The Upper West Side Book logo

Broadway logo

The Belleclaire Hotel

250 West 77th Street

Southwest corner at Broadway

Block 1168  Lot 56

The Belleclaire Hotel

The Belleclaire Hotel in 2003 missing its corner turret

By Carter B. Horsley

When it opened in 1903, the Belleclaire Hotel on the southwest corner of Broadway and 77th Street was one of the most luxurious hotels on the Upper West Side. It was one of the first important commissions for architect Emery Roth who would go on to an illustrious career that included designed some of the grandest "skyscraper palazzi" on Central Park West such as the San Remo and Beresford apartment houses.

Facade restoration work

Restoration work continues in 2004

The hotel had a roof garden that, according to Peter Salwen's excellent book, "Upper West Side Story," (Abbeville Press, 1989), "commanded a view four or five miles up the Hudson." "Crowded into the ground floor, embellished with cluster lights around the marble pillars, were a public restaurant, café, Palm Room, billiard room, and a Moorish library," Mr. Salwen noted.

Facade details

The building is notable for its bold ornamentation that is a combination of Art Nouveau and Secessionist styles

Roth's design combined Art Nouveau and Secessionist style influences to create a very lively and interesting facade but of ornamental pilasters and bay windows.

Bay windows

Building has many bay and arched windows

In his book, Mr. Salwen provides the following commentary about one of the hotel's early and famous guests, Maxim Gorky:

"Maxim Gorky, the first of Russia's great proletarian novelists, was a hero to many Americans in 1906, both for his angry, realistic stories of lower-class life under the Romanovs and for his persecution at the hands of the tsar's police. When he and his wife came to New York to raise funds for a Marxist revolution in Russia, thousands came out in the rain to meet the boat. A few hours later, the Gorkys were installed at the Belleclaire Hotel, where the socialist publisher H.Gaylord Wilshire, operating as a sort of one-man welcoming committee, had secured them a top-floor suite with a view of the Hudson that reminded the novelist of his beloved Volga. At the Belleclaire, Gorky held court for hundreds of visitors, including Mark Twain and William Dean Howells. In the following days he was guest of honor at meetings, receptions, and gala dinners: at the Wilshire home on West 93rd Street, eminent thinkers such as H. G. Wells and Charles A. Beard listened intently to his observations on the Russo-Japanese War; he was even delighted by the obligatory jaunt to Grant's Tomb, and remarked appreciatively on how few policemen were to be seen in the streets. For four days, in short, the Gorkys were the darlings of progressive literary New York. Then on the fifth day the World came out with shocking news: 'Mrs. Gorky' was in fact one Mme. Andreieva, a well-known actress; the real Mrs. Gorky, with three children, was back in Russia. Gorky's cordial relationship with America was over....The Belleclaire manager ordered them from the premises."

A June 29, 2003 article by John Holusha in The New York Times noted that over the years "Like most older hotels, the Belleclaire has gone through an economic cycle," adding that "The early grandeur gave way to inadequate maintenance and a decline in desirability for travelers who have choices." "The elegant public spaces were replaced with more practical, rent-paying retail stores on Broadway. The entrance, in fact, was moved around to 77th Street to maximize the amount of retail space on Broadway," Mr. Holusha wrote. Mr. Holusha's article described renovations being undertaken by the Triumph Hospitality Group, which had purchased the property, which is an official individual New York City landmark, in 1999. "The guest rooms are being a style described as neo-Scandinavian," Mr. Holusha wrote, adding that the building's rooms vary greatly in shape and quoting Kara Goudie, the hotel's general manager, as saying that "The round rooms are our most requested." The Triumph Hospitality Group also owns the Iroquois Hotel on West 44th Street.

The ten-story hotel, which has an exposed rooftop watertank, has about 240 rooms of which about 55 are still occupied as single-room occupancy by permanent guests. The red-brick building has a two-story rusticated limestone base.

According to the 1987 landmark designation report by Nancy Goeschel for the building, it was built by Albert Saxe who had commissioned Roth on "the basis of their association on an earlier project, The Saxony apartments of 1899, located nearby at 250 West 82nd Street  A seven-story building executed in brick with limestone detailing, The Saxony was a workmanlike Italian Renaissance design, which invites comparison with numerous Upper West Side buildings, such as those designed by Neville & Bagge or George F. Pelham, firms which often worked for developers.  Certain aspects of The Saxony's design, such as the rusticated limestone two-story base and the unification of the middle floors by continuous pilasters with crowning upper stories, bear a formal resemblance to the Belleclaire, but such comparisons seem unimportant when the mundanity of the Saxony is contrasted with the exuberance  and individuality of the Belleclaire, where the compact solid block is replaced by a boldly plastic silhouette which takes full advantage of the corner site, clearly demarcating avenue, corner and side streeet....Roth offered his own version of European inspired elegance, looking to the Art Nouveau of France and Belgium, and the related Secessionism of Austria and Germany.   Oddly enough it appears that Roth first came in contact wiht the Art Nouveau and Secessionist styles in Chicago in the early 1890s while he was working as a draftsman on the staff designing the World's Columbia Exposition of 1893.  Although the fair itself was a paean to neo-classicism, it had attracted many young foreign architects with a variety of interests.  Roth had a German roommate 'as wholeheartedly immersed in art as I was, and as he later reminisced...there were men of all nationalities among the hundred or more draughtsmen; French from the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Norwegian Moderns, Germans from the famous WagnerSchool, and above all the pick of America.  Roth's Wagner School refers to the students of Otto Wagner (1841-1918). Professor of Architecture at the Vienna Academy, he had designed a number of speculative arpartment houses on Vienna's famous Ringstrasse, was interested in urban design and planning, and was associated with the Vienna Secession.  Thus Roth was meeting young men who had come directly from his sphere of influence and who had first-hand acquaintance with the early phases of the Secessionist movement. 

"Roth's interest in the new styles became appparent when he began independent practice in New York in 1896.  Despite his self-professed predilection for neo-classicism, he employed Art Nouveau motifs for two restaurant renovations, the Cafe Boulevard on lower First Avenue and the nearby Lorber restaurant.  Around 1900 he was commissioned to make improvements to the Arverne Hotel in the Rockaways, where he designed a secessionist-influenced casino pavilion.  This work introducted him to fellow Jewish-Hungarian immigrants who formed much of the Arvenne's clientele, and led to a series of summer cottage cvommissions.  At Fleischmanns, New York, in the Catskill Mountains, Roth designed two houses which were esssentially relatively modest-sized examples of the Shingle Style, onto which he rather whimsically, but quite successfully, grafted Art Nouveau motifs....In designing the Hotel Belleclaire, Roth's approach was similar: the massing, materials and plan of the buildiing conform to academic Beaux-Arts principles which equally inform such buildings as The Ansonia and the Dorilton.  It is in the decorative detailing of its elevations that the Belleclaire displays  Art Nouveau-Secessionist influence.  The Art Nouveau and Secessionist movement, generally, was concerned with decorative art and applied ornament.  In some cases its architectural expression was a matter of surface application rather than of plan and articulation of form.  The United States as a whole was unreceptive to Art Nouveau architecture, perhaps viewing it as too 'bohemian.'  Roth's version palliated conservative mistrust of the avant-garde, at the same time offering a fillip of Continental panache.  Despite the success of the Belleclaire, its Art Nouveau-Secessionist inclinations were  not emulated.  It remains a singular evocation in New York of an architectural current which swept Europe but only brushed American shores."

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects


Home Page of The City Review