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.

Susan Elliott said...

My parents and I stayed at the Commodore Hotel in 1975 (I was 11) when we visted from England. Fabulous architecture. We had some deal where we paid a fixed amount for a book of accomodation vouchers and stayed in Budget hotels (I think we stayed in older rooms on top floor of the Commodore which seemed pretty original to the 1920s, especailly the bathroom with metro wall tiles. It had the old fashioned heating radiators) or in student accomodation in some places, like Washington DC and St Catherines near Niagara. Fabulous trip, although at that time New York, I believe, wasn't very safe at night, so we didn't see much nightlife, but we certainly heard all the sirens.Loved the sandwich place in Grand central.

Joey Cusack said...

I would like to find photos of the old hotel and more information about the renovations Trump did in the late 70s