The Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights was once the largest hotel in New York City, built between 1885 and 1929. It was a hotspot for celebrities like Truman Capote, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, with a rooftop Egyptian nightclub, 17 ballrooms, and a pool renown for ornamentation and use of salt water. Today it sits in the heart of the neighborhood, serving as the entrance to the Clark Street subway stop, with transit goers streaming in and out of it daily probably unaware of its full history. This isn’t surprising, given what little is left of the building interior and in particular, the lobby, which is now the entrance corridor to the subway.
Indeed, while a large portion had been converted into co-ops in the 1970s and 80s, the once celebrated hotel had fallen into disrepair, housing what the New York Times described in 1995 as “a number of homeless people and AIDS patients — placed there by city agencies.” That year, most of the interior of the St. George Hotel complex which was destroyed in a massive fire which required 500 firefighters to put out, accidentally set by a con-man while scavenging for copper in the building.
But if you look closely, there are still some great remnants to discover in the St. George Hotel
1. Remnants in the Lobby
Original lobby of the St. George Hotel
In its 1995 report of the fire, the New York Times described, “Where a grand staircase and twin pillars formerly led to the front desk of the largest hotel in New York City, only the exterior walls remained standing.” Ironically, the hotel extension completed by Emery Roth, architect of the San Remo and more, was once advertised as “absolutely fireproof.” Most of the original lobby, parceled off to a developer in 1984, was converted somewhat haphazardly into the only entrance of the Clark Street subway station. Most of this entrance corridor is nondescript, even run down, with exposed fluorescent overhead lights, mismatched wall tiling, and functional businesses like a deli, flower shop and the like.
One item that appears to have remained from the hotel days is the Cutler metal mailbox. Digging into this particular model, it carries the original logo of Cutler, a Gothic-style eagle which remained only in use until the 1930s, as reported by the book Art Deco Mailboxes. In later models, the Gothic eagle morphed into an Art Deco one.