05 May 2014

The Last Remnant of the Commodore Hotel

Little Italy Pizzeria on W. 43rd off Fifth Avenue in Midtown doesn't look particularly historical. However, the independent business is actually nearly a half century old and perhaps the last existing link to one of New York's most storied hotels.

Little Italy Pizzeria was founded in the late '60s. It was located inside the Commodore Hotel, a massive piece of lodging which once stood at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street, next to Grand Central Terminal. The Grand Hyatt stands there now.

The Commodore, named after "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, the founder of The New York Central Railroad System, opened in 1919. It was owned by The New York Central Railroad. At the time, its much-admired lobby (which had a waterfall) was the largest room in the city. You could get a room for $1.50. For decades, it was a top hotel, favored by tourists, locals and celebrities alike. As the manager, George Howard, said in 1949, "They pour out of Grand Central right into this house."

By the late '70s, however, the railroad was bankrupt, and the Trump Organization stepped in and bought the hotel. The last guest checked out in 1976. It was completely remodeled in 1980 into the vulgar, shiny thing it is today. If you look at it closely, you'll notice the basic shape hasn't changed; its the same hotel structure under all that glass.

Little Italy Pizzeria only got to spend a little over a decade of its life in the Commodore. Once it closed, the pizzeria moved to Vanderbilt Avenue just north of Grand Central. It was a favorite of many local businessmen at the time. I myself ate there many times during that period, and grew fond of their sausage slice.

In 2000, the pizzeria—which has always endeavored to remain close to the terminal, moved to its present location. The best part of the new place (apart from the pizza itself) is this unusual mural of Il Campo, the central square in Siena, Italy.


Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that the original Commodore exterior masonry still exists under Trump's hideous handiwork. But I dunno for sure.

Andrew Porter said...

Yes, they cut off all the external decoration, then covered everything with glass. The basic internal structures of girders, corridors, etc., is still there.

I have a floorplan of the original hotel which I'll gladly share with you, Brooks, if you're interested.

S. Reed said...

I've found an original business card of The Commodore Hotel, Rockaway Beach, Belle Harbor, NY. It's the same picture found on the website and is in excellent condition. Please leave a comment. Thank you.