Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Diamonds and Rust
Perhaps real estate brokers confuse platitudes with beatitudes when they often tell a client, "There are only three things to know about real estate - location, location, location." * This adage (or some variant) has become more of an irritant than a balm to the property hunter. If you are inclined to retort, tell them of the Hotel Earle on Washington Square.
The Washington Square area has been one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods in New York City since the early 1800s, yet the Hotel Earle at 103 Waverly Place (at the corner of MacDougal Street) was in serious decline in the 1960s and early 1970s, with a reputation as a very seedy boarding house. No one I knew at that time had even set foot in the place. It took not years, but decades, to become the respectable place that it is now.
The Paul family purchased the hotel in 1973 and progressively made improvements to the Art Deco-style 150-room hotel. In 1986, the name was changed to the current Washington Square Hotel. In 1992, Judy Paul opened North Square Restaurant, a first class New York bistro at the hotel. From the Hotel's press release in 2008:
The Washington Square hotel was built in 1902 as a residential hotel named the Hotel Earle after its first owner, Earl S. L’Amoureux. The hotel occupied a single, 8 story, red brick building on Waverly Place, in the heart of affluent Greenwich Village, now an historic landmark district. In 1908, L’Amoureux built an identical, connecting building to create a grand apartment hotel, complete with reading rooms, restaurant, and banquet facilities. Four years later he added a ninth floor and, in 1917 he acquired an adjoining three story building, bringing the hotel to McDougal Street, at the northwest corner of picturesque Washington Square.
Once a staid, affluent community, (as depicted in Henry James’ Washington Square and The Heiress), Greenwich Village was becoming the center of New York’s Bohemian counterculture; reflected by the Beat generation who gravitated to the coffee houses and jazz clubs. The once grand hotel was allowed to deteriorate into a shabby apartment hotel, making it an attractive address for struggling artists, actors, writers and musicians.
Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Bill Cosby, Phyllis Diller, Bo Diddley, P.G. Wodehouse, and the Rolling Stones are among the celebrities who have stayed at the hotel. Patricia Highsmith used the hotel as inspiration for her short story “Notes From a Respectable Cockroach.” Joan Baez stayed in room 305, with Bob Dylan, in the early 60s. In her love song "Diamonds and Rust," Baez says “Now you're smiling out the window of that crummy hotel over Washington Square.” John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas stayed at the Earle during a visit to New York City (which prompted them to write "California Dreamin'").
Norah Jones worked there previously as a waitress.
Many former inhabitants of the olde Earle have seen both diamonds and rust...
For the etymology of the phrase "location, location, location" as regards real estate, see the article here in the New York Times by wordsmith William Safire.