Considering the popularity of fast food restaurants and shopping centers, it is difficult to find an
edifice rising out of the wrecker’s rubble that will serve the same purpose in the same location as its
predecessor did for the past 100 years. The new Garden City Hotel is such a structure.
The original hotel was built by Alexander Turney Stewart in 1874. Mr. Stewart was a man of
vision, a man of action and, of course, a man of wealth. In 1869, he purchased more than 7,000 acres of
land on the expansive Hempstead Plains for the purpose of building an ideal community.
In the heart of his village, Mr. Stewart constructed a brick and stone, four story mansion for
$150,000. This building would serve as a residence for Mr. Stewart and as a hotel for about 25 guests.
The 30 acres that surrounded the hotel were designed into a spacious, landscaped park and the guests
were pampered during their stay with lush Victorian furnishings, roving piazzas and elegant
Mr. Stewart already owned several other hotels more impressive than the Long Island mansion
that stood in desolate solitude upon the Plains. However, even if it is assumed that he had an eye for
history, it is doubtful that the man could have realized the beloved landmark that was to literally grow
and evolve throughout the decades from his original establishment.
Mr. Stewart died in 1876, and although Garden City was still an unfinished project, Mr. Stewart’s
dream stirred within the minds of Long Islanders and his hotel took root in the center of his village.
The Gay Nineties ushered in a new era and the hotel was caught up in the euphoric enthusiasm of the
times. In 1895, the Garden City Company remodeled the old hotel, using their association with
Stanford White to engage the prominent firm of McKim, Mead and White to design the hotel.
What emerged from the original square structure was a four story Georgian brick building with
two outstretched wings, full piazzas that could be glass enclosed in winter, and a charming cupola
adorning the roof. The new hotel could accommodate 200 guests in a manner of flair and lavishness
that appealed to the affluent New Yorker while affording a country setting for hunting, golfing,
bicycling and other sporting activities.
Children’s areas, billiard rooms, ornate ballrooms and quiet reading rooms were at the disposal of
the guests who could also enjoy special dining delights and the artwork and furnishings that had been
acquired during the expensive, and expansive, remodeling project. During this time, the diversity of
the area for pleasure and the excellence of the hotel drew guests from the Gold Coast circle. William
K. Vanderbilt, Jr., Daniel Guggenheim, Theodore Roosevelt, Frank Nelson Doubleday, J.P. Morgan,
John Phipps, the Astors, the Belmonts, the Cushings, and many more celebrities and socialites had
signed in at the register. The gala life of the hotel continued until a fire destroyed the building in
September of 1899. A blackened shell stood in the village center with losses of $200,000. Luckily, it
In 1900, another version of the same hotel grew from the ashes. It was larger than its
predecessor with two more wings added and its various segments divided into fireproof sections. A
marble swimming pool was provided and more private baths installed. The guests returned and the
landmark prepared for another era.
Automobiles were growing popular and William K. Vanderbilt Sr. received approval from the
American Automobile Association to hold a race with the streets surrounding Garden City as the
course. The hotel then became the headquarters in 1904 for the annual Vanderbilt Cup Race.
In 1911, the firm of Ford, Butler and Oliver accepted the task of enlarging the hotel once again.
The population was growing and in 1917, with the growth of nearby Camp Mills, the hotel opened its
doors every Sunday evening to provide an open house for the men stationed in the area. Perhaps one
of the most stirring images connected with the hotel would be that of young Charles Lindberg waiting
during May of 1927, walking along the piazza and the grounds, and resting for one long week before he
was able to achieve the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic.
The hotel was expanded and redecorated again in 1944 by the Knott Hotel Corporation who bought
the landmark in 1948. However, during the next decade, the hotel suffered from competition given by
the growing number of motels and restaurants in the area.
In the 60s, residents of Garden City disapproved of apartment rentals within the hotel complex.
The hotel had reached a slump when Michael Forte bought it in 1965 for $1,800,000 and issued
encouraging words about the future of the structure. However, the glorious revitalization pictured by
Mr. Forte was not to materialize. In 1971, stunned residents received word that the hotel was being
closed due to fire hazards and the great expense of operating a worn, old building.
Prized memories and all manner of treasures from Chinaware to door nameplates were sold until the
hotel was stripped of its nostalgia and stood as one more useless building waiting to be demolished. In
1974, the hotel was razed.
Almost a decade has passed since the public enjoyed the presence of the Garden City Hotel. 1983,
with an almost mystical determination to continue its service, the new Garden City Hotel opened once
again. Its design is reminiscent of the last hotel and the operators, Trusthouse Forte, Inc., promised to
maintain the style and setting of the previous landmark. There are features dedicated to the
remembrance of the hotel’s great moments. Sixteen executive terrace suites bear the names of the
great entrepreneurs of the Gold Coast circle. The names of the meeting and banquet areas are
dedicated to the elegant fashion of the past, such as: Gold Coast Hall, Vanderbilt Cup Room, Society
Suite and Cotillion Room.
The Newmarket Races held on the site in 1665 are remembered with a room name as well as
reviving the traditional Hunt Room. Also in the hotel is the Polo Court Restaurant. Among the
comforts available to guests are an indoor swimming pool, tennis courts, health spa, gourmet
restaurant and a beautifully landscaped 21 acres, all serving the 280 room complex. However, perhaps
there is a bit more to enjoy along with the luxury.
Since 1874, the Garden City Hotel had captured the flair of current trends and managed to glean
historical bits and pieces from the lives of the famous and powerful who chose to become guests of the
establishment. Now, another era with new trends and timely events is available for the hotel to absorb
into its heritage. And, why not? After all, history has to be made somewhere.
|First Published in Long Island Heritage