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The 103-year-old, empty Hotel Pennsylvania caught fire on Monday afternoon, sending nearly 80 firefighters to the scene. 

Smoke billows from the top of the Hotel Pennsylvannia on Monday afternoon. Photo via Citizen

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. 

Hotel Pennsylvania is to be demolished. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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.”

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7 Comments

  1. Another office building that we probably don’t need. Too bad the hotel could not have been updated. My parents spent a week there on their honeymoon in December 1947. My high school senior prom was held there when it was the Statler Hilton. Many memories!

  2. There will always be a need for new office space in midtown Manhattan. I never heard anything so ridiculous. This building was clearly run down and not maintained. Here’s to new memories for all!

    1. Wait until you get rundown and discarded. Then you won’t be so flippant regarding a once symbol of modern & exciting NYC. Once home of the Big Band era.

  3. For many, it was the first building you see when you came to New York via train years ago. [ Grand Central notwithstanding] . Time moves on like Times Squares rebuild in the 90s under Mayor Giuliani. As a New York City firefighter in the area for years, I can tell vacant properties like this are very dangerous if left alone for years awaiting new plans. Another historic building gone, in with the new, time moves on.

  4. My first night spent in New York at the age of 7 in 1972 was at the Statler Hilton. Each room’s entry door was almost a foot thick as there were smaller doors within it to access your dry cleaning. We stayed there many times until it after it became the Penta, then we moved to the Halloran House. Unfortunately the last time I walked into the lobby there, it had fallen into a state of disrepair. And, the rooms were EXTRAORDINARILY small.

  5. This once gorgeous building was purposefully allowed to turn into a state of disrepair along with horrific “renovations” so there was NO CHANCE of it getting a landmark designation…The once spectacular Cafe Rouge’s amazing architectural detail and woodwork was PAINTED OVER to make sure restoration was impossible… This is going to continue in NYC until it looks like Detroit today…

  6. It was built in an era when the railroad was the major form of transportation. Visitors from elsewhere could leave Penn Station and go to the Hotel. Well, rail travel no longer is the dominant form of transport
    ( though Amtrak is doing great job of running a nationwide rail road), the Hotel could not compete with newer glitzier properties. I think that the owners should build their tower, but incorporate elements like columns at the entrance or aspects of the lounge where Glenn Miller played . That would make the new building stand out and be something special.

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