Palate hotel exterior
Entrance to the Lotte New York Palace.

The Lotte New York Palace Hotel, a grand edifice once known as the Helmsley Palace Hotel and later the New York Palace Hotel, incorporates the Gilded Age’s famed Villard Houses into a 55-story luxury hotel. Today, the hotel combines timeless extravagance with 21st-century luxury in Midtown East.

Railroad mogul Henry Villard originally built the six-home mansion complex, the Villard Houses, to compete with the extravagant Vanderbilt family home that some consider the face of Millionaire’s Row. Villard, though, lost his palace to bankruptcy. Since then, the houses have become part of a luxury hotel that has moved through the hands of the Archdiocese of New York, various hotel corporations, and even a foreign government.

Besides its historic incorporation of the Gilded Age‘s Villard Mansion, the Lotte Palace Hotel has also found fame through its media appearances in series including Inventing Anna and Gossip Girl. To learn more about the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, join Untapped New York Insiders for another lively conversation with Richard Roth Jr. as he takes listeners through some of his family’s greatest achievements in hotel architecture, including some of his own. Listen to Roth Jr.’s stories about one of his most infamous clients, the Hemsleys who opened the Helmsley Palace Hotel in 1981. Become a member today (use code JOINUS for your first month free).

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Emery Roth & Sons Hotel Talk

Here are our top 10 secrets of the Lotte New York Palace Hotel in New York City.

1. The Government of Brunei once owned the Palace Hotel

Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue
Exterior view of the Lotte New York Palace Hotel.

Villard lost the Villard Houses after he went bankrupt, beginning the hotel’s legacy of ownership switches. After the hotel experienced severe financial difficulties, the Helmsley family ceded the hotel to the family of Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah in 1993. 

The money problems only continued under Bruneian royalty, though. A private venture company led by Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the younger brother of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, purchased the hotel. Prince Jefri Bolkiah, who was also the finance minister, allegedly embezzled $16 billion dollars during his tenure, resulting in the seizure of some of his properties by the government of Brunei. From 2007 to 2011, the Brunei government had ownership of the hotel until the American investment company Northwood Investment acquired it.

2. The land under The Lotte New York Palace is owned by the Archdiocese of New York

St. Patrick's Cathedral
View of St. Patrick’s Cathedral from the entrance of the Lotte Palace Hotel.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral sits just across the street from the Palace Hotel. Though one property is used for worship and the other is used for lodging, both are tied to the Catholic Church. Despite the many ownership changes experienced by the hotel, nobody, except the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, has owned all the land on which the Palace Hotel sits since 1971. Owners of the hotel have air rights, meaning they can build vertically on the land, but the land itself is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.

When Helmsley owned the hotel, the archdiocese leased the air rights to the Palace Hotel for 99 years for $1 million per year. The price, though, has since increased. In 2017, the Archdiocese of New York filed for a $100 million mortgage on the hotel property in order to pay victims of sexual abuse who choose not to take legal action against the archdiocese.  

3. A hotel security guard offers a secret tour of the Lotte Palace Hotel

Maurice Legere at in the Lotte Palace Hotel Lobby
Maurice Legere, a hotel security guard turned Gossip Girl tour guide, in the Lotte Palace Hotel Lobby.

The Palace Hotel appears in several episodes of the popular 2007 TV drama Gossip Girl as the setting for various escapades of Manhattan’s fictional elite. Maurice Legere, a hotel security guard turned Gossip Girl tour guide, took Untapped New York on a tour of the show’s filming locations within the hotel. Legere has offered secret Gossip Girl tours for 11 years. But there’s a catch: you have to track down Maurice to get the tour. There is no formal registration or official tour.

After showing up in the hotel lobby, asking several hotel employees for a tour, and being redirected to various phone extensions, Untapped New York finally met a well-dressed Legere at the bottom of the Grand Staircase. Legere began the tour at the Grand Staircase and whizzed through an assortment of ornate ballrooms, libraries, and offices, where he insists on taking photos of his guests. Throughout the tour, he recites stories of fictional marriage proposals, drug deals, and romantic escapades from Gossip Girl despite only having watched a few minutes of the show himself. If you can find him, he might just give you the tour.

4. The Lotte New York Palace Hotel once rejected Prince Charles

Palace hotel exterior
Entrance to the Lotte New York Palace.

When Prince Charles of England tried to stay in the Palace Hotel shortly after its grand opening in 1980, he was denied a room. The royal rejection was the result of an insufficient number of open suites at the time. Helmsley joked to The Christian Science Monitor in 1981 that the hotel would name a suite after Prince Charles as a result of the rejection.

Prince Charles is not the only high-profile guest to seek a stay in the Lotte New York Palace Hotel. The hotel has hosted Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, President Obama, and other prominent guests. The casts of Inventing Anna, Succession, Saturday Night Live, and others have also frequented the hotel during filming.

5. According to Leona Helmsley, people would fall off the Lotte New York Palace’s original toilet seats

Room in the Palace Hotel
Room in the Lotte Palace Hotel.

Leona Helmsley, hotel manager and wife of billionaire developer Harry Helmsley, went to Richard Roth Jr. in 1971 with a list of problems she had with the hotel. One of her chief complaints was that people were falling off the hotel’s toilet seats. Roth Jr. then asked a friend staying at the hotel if he could come over and sit on the toilet to test Mrs. Helmsley’s claim. When Roth Jr. sat in the toilets, he found the seats to be the “cheapest piece[s] of nonsense ever.”

Carl Morse, head of Diesel Construction, had been tasked with sourcing only the best toilet seats, but instead, failed by purchasing cheap, inadequate seats for the level of luxury the hotel. According to Roth Jr., Morse and Mrs. Helmsley had an ongoing feud, fueled in part by the toilet seat situation. This toilet incident was indicative of Mrs. Helmsley’s ruthless management style that fuelled her legacy as “Queen of Mean.” Mrs. Helmsley would later serve 18 months in prison for tax evasion among several other charges.

6. The Lotte New York Palace serves $250 cocktails in The Gold Room

The Gold Room at the Lotte Palace Hotel.

Before the hotel opened, the Gold Room served as a locus for religious services overseen by the archdiocese, but when Roth first saw the room, he thought it would be the “perfect place for cocktails.” Today, guests can order from the new “Art of the Martini” cocktail menu in the Villard Mansion.

”The menu’s featured martini, “The Reserve,” is the most expensive item on the menu at $250. The martini is made with saffron containing Nolet’s Reserve Gin, which retails for $700 a bottle. The menu also alludes to the hotel’s South Korean ties with its Seoul-ful cocktail featuring Golden Barley Soju. The new menu is meant to welcome the return of New York nightlife while transporting patrons to the Gilded Age as they sip cocktails surrounded by original architecture from the early 1880s. 

7. The South Korean Lotte Corporation purchased the New York Palace Hotel for $805 million in 2015

Interior of the Lotte New York Palace Hotel
Interior of the Lotte New York Palace Hotel.

In 2015, the South Korean business conglomerate Lotte Corporation purchased the hotel from Northwood Investors for $805 million. The Lotte Corporation is a holding company that has diverse interests beyond the hotel industry including chewing gum, chocolate, and duty-free shops. Lotte also owns hotels across Asia and the United States, including the Lotte Hotel Seattle and the Lotte Hotel Guam. The acquisition of the New York Palace Hotel was part of the company’s initiative to own 50 Lotte hotels by 2020.

When Lotte Corporation took over the hotel, it changed the name of the hotel from the New York Palace Hotel to the Lotte New York Palace. The Seoul-based conglomerate inherited a $140 million renovation of the hotel that added event space and upgraded suites. The hotel is a top luxury hotel in New York City on Tripadvisor.

8. The Lotte New York Palace was originally planned as an office building

The lobby of the Lotte Palace New York Palace Hotel.

In 1980, architect firm Emery Roth & Sons completed a tower that would become part of the lasting silhouette of the Palace Hotel. Richart Roth Jr., Emery Roth’s son, told Untapped New York that in 1972, Emery Roth finished the drawings for a version of the tower that was intended to become an office building. But that same year, “banks had stopped loaning money” because there was “no work” in the city, according to Roth.

When Roth and developer Harry Helmsley tried to get a loan to build the office building tower above the Villiard houses, they were denied and told that there were already too many office buildings in the city. The failure to obtain a loan came during the era of “stagflation” and an emerging recession. Nobody wanted to build office buildings, so Harry Helmsley decided to build a hotel. 

9. Dr. Dre and Lady Gaga launched their Beats headphones in the library of the Lotte New York Palace

Library inside the Lotte Palace Hotel
The library inside the Lotte Palace Hotel.

One year before Lady Gaga released “Poker Face” in 2009, the pop star collaborated with Beats by Dre and Monster Cable to launch textured, triangular earbuds available in red, black, and white. Their design is emblematic of Lady Gaga’s strong personal style, the earbuds had a launch event in the library of the Palace Hotel.

Lady Gaga’s ruffled, skin-colored romper and fishnets contrasted the shelves of hardcover books in the library. Large posters with the “Beats” logo covered the library’s books to provide a backdrop for promotional photos. At the event, Lady Gaga and rapper Dr. Dre, the owner of Beats by Dre, buzzed about a potential music collaboration, but it never came. 

10. The Lotte New York Palace Hotel’s Villard complex is a New York City Landmark

Lotte New York Palace Hotel
The Villard House Complex.

Villard purchased the land where the Palace Hotel now sits from St. Patrick’s Cathedra for $260,000 in 1881. He planned to build a cohort of luxurious mansions to compete with the Vanderbilt family, but could only revel in his creation for a few months before he went bankrupt. The Villard complex is composed of six renaissance townhomes that form a U-shape. The houses are designed to resemble a 16th-century palace. 

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Villard Houses as historical landmarks in 1968 on account of the houses’ “special character,” including their history and architecture. The Landmarks Preservation Commission requires the preservation of the complex’s facade. 

Join us for our upcoming talk about the hotels of Emery Roth and Sons!

Palate hotel exterior

Emery Roth & Sons Hotel Talk

Next, check out 10 Historic Manhattan Hotels: The Carlyle, Pierre, Jane, Warwick, Algonquin, Waldorf, Astoria and more!