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Learn More About the History of the Iroquois Hotel

“There is no more frequented block in New York than West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.. It is a block of hotels, restaurants and fashionable clubs … On the block are The New York Yacht, The Yale, The Harvard, and City Clubs… opposite the hotel is the New York Bar Association, half a block west is the Hippodrome…"

Published on July 28, 1911, this excerpt from a New York Times article could be describing this famous block today…with a few modern touches. It is a block that, on July 15, 1899, saw construction begin on The Iroquois hotel and apartment building. Designed by Harry Mulliken, part of the duo that was the renowned architectural firm Mulliken & Moeller, the Iroquois was completed in October the next year, and once unveiled, it instantly became known as "the fashionable Iroquois apartment house and hotel." 1 The concept "apartment hotel" meant a property that housed permanent residents, whilst offering the luxury of hotel services. The Iroquois Hotel contained a few "beautiful apartments" furnished and unfurnished, available for lease. 2 The residents were usually people that owned properties elsewhere, and did not seek to own another in the city.

During the years, the hotel changed hands many times, but all of the owners managed to maintain it remarkably. The hotel had a high-class image, as an issue of the Hotel Gazette, released in 1936, states: "All through the dreary years of depression The Iroquois has gone on its tranquil way, never allowed to deteriorate, kept in the pink of condition, and always with a good house count of people who appreciate a quiet, refined, well-kept hotel."

3 In 1939 the impressive "Wigwam Bar" was opened at the hotel. The bar fittingly contained images of the pilgrims and the Native Americans. The head bartender at the Wigwam, Eddie Frank, invented two new cocktails: One in honor of the hotel appropriately named The Iroquois, and an imported champagne cocktail both being sold at 60 cents.

The next year the property was leased to the Iroquois Hotel Corporation, headed by William H. Peterken, a distinguished man in the hotel industry who was known for his "splendid record in New York Hoteldom."

4 Throughout the years The Iroquois encountered a number of notable happenings. These ranged from serving as a meeting place for many different women’s organizations, to a murder. The first major occurrence at the property happened in 1911. Paul Geidel, who was previously a bellboy at the hotel, murdered a resident at the hotel in his apartment. Geidel was sentenced to prison until 1980, which was entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest prison sentenced served. Then in 1949, the hotel housed the headquarters of The National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professionals. The committee sponsored the Cultural and Scientific Conference, for which prominent figures from all over the world were flown into the city. The year after, a large protest group assembled outside The Iroquois to march to Pennsylvania Station for a demonstration detesting the one-year prison sentence given to Hollywood writers Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson.

The hotel has also been home to a couple of celebrities. James Dean, who now has a suite named after him, lived at the hotel for two years in the beginning of the 1950s. Actress Mrs. Leecy R. Woods, the female lead in the Broadway musical "Earl of Ruston,” also lived at the property.

In February 1987, Jan Wallman, a respected and highly-praised figure in the Cabaret industry, opened a restaurant in The Iroquois, Jan Wallman’s Restaurant-Cabaret. She is recognized as having given coverage to Woody Allen, Joan Rivers and Rodney Dangerfield. Featured at her location were many performers that scarcely performed at anyone else’s venue.

In the late 1990s The Iroquois underwent an incredible transformation from historic NYC hotel to modern destination. In 1996, the current owner Shimmie Horn took over ownership of the hotel, which had been in his family since the late 1950s. A few years later, Mr. Horn affiliated the hotel with Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and started a $13 million renovation. Since the building used to be an apartment hotel there were many suites and larger living areas, which during the renovation were split up into rooms more suitably sized for a hotel. Other changes were made. The Dumont Barber shop, which had been on the first floor, was replaced with a quaint in-house library, the old photographers’ studio became the cocktail salon Lantern’s Keep, and a fitness center was added. The lobby was completely refurbished to solidify the property’s status as one of the finest historic hotels in NYC, and the bar and small restaurant were combined to make way for a larger restaurant, which is now the acclaimed Triomphe restaurant.

Researched and compiled by Rishma Bhalloo.

1 The World, New York, NY 11/01/1901
2 The Sun, 09/03/1906
3 Hotel Gazette, 06/20/1936
4 Hotel Gazette, 07/27/1940