The Gramercy Park Hotel is full of ghosts. Potentially, I mean. I knew this before stepping through the revolving door, but didn’t realize the extent of it until a couple of hours ago when I began researching it. I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now because I may not have slept very well that night.
I was scheduled to meet members of the Brookhaven Retreat team at the Gramercy the day of the Linehan Awards Dinner at the New York City loft so we could all go together. I took the ferry from New Jersey and arrived about two hours early. I always feel a special thrill when I step foot in Manhattan, the same way I did as a child. It’s the rush of adrenaline that stems from the notion that the world is bursting with endless possibilities. Of course, this fact is true no matter where you are, but the city presents it in 3D.
As I got off the ferry, it was windy, but warm enough to take the 20-minute walk from East 35th St. to the hotel’s Lexington Avenue address. I must have been smiling the whole way because several people smiled back at me and every step in the right direction (guided by Google maps) made me more grateful to be alive. I looked forward to seeing the fabulous art collection exhibited where many of my favorite musicians like The Beatles, David Bowie, Elvis Costello and U2 had spent loads of time. Then I walked through the revolving door and something came over me. Even after quickly checking my senses I couldn’t identify it. The distinctive aroma in the air was slightly intoxicating, but I doubted that could have anything to do with it. I imagined residual fumes leftover from the opiates of the ‘70s. I wondered if the substance abuse rehab experts from Brookhaven Retreat would pick up on any of this, or if it was just my own personal psychodrama.
As I spoke to the lovely people at the hotel desk the quality of my voice was much more subdued than usual. Could I be that exhausted after a mad dash to the ferry, the 40-minute ride, and then the 20-minute walk? How does anyone do that every day? After walking around the lobby looking up at the dramatic colors in the inspired works of Damien Hirst and Dan Colen, I planted myself on a red velvet couch, listened to the old familiar music playing somewhat loudly in the Rose Bar, which looks completely different with wall-to-wall people during primetime. All I could do was stare into space.
Once upon a time, The Gramercy Park Hotel was crawling with both residents and visitors struggling with their mental health and various addictions, and at the same time, enjoying fame and fortune. If the walls could talk they might say, “I’m drowning in style. Please don’t save me!”
More than an hour later, although I wasn’t sleeping, I had to surgically remove myself from my velvet throne to greet the others when they arrived.
Surfing the World Wide Web taught me that Gramercy’s nickname, Heartbreak Hotel is for the equal parts extreme pain to euphoria experienced inside its walls ever since the doors opened in 1925. Designed by Robert T. Lyons and constructed by Bing and Bing, the hotel was built on the birthplace of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence, 1920).
In 1926, Humphrey Bogart married Helen Menken on the rooftop terrace. The Kennedys lived on the second floor for several months before their move to London, and Babe Ruth regularly worked on his alcoholism in the bar where I nearly went comatose, possibly from the overwhelming vibes of yesteryear. The Rolling Stones lived there in 1964 after their first American tour and Debbie Harry (Blondie) lived in room 501 for a time.
“Late Night” band leader Paul Shaffer has been quoted as saying, “I lived at the Gramercy Park Hotel for about 10 years. It was terrific. It was a pleasantly run-down hotel of the '70s and '80s with a mix of older, rent-controlled apartment dwellers, Europeans and new wave and punk bands. The room service was great, the hamburger was terrific, and they had a doctor who made house calls.”
When art collector and real estate developer Aby Rosen took over, he summoned Julian Schnabel, artist and film director, and John Pawson, a British architect, to renovate it in the high style bohemian’s dream-come-true it is today.
On a side note, I can’t ignore the enormous potential for paranormal activity. According to New York magazine online, in 2002, David Weissberg, the 45-year-old son of Steven Weissberg--- Gramercy’s CEO at the time---was arguing with Marilyn, his wife of two years. She had packed her bags and told him she was leaving him. They spent some time talking on the 18th floor rooftop before she said goodbye and headed downstairs. Just as she walked through the lobby and out the revolving door, David had jumped to his death landing in front of the hotel bar.
According to a witness, Marilyn was hysterical and sat down next to his lifeless body with her back against the wall. Their shared drug addiction and attendance at a methadone clinic was just part of the mania left in the wake of David’s suicide. His brother, Steven, was left to pick up the pieces, including David’s stash of assault weapons found in the hotel basement. By that point, Steven had had his own share of heartbreaks at the hotel, including losing his first wife from cancer in 1997, and the drug overdose of his 19-year-old son shortly after that. That could explain why the month after David’s death he closed the hotel bar and restaurant without warning. I wonder if he wished he could shut the entire place down, but couldn’t afford to.
Perhaps the eventual renovation cleared some of the bad vibes and maybe even some of the good ones. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my stay at the Gramercy, including an hour in the Rose Bar after the awards dinner, and a good night’s sleep in room 1511, where I’d like to think nothing horrible ever happened and never will.