This is a conceptual sketch of NYC’s proposed Gaudi Hotel, drawn by Juan Matemala. 

As one of the largest and most varied metropolises of the modern world, New York City is home to some stunning and interesting architecture. But it wasn’t always that way. Were it not for the dreams of enterprising architects, many of the buildings that have become beloved to NYC would never have graced the city’s skyline. And, unfortunately, many never did. In this column, we’ll showcase a different would-be NYC architectural dream, and tell you about the history behind the New York that never was. 

In May 1908, two unknown American businessmen with the dream of building a new hotel traveled to Spain to meet with the renowned Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi. (The novel The Gaudi Facade by J. S. Raynor, casts these businessmen as Edward T. Carlton, an American hotelier, and William Gibbs McAdoo, the president of the New York and New Jersey Railroad Company).

Gaudi (1852-1926) studied architecture in Barcelona, where he was surrounded by neo-classical and romantic designs. Gaudi became famous by reinterpreting these designs and working in the Art Nouveau and Art Moderne styles, and Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is considered to be his greatest work.  The American businessmen admired Gaudi’s unique vision, and asked him to design a hotel that would be situated in Lower Manhattan.

Gaudi designed multiple sketches of an 980 to 1,100 foot high hotel called the Hotel Atraccion (Hotel Attraction). It contained an exhibition hall, conference rooms, a theater, and five dining rooms, symbolizing the five continents. Had the hotel been built, it would have been the tallest building in New York City, and therefore in the United States. Sadly, this building would never be built. Carlton wanted the hotel to serve the city’s wealthiest and most elite clientele. Conflicted about this target audience, Gaudi remained true to his communist ideals, and he abandoned the project.

According to another version of the story, Gaudi fell ill in 1909 and that brought about the end of the project. All that survive of the exchange are conceptual sketches by Juan Matemala. But most importantly, its memory survives. Gaudi’s building was featured in an episode of the television show Fringe after the design for his hotel was submitted for a contest to decide what should be built in Lower Manhattan on the site of the World Trade Center.

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A screenshot from the episode of Fringe which featured a building based on Gaudi’s concept for the Hotel Attracion. Photo courtesy of Fringefiles.

The New York City that Never Was Series:

The New York City that Never Was: Part I Buildings

The New York City that Never Was: Part II Bridges

The New York City that Never Was: Part III Roadways and Railways

The New York City that Never Was: Part IV  A Visionary Dream of the 1916 Zoning Resolution

The New York City that Never Was: Part V The New York Public Library