In February 2012, the Elk Hotel shuttered for good after nearly 90 years in business. Formerly one of the last hourly hotels in Times Square, the seedy flophouse has garnered a rather notorious reputation over the years. Of the four reviews on TripAdvisor, two have only one star—one comes from a self-proclaimed “former crackhead” who refers to the “crack hotel” as the scariest place he or she has ever seen. Another visitor, after discovering a torn-up letter in the garbage and the headboard covered in scrawled messages, describes a two-hour stay as a “surreal experience.
On our upcoming tour of Gritty Old Times Square, we’ll explore the seedy vestiges leftover from the ’70s, including Father Duffy’s church, a still-standing adult shop, and, the Elk itself—the remnants of which can still be found at 360 West 42nd Street. Despite its renown, the facade of the hot-sheet hotel would not elicit anything more than a quick glance. It’s situated between a Chinese restaurant and a convenience store on 42nd and 9th Avenue, where you’ll find clear double doors, tagged in graffiti and covered in signs that announce the hotel’s closure. Look up at the multi-storied, brick building and you’ll also see a blue “Elk Hotel” sign, a fairly new addition to the exterior, which previously held a non-descriptive neon sign that simply read “HOTEL.”
Gritty Old Times Square Tour
Unlike other businesses in the area, the Elk survived the “tortuous” redevelopment phase of Times Square, which began nearly forty years ago. At the time, the neighborhood was gritty and sexually diverse: 42nd Street was the Deuce; the Great White Way was a red light district and the Crossroads of the World was XXX-rated—lined with sex clubs, porno theaters and peepshows. Unsurprisingly, the Elk, which was constructed in 1925, catered to a motley crew of hookers, johns, junkies, winos, tourists and locals looking for a cheap night’s (or hour’s) stay.
According to a 2004 New York Times article, single rooms were rented out for $40 per night ($45 for a double) and hourly rentals were as low as $5/per hour until as recently as 1999, as Scouting NY reports. For less than $100, guests were supplied with a bed and a nightstand, but not much beyond that. There were no TVs, no phones, no air-conditioning and bathrooms (two per floor) were communal. In total, the three floors of the Elk Hotel once held 50 guest rooms—some occupied by permanent residents who paid a measly rent of $115 to $350 a month.
A commenter on a post from Vanishing NY writes that the Elk was owned in the early part of the 20th century by an Irish family, the Coens. At the time, it served as a first home to numerous immigrants coming to New York through Ellis Island. About a dozen or so of these roach motels once existed in Times Square, including the Evans on West 38th Street and the Woodstock on 43rd; they have since been demolished or remodeled, but the Elk stood the test of time due to a “real estate fluke,” as the building’s owner refused to sell the property.
Since the hotel closed to the public, posts on public forums and other sites have reported that the building was sold to a landlord named Martin Sanders of “Mollaney Investments.” The purchase reportedly completed the acquisition of an entire block of tenements along 9th Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets. A Building Information Search via the NYC Department of Buildings website uncovers no leads to corroborate that. However, Untapped Cities’ tour guide Robert Brenner tells us that the Elk and two adjoining properties have been on the market for redevelopment since 2013—so far, there have been no takers.
Today, the vestiges of the hotel stand as a lasting example of what Times Square used to be before generic hotels, steel office buildings, and glitzy advertisements flooded into the neighborhood. Yet, its legacy is certainly not forgotten by those who have booked overnight stays. “Despite–or maybe because of–its tawdriness–the Elk has its own Facebook group, “The Elk Hotel Appreciation Society,” where fans reminisce and post their photos of the place,” Brenner tells us.
To learn more about Times Square’s sordid history, join us on our next tour of Gritty Times Square!
Gritty Old Times Square Tour