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New York Marriott East Side

525 Lexington Avenue at 49th Street · New York, New York 10017 USA

History of the New York Marriott East Side

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Explore the New York Marriott East Side's rich history since the 1920s. From its unique architecture to the famous celebrities who have passed through its doors, these stories help build the character and charm of this historic hotel situated on Lexington Avenue.


Visionary Design, Rich in History

New York Marriott East Side originally opened in 1924 as the Hotel Shelton, a residence for men, with a club-like atmosphere that included a swimming pool, billiards rooms, squash courts and dining. Designed by architect Arthur Loomis Harmon, who later contributed to the design of the Empire State Building, the hotel stands as an architectural jewel that has left its mark on New York City.


While architectural critics of the time didn't classify the design as any particular style, they were more interested in the fact that it was one of the first structures newly built in the city that, in accordance with zoning laws of 1916, featured setbacks at different heights that allowed light and air to flow to the streets. A mix of Romanesque and Byzantine styles, it created great excitement when it opened and was said to be the tallest hotel in the world in 1924. Architect Arthur Loomis Harmon even insured that the hotel's exterior walls would lean in a little to make it sturdier, something one can still see at street level.

Learning to Swim, with an Olympian Super Hero

Until 2000, a two-story swimming pool, framed by a tiled gallery, could be seen on the hotel's lower levels. In its heyday, the pool was the place where an Olympic medal-winner/super hero gave swimming lessons. Buster Crabbe, who appeared in movies in the role of Flash Gordon, the 1940s serial classic, also taught swimming at this fabulous indoor pool. A clip from Billboard on September 20, 1952 reads, "Buster Crabbe opens his Buster Crabbe Health and Swim Club…at the Hotel Shelton here.²" To this day, Buster Crabbe Swimming Pools continues to do business, creating swimming adventures in pools above and below ground.

Checking in, Underwater - with Illusionist Harry Houdini

In 1926, escape artist and illusionist Harry Houdini took the plunge at our hotel near Grand Central Station. In one of his famous escapes, he was lowered into the bottom of the swimming pool in a sealed box, equipped only with a telephone to be used in an emergency. For an hour and a half, he stayed submerged and then stepped out. "Anyone can do it," he told The New York Times.³

Room with a View

Painter Georgia O'Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz lived at the Shelton in the 1920s and 1930s; in fact the hotel was a great vantage point from which they painted and photographed New York City. "I went out one morning to look at (the Shelton Hotel) and there was the optical illusion of a bite out of one side of the tower made by the sun, with sunspots against the building and against the sky," said Georgia O'Keeffe, recalling the precise moment that inspired her to paint The Shelton with Sunspots.¹

Anecdotally Speaking

Of course, many stories abound on the guests who have passed through the doors of our charming Lexington Avenue hotel over the decades. While some of them can be verified, others have been passed down in conversation over the years, creating a rich history. Here are a few:

  • In the mid-1950s, Cuban bandleader Xavier Cugat and his wife, singer-actress Abbe Lane, lived in the hotel's penthouse. His nightclub, Casa Cugat, opened in 1959 but only lasted for about a year. It was followed by Basin Street East, where singers such as Peggy Lee and Eddie Fisher performer. Big band leader Benny Goodman and a 9-piece orchestra also performed in the venue, whose entrance was at 137 East 48th Street.⁴
  • In more recent times, James Stare was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1979 when he danced continuously for 330 hours on the roof of the hotel, as a benefit for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.


¹Georgia O'Keeffe Paintings, Biography, and Quotes (

²"Crabbe To Open New Seg…" September 20, 1952, "Billboard"

³Christopher Gray, "Mr. Houdini, Your Box Is Ready" March 26, 2009, "The New York Times"

⁴ James Gavin, Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee, November 2014

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