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A Gotham Evolution

May 17, 2013
A Gotham Evolution

The early 1900s saw major construction on one of the most iconic streets in the world – Fifth Avenue in New York City. There was the new site for the University Club – whose Mediterranean Revival Italian Renaissance palazzo-style exterior is argued to be the first to set Fifth Avenue’s patrician tone – as well as the opening of the New York Public Library’s main branch and the St. Regis Hotel which, at 18 storeys, was the tallest in the city at the time of its completion in 1904. Also joining this league of legends was The Gotham – now The Peninsula New York.

Sculptures of ancient Roman Goddesses Ceres and Diana still adorn the entrance of the building today. Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture, is seen carrying a cornucopia while Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, carries her signature bow and arrow, acting as symbols that represent agriculture and commerce respectively. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, agriculture formed the basis for much of the wealth at the time, while commerce was, and still is, a perpetual hunt for profits and advantage.

Throughout its history, The Gotham continued to be sold and resold until it was taken over by Swiss hotel owner Rene Hatt in 1979, who initiated an epic renovation, spanning nearly a decade and costing a cool US$ 200 million. The renovation included the construction of the hotel’s iconic rooftop health club and pool and, Hatt being an avid lover of discos and jazz, New York’s first ever public discotheque, L’interdit, in the basement.

It wasn’t until 1988 that the building fell into the stable hands of The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited, who opened The Peninsula New York that same year, and in 1998 closed the building for renovation once again to the tune of US$ 45 million. The 241 guest rooms were gutted and rebuilt to a new standard – think luxurious oversized bathrooms with televisions over the bath tubs – which would place The Peninsula in competition with the most elite hotels in New York.

But even after countless dramatic renovations, hints of the original Gotham remain, including the heavily figured lobby ceiling and rear fire stairs, proving that old certainly does not always read as outdated. The Peninsula New York, still sitting proudly on Fifth Avenue, is without is without a doubt a New York landmark.