The 103-year-old, empty Hotel Pennsylvania caught fire on Monday afternoon, sending nearly 80 firefighters to the scene.
The fire broke out on the second floor of the hotel shortly after 2pm, as thick clouds of smoke billowed from the top of the 23-story building. The Hotel Pennsylvania, which closed in April 2020 and was in the process of being demolished, there were no injuries reported, and the fire was put out by approximately 2:45pm.
Originally built in 1919, the Hotel Pennsylvania was once a renowned New York landmark designed by famed architectural firm Mckim, Mead, and White (who were also behind Penn Station and Columbia University). At the time of its opening, Hotel Pennsylvania was the largest hotel in the world, with 2,200 rooms throughout its Beaux-Arts brick facade and sculptural molding.
The Hotel Pennsylvania held a firm place in the pantheon of New York lore — the directory was the city’s oldest phone number (1-212-736-5000) that would later serve as the inspiration for frequent hotel guest and band leader Glenn Miller’s Pennsylvania 6-5000. EB White was said to have written his ode to the city Here is New York in the span of one stay at the hotel. And in 1947, at a scientific conference, a little-known new technology known as Polaroid was unveiled.
Over time the Hotel Pennsylvania would lose its sheen, going through a series of ownership and name changes — becoming the Hotel Statler, followed by the Statler Hilton, back to the Statler, then the New York Penta, and eventually back to the original Hotel Pennsylvania. The once-glamorous destination became a less-than-desirable budget stay — as NY Magazine quoted in a Trip Advisor review, the Hotel Pennsylvania was now “A real-life episode of American Horror Story.”
The hotel was scheduled for demolition alongside Governor Hochul’s $7 billion Penn Station redevelopment plan, in which both the transit hub and surrounding area will undergo significant renovation and restructuring, though the Hotel Pennsylvania Project was notably rejected from receiving public funding. Developer Vornado Realty Trust plans to turn the Hotel Pennsylvania into a modern, glass-walled highrise office tower called “Penn15” (a name that sounds dangerously close to the hit TV-show Pen15, but we digress!). Despite significant community opposition to the “Hudson Yards-ing” of the area and the loss of historic facades, the project is moving forward and early stages of demolition were already underway at the time of the fire.
While Monday’s blaze may have sped up the Hotel Pennsylvania’s sad, slow goodbye, the symbolism of a once-revered urban icon succumbing to the swings of the wrecking ball and the flames of destruction is potent. As EB White wrote while at the hotel itself, “New York provides not only a continuing excitation but also a spectacle that is continuing.”