A Brief History
Around 1850, three row houses were built at what was then 32-36 East 11th Street a few blocks north of Greenwich Village’s tony Washington Square. In 1875-76 they were converted into the Hotel St. Stephen under the ownership of businessman-investor Albert S. Rosenbaum and management of William Ryder. Four years later Rosenbaum commissioned from Henry J Hardenbergh, architect of the Dakota Apartments, a block of 24 “French flats” -- the then fashionable term for luxury apartments -- on the corner plot between the St. Stephen and University Place. In 1886-87, the apartments were converted into a hotel, also under Ryder’s management. Business prospered. A story was added in 1891 along with a new entrance more suitable to a hotel than apartments. The two hotels merged, inevitably, in the mid-1890s. Third and fourth buildings were added, in 1903 and 1924 respectively, leaving the Hotel Albert occupying the easterly frontage of University Place between 11th and 10th Streets, with the St. Stephen leased for commercial use.
From the outset, the Albert attracted respectable clientele and reputable clubs and professional societies. Its dining room was noted for quality and value. Ryder’s brother, Albert Pinkham Ryder, often ate there, an episode at the restaurant inspiring his famous painting, The Race Track. A waiter bet $500, his life savings, on a favorite in the Brooklyn Handicap that came in third. Now penniless, he shot himself. “This fact formed a cloud over my mind that I could not throw off,” the artist said, “and The Race Track is the result.”
It is for its long association with artists and writers that the Albert is best known. Robert Louis Stephenson was a guest when it was still just the St. Stephen. Walt Whitman visited. Mark Twain addressed a teachers’ association supper meeting at the Albert in 1901. Hart Crane lived in the hotel in 1920-21 while working on The Bridge. Thomas Wolfe modeled the Hotel Leopold in Of Time and the River on the Albert where he lived after taking a teaching job at New York University in 1924.
Political radicals had stayed at the Albert as early as 1906. Russian revolutionary Ivan Ivanovich Norodny took rooms that year when raising funds in America. Other guests included Wolfe Lindenfeld, a suspect in the 1921 Wall Street bombing, and John Thomas Scopes of the eponymous 1925 Monkey Trial. In the years leading up to McCarthyism, the Communist party held clandestine meetings in the Albert.
Greenwich Village’s fashionable bohemianism decayed into something harsher during the mid-20th century. The hotel still attracted writers and artists; poet Robert Lowell stayed and Jackson Pollock and his friends used the Albert as a watering hole in the 1940s; Joseph Brody made a name for the hotel’s French Restaurant in the 1950s by dint of personality and self-promotion. Yet, by the 1960s, A.P. Herbert was describing the hotel as “cheap, God-forsaken, and miserable.” Anaïs Nin remembers it as “full of students, all-night saxophones, bathroom down the hall.”
It was then that the Albert became a haven to musicians, both the on-the-way-up and the down-and-out. Rock journalist Lillian Roxon wrote, “Think of any hotel story and then realize that at the Albert, it probably happened to the Butterfield Blues Band or the Mamas & The Papas, the Canned Heat, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Mothers of Invention...to name, as they say, but a few.”
By the mid-1970s, the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll had taken their irredeemable toll. The Elghanayans, real-estate developers, bought the Albert to convert to residential use. What had degenerated into 500 seedy hotel rooms is now a thriving complex of 190 cooperative apartments spread across the original four buildings, with the St. Stephen building again reunited with its neighbors and returned to residential use.