The Grand Hyatt New York is a hotel located directly east of the Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It was originally built and opened on January 28, 1919, as The Commodore Hotel. In 1980, Donald Trump modernized the outside of the building and renovated the inside as part of his first construction project in Manhattan.
The Commodore Hotel was constructed by the Bowman-Biltmore Hotels group. The structure itself was developed as part of Terminal City, a complex of palatial hotels and offices connected to Grand Central Terminal and all owned by the New York State Realty and Terminal Company (NYSRTC), a division of the New York Central Railroad (NYCRR). The Commodore was named after "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, the founder of NYCRR; a statue of Vanderbilt is located outside the hotel. The Commodore was designed by Warren & Wetmore and leased by the NYSRTC to the Bowman-Biltmore Hotels Corporation, of which John McEntee Bowman was president.
The Commodore opened on January 28, 1919. Herbert R. Stone, of NYSRTC, oversaw the decor of its 2,000 rooms. The lobby, called the "Most Beautiful Lobby in The World," was the single largest room in the hotel, with modern low ceilings and a waterfall designed by John B. Smeraldi. A group of conventioneers once told Bowman that "New York City was like a circus," so the next day Bowman, ever a showman, arranged to place a circus, complete with elephants, in the grand ballroom. Another popular spot was the Century Room, which boasted its own orchestra. The Commodore shared a parking garage with its sister hotel, the New York Biltmore Hotel, which had been Bowman-Biltmore's first hotel investment. Another Terminal City property – The Roosevelt Hotel, originally a United Hotel asset – merged with Bowman-Biltmore Corporation on March 4, 1929, giving Terminal City access to all railroad passenger traffic in and out of New York City. One notable person to have stayed at The Commodore was Albert Einstein, who stayed at the hotel for a few weeks in April of 1921 during his tour of the east coast of the US promoting the creation of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Commodore was successful for decades, and in June 1967, NYCRR – which by then was running the hotel through a division called Realty Hotels – upgraded the Commodore with a 3.4 million-dollar refurbishment. On May 10, 1972, while John R. Garside was the hotel's general manager, the Commodore became the first hotel in New York City to show in-room movies through Player Cinema Systems. By the late 1970s, both the railroad line (now called Penn Central) and the hotel had become less successful. On May 11, 1977, the now-bankrupt railroad's asset manager, Victor Palmieri, told the city that the Commodore had lost $1.5 million in 1976 and might have to be shuttered. At that point, the Trump Organization, partnered with the Hyatt Corporation, bought the Commodore.
The Trump Organization rebuilt the hotel, at a cost of $100 million, gutting the first few floors down to their steel frame (although the same basic layout of public rooms was retained) and the entire building was transformed with a new reflective glass facade placed over the top of the existing masonry exterior. The work was done by the firm of Gruzen Samton, with architect Der Scutt, who would later design Trump Tower, serving as design consultant. The only portion of the hotel's decor left untouched was the foyer to the grand ballroom, with its neoclassical columns and plasterwork. The hotel re-opened on September 25, 1980, as the Grand Hyatt New York, with Governor Hugh Carey and Mayor Ed Koch in attendance.
In 1989, New York State officials ordered the hotel to pay New York City $2.9 million in rent that had been withheld by the hotel in 1986 due to "unusual" accounting changes approved by Donald Trump. An investigation by New York City auditors noted that the hotel was missing basic financial records and found that the hotel was using procedures that violated Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
The Trump/Hyatt partnership eventually collapsed, with Trump filing a civil racketeering suit against Hyatt owner Jay Pritzker on July 28, 1993, alleging that Hyatt had used improper accounting practices, in order to force Trump out of the partnership with Hyatt, which restricted the chain from operating any other convention hotel in New York City. The Pritzkers countersued on March 28, 1994, alleging that Trump had violated their partnership by failing to remain solvent, using his share in the hotel as collateral for bank loans, and refusing to cover his share of the cost of necessary repairs. The much-needed renovation of the hotel finally began on April 8, 1996 and continued through that August. Finally, on October 7, 1996, the Pritzkers bought out Trump's half-share in the hotel for $142 million, ending the partnership.
The hotel won the 2007 and 2008 Corporate and Incentive Travel magazine "Award of Excellence." It was completely renovated in 2011, at a cost of $130 million, at which point the 1980s modern interiors were removed. The renovation was made more complicated by the structure's 1919 origins, including 138 different guest room configurations.
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