2. Murals on 54
Murals on 54 is located in the Warkwick Hotel‘s former Raleigh Room, both of whose names were derived from Dean Cornwell’s works of art. In 1937, publisher and Citizen Kane, William Randolph Hearst, commissioned Dean Cornwell to paint a mural for the restaurant at the Warwick Hotel, which he owned.
Cornwell painted the 1584 scene of Sir Walter Raleigh receiving his charter from Queen Elizabeth I and Raleigh landing at the lost colony of Roanoke. Cornwell and Hearst reached a barter agreement for the murals. However, their agreement is a lesson in why one should never barter with an artist. As a result of a dispute which arose from the agreement, Cornwell painted, what one journalist at the time described as “one of the most colorful spots in the City.” Cornwell’s revenge art included a depiction of a man urinating on the Queen, another man urinating on Sir Walter Raleigh, and an American Indian without his pants. Cornwell and Hearst eventually worked out their differences and Cornwell painted over one of his colorful additions. As a result of the controversy surrounding Cornwell’s creativity, the mural on the left side of the restaurant was covered for more than forty years. The murals were later restored and adds to the ambiance of the restaurant.
Dean Cornwell was chosen by Hearst because of his reputation and his abilities. He was known as the Dean of American Illustrators. Born in 1892, Cornwell worked his way through magazine illustrations (for Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, and Good Housekeeping) before becoming the President of the Society of Illustrators in 1922. In the late 1920s, Cornwell began his career as a muralist. His commissions graced the Los Angeles Public Library, the Detroit Athletic Club, Rockefeller Center, New York’s General Motors Building at the 1939 World’s Fair, the Bethlehem Steel Company, the New England Telephone headquarters building in Boston, and the 21 Club, which unfortunately closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and may never reopen.
Cornwell died in 1960, but his work is still coveted. The Warwick Hotel was approached by the Museum of Modern Art, which wanted to purchase Cornwell’s murals for $100,000. Patrons at Murals on 54 are lucky the hotel declined the museum’s offer.