The Warwick Hotel in midtown Manhattan has a rather risqué past, thanks to the likes of William Randolph Hearst and his longtime girlfriend, Marion Davies.
It was originally built in 1926 as a private residence (a.k.a. "love nest") for Davies, a sometime Ziegfeld girl who figured in Hearst's later life and whose affair with him cost Hearst a sought-after career in politics. (For the full, juicy account of what happened, see "Citizen Kane," Orson Welles's epic film based unapologetically on the life and loves of William Randolph Hearst.)
The building, at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 54th Street, just blocks from Rockefeller Center, soon became a kind of informal residence for other movie stars and celebrities who had shows on Broadway or were just passing through. Davies had her own apartment, of course, and Cary Grant kept a place with a wraparound balcony for 12 years. In later years, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and even the Beatles were regulars at the hotel, but by the 1980s it had become a bit rundown and, quite frankly, pretty shabby.
But several renovations later, the most recent coming last year, have restored the Warwick to its former glory, and now it's a little gem in the middle of the city which combines the coziness of a European hotel with the modern hi-tech amenities of larger properties.
But there are still echoes of a time gone by. For example, photos of Marion Davies adorn some of the corridors, and the old-fashioned black dialup telephones, although no longer in use, can be seen here and there. The carpet in the ground floor bar, "Randolph's Bar & Lounge," has little figures of rosebuds throughout, a reference to one of the themes of the movie "Citizen Kane." Of course, Hearst would have hated it, as he did the movie itself.
Scandal seemed to follow Hearst wherever he went and his affair with Davies was not the least of it. The mural in "Murals on 54," one of the two main restaurants, was painted by Dean Cornwell in the 1930s. It depicts Sir Walter Raleigh receiving his royal charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1584 and then landing in America at Roanoke Island. After the painter had finished, he and Hearst had a dispute about the fee. In retaliation, Cornwell painted, shall we say, some scatological figures that were soon painted over by an irate Hearst. But if you look closely, you can still see evidence of the original R-rated art.
Today, the hotel is sedate compared to its colorful past, and it's still one of the best bargains for staying in the heart of the city, especially around the holidays. You could spend an entire afternoon sitting in the lobby sipping tea and reading, as I have on many occasions. It's that kind of place.