Thursday, December 11, 2008

Checking out the Vigilant Hotel: "Perfect for the bored with responsibilities of maintaining a traceable address"





I've long been fascinated by the Vigilant Hotel at 370 Eighth Ave. between 28th Street and 29th Street. An old-fashioned flophouse continues to survive in this era of pricey real estate and swanky hotel developments? Miracle of miracles! 14to42 had this information from a 2003 post:

In 1895 the lodgings empire of Angelino Sartirano consisted of hotels at 116 Gansevoort St., 208 and 352 8th Ave., 1553 Broadway, 2291 3d Ave., and here at 370 8th Ave.

The Sartirano (sometimes spelled Sartirana) hotel business is even older, going back to 1888 with his first hotel at 116 Gansevoort St. in the West Village.

The name Vigilant Hotel, however, is not quite so old, and seems to date no earlier than 1916. The hotel is still here (as of August 2003) but to all appearances no longer operates as a hotel in the usual sense...


14to42 also also has links to two photos by Percy Loomis Sperr in the New York Public Library's Digital Collections. The first dated 1932 shows a side wall with "Rooms 25¢." The second dated 1938 shows a small sign over the sidewalk reading "Vigilant Hotel."

14th42 also published this shot from 2003 of the hotel's faded sign:



So, can I get a room here? Sure! It's for men only. And it will cost you $140. A week.

The reviews are mixed on Yahoo! Travel. Someone who has never stayed there gave it five stars while someone who did gave it one star. What was so wrong with it that it deserved that?

Don't ever step foot in this place
By A Yahoo! Contributor, 10/08/08
The place is so downtrodden, neglected and downright decreped. The hotel guests are homeless people who arementally ill. Even the police wouldn't stay in this hotel! If I were homeless I wouldn't stay in this disgusting hotel. Im shocked they are still open!


OK, Felix Ungar...we'll getcha a suite at The Carlyle!

Anyway, here's what the place looks like on the inside:







(These three photos via here.)

Finally, here's review of the hotel at Not for Tourists by Dave Crish:

A scar, even upon the pissed on pave of Chelsea's north edge. I relate, here, of history's Vigilant. Built some hundred years ago of resilient brick, at present resembling ash. Not the sort of amenitied lodge one peruses on vacation. Piped of, but, three befouled showers, a pair of sinks, and toilettes of excreta. Succinctly, an inn of cells petit rented to gents of varied feather—all poor for whatever reason, breathing the airs of next step below homelessness. $125 per seven days. No credit, no checks, no euros, cartons maybe—of Marlboros. Never gleeful, rarely tended proud asylum sans musique. Fine abode for a bit of drifting or a brief disappearance. In sum, perfect for the bored with responsibilities of maintaining a traceable address. Foam pad, gray, oft cavorted 'pon by bloodsucking mites. Not a lash of social space but narrow hallways. Sphere of little social grace a tincture schizo of few heads cracked—a few murderers, few blooming, and even fewer handsome. Maybe a master once and then. Never a fellow un-weathered. Indeed, the Vigilant Hotel. For the times when desires discordant means and the bench not an option.


Related on EV Grieve:
Elk in the City

18 comments:

Jeremiah Moss said...

gorgeous. i dare you to spend the night in there.

EV Grieve said...

Tempting...Think they have mini-bars stocked with Tina Thor jewelry like at the Cooper Square Hotel?

Ken Mac said...

Remember the 70s when a social security number was not necessary for all legal transactions? Remember cheap studios in midtown? Remember when falling off the "grid" was as easy as using an ATM? Steal This Book, anyone? Ahh.. I am getting old. Great find.

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Ah, the old hotels...Scary yes but affordable...compared to today.

Mick

Mykola Dementiuk

StuyTownFullofYunnies said...

Great post!

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Actually I'd love to spend a night there, the old whoring hotels were my favorites. The 12th Street Hotel, off 3rd Avenue was the best (now a NewSchool Building), and the Sahara on 14th Street and 3rd Avenue was my home for awhile. Alas, these days I'm in a wheelchair going nowhere fast...but at least I can look into the computer and dream about days that were...

Mick

Mykola Dementiuk

amgphoto said...

Great stuff...I lived in a number of hotels between 1981 and 1985....
The Latham on 28th btw 5th and Madison in 1981-1982. More of an SRO residential hotel rather than a flop, but it was around $50 a week for a dark room looking out onto the back alley, with the bath down the hall. It really wasn't that bad, it was amazing the diversity of tenants. I remember that Elie Wiesel's nephew was the manager (if I remember correctly). By the time I left there, the city had started filling both the Latham and the Prince George next door with homeless brought in from out of the neighborhood, and it started getting scary.

The last hotel I lived in was Hotel Seventeen, after a concerted attempt to move into the Pioneer Hotel on Broome St($30/ week for a room off the Bowery...real door and real ceiling...not chicken wire). Hotel Seventeen was a mix of bottoming out punk rockers (I could name names, but I won't), younger punk rock and down and out kids like me, some older retired merchant seamen, and a number of ex cons and ex mental patients. I think I was paying around $70 a week for one of the smaller rooms in 1984. The neighborhood was not all that great at the time. The hookers had moved away from Third Ave, but there was a lot of public gay sex going on in Stuyvesent Park, and muggings were commonplace all around the area.

The next couple of years I lived in a number of different hotels, The Washington Jefferson ($55 a week) on West 51st, The Carlton Arms (before they went all arty...although they were going in that direction). I remember them being fairly expensive ($25 a night!). The Clinton Hotel (now the Greeley Square Hotel on West 31st). They charged approx $9-13 a night, and they had cable tv!!! No weekly rates though...and there were lots of hookers in training (pimply young girls from the suburbs escorted by extravagantly dressed black men.) There were a number of other places I remember (not so fondly). Also the Hotel Oak off Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn (one place I never ended up!)

I remember all the hooker hotels too...the Sherman on West 45th (?), the Elton on Park Ave South.

I've walked past the Vigilant many times since I moved here in 76 (there used to be more prominent signage in front)...I remember seeing the ads in the Village Voice under Rooms for Rent for the Hotel Vigialant...$28 a week. This would have to have been the late 70s. I did run into people who have lived at the Hotel Vigilant, it sounds like it was your standard flop...meaning cubicles with chicken wire nailed to the top. That whole area just to the south of Penn Station along 8th was quite the seething cauldron of humanity in the 70s...there were quite a number of cheap hotels and bars in the area. I drank in a number of those bars too...Gus Bar on 31st, Penn Terminal. I remember Ali Baba and Egyptian Gardens (Middle Eastern nightclubs). I also remember the last deli to have 10 cent cups of coffee (in 1979) on 31st and 8th.

EV Grieve said...

Thanks for sharing, AMG...Ever spend any time at the Elk on 42nd and 9th?

amgphoto said...

Nope...although I used to walk by it all the time. Also, at the time it was almost guaranteed that anything actually on 42nd would be too scary (and while I might have been a crazy kid, I wasn't totally insane!)

Jordan said...

Hey there. I'm working on a film about flophouses, boardinghouses that are still open for business, so fanks for publishing this. Might you be able to point me to any in Brooklyn?

Anonymous said...

Vivid descriptions by Dave Crish. "Piped of, but, three befouled showers, a pair of sinks, and toilettes of excreta." I can smell the place from here.

EV Grieve said...

Thanks for the comment, anonymous...I liked that passage myself.

esquared said...

Actually, I find today's hotels scarier (not because of the recent incident at Mumbai). Checking-in in today's hotel is like being in Kafka's The Trial. I don't like the security guards, doorman, bellboy, front desk staff giving you the eyeball or an attitude just because you "look" different, i.e. not wearing the latest fashion trend or look like a yunnie. I'll take a Vigilant Hotel over any of these hotels sprouting up all over EV and the city any day.

EV Grieve said...

I find hotel bars even scarier, Esquared...

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Had a girlfriend who slashed her wrists at the Elk Hotel on 42nd and 9th Avenue in the 1970s. The place is still standing and grubby looking too...

Mick

Mykola Dementiuk

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Oops! And Chapter 18 of my book "Times Queer" is called 'Elk Hotel'. Memorable times there...

Mick

Mykola Dementiuk

Mike said...

Wow, great post and comments...
My first night in NYC, uh, 1983? spent in the St James (45th st?) something... Hookers in the lobby, but cheap, and big rooms with cable.
Spent some nights '86 in hotel on Jane, by the Hudson. The Jane West? I forget the places name, but description of Vigilant fits.

amgphoto said...

I worked near the St James on 45th St a few years before the whole area was torn down in the early to mid 90s...that was one sleazy area. There also used to be a 47th St Photo on that block too. There were prostitutes walking around in the middle of the day. Amazing how much the area has changed.