IF THIS WALL COULD TALK
Mural at historic hotel tells era’s tale
IT’S WHERE BABE RUTH was sold to the Yankees and where the martini was allegedly invented. In the 14 years the Knickerbocker Hotel was open in Times Square, it was the hottest spot in town. An endless parade of celebs and power players drank, mixed, mingled and drank some more. Prohibition ended the party in 1920.
But now the Knickerbocker has reopened — and to commemorate its storied past, the hotel commissioned artist Molly Crabapple to recall the characters and debauchery that made the place so famous.
“I always worry about New York City becoming less wild, and so it’s very important to celebrate the times that were wild,” said Crabapple. “I hope this mural inspires many drunken hallucinations.”
The mural will be unveiled when the Knickerbocker’s rooftop bar opens in the coming weeks. The Daily News got an exclusive first look and presents this annotated guide to the old Knick.
1 MAXFIELD PARRISH: The famed painter and illustrator was commissioned to do the now-iconic Old King Cole mural for the Knickerbocker’s bar. When the hotel closed, the mural was moved to the St. Regis, where it remains.
2 TEDDY ROOSEVELT: In TR’s time, a “Knickerbocker” was a wealthy descendent of the first Dutch settlers of Manhattan. He was President when the hotel opened, and the mural depicts him being tended to by the in-house staff of nurses.
3 OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN: Legend has it that this theater impresario, grandfather of Broadway lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, was sucker-punched by a journalist at the Knick. After Hammerstein got up, the journalist’s editor came over and punched him again.
4 THE MARTINI: His name was Martini di Arma di Taggia, and he was supposedly the head bartender at the Knick when he invented the most famous cocktail of all time.
5 CARRIE NATION: She was known for smashing up bars with her hatchet in an effort to show the evils of drink. Fortunately for the Knick, Nation was escorted out before she could do any damage.
6 GEORGE M. COHAN: The most celebrated Broadway actor of his generation, Cohan held a legendary dinner party at the Knick in 1907 that was, according to a newspaper at the time, “the liveliest eating and drinking and speaking affair Broadway has known for several moons.”
7 WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST: The original New York media mogul was a regular. At a massive banquet at the hotel in 1908, he was asked to run for mayor on the Independence Party ticket. Hearst lost the election.
8 FATHER KNICKERBOCKER: Inspired by Washington Irving’s 1809 book “Knickerbocker’s History of New York,” this character represented the Big Apple in political cartoons as a kind of local Uncle Sam figure.
9 TAMMANY HALL: The infamous (and corrupt) political machine often held meetings at the Knickerbocker.
10 ELECTRIC CAR: In 1908, Oliver Fritchle drove his electric car from Nebraska to the Knickerbocker, a journey of 1,800 miles that took him almost a month.
11 ARNOLD ROTHSTEIN: The most notorious Jewish gangster of his era, he was implicated in the 1919 Black Sox World Series-fixing scandal. Rothstein ran an illegal baccarat game at the Knick, and is known as the inspiration for Meyer Wolfsheim in “The Great Gatsby.”
12 THE TABASCO SAUCE BANDITS: After robbing a hotel guest of $100,000 worth of gems, these brazen criminals shot police officers in the eyes with hot sauce. They were eventually captured by the furious cops.
13 BABE RUTH SALE: The deal to send Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees went down at the Knickerbocker in 1919. Baseball would never be the same.
14 ANNA PAVLOVA: The most famous dancer of her time, this prima ballerina of the Russian Imperial Ballet stayed at the Knick in 1910 while performing at the Metropolitan Opera.
15 ALBERT DE BRAHMS: The house violinist at the Knick, De Brahms murdered his wife in 1912 and then sealed her body in a crate full of plaster.
16 THE VELVET ROPE: Legend has it that history’s first red velvet rope was strung up in the Knickerbocker’s restaurant. Before that, waiting patrons would just mill around the tables. The idea of corralling them behind a rope near the entrance quickly became popular around the world.
17 GIACOMO PUCCINI: The famous Italian composer stayed at the Knickerbocker in 1910 and hosted lunches there that were big news on the gossip pages of the era.
18 ENRICO CARUSO: Known as the “Man with the Golden Voice,” Caruso was the most famous singer in the world when he moved into a suite in 1909. He lived there until the hotel closed in 1920, and died a year later.
19 EVELYN NESBIT: This 16-year-old beauty was seduced by the famous architect Stanford White, who was later killed by Nesbit’s husband. During the trial, the jurors were sequestered at the Knickerbocker. A few years later, Nesbit unsuccessfully sued the hotel for embarrassing her.
20 F. SCOTT AND ZELDA FITZGERALD: Legendary drinkers both, the Fitzgeralds were known to drunkenly throw $20 and $50 bills around the barroom, making them popular regulars. Scott lived at the hotel in 1919 and wrote a short play called “Mr. Icky” there.
21 THE DOLLY SISTERS: Gorgeous identical-twin dancers Rosie and Jenny Dolly had a nightly show in the summer of 1917 — making it one of the hottest summers on record, at least inside the hotel (rim shot!).
22 JACK BOUVIER: Ten years before he sired future First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Bouvier sued the Knickerbocker because management had kicked him out for skipping down the halls.
23 23 JACK JOHNSON: When heavyweight champ Johnson took on Jim Jeffries in 1910, the prize was so large — $80,000 — that it was kept safe at the Knickerbocker until after Johnson won the fight.
24 REX BEACH: The famous adventure novelist liked to hang out and talk about writing and gold prospecting.
25 BAT MASTERSON: Best buds with Wyatt Earp, this buffalo hunter and saloonkeeper became a U.S. marshal in New York City and a regular at the Knick.
26 MABEL HITE AND MIKE DONLIN: They were the most famous celebrity couple of the early 20th century; she was a star of the Broadway stage and he a star for the New York Giants up at the Polo Grounds.
27 ROALD AMUNDSEN: The first person to visit the South Pole, this Norwegian explorer later raised money at the Knickerbocker for an expedition to the North Pole.
28 CHARLES HAMILTON (HOUSTON): This might be the mural’s only error. Aviator Charles Hamilton, who was white, was the first to fly round-trip between New York and Philadelphia and was a celebrity at the Knick’s bar. But Charles Hamilton Houston, who was black, is the face in the mural, even though he likely never set foot in the Knick. That said, he was the lawyer known as “the Man Who Killed Jim Crow,” so that’s good enough for us.
29 ALEXANDRE GASTAUD: The Knick’s pastry chef was famous for his huge desserts, like a model ocean liner made out of colored sugar.
30 30 EUGÉNIE FOUGÈRE: A famous vaudeville actress, she was kicked out of the Knickerbocker in 1907 after hotel detectives found her sharing a room with her male manager — even though it later turned out they were married.
31 “GENTLEMAN JIM” CORBETT: This dapper heavyweight boxing champ was retired by the time the Knickerbocker opened, but that didn’t stop him from holding court in the barroom.
32 MARY PICKFORD: The actress who eventually became known as America’s Sweetheart lived at the Knickerbocker in the late 1910s before moving to Hollywood.
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