The Enduring Cinematic Legacy of The Roosevelt Hotel
The ongoing pandemic is forcing The Roosevelt Hotel, regularly featured in movies and TV shows, to close its doors after 96 years.
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Since it was built in 1924, the Roosevelt Hotel has been an incredibly important part of New York and film history. As an iconic part of the city’s skyline, it has been a popular fixture for important people and cultural moments for decades. It’s the site where Thomas Dewey incorrectly announced his defeat of Harry Truman, where Lyle Wheeler sold his Academy Award for The Diary of Anne Frank, and where a plethora of films staged their biggest moments. Now, however, it’s closing up shop. A spokesperson has recently informed CNN that the iconic New York hotel will be shutting down due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The statement released to press goes as follows: “Due to the current, unprecedented environment and the continued uncertain impact from COVID-19, the owners of The Roosevelt Hotel have made the difficult decision to close the hotel and the associates were notified this week. The iconic hotel, along with most of New York City, has experienced very low demand and as a result the hotel will cease operations before the end of the year. There are currently no plans for the building beyond the scheduled closing.” While there’s always still hope for a last minute reprieve, it would seem that the building will not continue to operate as it has for the past 96 years. In light of this news, it seems fitting to stroll down memory lane, and remember some of the hotel’s most significant film and TV appearances.
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Men In Black 3
Perhaps one of the more mainstream projects that the building has appeared in, Men in Black 3 actually uses the building as a clever way to sell its setting. When Jay travels back in time to 1969, he exits the Chrysler building and is faced with the Roosevelt Hotel. In reality, the building across the street from the Chrysler building at that time would have been the Commodore hotel. However, the Commodore hotel was completely rebuilt and re-opened in 1980, complete with a brand new glass façade. In comparison, the Roosevelt building has not changed all that much in design since its original opening, making it a much better fit for the time period of the film.
A bit more out there, but still quite interesting: the Roosevelt Hotel appears in an episode of the TV show Gotham. To be exact it stars in a scene of season 1, episode 5 titled “Viper.” Of course, it is not referred to as the Roosevelt Hotel, but instead sets the scene for a Wayne Enterprises Charity Luncheon. It’s a sparing use of the hotel, only appearing in the one episode, but it’s an effective one, which uses the Hotel’s ambience to effectively communicate the wealth and luxury of the Wayne family. It demonstrates one of the more difficult skills in set design, transforming a familiar location into something unfamiliar while clearly communicating the intent of the setting.
One of the Hotel’s last film appearances before its closure, The Irishman didn’t use the location as a hotel at all. Instead, they used the aesthetic and space provided by the Hotel to film a different location altogether. The production designer for the film, Bob Shaw, had the trouble of finding some way to find a location that went from a barbershop to a retail arcade, but found it would be entirely too much work to actually transform a real barbershop into a period-accurate look. “We ended up building the barbershop on stage, and shooting the retail arcade in the lower depths of the Roosevelt Hotel.” It demonstrates how adaptable the hotel was for different scenes and locations, making it a useful spot for a lot of different projects.
The Future of the Hotel
Of course, this is by no means a comprehensive list of every time the Roosevelt Hotel has shown its face in the media. Other noteworthy cameos include a scene in The French Connection, Quiz Show, Boiler Room, as well as several TV appearances on episodes of shows like Blue Bloods, Charmed, and The Americans. The Roosevelt Hotel has been a staple of New York shoots for almost as long as it’s existed, and the closure of the building is sad news indeed. For the time being, there are no known plans for what is to be done with the building, or what the future of the hotel looks like. Depending on what happens to the building, and what the ownership decides is the best route forward, film crews in New York may be looking at losing one of their most useful locations permanently.