By the late 1960s, it had become one of the city’s largest welfare hotels. Six theaters, called the Mercer Arts Center, were built inside in hopes of perking up the place, and it was renamed the University Hotel, but it had severe structural problems.
Broadway Central Hotel’s Heyday Before a Fatal Collapse
Q. I vaguely remember the fatal collapse of a welfare hotel around 1973. Can you tell me about the hotel?
A. The collapse of the former Broadway Central Hotel on Aug. 3, 1973, which killed four people, marked the ignominious end to one of New York real estate’s steepest riches-to-rags stories.
Born in the Gilded Age and crumbling to rubble amid the city’s fiscal crisis, the hotel, between West Third and Bond Streets, was the site of some spectacular moments and some spectacularly sordid ones.
The eight-story, 400-room hotel, one of the largest in the world at the time, opened in 1870 as the Grand Central Hotel, with three grand dining rooms and elegant trappings. It didn’t take long for its most scandalous moment to occur: On Jan. 6, 1872, James Fisk Jr., a playboy financier who had helped milk the Erie Railroad into bankruptcy, was shot to death on the hotel’s staircase by Edward Stiles Stokes, his former partner. The two men had fought in a bitter lawsuit, and Mr. Stokes had fallen in love with Mr. Fisk’s mistress, Josie Mansfield.
Perhaps the hotel’s finest hour was on Feb. 2, 1876, when the representatives of eight professional baseball clubs assembled there for the official formation of the National League.
The scene was recreated 49 years later at the hotel, for the beginning of the league’s Golden Jubilee. The league also held a 75th-anniversary party at the hotel in 1951, when Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Carl Hubbell, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Pie Traynor and Cy Young were among the Hall of Famers who posed for a photograph.
The hotel was the scene of many weddings, and a few murders and suicides. As the years passed, it went through a series of owners and financial difficulties. By the late 1960s, it had become one of the city’s largest welfare hotels. Six theaters, called the Mercer Arts Center, were built inside in hopes of perking up the place, and it was renamed the University Hotel, but it had severe structural problems.
In 1973, on the day of the collapse, preliminary rumbles led to the evacuation of more than 300 residents before the walls buckled in two sections on Broadway.
Housing for New York University law students was later built on the site.
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