Before becoming The Chatwal New York and The Lambs Club Restaurant and Bar, this iconic Stanford White-designed building was the epicenter of American theater for the 20th century. The building originally opened in 1905 as home to the prestigious Lambs Club, America’s first professional theatrical club. Organized in 1874 by a group of actors and enthusiasts, The Lambs occupied a series of rented quarters before settling in at 44thStreet. The American club took their name from a similar group in London, which flourished from 1869-1879, in the name of drama critic and essayist Charles Lamb.
Christopher Gray wrote in his December 26, 1999 Streetscapes column in the New York Times:
… In New York, the Lambs occupied a series of rented quarters, and in 1888 began what they called their “gambols,” special performances by members to which outsiders were invited. In the late 1890s, under the actor DeWolf Hopper, the “Shepherd” – or president – of the club, the gambols were used as fund-raising efforts for a new building. In 1898, the gambol went on a one-week, eight-city tour, raising $67,000.
In 1903, the Lambs bought a site at 128 and 130 West 44th Street, near the emerging theater district, and retained Stanford White, a club member, to design a clubhouse. The architect developed a rich neo-Georgian design in brick, marble and terra cotta.
… In 1914, The New York Times wrote “while many of the clubhouses of the Big Town display constantly the dignity and spirit of Greenwood Cemetery on a rainy Saturday afternoon, the Lambs is as full of snap and ginger as an outlaw bronco, a bunch of freshly-lighted firecrackers.”
… A year later, the Saturday Evening Post was able to point to such high points in the club’s history as George M. Cohan’s first performance of “Over There” at a gambol, and an early version of “Brigadoon” played by the composer Frederick Loewe on a piano in the grill.
Stanford White, a partner at the prominent architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, was the original architect of The Lambs clubhouse. His design principles embodied the “American Renaissance,” as seen in his work on such formidable structures as The Washington Square Arch, Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Club and the Boston Public Library. For The Lambs Club, he designed a six-story, neo-Georgian brick building featuring a façade ornamented with ram heads. A grill room and billiard room were on the first floor, a banquet hall on the second floor and a theater on the third floor. The top floors provided space for offices and sleeping quarters, often utilized by members traveling to The Great White Way from Hollywood. The size of the Club was doubled in 1915 when an addition designed by architect George Freeman was constructed on the west end of the building. In 1974, the building was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks and Preservation Commission.
Since the club’s founding, there have been more than 6,000 Lambs, with an elite roster reading like a Who’s Who of American theater and film: Maurice, Lionel and John Barrymore, Irving Berlin, Cecil B. DeMille, David Belasco, Charlie Chaplin, George M. Cohan, Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Spencer Tracy and Fred Astaire, who was famously quoted as stating, “When I was made a Lamb, I felt I had been knighted.”
Architect Stanford White was an extrovert with a penchant for young, beautiful women, and he was notorious for often hosting scandalous parties boasting scantily-clad maidens, and French champagne. His apartment on the second floor at Madison Square Garden was infamous for its red swing that hung from the ceiling, often occupied by one of his girls. One such occupant was a seventeen-year-old red-headed beauty from a small town in Pennsylvania name Evelyn Nesbit. White had a secretive love affair with Nesbit, which ended just as discretely as it began when his wandering eye went to newer and younger ladies of Manhattan.
Evelyn went on to a brief love affair with John Barrymore before marrying a violent and over-privileged millionaire named Harry Kendall Thaw. After learning of Nesbit’s tempestuous history with White, Thaw sought out and fatally shot the architect during a show at Madison Square Garden. Thaw was found guilty of the killing of Stanford White by reason of insanity, a landmark case in American jurisprudence because it was the first time that a defense attorney invoked the plea of temporary insanity and won.
The Chatwal New York Hotel is just one part of a long heritage of gracious hospitality offered up by the parent company Hampshire Hotels and Resorts and its Chairman, Sant Singh Chatwal. Born from the notion of offering “something for every taste, style and budget,” Hampshire Hotels found its roots in Manhattan dating back to 1986. Offering an array of franchise products across multiple brands including Hilton, Choice, Best Western and Marriott in addition to its own homegrown brands that were started by Sant’s son Vikram in 1999. Hampshire Hotels now owns and operates hotels in its own lifestyle brands such as Time Hotels, Dream Hotels and Night Hotels.
Under the direction of architect/designer Thierry Despont, the 1905 Lambs Club building has been restored and redesigned as a unique and luxurious hotel. The son of an architect, Despont was born in France and studied at the acclaimed Beaux-Arts in Paris, before moving to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree in urban planning at Harvard. In 1976, he joined Lord Llewelyn-Davies’s famed design firm, first working at its Tehran branch and then transferring to the New York office. Despont met a handful of high-profile figures who would become clients, including John and Susan Gutfreund, Jayne Wrightsmen, Oscar and Annette de la Renta. Today his firm, Thierry W. Despont, Ltd., continues to carry out projects for its well-endowed clientele all around the world.
Despont is particularly popular with the fashion mogul set. He’s designed residences for Ralph Lauren, Limited CEO Les Wexner, Calvin Klein, Hubert de Givenchy, and Millard Drexler, the former CEO of the Gap. He designed the interior of Bill Gates’ sprawling estate in Washington state, which has been dubbed “Xanadu 2.0.” Despont has done work on the commercial front, too. He worked on the renovation of the storied London Hotel Claridge.
The Chatwal’s guestrooms have custom-designed amenities while recreating 1930s Art Deco design which evokes a strong sense of place and era. They feature the clubby, elegant and comfortably chic atmosphere of this New York landmark. Of the 83 guestrooms, 40 are larger suites, and no attention to detail has been spared. In-room finishes include fine suede covered walls and leather-wrapped double closets, the Chatwal’s retro playing cards and a specially crafted backgammon set. The attention to modern small touches makes a difference: complimentary Internet access, a laptop-sized safe, a 42-inch HD flat screen IP television with Blueray DVD and multi-language options, a movie library, and in-room stereo system with an iPod dock all provide a comfortably wired experience.
The Chatwal commissioned Shifman Mattress to design a made-by-hand mattress, complemented with an expansive bed linen selection by Frette and a pillow menu. Wrapping oneself in one of The Chatwal’s plush Kashwere custom robes after a dip in the Rain Drop shower or Jacuzzi bath (complete with Asprey Amenities, exclusive to The Chatwal New York) is a perfect end to a New York City day. Bathrooms also feature marble floors, mirrored walls and a 19-inch integrated mirror television. The hotel’s turndown service includes a complimentary shoe shine service, bottled water, and the guest’s preferred newspaper delivered each morning to their door.
Celebrity Chef Geoffrey Zakarian operates the 90-seat Lambs Club restaurant at The Chatwal New York. Offering diners an updated take on the classic bar and grill with an inviting, warm ambiance, the menu focuses on traditional American cuisine and seasonal ingredients.
The Red Door Spa at the Chatwal New York includes three private treatment rooms with personal steam showers and changing areas in addition to a manicure and pedicure station. A lap pool, two plunge pools and a fully-equipped fitness center offers facilities with private audio-visual components and personal trainers.
In April 2011, the Chatwal New York Hotel signed a license agreement with the Starwood Luxury Collection, a diverse ensemble of more than 75 of the world’s finest hotels and resorts in more than 30 countries.
This article has been excerpted with the author’s permission from the book, “Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi,” AuthorHouse 2013. The author, Stanley Turkel, is a recognized authority and consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel, hospitality and consulting practice specializing in asset management, operational audits and the effectiveness of hotel franchising agreements and litigation support assignments. Clients are hotel owners, investors and lending institutions. His latest book is “Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf.”