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Herald Towers, 50 West 34th Street: Review and Ratings

between Broadway & Fifth Avenue View Full Building Profile

Carter Horsley
Review of 50 West 34th Street by Carter Horsley

At the end of the 19th Century, many cities were inspired by the Beaux-Arts movement and the Colombian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago to create new and monumental civic environments. New York was no exception and Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station were two of the most important projects that helped transform midtown.

The primary architects of the terminal, Warren & Wetmore, went so far as to create a "Terminal City" that included many hotels around the new terminal in a very elegant style that included rusticated bases and considerable decoration at the top of the brown-brick buildings. These hotels included the Biltmore and Roosevelt on Madison Avenue and the Commodore on 42'd Street at Lexington Avenue. The Biltmore was rebuilt and reclad in polished red granite and converted into an office building and the Commodore was reclad in reflective glass. Only the Roosevelt at 45th Street remains essentially unchanged.

This 25-story building was erected as the McAlpin Hotel in 1913 and was very similar in style to the three "Terminal City" hotels, although it was designed by a different architect, F. M. Andrews.

It was converted in 1980 to one of the city's largest rental apartment buildings with 693 units, mostly studios and one-bedrooms, that became known as McAlpin House.

In 1999, the property was bought by JEMB Realty, owners of the Herald Center retail store on the southeast corner of 34th Street and the Avenue of the Americas, for $150 million and the new owners announced plans to upgrade the apartments as they become vacant. JEMB Realty said it would convert 70 apartments to furnished units, which section became known for a while as Churchill Residence Hotel.

In 1999, a New York Times article on the building said that 290 apartments were rent-stabilized and that 403 were free of rent controls.

Architecturally, the exterior of this hotel was the equal, if not better than the "Terminal City" hotels, although its interior spaces were not as lavish.

For many years, however, it had an impressive, vaulted "grill" room with attractive tile murals with maritime themes by Fred Dana Marsh that was known as the McAlpin Grill. The restaurant survived in various guises until the late 1980s and was facing demolition when a group of civic organizations including the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Municipal Art Society came to its rescue and arranged for six large lunettes to be transferred to the passageways of the Broadway-Nassau station on the A line subway.

According to an article by David W. Dunlap April 29, 2001 in The New York Times, "students working under Vel Riberto of the M.T.A. Arts for Transit Program reassembled the jumbled pieces, which were turned over for conservation to the Alan M. Farancz Painting Conservation Studio and then reinstalled by New York City Transit workers."

This building's location was just as prominent as the "Terminal City" hotels, indeed, probably more so since it was the dominant building at this very major crossroads in Midtown. Moreover, it anchors much of the western end of the block whose eastern end is now anchored by the Empire State Building, the city's most famous and most visible landmark.

Herald Square is named after the very handsome, two-story Venetian-palazzo-style headquarters of the New York Herald newspaper designed by McKim, Mead & White that anchored its northern end and which had a clock whose hours were rung by Stuff and Guff. The clock and the bell-ringers were removed to the small triangular park at the north end of this bowtie intersection when the Herald's building was demolished. (The south end of the intersection is also a triangular park between Broadway and the Avenue of the Americas that is know as Greeley Square, named after the famous editor, Horace Greeley.)

The most famous building on the square after the Herald's was, and remains, Macy's Department Store, built in stages from 1902 to 1931, and the handsomest building is the former Hotel Martinique, now a Holiday Inn, on the northeast corner of Broadway and 32nd Street that was erected in 1897 and designed by Henry J. Hardenbergh who would a few years later design the Plaza Hotel.

This building has a health club on its top two floors with weight room, yoga, Pilates and dance studio, a 24-hour uniformed front desk and concierge, a roof deck on its top two floors, an on-site attended package room, in-house dry cleaners, a large laundry facility on the third floor, and excellent access to transportation and shopping.

Apartments have brushed stainless steel refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers, hardwood flooring, ceiling heights range from 7 feet five inches to 10 feet and bathrooms have marble tiling from floors to ceilings.

It also has one of the city's busiest locations.

What was once proclaimed to be the largest hotel in the world, this building was at one time converted to condominium apartments in 2005.

Known now as Herald Towers, it is owned by JEMB Realty Corp., a family company controlled by Joseph Jerome and his father-in-law, Morris Bailey, which recently got a $136 million refinancing for the property.

When it was erected in 1912 as the McAlpin Hotel, the 25-story structure which occupies the east blockfront on Broadway between 33rd and 34th Streets, had 1,620 rooms, 1,100 baths and 1,800 telephones.

The building, now has 693 apartments, half studios and half one-bedrooms. Starting prices for the studio units were $425,000 and starting prices for the one-bedrooms was $725,000.

The red-brick building has a four-story limestone base and its top five floors are very nicely decorated in limestone. The building has two light wells along Broadway where part of its façade is angled.

In 2006, a legal dispute between the owners of the building and the sponsor firm they had contracted to convert it to condos erupted.

In May, 2006, prices were cut by about 10 percent by Property Markets Group, the sponsor in an attempt to gather sufficent sales contract to declare the conversion active.

The 11th amendment to the building's "offering plan" disclosed the dispute and permitted buyers the right to get out of their contracts. According to June 11, 2006 article in The New York Times by Josh Barbanel "more than 70 of the 125 units previously sold backed out, according to some of the brokers who lost commissions on those sales." "But as soon as the deadline to rescind a purchase agreement had passed," the article continued, "the Property Markets Group filed another amendment...lowering prices, infuriating many buyers who had stuck with the project, but now saw identical apartments offered for far less than they paid."

The article noted that the legal dispute was "essentially a power struggle over the control of the building and hundreds of millions of dollars in potential profits resulting from the run-up in real estate prices in the recent boom in condominiums."

At one point, the owner filed a complaint against Property Markets Group alleging that it was violating the building's certificate of occupancy by renting out apartments as hotel rooms by the night and Property Markets Group said it had rented a block of apartments to the WooGo Group and that it went to court and got WooGo evicted. The dispute did not end there, however, as the building owner, according to court papers, was leasing blocks of apartments to the Churchill Residence Suites and the building owner then sought to terminate Churchill's lease.

The situation got even more complicated when the building owner objected that Property Market Group agreed to sell almost all of its interest in the project to Baruch Singer, a deal that the building owner objected to.

Eventually, the building reverted to rentals.

The building's fundamentals, of course, are still sound: handsome architecture, extremely central location, great public transportation, good shopping.

At one time the building was home to radio stations WEVD and WMCA.

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