Category Archives: hotels

The Wyndham

The Wyndham, 42 West 58th Street

The Wyndham, located on 58th Street in Manhattan, directly behind The Plaza, was a small hotel (200 rooms) in which we lived for a short while after returning to the States from London and before moving to the Howard Johnson’s in Danbury.  I know, I know… from La Mamounia in Marrakech to The Ritz in Paris to the London Hilton to the Howard Johnson’s?!  The mind reels.

Anyway, while the Howard Johnson’s distilled, for me, the hotel experience to its essence, the Wyndham was probably the perfect example of the median hotel experience. 

It was practical:  maid service, clean, good linens, plenty of towels, and room service with acceptable food.  In addition many of the rooms also had kitchenettes for those on an extended stay.

It was convenient:  on 58th street directly behind The Plaza between 5th and 6th Avenues, it was half a block from Bergdorf’s and the Paris movie theater and around the corner from Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Room.

It was cheap compared to its neighbors.

And it was also glamourous:  not a flashy kind of glamour but and old fashioned, “people in the know,” un-wasteful  kind of glamour.  It was known as the actor’s hotel and many famous ones who had the money to stay elsewhere stayed there because the owners, John and Susan Mados (who also lived there) made it feel like home.  Hume Cronin, Jessica Tandy, Stacy Keach, Anthony Quinn, John Cassavetes, and Lawrence Olivier all called it home for the duration of a play on Broadway or a movie shoot or longer.  It was like a small European hotel in the heart of New York.  Sadly, it closed in 2005.


Howard Johnson’s

The Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in Danbury Connecticut

In the 1960s and 70s Howard Johnson’s was America’s largest chain of restuarants with over a thousand locations.  Begun as a drugstore and soda fountain in Massachusetts in the early 1920s, Howard Johnson’s reinvented ice cream (their 28 Flavor –all high in butterfat–became famous) and hospitality. And as the country and the highway system boomed after World War Two, Howard Johnson’s standardized roadside accomodations providing comfort and a sense of continuity for millions.  For me, Howard Johnson’s distilled the essential qualities that make a hotel (whether it is the Ritz, the Hilton or the Plaza) good beds, clean towels and room service or at least a cafe.

When we moved back to the States from London, we stayed briefly in New York and then, while Mother and our fairy ex-stepfather Oliver patched things up again and looked for a house in Connecticut, we live for a few months at the Howard Johnson’s in Danbury — a small town in northern Fairfield County about an hour and a half north of the city.  America was a strange place for Robbie and Me (especially once we were off the island of Manhattan) but HoJo’s with good linen, maids and a restaurant loaded with ice cream made us feel at home.  And, they had the world’s first, positively addictive, video game, “Pong” which we played for hours on end.


The Ritz-Carlton Boston

I used to say, after my mother divorced my step-father, that we changed addresses the way other people changed storm windows.  An important part of this peripatetic lifestyle–sublet flats and leased apartments and houses from Park Avenue in New York to Sloane Square in London to Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge–was the hotel.  Hotels were a bridge into new cities and countries, between addresses within cities.  Sometimes they would serves us as an address or home and other times as a reminder of what a home could be–an oasis in an unfamiliar, often foreign, world.  I sometimes feel that I feel more at home in hotels than homes because no matter where they are–Morocco or Omaha–or what kind of place–four star luxury or Best Western–they have, at a minimum, a bed, a bath and clean towels.

The original Ritz Hotel in Paris–the cornerstone of what would become the Ritz-Carlton chain–was founded by Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz and chef August Escoffier in 1898 overlooking the Place Vendome in Paris.  Proust, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Edward VII, Coco Chanel and Marie of Roumania were just a few of the wealthy, royal and famous who stayed there.  The chain (named also for the Carlton Hotel in London) expanded into the United States (New York, Philadelphia and Atlantic City) in the early 1900s.  My step-father Oliver Rea was born at the Ritz-Carlton in New York in the twenties. The Ritz-Carlton in Boston (overlooking the Boston Common) was not originally a part of the chain’s expansion.  It was a 1926 real estate development that was originally begun as the luxury Mayflower apartment building but was finished, thanks to the persuasiver personality of Boston’s mayor James Michael Curly, as the 300 room Ritz-Carlton hotel and opened in 1927.  

We did not live at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, but we spent a fair amount of time there.  Mother would meet “ladies” there for tea or beaus for cocktails.  Our fairy-ex-stepfather would stay there when he came to town to get us settled or “fix” some problem (before the final fall-out) and sometimes we would just go for supper or tea to feel at home in a strange new city.  

We used to see an old woman there dressed in Victorian mourning clothes.  She lived in the hotel and ate supper by herself every night.  I imagined that, like me, she felt that even living by yourself in a hotel you are never alone–a comforting thought.

I’ll be talking about hotels all week this week but I’ve already posted about one special hotel in which a fun scene from Chanel Bonfire was set: The Hotel Sydney Opera.  Here’s a link to that March 11th post!