It was going to be the grandest hotel around, a gateway to the scenic Hudson Valley for wealthy tourists from New York City and around the world. Known as the Hendrick Hudson Hotel and modeled after the swank Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, the 230-room luxury hotel was perched 350 feet above the intersection of South Broadway and McLean Avenue on the western slope of Park Hill in South Yonkers. It offered spectacular views down the Hudson River to the New York Harbor and Lady Liberty, and upriver to the commanding Hudson Highlands near West Point. You could even see across Westchester to the waters of Long Island Sound.
The hotel’s builder and owner, the American Real Estate Company, was the same company that developed Yonkers’ charming and fashionable Park Hill neighborhood. Along with the ultra-modern, multi-tower hotel, the company had plans to buy the old Dunwoodie Golf and Country Club. They had already drilled a large elevator shaft 40 feet straight down to connect with a 150-foot tunnel so that hotel guests could disembark from the Park Hill train station at the foot of the cliff and sail right into the lobby of the mammoth hotel. Luxury amenities at the hotel included gas and electricity, telephones, viewing balconies, and tiled bathrooms.
The Hendrick Hudson Hotel was built in the Park Hill section of Yonkers.
But everything changed in the early morning hours of March 31, 1901, just weeks before opening day, when a roaring, spectacular fire turned the entire seven-story brick-stone-and-wood structure into a pile of embers and ruins in the span of just 90 minutes.
The hotel had been scheduled to open within weeks and construction had been nearly completed, with the exception of the lower-floor public rooms, including hallways, reception rooms and parlors, and smoking and billiards rooms. Yet, the glass windows had not been fully installed, allowing the windswept fire to race through the mostly wood interior quickly and efficiently.
“Everything changed in the early morning hours of March 31, 1901, just weeks before opening day, when a roaring, spectacular fire turned the entire seven-story brick-stone-and-wood structure into a pile of embers and ruins in the span of just 90 minutes.”
“The blaze leaped up through the roof to a height of nearly 100 feet and a great volume of smoke rolled heavenward with flaming pieces of wood carried along with the wind,” according to The Yonkers Statesman’s April 1, 1901, edition. “The Fire Department never responded quicker than on this occasion.”
All was lost, the firefighters quickly realized, and they set about trying to save surrounding homes and other structures from the burning embers and flying pieces of wood. “All the fire engines in greater New York could not have done a bit of good then,” Fire Chief Mulcahey told the Statesman, “and as for us, we had to hustle to keep the sparks from setting fire to other property in the vicinity.”
Some of the hotel’s ghostly ruins remain visible in what is now Leslie Sutherland Memorial Park.
The exact cause was never determined, though it appeared that the fast-moving fire started in the south end of the hotel, directly over the boilers. Insurance covered the entire $125,000 loss. Soon after, the American Real Estate Company announced plans to demolish the remains and rebuild from scratch, but those plans were never realized. Similarly, a 1923 proposal for another hotel on the site, this one 10 stories, also fizzled out, mostly due to neighborhood opposition. In 1929, the City of Yonkers bought the eight-acre site as the possible location for a South Yonkers High School. That too failed. So did subsequent plans for garden apartments atop the cliff.
Eventually, the old elevator shaft was filled in after its plank cover rotted and was deemed dangerous. Legend had it that the Bronx Beer Baron, Arthur “Dutch Schultz” Flegenheimer, stored kegs of beers in the caves and former tunnel during the Prohibition era.
In 1946, the city turned the entire area into the Leslie Sutherland Memorial Park, naming it after Yonkers’ 11th mayor. And, the stone terraces and pathways and other ghostly ruins of the once-grand Hendrick Hudson Hotel can still be spotted when walking through the hilly park.
Eons ago, Bill Cary majored in history at Duke University. These days, he writes about local history whenever he can.