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The legendary Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan has witnessed key events in American history over its 97-year existence. But now there’s a debate boiling about whether the hotel, which closed for business in 2020, should be designated as a landmark.
“A lot of people have fond memories of the Roosevelt Hotel,” said Andrea Goldwyn, the director of public policy at the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “The hotel has been a part of New York’s history for almost a century.”
The Roosevelt Hotel, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, opened on September 22, 1924, on E45th Street between Madison Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown. It closed on December 18, 2020 — a victim of the pandemic’s impact on the travel industry.
The hotel’s elegant interior design and 1920s architecture are part of the historic Terminal City, which originated during the reconstruction of Grand Central Terminal, from 1903 to 1913, when the city moved the station above ground to create commercial and office developments. Buildings like the Roosevelt rose during that time to provide accommodation for the developments.
The hotel served as an election headquarters Governor Thomas Dewey when he defeated Harry Truman and was the venue for a meeting with A. Philip Randolph to start planning the 1963 March on Washington. It also featured in movies such as Boiler Room, Man On A Ledge, Wall Street, Quiz Show, Malcolm X, Men in Black 3, Maid in Manhattan, and Netflix’s The Irishman.
Now The Municipal Art Society, Historic District Council, The New York Landmarks Conservancy, and The City Club of New York are fighting to keep the Roosevelt in the spotlight, co-signing a letter to the NYC Landmark Preservation Commission requesting that the Roosevelt Hotel be recognized as a New York City landmark.
Francoise Bollack, an architect since 1982 and chair of The City Club of New York Preservation Committee, argues that since the hotel has now closed and is empty due to the pandemic, it is at greater risk of being demolished.
She said: “All the other significant hotels that were part of Terminal City, The Biltmore, The Commodore…have all been demolished. [The Roosevelt Hotel] is one of the last ones, and so it’s very important to preserve it…We feel it’s really at risk and we need to do something about it.”
The city has not designated any of the buildings that were part of Terminal City on the East Side of Grand Central as landmarks and there have already been multiple attempts to landmark the hotel over the past four decades.
Bollack believes that “politics is why it is taking so long” for the hotel to become a monument, and now that the hotel is closed and empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic it continues to be at great risk of being demolished.
According to the Landmark Preservation Commission, for a building to be a landmark, it must “be at least 30 years old” and “have a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation.”
During the Manhattan Community Board’s 5 Landmarks Committee Meeting in November 2021, the Landmarks Committee chair, Layla Law-Gisiko suggested that giving the Roosevelt Hotel landmark status could bring business to the community.
“Big tech craves historic buildings. Google is in a historic building. Amazon is in a historic building. Facebook is in a historic building, and Apple just signed a lease in another historic building, this is where they want to be. So very clearly there is a very, very robust market for [landmarked] kinds of properties,” she said.
In a letter read during the meeting, Dr Najeeb Samie, the President of the Roosevelt Hotel Corporation Operating Company, opposed the Roosevelt Hotel becoming a landmark.
“[The Roosevelt Hotel Corporation Operating Company] strongly oppose it…. The hotel has been forced to close its doors during these testing times when the pandemic still has not ended and the future is uncertain; the city must help its businesses with all kinds of support. The RHC needs to be able to evaluate all business options without the restrictions attendant to [a landmark] designation,” the letter said.
However “the New York City Landmarks Law does not require owner consent for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate. This was affirmed by the Supreme Court,” explained Francoise Bollack.
She argued: “[the city] can do a lot of things with these buildings. They can build on top. They can renovate them. There’s no reason to demolish a whole twenty story building to build three floors on top of it. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Dr. Sammy declined the request for further comment.
The Committee voted 13 to 1 to present the motion that the Roosevelt Hotel should be considered for the designation of landmark status to the full community board on January 13, 2022.
The next step — if the full board moves to approve the motion to consider the Roosevelt Hotel for landmark status — is that a research group at the NYC Landmark Preservation will present to the full commission, and then the commission will vote at a public meeting on whether to approve the hotel for landmark status.
The time frame “depends on several factors, including the amount of research required, whether is a single structure or a district, community involvement, etc,” said Meghan DeVito, public information associate at The NYC Landmark Preservation Commission.
Briana Ellis-Gibbs is the student council president at Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism with a concentration in arts and culture and visual journalism. She is a freelance writer and is pursuing a career as a photo editor.