Mornings and evenings in Brooklyn Heights, hundreds (thousands?) of commuters pass through a giant relic of what once was a glorious, spectacular gem of a hotel. The Hotel St. George operated for eighty years at Clark and Henry Streets, experiencing periods of broad expansion, opulent glory, and wild popularity before slipping into decline, decay, disaster, and demise.
The Hotel St. George dates to when Brooklyn was an independent city. The initial building opened in 1885 on Clark Street, and by the 1920s had grown to an immense complex of eight buildings that took up the entire block of Henry, Clark, Hicks, and Pineapple Streets. At its zenith it offered 2,632 guest rooms, had 1,000 workers, and reigned as the largest hotel in New York City. Its unmatched grandeur included a 168,000-gallon salt water pool, a grand ballroom (one of 17 in the hotel) dubbed the Colorama for its 1,000 multi-colored light bulbs and which could hold 3,000 dancers, and dining rooms that could feed 7,000 people at the same time. Those lounges sported exotic names such as the Bermuda Terrace, the Egyptian nightclub, the Stardust Room, and the Italian Village. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the hotel’s glamor attracted the glitterati of the day and elite members of the arts, society, and politics, as well as everyday New Yorkers for weddings, celebrations, and elegant nights out through the end of the 1940s.
The hotel had permanent residents as well as transients. Suites were advertised in the early days at rates of $240 – $280 a month for four rooms. The pool was built along with what became the Tower Building and was open to the public at just ten cents for an all-day admission, drawing people from across the city. The subway station at the building entrance opened in 1919 and made the pool an easy destination to get to for families coming from as far away as the Bronx and Queens.
During World War II and the Korean War, the hotel served as housing for soldiers and sailors passing through New York as they shipped into and out of the country. (The Brooklyn Navy Yard is not far from the hotel.) Soon after, the hotel slipped into a long decline along with the rest of the borough and city during the middle-class flight to the suburbs in the decades that followed the wars. The complex was sold five times during the 1960s alone, and by the mid-70s, the pool was shut down and drained, entire floors had been closed, and the full-time staff was down to just forty employees. The remaining hotel buildings staggered through the 80s and in 1995 a huge fire destroyed the original Clark Street building.
The four Western buildings, those being the Tower, Grill, Pineapple, and Cross Hall, were parceled off to a developer who converted them to luxury rentals, but the buildings were not well managed, and tenants brought complaints and suits against the owner. In 1982, the owner converted the Tower and Grill buildings to co-ops, and those buildings have thrived since.
The pool room has been converted to a two-tiered gym and smaller pool, and the Eastern end of the hotel, along Henry Street, is now a dormitory for local college students.
These days, the many commuters that rush through the former entrance of the hotel to grab the subway that runs under Clark Street to Manhattan, just one stop away, have little, if any, knowledge of the storied and glorious past of the once-fabulous building.