11/9 update: Community Board 5 votes for preservation--but it's not over til it's over
After much news about the Hotel Pennsylvania's demise, requests from readers, and this dire article in the Times, I thought I'd better get up there fast. I found the hotel lobby packed with guests, most of them European, some still lingering after the marathon.
I spoke to bellhop Barrington Lovers, a name that conjures late-night radio and smooth jazz. Mr. Lovers has been a bellhop ("Don't call us bellboys, we've grown up") at the hotel for 21 years. He walked me through the lobby, pointing out all the businesses that have already closed or will soon be closing. Many shops were shuttered. The American Language Center, the one with all those "Learn English!" ads in the subways, will soon be gone. Vornado, the current owner, tends to keep its employees in the dark, pretending everything is alright, but the staff can read the signs and they are certain the end is near.
I asked Mr. Lovers what, if anything, remained from before the 1980s renovations. He pointed to the floor and said that was about it. The Grand Ballroom is now the set for the Maury Povich show. Cafe Rouge, where once the great big bands played, had become a Job Lot and is now the temporary studio for painting those big flowers on our city's cabs. Of course, the famous phone number remains, and if you dial Pennsylvania 6-5000 you'll hear the song it inspired.
Now and then, an elderly couple will come in to the hotel with photos of their honeymoon, wanting to revisit the room where they spent their first married night together. "They're the only ones who care about the hotel," Mr. Lovers told me, "Them and the Europeans. Most Americans, they don't care."
Being a bellhop isn't easy. Especially since the advent of wheeled suitcases. "If it was in my power," Mr. Lovers said, pointing to the line of guests checking in, "I would reinvent that wheel. I would make it square so it won't turn." Before wheels, he had more work to do and more tips to make. Luckily, he had several years before wheels came into fashion and he's managed to sock away enough tips so he can retire to his own business and won't need to find another job at another hotel, a thought that he dreads.
"Yes, my bag-carrying days will soon be over," he said, "But I can't say I'm relieved. You come to work every day and spend more time with these people than you do your own family. I gave the best years of my life to this place. But when corporate America makes up its mind, there's not much any of us can do about it."