Pulp fiction private detective Nick Carter would have been elated to investigate what was called the trial of the century. An intriguing triangle among a young beautiful model, an insane sadistic millionaire, and a world famous but elitist architect who wound up dead in 1905 in the magnificent Madison Square Garden he had designed.
Add some random suicides in the mix and you have a compelling history of two little known boutique hotels of New York: the Chatwal and the Evelyn.
Evelyn Nesbit was a beautiful young model from Pennsylvania, a chorus girl, and a Broadway actress who, during the first decade of the 1900s, was regarded as one of the most fascinating celebrities Gotham had ever seen. She was featured in Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan and posed for Prudential Life Insurance and Coca Cola ads, but at the age of sixteen, she was neither prudent nor cosmopolitan.
Rather, she was innocently but dangerously arousing the admiration of the patrons and also attracting the predatory attention of the prosperous. Among her earlier admirers was Stanford White who, at that time, was also three times her age.
Stanford White was the sophisticated star architect of McKim, Meade and White who had built for the establishment of New York, the Washington Square Park Arch, Pennsylvania Station, the New York Public Library, and Columbia University among many other buildings.
He was also known for having an unhealthy attraction for underage girls. Evelyn was lured by Stanford White into his apartment, and while she was sensually swinging from a famous velvet swing, she was drugged and abused.
Evelyn was not the only girl Stanford had abused, but she was the one who let the world know.
She flirted with Stanford on and off for a couple of years until she met sadistic and mentally unstable millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw.
In his twisted mind, Thaw hated Stanford White, whom he blamed for his not being accepted into New York’s elite. Both men had a parallel relationship with Evelyn until Thaw managed to convince her to marry him in 1905.
This was also the year that Stanford White was building the Lambs Club. In 1906 during an event on the rooftop of the magnificent Madison Square Garden, at the corner of Madison Square, Thaw approached Stanford and shot him dead in public. During the first “trial of the century” Thaw, however, was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity.
Stanford White had his office inside the Lambs Club, the club that actors and entertainers would call home.
It was an elegant building on 129-130 West 44th Street and Times Square that Stanford had designed in a neo-Georgian style with brick, marble, terracotta and decorated with a row of white ram heads and tasteful marble columns. At a point New York had three different actors’ clubs: the Lambs Club, the Friars Club and the Players. It was George S. Kaufman who, trying to clarify the situation, is believed to have said: “The Players are gentlemen trying to be actors, the Lambs are actors trying to be gentlemen and the Friars are neither trying to be both”.
When it was converted into a hotel, the Lambs Club had already hosted more famous guests than most of the nearby hotels. Although the members were called “lambs” you could rest assured there was more than one “Lion King” among the actors at the club– such as Charlie Chaplin, Irvin Berlin, John Wayne, Fred Astaire and Spencer Tracy. It was ironic, however, that in a club full of talented actors the main role was played, at the end, by its architect.
Stay the curse.
In 2010, the Lambs Club became the Chatwal Hotel and, while the elegant façade was left intact, the interior of the club was gutted and renovated in an updated Art-Deco style, with a profusion of custom designed furniture in every room, suede wall covering and leather-wrapped closets.
Political connections with illegal contributions, together with jet-set-drug allegations, fueled the scandals of the Chatwal Hotel owners, Sant Chatwal and his son Vikram Chatwal. Famous politicians like the Clintons were linked to them as well as supermodel Kate Moss and actress Lindsay Lohan, who was rumored to be Vikram’ s girlfriend.
Vikram was no Stanford, however, and Lindsay was no Evelyn, so at the end, even if the temperature was quite hot, no one ended up shot.
Gotham would have forgotten Evelyn’s name were it not for a peculiar hotel near Madison Square that was renamed the Evelyn Hotel in her honor. When built, the Evelyn was actually called the Argyle but that name did not last long, and at the official opening of the hotel in 1905 it was called the Broztell.
The Lambs Club and the Broztell had one thing in common: both hotels attended to people in the arts and entertainment who, in those days, were considered particularly distasteful to the pretentious upper class of New York.
The New York Times reported in 1906 that Daniel Ritchey almost lost the hotel when he had to put the Broztell up as bail after he was arrested for picking a fist fight with another broker in front of the Waldorf Astoria hotel on 34th street.
In 1912, it would have been tempting for detective Nick Carter to investigate the suicide of Mrs. Blanche Carson, who was from a very well-known family in Los Angeles and had just checked in at the Broztell Hotel, having just returned from a tour around the world. She had been accused of smuggling $ 20,000 worth in pearls and jewels while entering the United States. Shortly afterward she was found hanging from the window of her hotel room facing the main street.
Interesting cases that might have caught the attention of detective Carter kept accumulating. In 1920 a secretary for the Swedish Consulate committed suicide with an overdose of morphine, and in 1921 another guest of the Broztell, Robert Rosenfeld, was found dead after drinking from a glass containing cyanide of potassium, as reported by the New York Herald.
The Broztell went through a rough patch during Prohibition and the Times reported that the hotel was busted as a hub for smuggling liquor, which was particularly daring considering that the Prohibition headquarters was only two blocks away on 27th street.
In an unexpected twist, Detective Nick Carter was rattled by his last investigation into the suicide of American dime novelist Frederick Van Rensselaer, who had shot himself in his room at the Broztell Hotel. His suicide threatened to put an end to Carter’s long and successful career, given the fact that Van Rensselaer Dey was the author of about 40 million words on the adventures of Nick Carter himself.
And art starts to bloom after a long doom and gloom.
With detective Carter out of the picture, New York followed a downhill trend with a record number of homicides and a crack epidemic, and the Broztell Hotel became a welfare hotel.
In the early 90s, the Broztell was renamed the Gershwin Hotel and was transformed into a hotel-hostel with an intense artistic vibe, which started attracting artists from all over the world. Each floor of the hotel displayed a permanent art exhibition.
Finnish artist Stefan Lindfors set the façade of the hotel “on fire” with large plastic flames bursting into the street.
Danish and Finnish artists with “An Englishman in New York.”
Quentin Crisp, who was depicted in the famous song by Sting, “An Englishman in New York”, was among the artists frequenting the Gershwin hotel. Danish artist Jacob Fuglsang Mikkelsen settled at the Gershwin and created a performance piece where he “shot” people on the scene for his series called “Catcher in the Eye.” The hotel quickly turned into a hot avant-garde place for writers, artists and performers like Marcia Resnick, Paul Morrissey and Ultra Violet–the darling of Andy Warhol--and became party central featuring famous DJ Junior Vasquez and guests like Sophia Lamar and Amanda Lepore.
The beautiful Beaux-Arts building of the Evelyn Hotel, with its red brick and elegant large limestone arches was finally restored in 2017 to its original beauty and was named the Evelyn Hotel. It is today an elegant turn-of-the-century boutique hotel with sophisticated Art-Deco inspired interiors.
“The Silence of the Lambs.”
With Stanford dead, Thaw later locked into an insane asylum, and even Carter replaced by Mason and Colombo, at the end, it was only Evelyn that outlived all of them until 1967 when she died. Fortunately, both historic buildings were restored and preserved instead of being demolished as sadly, it’s more common in New York. The Chatwal is currently closed and the Lambs silenced but the Evelyn Hotel is open and alive. Evelyn endured everything, fought to survive and never allowed anyone to silence her; her spirit is the true spirit of New York that will last forever.