St George for a semester while in my second year at Brooklyn Poly, over on Jay Street at Myrtle. That semester I couldn't find a roommate, apartment, or room to rent and was forced reluctantly to take a room at the St George for a few months. They had a special rate for students.

It was horrible and I was quite depressed. Interestingly, I've spent the last half and hour trying as hard as I could to remember anything about the place. I kind of remember the room - just a bed .. the bathroom was down the hall. To phone out you had to call up the operator. The window, if there was one, had no view. All I remember of the lobby was where I paid for my room, weekly. The rest, including the walk from Jay Street to the hotel and back, which I must have done daily for months, appears to have been wiped from my memory.

The brain has some interesting survival strategies.

Just thought I'd share that with you. Unfortunately, I didn't buy a camera until 1965. So no pictures either.

But still today, just hearing about the St. George hotel makes me shiver and cringe.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't that the largest indoor salt water pool in the world at one time?

Jaywynne said...

In the mid-forties, I grew up down the street from the hotel. I recall the liquor store, a drugstore, a shoeshine stand (spotted Burt Shotten and Preacher Roe, among other Dodgers there) and a Menswear shop whose name I would greatly enjoy hearing again because all I remember is that I went to the Assumption of the BVM on Middagh with "Petey," the owner's son. Any clues or memory of that, anybody?

Anonymous said...

I keep looking at the date of this post and wondering what's going on. The part of the hotel which burned in 1995 was rebuilt and is now owned by NYU and used as a dormitory. 111 Hicks Street, plus the Brill Building at the corner of Clark and Hicks Streets, are a condo tower. 60 Pineapple Street is a coop building. What's left of the old hotel is now housing for Pace and other students. There are no vacant parts of the square block, and the pool and former ballrooms have for more than two decades been part of the Eastern Athletic Club facilities.

Oh, and Robert Wagner isn't Mayor of NYC any more, either.

I'm the guy who took the photos of the deco rubble on Pineapple Street.

Anonymous said...

NYU doesnt own any part of the building. Educational Housing Services (EHS) leases rooms to students from almost every school in NYC and interns from all over US and world.

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Anonymous said...

my great grand parents and their children stayed at the Tumbridge following their arrival at Ellis Island in 1907.
They had emmigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to join
the three elder sons who had established themselves in
New York. It is wonderful to view the building!
They were Mcleans and I am trying to trace their
descendants (my second cousins).
their names were, John and Mary Mclean, children were
Allan,George, Murdoch, Arthur, Mary, Cathereine and Maggie
Please post a comment if you think you are a relative!

Jaywynne said...

I've asked this before but there is still time to connect with somebody from the neighborhood where I grew up from 1942 - 1949 when I joined the army...graduated from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Cranberry Street and used to play CYO basketball and was a member of the PAL who along with one other Yankee fan, Sammy Padro, used to take the Yankee tickets...I also worked as a delivery boy for Bohacks and Marcolinis..

Anonymous said...

I was reading a journal from my grandmother that I had asked her to write in about her life shortly before she passed in 1995. She always told me stories about The St. George as her grandmother (my great GREAT grandmother Jennie) moved into the St. George in the 1920;s. She said that it was such a beautiful fancy hotel and for the holiday breaks from school, Jennie would have all the children over for a white glove service feast which was always a special event for them all. I just came across this as I am ever curious about my family history and wanted to find some pictures.

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Mrs H said... mom grew up on cranberry st and went to the ascension (assumption?)church on cranberry,,...she attended bishop lynch high school...she was born in 31...oh my gosh!! we shopped at bohacks!!!

Unknown said...

Mrs. H...lived at 49 cranberry until 9/49 (army) but lived in that area from approx '43...
also played basketball at Plymouth Church and softball in the empty yard on the side of the church...

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