Rooms recall a bygone era. // © 2012 Warwick Hotel
The Warwick New York hotel was built in 1926 by William Randolph Hearst. At the time, it wasn’t a hotel at all. It was a private residence for his longtime girlfriend, Marion Davies, a sometimes actress and Ziegfeld Follies girl. Davies had her own spacious apartment in the building. The other apartments were used by a bevy of movie stars who happened to be passing through New York or who had shows opening on Broadway. Such luminaries as Judy Garland, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and, later, even Elvis Presley were regular guests. Cary Grant lived in an apartment with a wraparound terrace for 12 years.
But by the 1980s, having been converted into a midtown Manhattan hotel, the property had fallen on hard times. It was, in a word, shabby, with a dark and dirty lobby and ugly wallpaper.
Today, thanks to several major renovations, the most recent of which came last year, the Warwick is now a gem in the middle of the city, a 359-room (with 67 suites) hotel with a European flavor and lovely rooms that harkens back to a bygone era when Hollywood glamour met New York chic.
The rooms are spacious and furnished with silver-leaf coffee and accent tables, ivory lacquer bedside tables and French provincial chairs in platinum, champagne, beige and silver. It’s not fusty, but understated and, to some eyes, elegant. The bar downstairs, Randolph’s, is wood-paneled and cozy, looking out onto the bustle of Sixth Avenue. And just in case you didn’t get the hotel’s pedigree, the carpet in the bar has stylized rosebuds, a reference to the movie “Citizen Kane” that was a thinly disguised biopic about William Randolph Hearst.
There are reminders of the past everywhere. Still photos of the famous and near-famous who stayed at the hotel adorn the hallways, many of them of Marion Davies herself, and there are old-fashioned black telephones here and there, although they are not in use. Indeed, the hotel’s refurbishments have left it with all the modern amenities and conveniences, not the least of which are 40-inch, high-definition televisions with interactive multimedia systems that allow guests to connect their laptops and iPods to the television.
But what would a “Hollywood” hotel be without a little scandal? The mural in Murals on 54, one of the two main restaurants, was painted by Dean Cornwell in the 1930s. It depicts Sir Walter Raleigh receiving his royal charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1584 and then landing at Roanoke Island. But after Cornwell finished it, he and Hearst had a falling out over the fee that the artist had charged. To get his revenge, Cornwell added some scatological images to the completed work that were quickly painted over and all but forgotten. You can still seen hints of them if you look closely.
Regardless of scandal, what’s best about the Warwick is its location. It’s smack in the middle of midtown Manhattan, on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 54th Street, which makes for easy walking to any number of attractions and destinations in the area — the Museum of Modern Art, Radio City Music Hall, Fifth Avenue shopping and the Disney Store, just to name a few.
On a visit last December, I walked several blocks south to Rockefeller Center and saw the giant Christmas tree in all of its lighted glory. The skaters were zooming around the ice rink, but the crowds seemed more excited by the big Zamboni ice resurfacing machine that was cleaning off the rink between sessions.
I then walked up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, past The Plaza on my left, where the hansom cabs still ply the streets and the smell of roasting chestnuts permeates the air. I found myself in front of the bookstalls at the corner of Fifth and Central Park South. It’s not exactly like the bookstalls along the Seine in Paris, but it’s got its charm, and I always buy at least one black-and-white postcard to take home.
The only drawback to the hotel’s location is the traffic on Sixth Avenue, which can be daunting during rush hour or if you’re trying to get to the theater. But that’s New York. The doormen are adept at finding that one taxi that’s not taken, but getting anywhere can take a long time, depending on where you want to go. Here’s a tip I learned when I lived in New York City: During rush hours, if the traffic is going uptown, go to an avenue where it’s going downtown, and vice versa. There will be more empty cabs returning from drop offs and looking for other fares.
But if you’re not in a hurry my recommendation is that you get a drink from the bar, find a soft spot on one of the sofas in the lovely lobby and read a book or a newspaper. It’s what they did in a bygone era, and it seems entirely appropriate here.