Seven decades later, New York still is a thriving city and elements that made it distinctive then are evident once again today. The Yankees remain tops in the standings; some of the hottest jazz around can be heard in clubs or on the streets after dark; and while the flappers may be nowhere to be found, Roth's creations remain an integral part of the city's landscape.
Perhaps no other architect of this century has made such an indelible mark on the skyline as Roth with such grand creations as the St. Moritz, The San Remo and The Normandy. In 1898, when he opened his practice, the rapidly growing New York City economy provided seemingly endless opportunities to shape the cityscape and change the way buildings were designed.
In 1997, Manhattan East Suites Hotels, New York's largest all-suite hotel group, purchased one of Roth's great works from 1927: the Hotel Beverly. Considered by many to be one of Roth's most successful creations, the Beverly was highly regarded for the vitality and warmth in its design, inspiring even the legendary artist Georgia O'Keeffe to paint it from her apartment across the street.
Manhattan East, a family-owned company, and a New York institution in itself, recently renamed this property the Hotel Benjamin in honor of its patriarch and company founder, Benjamin J. Denihan Sr. The company then announced plans for a compete renovation of the property, which opened earlier this year.
Manhattan East sought a design team that would restore the 30-story building to the classic elegance and European style embodied by the '20s era, yet update it to accommodate the high-tech needs and user-friendly requirements of today's business traveler.
Manhattan East selected an award-winning team to handle the challenging project including the interior design firm Di Leonardo International, Warwick, RI, and the architectural firm Ronald Schmidt & Associates, Englewood, NJ.
With more than 25 years of experience, including hotel projects for Ritz-Carlton, Westin and Forte, Di Leonardo was charged with the task of providing a new look for the property while enhancing the elements that made Roth's design so distinctive.
"I set out by first considering what qualities most appeal to the international traveler. The conclusion was that cosmopolitan European influences, sophistication, style and comfort were all necessary elements to be incorporated," said Robert Di Leonardo, president.
The Benjamin Hotel project expanded the property from 188 rooms to 209 rooms, including 97 one-bedroom suites and a deluxe two-bedroom suite. The distinctive nature of the building allows for each room to offer something different. Guest rooms are equipped with amenities that may include small galleys, chaise lounges, oversized club chairs and sleep sofas.
The galleys feature state-of-the-art appliances, glass-door cabinets and granite countertops. Guests also enjoy special touches such as custom shower caddies and top-of-the-line stereo systems that ensure a comfortable stay.
With its intimate, boutique-style setting, the Benjamin is the first executive suite hotel among the other nine hotels in the Manhattan East group. As an executive suite hotel, the Benjamin has been designed to allow executives to work and relax in a private setting without compromising comforts and amenities. The property is equipped with the ultimate in technological and business amenities including generously scaled executive desks, ergonomic desk chairs, two-line telephones with voice mail, data ports and a separate line for a combination fax/printer/copier/scanner.
PUBLIC SPACES SET TONE
Inspired by Mansions in the Sky, a book on Emery Roth's architecture, Di Leonardo has altered the interior of the Benjamin to incorporate architectural elements such as arches in the lobby to provide a stunning backdrop for the intimacy of the public space.
"We describe our style as modern elegance. We tried to put ourselves in the mindset as if Emery Roth were designing the hotel today. The Benjamin reflects a new Emery Roth design for the millennium," said Di Leonardo.
Di Leonardo's modern elegance style springs from the need to have an environment composed of many different looks all constructed around a strong, unusual, striking, cosmopolitan feel. The lobby and reception areas communicate the sophisticated image of the entire hotel, establishing the mood and anticipation as to what lies ahead. The exceptional levels of detail apparent in both the reception desk and a sweeping grand staircase balance a soft neutral background of warm marble and elegant upholstered walls covered with carved silk damask velvet.
The palette is rich, sophisticated and upbeat with silvers and taupes decorating the raised metal leaf reception desk. Texture plays a very important role in creating interest, identifying details and establishing comfort and luxury with a lasting elegance. Sweeping Venetian mirrors serve as a focal point of the lobby and bring a monumental feeling to the space.
Atop the grand staircase, the guest lounge reflects an urban sophistication. Boardrooms and meeting rooms on this level are equipped with the most up-to-date technology, yet the arched windows were retained to keep the integrity of the exterior architectural influences. This design marries the Old World charm that was evident in Roth's work with today's modern essentials.
Maintaining and improving upon the distinctive exterior was the responsibility of Ronald Schmidt & Associates. The company has worked on several historical preservation projects for theaters, churches, cultural centers and colleges. The firm's work on the Benjamin's exterior honors the traditional aspects of the original facade while preserving the integrity of the famed neighborhood's ambiance and charm.
The restoration of the hotel is a vital part of the project as Roth's building was known for its Romanesque arcades, crenelated parapets, Gothic-style rose windows and terra cotta birds looking out from hideaways. "We haven't lost any of the building's aesthetics. If anything, we've added to the splendor to give the Benjamin a more sophisticated look," said Ronald Schmidt, president. A special focus was placed on integrating the hotel's signage, security cameras and fixtures into the building's original design as well.
While representing a new concept for Manhattan East, the Benjamin reflects a design and atmosphere that evokes an era that will not be forgotten, not while Roth's legacy still dots the city's landscape and not while the spirit that made the city a world center lingers.