Thursday, August 12, 2010

Holland House

Late in the 19th century Holland House was considered to be one of the best hotels in the world.[1] The Library of Congress holds an illustrated booklet which the proprietors gave guests when it opened for business in 1891.[2] This piece of promotional literature describes the glories of the hotel itself and gives the reader a short tour up the Avenue from its starting point in Washington Square. Something like today's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, it's remarkable, even for its time, in its slavish outpourings — celebrations of the trappings of wealth and of the opulence which can flow from expenditure of vast amounts of cash. There's no surprise in its total neglect of the horrible conditions endured by New York's poor in immigrant neighborhoods which bordered the famous avenue.

The little souvenir gives only a tiny drawing of the 5th Avenue Coaches I've been showing lately, but it does describe them: "The sybarite may make the journey [up the Avenue] in a drag, a tandem cart, or a carriage as delicately suspended as the cradle of a nobly born baby, but the ease and elegance of all these are eclipsed by the splendid outlook to be had from the roof of a three-in-hand stage coach. But the uptown driver is slow, for at every corner and between corners passengers are picked up so deliberately, that any one with half an eye can see every thing along the way and side issues as well."

Here are most of its illustrations:

1. The place itself. Built in 1890, it was a world-class hostelry back then and, surprisingly, still survives, although for many decades it's been an office building. The "Guest Souvenir" says the entrance "is, without exception, the finest piece of architectural door work in New York. It is built, as is the entire structure, of a limestone of peculiar beauty, and the carvings, which embellish the cornices and portico ceilings, are unrivalled in the art of stone work in the United States."

2. The lobby is appropriately impressive. Decorated in Sienna marble, it's said to be as artistically satisfying as any other of the rooms in the house. It's "finished in a manner which makes the arriving guest feel that his every comfort is assured" so the booklet says.

3. As in all world-class hotels, the kitchen is buried deep underground. Unlike many others, thise one is spacious, well-ventilated, and well-equipped. The proprietors are said to understand that "if the cuisine is not all right the guests will be displeased" and have thus made it "large and airy and, with its tile furnishings, as sweet and clean as any room in the house." The brochure tells us that from four to five hundred meals are prepared here each day.

4. Here is the café: "The furniture of this room is unexcelled. The style is picturesquely redolent of the antique. Exactly such furniture and decoration were common in Old Holland House, of London. The screens or windows which separate it from the main corridor are marvels of bronze, marble and glass work."

5. The author of the pamphlet becomes ecstatic about the buffet: "perhaps, the most artistic and chastely decorated buffet in America. Here there is not that clap-trap decoration which embellishes so many buffets in the country. Everything is 'inset' — the walls, ceilings and the Mosaic floor are all perfect specimens of the period they reproduce and of the arts they represent. And, instead of gaudy hangings and showy pictures, we have here art in its perfection from the frescoed ceiling and cornices to the floor."

6. He begins to run out of steam when he gets to the restaurant: "It is one of the most ornate rooms in this country. The decorations are perhaps the best reproductions of the Louis Quinze period. The panels of tapestry, and mirrors and relievo decorations are masterpieces."[3]

7. There's a Ladies' Billiard Room — not just for ladies, as you can see, but set aside for their enjoyment, presumably since they've been excluded from the gents' own.

8. Although "every one of the 330 bedrooms are furnished with equal excellence and elegance," the place boasts two over-wrought bridal suites which are "without compare, the most elaborately furnished and decorated bridal suites in any modern hotel."

9. A lady sets out for a jaunt up the Avenue. Madison Square lies in the background as a fashionable lady speaks to the driver of a hansom. Like the other FL in the background, she's unescorted — no gentleman, no lady's companion — showing her Edwardian spirit of independence (and of course her wealth).[4]


Here's a photo of Holland House with the Collegiate Church on its right.

{Holland House, New York, 1900, by Detroit Publishing Co.; source: NYPL Digital Library}

This is from Google Street View, showing roughly the same image today.

View Larger Map


The brochure touches on some topics I've covered lately.

1. Madison Square. "Unquestionably the greatest thoroughfare on the Western Continent is at the junction of Fifth Avenue, Broadway and Twenty-third Street, where at certain hours of the working day upwards of 800,000 human beings are swept past in the tide of travel forever rolling on towards the goal of Eternity. At this busy point Madison Square charms the sight, for here the grass is green and lovely the entire year, as if to rest the eye of the world weary. Here the children play and mock the birds and chase the butterflies; here the smartest nurse maids in America may be seen, and here the gentle and gifted George Francis Train sits by the hour, day after day, charming the birds out of their nests and the babies out of their wagons with the magic of his voice and the treasures of his pockets."

Here are some of the posts that show Madison Square:
2. The Marble Collegiate Church. "The Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, organized in 1628, is on the north-west corner of Twenty-ninth Street. It was chartered by William III in 1696, and the old bell cast in Amsterdam two-hundred years ago ornaments the church yard. It is the goodly neighbor of Holland House, and on its Dutch oak door is the benignant 'all are welcome.'"

Here are some of the posts that show the church:
3. The Croton Aqueduct. "Passing the Union League Club, corner Thirty-ninth Street, and the Republican Club, the sumptuous homes of the Misses Furness, the Kingslands and the Kipps, brings the stage coach to the old Croton aqueduct, which makes the eastern boundary of Bryant Park."

Here are some of the posts that show the aqueduct:

Some sources:

1890s, on the Living City web site (a digital library initiative intended to capture the experience of life, health, and urban transformation during the decades between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War I)

King's handbook of New York city: an outline history and description of the American metropolis, edited by Moses King, 1892

276 5th Avenue now a commercial office building

AIA Guide to New York City, by Norval White, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon (Oxford University Press US, 2010; AIA is the American Institute of Architects

New York Songlines: 5th Avenue
— "Named for Lord Holland's mansion in London, on which it was modeled, [Holland House] was considered one of the premier hotels in the world when built in 1890 (Harding & Gooch, architects). Gainesborough's Duchess of Devonshire, the most famous stolen painting of its day, spent the night here in 1901 after being recovered after being stolen for 25 years by criminal mastermind Adam Worth. (See All Around the Town, p. 217.)"

Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to Present

Holland house, Fifth avenue and Thirtieth street, New York (New York, H. M. Kinsley & Baumann, 1891); scanned at the Library of Congress and appearing on the Internet Archive



[1] "The Holland House (European) is but recently opened, and in some respects outranks any hotel in the country. It is a large building of Indiana limestone, 100 feet by 150, on Fifth Avenue and 3Oth Street. Special interest attaches to it for the reason that it is a careful reproduction of the old and famous Holland House of London, a concession to the taste of those who love things English. There are the coat-of-arms of Henry Rich, the first Earl of Holland, with the decorations and all the historic features of the celebrated Kensington mansion. The house is one of the architectural features of Fifth Avenue. The facade, upon which there is but little decoration, is broken with a handsome portico fifty feet long, supported upon four columns, four rows of bay windows, and other windows set in embrasures and arches. Two features of the interior are the large dining-room and a long promenade in the second story. The house is ten stories high, and has 350 rooms." -- King's handbook of New York city: an outline history and description of the American metropolis, edited by Moses King, 1892. See also: AIA Guide to New York City, by Norval White, Elliot Willensky, and Fran Leadon (Oxford University Press US, 2010; AIA is the American Institute of Architects

[2] Holland house, Fifth avenue and Thirtieth street, New York (New York, H. M. Kinsley & Baumann, 1891); scanned at the Library of Congress and appearing on the Internet Archive.

[3] NYPL's Digital Library has some menu scans for breakfast, lunch, supper, and dinner. They show an elaborate and expensive French cuisine. Here's the scan of the dinner menu for January 11, 1900. says that the one dollar a diner might spend on a joint of spring lamb would cost $26.40 today, using the Consumer Price Index method of comparison. But in terms of what the average bloke could afford then, the equivalent is way over $100 today: all of $191.00 based on production worker compensation then and now.

[4] Here are some highlights from the booklet's description of wondrous sights on Fifth:

Fifth Avenue is the promenade of America. Every cosmopolitan will admit that fact, whether a resident or a visitor of New York. ... It is the great artery of fashion, the highway of pleasure, the meridian of delight. ... In the tide of fashion that sweeps up one side and down the other, making the cobble stones and pavements fairly pulsate with life and gayety, the handsomest private equipage, the finest horses, the best dressed men and the prettiest women in the world, may be seen any day in the week from September till July. ... ... There is scarcely a single house the whole length of the famous thoroughfare that is not in some way individualized by the prominence and distinction of present or previous owners. ... [For example, one of them is inhabited by] Mr. Edward F. Searle, who married Mrs. Hopkins from whom he inherited the fabulous sum of $30,000,000. ... Mrs. William Astor's house No. 350, while a most unpretentious building, is a perfect store house of old bronzes, tapestries, marbles and rare paintings. This lady never refurnishes or remodels, being content with the mellow tones time puts on her belongings. ... At No. 501 is the Drawing-Room Club where the ultra fashionables meet weekly in faultless dress for their salon. ... Jay Gould's $700,000 brown stone is on the north-east corner of Forty-seventh Street, perfumed and beautified by the hybrid roses and rare orchids brought daily from his country seat at Tarrytown.

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