Julius Manger: One of the Greatest Hotel Owners of the Twentieth Century

Julius Manger was born in Boonville, Missouri. He graduated from the Tulane University Law School. At the age of twenty-eight, he engaged in the coffee business and was later associated with his brother, William, in the construction business in Galveston, Texas. They later located the hub of their business activities to New York City where they built more than 500 homes in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. They also built the Builders Exchange Building in Manhattan and in 1907 traded it for the Plaza Hotel in Chicago, which was the beginning of their successful venture as hotel owners and operators.

When William died in 1928, the Manger hotel properties were valued at $22 million and included luxury hotels in Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C. and New York. At one time, the Mangers owned 18 hotels in New York alone and others in Washington, D.C., Boston, Massachusetts and Rochester, N.Y. Some of the most famous Manger Hotels were:

Manger Vanderbilt Hotel, New York

Opened in 1912 as a luxury hotel with a bath in each of the 585 guestrooms, the 20-story Vanderbilt Hotel was built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. It was designed by Warren & Wetmore, architects of the Commodore, Biltmore, Ritz Carlton Hotels in New York; Providence Biltmore; Mayflower, Washington, D.C.; Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu; Broadmoor, Colorado Springs; Homestead Hotel, Hot Springs, Arkansas and Grand Central Terminal.

The Vanderbilt was designed primarily as an apartment hotel with permanent residences to accommodate a new generation of the rich who wanted freedom from household responsibilities. In its time the Vanderbilt was one of the most widely admired buildings for its extensive use of terra cotta, fabricated by the New Jersey Terra Cotta Company. The Works Progress Administration's 1939 "New York City Guide" called it "an example of the eclectic use of Italian Renaissance, Mexican and Adam English design influences."

In April 1913 Vanderbilt and his valet boarded the RMS Lusitania for a trip to London. The night before the Lusitania set sail, Alfred and Margaret attended the theater, seeing the Frohman and Belasco production of A Celebrated Case. The following morning the Vanderbilts awoke to find a startling notice in the newspapers. Framed in black, a warning from the Imperial German Embassy reminded travelers that a state of war existed between Germany and Great Britain and anyone sailing on a ship flying the English flag "do so at their own risk."

The Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk. It was later reported that Alfred Vanderbilt removed his life jacket and personally strapped it on to a mother holding an infant. Unable to swim, his act of heroism sealed his own doom.

In 1941, the hotel was purchased from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company by the Manger Corporation and renamed the Manger Vanderbilt.

Manger operated the Vanderbilt through the 1964 New York Worlds Fair, but then closed the hotel. It was sold for $3.625 million to an investment group headed by John E. Marqusee who converted the first six floors into offices and its upper floors into apartments.

Gotham Hotel, New York

The Gotham was built in 1903 and was designed by the architectural firm of Hiss & Weekes in a Beaux-Arts style similar to the St. Regis Hotel across Fifth Avenue. In 1920, the hotel was sold to Julius and William Manger for about $4 million. Manger operated the Gotham Hotel until 1932 when the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company brought foreclosure proceedings against it.

While the imposing neo-Italian Renaissance Gotham Hotel was one of the few structures on Fifth Avenue which recalled the golden age of luxury hotels, it never seemed to find the favor it sought in part because it was overshadowed by the subsequent openings of the St. Regis Hotel across Fifth Avenue and the Plaza Hotel four blocks to the north. The Gotham suffered from its proximity to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church across 55th Street which prohibited liquor sales within 200 feet of a church.

Manger Taft Hotel, New York

This 2,250-room hotel opened in 1926 with designs by architect H. Craig Severance who also designed 40 Wall Street, a 70-story skyscraper originally known as the Bank of Manhattan Trust building.

The Hotel Manger proclaimed itself as "the wonder hotel of New York — a modern marble palace with 2,000 outside rooms, servidors and circulating ice water." The Manger got into trouble with the feds for reportedly serving alcohol during Prohibition. A raid resulted in the arrest of several bellboys, waiters, and two bootleggers, as well as the temporary padlocking of the building.

After Manger sold the hotel in 1931, it was renamed for President William Howard Taft. The new owners leased the southwest corner of the building for the lobby of the adjacent Roxy Theater.

The Taft Hotel was a Manhattan landmark for fifty years. In its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, it was the largest hotel in midtown, famed for the big bands performing in its Taft Grill which featured live entertainment such as the George Hall Orchestra, Artie Shaw, Xavier Cugat, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Tony Pastor. Vincent Lopez's dance band was one of the most popular of the 1920s and broadcast a radio show from the Taft.

To get an up-close description of life in the Taft, read "Hotel Kid: A Times Square Childhood" by Stephen Lewis whose father was the General Manager for thirty-three years. Filled with hotel anecdotes and childhood experiences, this delightful memoir is informative and amusing.

Hotel Wolcott, New York

Although it opened on March 1, 1904, the Wolcott remains one of New York's best-kept hotel bargain secrets. It was designed by one of the most famous hotel architects in the United States: John Hemenway Duncan (1855-1929). He also designed Grant's Tomb, the Knox Hat Building (Fifth Avenue and 40th Street) and one of the greatest public monuments: the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. In 1923, the hotel was purchased by the Wolcott Operating Corporation, run by William and Julius Manger. They owned and operated the Wolcott until 1932.

Martha Washington Hotel, New York

The Martha Washington Hotel opened on March 2, 1903 as the first New York hotel operated exclusively for women. All employees were women with a hostess and chaperones in attendance at all times.

The opening of the original Martha Washington Hotel was the capstone of more than fifty years of poor treatment of women travelers in the United States. Prior to the Civil War and thereafter in the 19th century, the lone woman guest was looked upon with suspicion.

Hay-Adams Hotel, Washington, D.C.

The Hay-Adams Hotel was built in 1928 to designs by Armenian-American architect Mihran Mesrobian in the Italian Renaissance style for developer Harry Wardman. Mesrobian also designed the Carlton Hotel and the Wardman Tower (now the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel). The Hay-Adams slogan is "where nothing is overlooked but the White House".

The Hay-Adams Hotel was purchased in 1933 by Julius Manger who, at the time, owned 18 hotels in New York City. The Manger family owned the Hay-Adams from 1933 to 1973 during which time the hotel was known as the Manger Hay-Adams.

Hotel Manger, Boston, Massachusetts

When it opened in August 1930, it was one of the finest hotels in Boston with an unbeatable locational advantage: adjacent to the North Station and the Boston Garden. It contained 500 rooms and advertised: "each room equipped with Tub and Shower; Built in Radio Speaker, (Three-Station Service); Tickless Electric Clock; Servidor; Circulating Ice Water; French Telephone; Full Length Mirror…. New England's Most Modernly Equipped and Perfectly Appointed Hotel".

The hotel's name was changed to the Madison in 1958. Through its early life the hotel hosted National Basketball Association and National Hockey League teams scheduled to play at the adjacent old Boston Garden. The famous Beatles stayed there in 1964 and on September 12, 1964 held a press conference in the Madison Room of the hotel where three college students "crashed" and actually were able to ask the Beatles questions.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s the Madison Hotel, like much of the area around busy North Station, had lost its luster. By then, many of its more than 400 rooms housed homeless and low-income people. The Madison closed its doors in 1976. Ten years later, on Sunday, May 1, 1986 the hotel was demolished by implosion to make way for construction of the "Tip" O'Neil Federal Building, which now occupies the site. The old Boston Garden was torn down in the late 1990s after the construction of the Fleet Center.

Seneca Hotel, Rochester, N.Y.

Rochester's new hotel opened on September 14, 1908 in time for the State Democratic Convention. The New York Times (September 13, 1908) reported:

The hostelry in size will compare with the Hotel Astor in New York. Its architecture is in a general way French Renaissance….

The main entrance to the lobby of the hotel is from a private street. This provides a porte-cochere, which affords protection to those alighting from carriages in inclement weather…

By the early 1920s a 10-story addition was added to the Seneca, making it Rochester's largest hotel (500 rooms) and the meeting place for New York's power brokers. The hotel would host many Democratic Party functions featuring such politicians as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

In 1957, the Seneca was purchased by the Manger Hotel Company and became the Manger Seneca Hotel. The new owners renovated the building and introduced four new dining venues including an executive lounge for men. But with the expansion of the national highway system and the subsequent growth of roadside cabins, motels and motor inns, large urban hotels like the Manger Seneca could not survive. It was demolished in 1968.

Julius Manger died on March 29, 1937 in his suite at the Hay-Adams Hotel. He was 69 years old. He was buried in the Manger Mausoleum in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, N.Y. Architect/designer Franklin Naylor built the mausoleum in 1927 for Dominico Dumbra, but it was purchased by Julius Manger in 1935. It was one of the last hurrahs of the Golden Age of the Mausoleum which ran from around the end of the Civil War to the Great Depression. It is one of the most elegantly crafted mausoleums in the United States and a suitable resting place for one of the greatest hotelmen of his time.

Excerpted from "Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry" AuthorHouse 2016

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