Writing the Hotel St. George

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Stumbling out of bed this morning, I flipped on the radio and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7—my absolute favorite—exploded into the room like Niagara. Three-quarters into the Allegro con brio, as the orchestra’s engine roared toward the ecstatic fortississimo, I pumped up the volume, rapture-ready.

The stunning final three measures—BOOM, bada BOOM, bada BOOM—and the irrepressible punch of its phrasing, as always, brought tears to my eyes.

When the radio announcer read the credits: Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic from a 1958 concert at the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights, I rejoiced at the serendipity of those words.

In the 1940s, my father worked at the St. George, at one time the largest hotel in NYC. It was his first job. Growing up, I remember him mentioning it frequently and never without commenting on its luxuriousness. “It had the largest indoor saltwater pool in the world,” he’d say, in awe. The son of struggling Italian immigrants, working at the hotel must have offered him his first—and, perhaps, only—taste of genuine extravagance.

So it was astounding to hear that the entire N.Y. Philharmonic had played Beethoven within its walls. He had not been exaggerating, after all.

My father died in the year 2000. While going through some of his things, I came across his employee picture I.D. from the hotel, which he’d held onto for over sixty years. It’s one of the few mementoes of him that I have—and I cherish it.

Whenever I look at that picture, I feel closer to the man I’d like to imagine he was back then. A man in his twenties, handsome, smiling and full of promise. If he were still alive, I’d thank him for sticking around to take care of me, when many a man in his situation might have run for the hills.

Over the years, I’ve googled information on the hotel, even queried a good friend who remembered using the Clark Street station, the subway stop that operated inside the hotel itself—all in an effort to help me better understand my father and preserve my memory of him.

Although the subway stop still remains, the hotel has undergone many metamorphoses. In the 70s, part of The Godfather (my father’s favorite movie—and, no, our family was not in the mob) was filmed inside the hotel—(remember the scene where Luca Brasi’s hand is impaled by an ice pick?). In the 90s it suffered a bad fire. Currently, it houses college students and cooperative apartments.

I keep promising myself that I will ride that subway line the next time I’m in NYC. Clark Street is only one stop outside of lower Manhattan, right after Wall Street. But until I get around to doing that, writing about it definitely helps.

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