Thursday, March 04, 2010

Living in New York City Kissing the Asses of Tourists

Foto by tgw, New York City, 2010.
A Hotel to the Front of Me; A Hotel to the Right of Me; A Hotel to the Left of Me; A Hotel Up the Rear of Me............................................................................................
In the above photo, the building on the far right is the new nemesis of my old-fashioned Manhattan neighborhood. It's a just-topped-off (when they top a building off they plant an American flag up there as a sign the building structurally has been completed (or the top has been put on it), 54-story, 242-room hotel.

I walked up Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas to you tourists) toward this building yesterday for the first time since they started construction on this piece-of-shit disruption (architecturally speaking, you understand) back 2 years ago. The site just recently put up some long blue signs on the scaffolding that covers the sidewalk on their Sixth Avenue (west)side of the street. I watched these signs being put up from my apartment window. So I walked over by there out of curiosity as to what they were revealing. The signs declared "A New New York Experience--A New New York Look--an Eventi Hotel--the New New York Hotel--a Kimpton Hotel...."

I Googled "the Kimpton Hotels" and found out who the hell this Kimpton is. Why, son of a bitch, it's an old friend, Bill Kimpton. Bill Kimpton! I know this son of a bitch! I worked in the management consulting business...and, I'm thinking, where did I know him from?

In the 1970s, Random House Publishing decided to move their headquarters from the old Villard Mansion on Madison Avenue over to the far East Side and a new plexiglas-no-windows-concrete-infrastructure building of the kind critics were calling Kleenex boxes turned up on their ends. Random House and Knopf combined so they claimed they didn't have enough space in the Villard Mansion so they moved out of that grand old extravagantly snobbish building and left it up for grabs on the vicious NYC real estate market. Harry Helmsley, a single individual who at one time in this city was allowed by the Power Elite that has ruled New York City since the days of Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed (the old Tammany Hall building is still standing down on Union Square) to buy up and eventually own through his Helmsley-Spear Real Estate firm what seemed like to New Yorkers every other damn building--and it seemed absolutely true to people living in Manhattan. It didn't matter to Harry whether it was a 5-story walkup or a skyscraper (he eventually bought the Empire State Building), he bought it and put a Helmsley-Spear sign on it and that was that.
Harry and Leona During the Good Times
Harry in his old age--rich people live long lives no matter their habits--did you ever notice that?--became a bit senile. He and Leona fixed up the penthouse of the Essex House Hotel on Central Park South to live in--one of the most expensive streets to live on in the world--just down the street from the famous Plaza Hotel. This is the penthouse that had the Olympic-sized swimming pool in it. One of the only pleasures old feeble senile Harry had near his end was taking people out on that penthouse balcony that overlooked Central Park to participate with him in his favorite game. Once on that balcony, the game began when old Harry with a gleam in his old tired eyes would begin on his left, the building west of the Essex House, and then progress up to Central Park West and then up Central Park West--and Harry would start saying as he went from building to building, "I own that building there, the next building, too, that building down there, that building next to that building...." The game's goal was Harry going from building to building around Central Park eventually coming back to the Essex House, where he crossed the goal line with a final score. One guest who experienced being a participant in this sport said Harry that day came up with a score of 241 buildings--and remember, that was just around Central Park. So when the Villard Mansion came up for grabs, old Harry was there with his billfold wide open and overflowing with cash for bribing or for buying. Money meant nothing to Harry--only buildings.

Harry's plans soon became known. He and Leona were going to build the grandest hotel ever seen in New York City. Leona said it was going to be called the Helmsley Palace Hotel. And where was this Palace Hotel going to be built? Why on the site of the Villard Mansion. Yep, the Helmsleys were tearing down the Villard Mansion and, by God, Harry was going into the hotel business big time. And on that news up rose New Yorkers by the yelling droves in protest over this gnarly old self-infatuated asshole going to tear down a last example of 19th-Century New York City leisure-class luxury in favor of a glass menagerie tower--Harry's own Palace. As a result of this citywide uproar, the Villard Mansion was declared a Landmark building. That meant, Harry couldn't tear it down--BUT--and these bastards always get us in the BUTS--but, Harry could build his Palace hotel in the air space over the old mansion, which he owned up to the 50-floor limit on Midtown Manhattan buildings in those days, as long as he incorporated the old mansion into his design.

And this is where I first know Bill Kimpton from.

Bill was born in Kansas City. He was a bright boy and he went to Northwestern, a good school, a better-level college for the cornfed and porkfed Midwest kids who they hope are among the MIdwest's best and brightest. On graduating Northwestern, good old Bill went to Chicago and sold typewriters for IBM. Next thing we know, good old Bill is AN INVESTMENT BANKER. He's in NEW YORK CITY working for LEHMAN BROTHERS!! At Lehman Brothers (and later at other financial investment banks, primarily in California) here's what Bill's accomplishments were according to his Wikipedia entry:

He helped take Kentucky Fried Chicken public in 1964. He also gained expertise in hotel development, handling the financing for the Kapalua Bay Resort Hotel in Maui and helping Harry Helmsley raise $23 million to renovate the Helmsley Palace Hotel in New York.

("Renovate" in the above statement means "he revised the original plans to include the Villard Mansion.")
The Helmsley Palace Hotel, that tacky glass behemoth hovering over the old Villard Mansion.
Aha! I surely knew old Bill in terms of the Helmsley Palace, but...there was something missing. I'd known him from somewhere else...then, AHA! Again from good old Bill's Wikipedia entry:

He was one of the first to find a niche in moderately priced, intimate European-style hotels, known in the industry as boutique hotels, like the Alexis Hotel in Seattle, the Hotel Palomar in San Francisco and the Burnham Hotel in Chicago. His strategy was to buy small, old buildings in downtown neighborhoods and convert them into hotels.

Mr. Kimpton ''created a hotel system that was truly one of a kind,'' said Bjorn Hanson, the managing partner of the hospitality practice of the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. ''He had hotels that filled a niche, converting old hotels or buildings that were not so hot into very special, distinctive, unusual properties.''

Mr. Kimpton said in interviews that he had found his calling as a young boy, playing Monopoly with friends. His passion, even then, was collecting hotels.

Now I know where I first met Bill Kimpton. This son of a bitch, on money he bilked out of investors while working for the piracy firm of Lehman Bros (the financial firm recently wiped out of existence by the Goldman-Sachs bandits who are still running our economy and ruling over our Congress), good old Bill got to fulfill his childhood passion for hotel collecting--oh hot diggity-god-damn. So this is the bastard who brought to New York City the god-damn boutique hotel industry. This is the bastard who influenced all these other private-equity, bonus-rich boutique hotel collectors, like this Schraeger character who's building this boutique son of a bitch neighborhood-disruptive hotel next door to my 140-year-old apartment building and perkily admits he's Bill Kimpton's protege.

Boutique hotels. Schraeger I've heard owns 200 of them in New York City alone. These bastards have their goons roam neighborhoods with cameras (both digital and camcorders), with clipboards, with tape measures, with tape recorders, and what they do is they walk up and down Manhattan blocks and check every building--listing the addresses, measuring the frontal width, checking who owns it, etc. Then they go back to Lehman Bros. and they crunch all these findings and they come up with maps showing the most vulnerable properties and those with potentials as boutique hotels, which includes all the old early-twentieth-century hotels and old-neighborhood buildings (like the original Life Magazine building just across the street from me that was turned from a whorehouse-crack den into a boutique hotel, the developer of which was allowed by the Landmark Commission to put a totally vulgar and building-ruining extra floor on top of this otherwise elaborately gold leafed and cupid adorned 19th-Century facade).

There are two boutique hotels on my block already--the old Clinton Hotel, now the Herald Square Hotel (the old Life Magazine building) and the once very ritzy and elegant Wolcott Hotel. Who bought and developed the Herald Square I don't know, but I know that an Indian private equity group redid the Wolcott.

These boutique hotels cater to Euro-Trash. They are popular with the Euros because their rooms go for an average of $150 a night whereas if you stay in a big-name hotel, like the Hilton or Sheraton, you're gonna pay around $350 a night. Besides, the Euro-Trash don't mind that they are staying in what once were whorehouses, crack dens, illegal immigrant hiding places, or homes for itinerant bums--in old buildings infested with vermin--infested with roaches, water bugs, and bedbugs--plus lead paint is on the walls and asbestos is between the walls of these old hotels. The Wolcott a few years ago had to trash every mattress in the joint--and it's at least a 100-room hotel--and for weeks there were dumpsters out front packed with mattresses. I assumed those mattresses were infested with bedbugs. The Euro-Trash are here to use the power of their Euro bucks over the US buck to shop, walk the streets smugly with their maps, their backpacks, their Euro-Trash sports togs (made in China just like our clothes)--though, yes, a lot of hayseed American tourists book into these hotels, too, though they are much bigger suckers for the Times Square big-time rip-off hotels like the Marriott or over on the edge of Rockefeller Center behind Saint Patrick's at the Helmsley Palace for instance.

So this max-tacky 54-story, 262-room hotel is being built by what's now called the Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants Corp. Why's this important? 'Cause you see good old Bill Kimpton died of leukemia in 2001.

I wondered as I looked up at this god-ugly structure standing in front of it if good old Bill would have approved of this tacky hotel being built in his name? Sure he would have, I knew all along. His hobby remember was collecting hotels. His boutique hotel concept was just his means of making money off his hobby.

Ironically, as a kid, I grew up 30 miles west of the little West Texas city of Cisco. Cisco was famous as being the site of the very first ever Conrad Hilton hotel, the Mobley.
The First Hilton Hotel, The Mobley, Cisco, Texas, now the site of the Hilton Museum (Cisco, 150 miles west of Fort Worth, is located on the old Bankhead Highway, US Highway 80 (it ran from New York City all the way to L.A.), and was once a station stop on the Texas & Pacific Railroad. In the early 19-teens and 1920s, Cisco was very active little city since it was involved as a railhead for the famous Ranger Oil Field and the Strawn, Texas, coal mining operations, and the Texas & Pacific coal mining town of Thurber. Being on a cross-country highway and being a railhead for the oil and coal boom towns of that time, Cisco had a need for hotels).

The second Hilton Hotel, I was always told, was the Hilton Hotel in my hometown. When you see Paris Hilton now remember she's a totally untalented, dumbass, leisure-class-privileged daughter of a rather worthless couple of slobs who have inherited their wealth and gained their entry into the Power Elite through the hotel business.

Obviously, New York City's only industry now is the TOURIST INDUSTRY. Euro-Trash vacationers. Asian businessmen on a Manhattan hustle trip. Brits vacationing over here and while they are here looking for New York condos to buy. Real Estate agencies bringing potential high-end buyers to New York City and using the boutique hotels to store them in while they're trying to hustle millions of dollars from these other world suckers!

SHIT. My life is now controlled by the New York City tourist industry. Even the air I breathe is controlled by them. Good old Bill Kimpton's hotel has totally blocked any breezes coming in my windows from the west--and I used to get long gusts of Hudson River-cooled breezes coming at me all during the days--not any more.

My old pal who owns my favorite Irish pub tells me that hotels are moneymakers no matter full or not. Even if they're only a quarter full, they can still make money.

Good old Bill Kimpton was also big pals with Wolfgang Puck, a German chef who somehow came to this country, thick accent and all, Californians must love German accents, check out their governor, and managed to somehow peddle the notion that American food was so unchic, so unEuro-Trash, so not Old World, that he managed to advanced himself into the millionaire class over here through making himself a trendy type in his Hollywood Spago--and he now owns a whole Wolfgang Puck enterprises--amazing--and who decided he's a good cook!

That's what these Euro-Trash-lover investors are bringing to the USA, this Old World European style of hostelry, bistros, pubs, garden dining, bars with hundreds of Euro beers, and wine cellars stocked with who-knows? wines these snobby assholes hustle as so chic and with it. And their neostyle cooking turns out scantily small portions but hugely priced portions of weird concoctions of Euro-Trash recipes all surrounded by a ring of raspberry sauce and topped with a twig of parsley and a sprig of fennel or is it the other way around? Euro chefs seem to specialize in a whole lot of scallop dishes. I hate scallops. Euro chefs have also brought to this country what they call "sliders." These are Euro-Trash-style hamburgers--Kobe beef patties fried in veggie oil--topped with mushrooms, bleu cheese, with a slice of Gruyere cheese on top, put under the broiler and served on little Euro-Trash buns with sweet potato fries--and all for only $50. [By the way, whether you fry a sweet potato or a regular old Red Bliss potato in deep-welled grease doesn't matter in terms of healthy cooking--plus Euro-Trash chefs (and this includes this plethora of Brit chefs all over this country, too) use a lot of salt, a lot of bad oil, even a lot of sugar.]

The only place I can still get a good meal in my neighborhood now is at my favorite Irish pub--nicely cooked food: like wonderful pork chops or tenderloin of pork medallions or if you go for fish, they have beautiful Norwegian salmon, tuna steaks, or traditional American Irish dishes like shepherd's pies, Irish sausage and potatoes, or chicken pot pies; or if you wanna really go American, Angus steaks or New York sirloins--or perhaps you prefer a sirloin chopped steak--covered in grilled onions and mushroom gravy--OR hamburgers--man, their hamburgers are cooked the New York City 70s way, thick juicy sirloin burgers served on big nice sesame-seed buns (grilled in a little fat) with a side of, as Roy Rogers called 'em, fixin's: lettuce, tomatos, onions, pickles, mustard, ketchup, and a huge pile of hot freshly deep-fried French fries (or Patriot Fries or Freedom Fries if you're a teabagger). The day my friend hires Wolfgang Puck to take over his kitchen, I'm out of there except to drink.

Anybody used to could come to Manhattan and find an affordable apartment or a nice neighborhood to live in, and then find a good job in a matter of days, and then start enjoying living in this city of at one-time so many diverse neighborhoods--right here in Manhattan we had a German neighborhood (Yorkville--where Henry Miller (of German descent) was born); Little Italy; Chinatown; Little Beirut (my original neighborhood was Lebanese); a Lower East Side Jewish community; a Lower East Side Ukrainian neighborhood; a Lower East Side Polish neighborhood; a Portuguese area over on the West Side; even a French (Normandians and Burgundians) neighborhood over by the French Line docks when there were still ships of all types docking along the Hudson River from the high 50s all the way down to the Latin American ship line piers at the foot of Canal Street. And of course the Irish neighborhood on San Juan Hill or up in Washington Heights and the Puerto Rican neighborhoods all up the West Side--and there were the business districts, too, which were neighborhoods unto themselves: the fashion district, the flower district, the fur district, the millinery district, the business machines district, the radio-television district, the film district, the theater district, the HOTEL district....

No more. Our Billionaire Mayor, a real estate investor himself, is not only mall mad but he's also selling this city off to the highest bidders among his big developer pals. If only he had lost this last campaign we might have been saved from further tragic urban planning moves but with a fresh four years this little cocky bastard can totally and drastically change life (culture, make up, everything) in New York City. He's giving Manhattan away to the rich no matter where they're from or where their national loyalties or their bank accounts lay. I'm speaking as a New York City resident of 30 years and not an ethnocentric fool. I've never thought of New York City as anything but New York City, the ultimate in what I considered a stage on which to show your best in the USA, the reward being a chance to live a full New York City-style life--though, yes, I concede, I'm constructing a dialectic that leads to a utopia--and as a Sociologist I'm well-versed in failed utopias (a great Sociological classic is Karl Mannheim's Utopia). I'm calmed down now. I hope good old Bill Kimpton's first East Coast venture--he made his big money building boutique hotels in San Francisco mainly but also up and down the West Coast--fails big time--oh the hotels old Bill collected. I can remember when rich people collected like art or automobiles; now, like that old gnarly fool, Harry Helmsley, they collect buildings!
How'd did you enjoy Senator Jim Bunning's performance in We the People's Senate the other day? Yep, old Jim was against extending Federal unemployment insurance payments to the recently laid off--fuck 'em all, old Jim said, "giv'n 'em extended payments will 'cause 'em to stay home and watch teevee rather than goin' out and gettin' 'em a job." That's the old Conservative spin against welfare, remember? Old Jim didn't give a shit if his bullshit was hurting his chances at getting re-elected. He'd already said he wasn't running again because he was having trouble raising campaign funds, so hell, why not filibuster and get another 15 minutes of fame before he retires to his politically gained Kentucky farmland or whatever--his beer distributorship in Louisville--whatever. Jim Bunning, you see, is an ex-baseball player. A pitcher. A damn good pitcher, too. With the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies. 65th in career wins, 247 or so, and 17th on the all-time strike-out list. In the sixties he pitched a perfect game, the 18th perfect game ever pitched in the MLs at that time. Old Jim belonged in and got put into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the 90s. But Old Jim didn't belong in the US Senate, though he got there the true democratic way, starting by being elected to a city council job and moving from there up through the Kentucky State House to make it first to the US House of Reps and finally to the Senate. We'll miss old Jim's backwards thinking. During his filibuster, Old Jim started talkin' 'bout his 40 grand kids and how if he voted for this extension of these Federal unemployment benefits for 30 days he'd hate to think his "40 grand kids WAS" gonna suffer from the damage this bill would do to the Amurican economy. Afterall, Jim at his best was just a baseball player. Jim Bunning's major in college? How 'bout Economics.
Sociological Thinking
I close this bitchy post with a beautiful passage on Sociological Thinking from an old mentor of mine from way back in my early college days, Jose Ortega y Gasset, from his book The Revolt of the Masses. Gasset was the head chair in Metaphysics at a Madrid U prior to the Spanish Civil War. He was one of the intellectuals behind the Spanish Republican government and became a member of the Spanish Republican Parliament. After becoming disappointed with politics, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, J O y G, went into exile in Buenos Aires first and then later in Lisbon, Portugal. After World War II, J O y G gradually returned to Madrid again as a lecturer in his own School of Humanities. He left the coil in 1955 at age 72.

To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand. This is the sport, the luxury, special to the intellectual man. The gesture characteristic of his tribe consists in looking at the world with eyes wide open in wonder. Everything in the world is strange and marvelous to well-open eyes. This faculty of wonder is the delight refused to your football "fan," and, on the other hand, is the one which leads the intellectual man through life in the perpetual ecstasy of the visionary. His special attribute is the wonder of the eyes. Hence it was that the ancients gave Minerva her owl, the bird with ever-dazzled eyes. [The Revolt of the Masses, W.W. Norton-Signet Books/Mentor Books, 1950, page 8.]
The Very Dapper Jose Ortega y Gasset

Yeah, man, "ever-dazzled eyes." That's what I love about life: that which dazzles my eyes to wide-open owl proportions--able to observe things in the light as well as the dark.

for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

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