Prince George Hotel
The elegant Prince George Hotel was built in 1904 by Howard Greenley. It quickly earned a reputation for being one of the city’s most modern and lavish hotels, and the first with private bathrooms in each room. In addition to its modern amenities, the hotel also featured a majestic Main Lounge with ornate ceilings and murals. In the late twentieth century, however, the city began using the property as a welfare hotel for hundreds of homeless families. Eventually the families were forced to leave the property, which sat vacant for a number of years and was nearly demolished. More recently, the building was renovated and is used as apartments for low-income residents, homeless people, and people with HIV/AIDS. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Backstory and Context
Many historic New York properties have storied pasts, and the Prince George Hotel is no exception. The hotel was built in 1904. The area around the hotel, Madison Square, was a bustling social center at the time and the completion of the Lexington Avenue Subway transformed it into a commercial district as well. The architect behind the hotel was Howard Greenley, who was president of the Architectural League of New York.
Greenley assured that the new property would be an opulent addition to the city’s landscape. The hotel, then one of the city’s largest, was designed in the Beaux Arts style with ornate elements throughout the building, including arched ceilings, Renaissance-style murals, and a massive, 5,000 square foot Main Lounge with elaborately plastered pillars. The hotel was also the first to have private bathrooms in each guest room. The hotel’s restaurants became favored gathering places for the city’s well-heeled denizens.
Like the city as a whole, the Prince George entered a long period of decline in the 1970s. Tourism in the city declined, and the Prince George was one of a number of hotels in the city to accept city contracts to house homeless families. Hundreds of families were crammed into the once-grand hotel, with perhaps as many as 1,500 children living in the building at any given time. The hardwood floor of the ballroom was painted over and used as a basketball court. The city had minimal resources or security to offer residents at the Prince George, and drug use and crime became rampant. One of the most notorious addresses in the city, the Prince George came to be known as “hell’s embassy in Manhattan.”
By the early 1990s, the homeless families were forced out of the property and it sat vacant for a number of years. It was an eyesore in the neighborhood and many residents blamed it for the area’s decline. In 1996, the building was purchased by Common Ground (now known as Breaking Ground), and with federal, state, and private funds, the organization began an extensive renovation of the Prince George. The renovation was overseen by Beyer Blinder Belle, the same firm which was responsible for the renovation of Grand Central Station.
The renovated property began welcoming new tenants in 1999. It now provides 416 units of affordable housing for low-income residents, the homeless, and people with mental illness or HIV/AIDS. The property also provides on-site social, medical, and psychiatric services.
The restored ballroom is now used as an event space and has been featured in television shows and movies. The Prince George is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
An Elegant Old Hotel Gives New Life to the Homeless. Gotham Gazette. . Accessed May 07, 2019. http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/about/2969-an-elegant-old-hotel-gives-new-lives-to-the-homeless.