The Cornish Hotels of New York City – Part Two
The Cornish Hotels of New York City
Research into the later life of the last two West Twenty-third Street incarnations of the Cornish Arms Hotel from 1914 until c.1973 yields evidence of the decline and the ultimate end of its distinctively Cornish character. From the opening of its final home at 311-315 West Twenty-third Street in 1926 the Cornish Arms, both under the Blake proprietorship and that of its successors, in addition to its hotel guests, hosted an eclectic range of groups and individuals who made use of its public and meeting rooms. Despite a diminishing number of Cornish guests, due to changes in economic and immigration patterns, partly as a result of post-WWI legislation that introduced quotas for immigrants entering the United States – although the quotas for northern European countries remained generous – Sid Blake’s New York letters published in The Cornishman newspaper continued to record numbers of Cornish people staying at the hotel through at least 1929. The period saw dwindling employment in the U.S. mining industry and numbers of Cornish miners were reported as leaving to return home. This notwithstanding, the hotel during the Roaring ’20s – and irrespective of what effects Prohibition may have had on its hospitality – was apparently prosperous enough to raise finance for the building of an ambitious new thirteen-storey premises a block and a half further east along West Twenty-third Street.
Sid Blake’s plan to build a new hotel seems to have germinated in the early-mid ’20s and by 1925 he had raised about $500,000 through the sale of stock in the Cornish Arms Hotel Co. Inc., ultimately realizing $900,000 by which time construction of the new hotel was underway. It opened on December 5th 1926. During this period Mr. Blake was apparently trying to sell the 441-443 premises but, as attested below hadn’t managed to do so by the summer of 1929. At that period some stockholders and directors in the company became sufficiently dissatisfied with the return on their investments to begin legal action. The Cornishman newspaper of August 21, 1929, as well as containing one of Mr. Sid Blake’s Cornish Letters, ran the following:
CORNISH ARMS HOTEL, NEW
“According to “Iron Ore,” Ishpeming, Michigan, a New York supreme court justice has ordered a receiver appointed for the Cornish Arms Hotel, New York City, in which many upper peninsula people are stockholders. Sid Blake, who promoted the hotel only a few years ago, and other officers who have been associated with him in the management, have been put out of office by the court’s order. There is nothing to indicate that the hotel company is insolvent.
The account of the affairs of the Cornish Arms Hotel company is written by Supreme Justice Schmuck for the New York Law Journal, and contains the following;
“The defendant, Blake, for years the owner and manager of a boarding house or hotel catering principally to English tourists, conceived the idea, supported by the prosperity enjoyed by his business of erecting a more sumptuous and spacious hostelry through the means of stock subscriptions. Incorporated under the name of Cornish Arms Hotel Co. Inc., and with a capital of $1,000,000 he immediately set to work to bring his idea to a state of practical realisation. Aided and abetted by others he succeeded in selling approximately $900,000 worth of stock to about 6,000 persons. With the money thus obtained the construction of the hotel began, and at the present writing the defendant corporation with several of the defendants as its officers is engaged in conducting the Cornish Arms Hotel at 311 West Twenty-third Street, Borough of Manhattan. Up to the time of actual operation the affairs of the corporation were seemingly pursuing a smooth course, but shortly thereafter discontent and dissatisfaction with the management arose. In this connection at the trial testimony was adduced in the elicitation of the following facts: Blake in the furtherance of the project through the medium of a publication of relative considerable circulation known as the Cornish Arms Bulletin circularised his British countrymen for subscriptions. He invited and secured the cooperation of the American Order, Sons of St. George. In return for this impetus thus gained the said order was given possession and occupation of the twelfth floor of the hotel, rent free, for a period of five years and its secretary an annual salary of $3,500. During the period of construction, Blake formed a board of directors and had himself elected president at an annual salary of 5 per cent of the gross income and board and lodgings for himself and family, which practically meant payment of over $25,000 annually for a period of five years. In addition to this lucrative contract, despite the protests of some of the directors, principally the plaintiffs, Blake for promotion work was voted the sum of $36,098.87, which practically balanced the admitted amount of subscriptions in his possession and not paid over to the corporation. Another source of complaint was the leasing to the corporation of the premises, No. 441 West Twenty-third Street, where formerly Blake conducted his business. Questioned as to the necessity thereof, Blake and his two co-defendants fail to satisfactorily show the advisability of a lease requiring the payment of 5,000 dollars annually when the hotel was only partially occupied. As a last strain in the breaking down of the confidence of the plaintiffs and the 3,800 stockholders supporting them in the ability of Blake and in proof of the incompetence and improvidence of the majority of the directors, the evidence shows a judgement of 60,000 dollars in favour of a former director for breach of contract, and which judgement was wholly paid by the corporation without the slightest contribution on Blake’s part. With these outstanding facts established, it becomes necessary to determine whether the management of Blake was willfully fraudulent and the conduct of of his co-defendants legally chargeable with neglect, violations of office and conspiracy to defraud. The courts have frequently held that an officer and director of a corporation stands in a fiduciary position. They are compelled to give the same attention to the business of the corporation as they would give to their own affairs. They are chargeable, as well, for the omission as for commission and will not be permitted to serenely close their eyes to malfeasance. Judicial interpretation of the duty of an official and director in consequence, while exculpating them from liability for the slight or explainable neglect, nevertheless holds them responsible for the result of the lack of vigilance in the preservation of which is intrusted to their care and does not excuse their gross and unpardonable neglect. Guided by this principle, the court, aware of the frailty of human judgement and the impossibility of impeccability, is however compelled to find these defendants inexcusably neglectful. It would therefore be dangerous to continue them in charge of the hotel. costs to the plaintiffs.”
Some weeks later the Cornishman of September 11, 1929 printed this:
MR. SID BLAKE’S CORNISH
Our office address in England:
Steamship Office and Tourist Bureau,
Alliance Hotel, Oxford Street,
Steamship Office and Tourist Bureau,
311, West Twenty-third Street,
New York, U.S.A.
“I have written to my readers very often during the last three years about the trials and tribulations of the Cornish Arms Hotel. As many of my readers know there are over six thousand stockholders, some holding one share of stock valued at 25,000 dollars, some with two, three and four shares or more. With such a large number of stockholders it is only natural that they should divide themselves into factions and there has been constant squabblings ever since the hotel was built. I have used every effort since I conceived the idea of building the hotel to hold it together, so that the stockholders can derive some benefit from their investment in the form of dividends, but these different factions have fought from every conceivable angle which has cost the Company many thousands of dollars, and in the last court action held a few weeks ago, the court placed a referee in charge of the hotel until the different factions can settle their misunderstandings. It has naturally upset me a bit, as it had been my dream to make the Cornish Arms Hotel a financial success. Had I been left alone unquestionably the Hotel would have been able to pay very satisfactory dividends. On the other hand, not having the Hotel to manage the last three weeks have been a source of relief, as it is hard for me to explain, but it is the really the first time in five years that I have really not had a headache, and it has been the means of my realising that if I had spent a quarter of the time in my steamship agency that I had in the Hotel I would have been much better off, physically, mentally and financially.”
Mr. Blake follows this portion of rather hurt, put-upon self-justification with an outline of his plans for the future:
“It has often dawned upon me that my patrons like to be met and looked after while travelling through New York City. If their families are coming over, they like me to have them met at the pier, see that they are looked after while in New York, and have them placed safely on the train for their final destination. The Hotel part of it is a secondary consideration. Hotels are more or less alike, and if their families have to stop over in New York, whether they stop at the Cornish Arms or some other hotel it makes no difference to them as long as it is recommended by me, and the next morning I take care of the family and see them safely on the final destination. With this thought in mind I have realised my steamship agency should not be mixed up directly or indirectly with any hotel, and I am opening up an office at 320 West Twenty-third Street, right across they way from the Cornish Arms Hotel, and I hope it will be more like times used to be in the old place where any Cornish people who happen to be in New York will come in and make it their home, and for the Cornish people who live in Brooklyn or Jersey and places close by it will be a sort of club, as we will have Cornish pictures on the walls and Cornish papers on the table. Under these conditions we will be able to get away from the hustle and bustle around the hotel, and devote ourselves to aiding those who are travelling…“
A week later the Cornishman of September 18, 1929, under the usual heading of Mr. Sid Blake’s Cornish Letter, carried a missive written not by Sid Blake himself but by his long-time employee and, apparently, former schoolmate, Bill Thomas, which reflects the Cornish Arms story from an interestingly different angle.
“September 6th, 1929
Mr. Blake has just telephoned me from downtown where he is getting some reservations on his Christmas sailing, the steamship Mauretania leaving New York on November 27th. He said to me over the ‘phone he would be detained a little longer than he thought and asked me to write the article for “The Cornishman.”
As you know, I have worked for Sid Blake nearly 8 years, starting down at the old place, 441-443 West 23rd Street, and have watched the moving from the old hotel to the new hotel, particularly when Mr. Blake took upon himself the developing of this great feat in building an up-to-date Hotel for the British travelers. This has been a hard task and a great accomplishment for one man to do, but with it all I, like hundreds of Cornish people, have said there was no place like the old Cornish Arms Hotel. Down in the old place you came in contact with everybody that was registered there, the people who stayed were travelling, they were all British, whilst in the new place you have people who are travelling and commercial people, and it is next to impossible, on account of the huge size of the new hotel, to meet your people with the same freedom as we used to in the old hotel. While Mr. Blake was promoting the new hotel, I can truthfully say I was not surprised when he collapsed from a very serious illness last year, as, with hardly an exception, year after year, Sundays and holidays included, you could see Mr. Blake around the new hotel as late as one o’clock in the morning and down next morning before seven.
It is a wonder to me to see how he stood up under the strain as long as he did. Of course, it is understood that when one human being accomplishes something at all, there is always a group of men who would like to graft, and so it was in the case of the new hotel. Not being able to get something for nothing they divided up into factions, and where there are six thousand stockholders, you can imagine the strife that will exist when divided into different factions.
I have noticed that in America there are different Cornish Associations, and after a year or so they will divide into factions, ending in a fight, and the associations cease to exist. Ever since the opening of the hotel, Mr. Blake tried to keep harmony and keep the hotel going, and I am pleased to say it was beginning to show good results, when one faction of the stockholders went to court and a receiver was placed in the Hotel until such time as the stockholders can get together satisfactorily. Mr. Blake has not said anything to me, but I am sure he must feel much relieved when he is relieved of the responsibility of carrying on the work of a large 340 room Hotel governed by six thousand stockholders, and particularly I am very pleased to see he is now able to devote his time to the Steamship and Tourist Agency, because this is the line of work that is very pleasant, and when you help out a first tripper or a family with their travelling troubles while passing through New York, you are sure to receive a great deal of appreciation and thanks from the people you are aiding. It is not always quite so when managing a hotel. Mr. Blake hopes to have his agency entirely by himself with a big office attached, where he intends to arrange it more as a resting place and a meeting place for Cornish people, and where he will have much more freedom than in the hotel, as we can take more interest in the traveller than we could under the roof of the Cornish Arms Hotel.”
Mr. Thomas’s letter goes on to describe the services that the new steamship and tourist enterprise will offer. A service that Sid Blake regularly emphasised was that of meeting travellers disembarking from their arriving boat at a charge of $3 for individuals and $4 for family groups of up to four. Mr. Thomas’s letter concludes with a list of those who have recently passed through “our offices”.
In August 1930 one of the Blake-organized voyages from New York to England set off with Bill Thomas, described as conductor. In one of his letters Mr. Thomas writes of his gratification at being able to spend six days in his native Penzance, staying with his granny in her home in South Folly Place. In his Cornish Letter published in the Cornishman edition of 24th August 1930 Sid Blake says how happy he is to have welcomed Bill Thomas back from his excursion to England and Cornwall.
Within a month of this reunion there appears to have been a parting of the ways between Sid Blake and Bill Thomas. In his Cornish Letter appearing in the Cornishman of 18th September Mr. Blake refers to “experts” who will see to the need of clients without naming any names. In the same newspaper’s edition of 24th September two letters appear under the heading “A Cornish Letter From New York” signed by Bill Thomas, who now writes from the Passenger Department of the United States Steamship Company’s offices at 45 Broadway. In one of the letters he mentions – for the first and last time – his previous connection with Mr. Sid Blake’s agency. What passed between Sid Blake and Bill Thomas in the weeks following the latter’s return to New York is a matter of pure conjecture. It is, however, apparent from the letters that the two men are no longer employer and employee but have become competitors. This competition becomes sharper in November 1931 by which time Mr. Thomas has been appointed Manager of the Express Exchange Steamship Agency with offices at 201 East 86th Street.
The Cornishman continued to feature both Sid Blake’s and Bill Thomas’s letters through the end of December 1931, after which they both cease to appear. The last of Sid Blake’s Cornish Letters in the Cornishman of 30th December 1931, paints a gloomy picture of Depression America. Bill Thomas also appends letters from one Richard Stevens, based in Detroit, who writes of the disasterious effects of the Depression on the automobile industry. [Had this Richard Stevens any connections with the J. Stevens who was co-proprietor of the two incarnations of the Star Hotel?] Sid Blake also writes of the woes of the steamship business, noting that many of the lines have merged in the wake of mounting losses. He also notes that only three sets of Cornish customers have been through his office in the last month.
Several of Sid Blake’s Cornish Letters give hints of his on-going problems with the hotel, both before and after he was relieved of its management. In July 1929 he reported attending a convention of the American Order of the Sons of St. George at Syracuse in upstate New York. As noted in Justice Schmuck’s account of the receivership hearing, this organization was afforded a floor of the Cornish Arms Hotel rent free, and its secretary a yearly salary of $3,500. Mr. Blake, attending as a member of the Order but not a delegate, had some quite critical observations to make regarding the Order and its convention. He found the procedural organization of the convention’s business to be shambolic. He also commented on the Order’s insurance arrangements for members finding them to be commercially unconvincing. He concluded by saying that he would advise Cornish people – who were not in his experience much given to joining fraternal organizations in any case – to take their insurance business when in America to one of the burgeoning number of incorporated insurance companies. The Cornishman of 1st January 1930 carried a furious letter from the American Order of the Sons of St. George stating the deep offence that they had taken at Mr. Blake’s July letter and promising their resolve to take legal action against both him and the publications that had printed it. I have not ascertained what the upshot – legal or otherwise – to this imbroglio was.
In his letter of 12th February 1930 Sid Blake observes that he has been asked by several people what his salary was as manager of the Cornish Arms, and that he is happy to answer the question. He was, he says, paid $12,000 a year, plus room and board for himself and his family and a commission from his steamship agency. During his 43 months as manager he got $43,000 and paid the hotel company $51,000 as income from the agency; a profit for the hotel company of about $8,000.
Mr. Sid Blake’s Cornish Letter usually appeared at the top a column in the Cornishman. However, in the numbers for 3oth April and 1st May 1930 the letters were placed under a large display ad for the Cornish Arms Hotel quoting its room rates and saying that it was now managed by John F. Murray. It also stated that Mr. DeJong [apparently a survivor from the Blake regime] would be greeting arriving guests as he had done for the past ten years.
Both Sid Blake and Bill Thomas took an interest in various American sporting activities. Of especial interest to life-long baseball enthusiast is Sid Blake’s periodic appending to his weekly letters the current National and American Major League standings. The Brooklyn Dodgers, of whom 20 years later the present writer would become a fanatical follower, enjoyed very limited success during this period.
Without documentary evidence I cannot be entirely sure, but I surmise that the receivers appointed by the New York State Supreme Court sold the Cornish Arms Hotel in late 1929 or early 1930 and it is at this point that Sid Blake passes out of the direct history of the Cornish hotels of New York City. It may also be guessed that the onset of the Great Depression following the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 (which event gets no mention in the Blake letters) drove the purchase price down. The new owners were said to be Italian-Americans and with the new ownership there appears to have been something of a change in culture. How, under the Blake management, the hotel dealt with Prohibition is not clear. While many Cornishmen (and women) were – and are – known to take a drink, others of a more sternly Methodist persuasion may have welcomed a dry establishment, and, although the mores of the period were elastic, the Blake letters do argue a family-oriented atmosphere with little evidence of any defying of the Volstead Act.
However, in April 1930 it was reported in an upstate New York newspaper (the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle) that the hotel had been raided by Federal Prohibition agents who suspected that liquor was being served on the premises and an application was made to padlock the joint. Further, at one point the hotel was under investigation by the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service who suspected that parts of the premises were being used as a brothel.
Whether or not the Cornish Arms under Sid Blake’s management was a tee-total establishment Mr. Blake himself was not a supporter of the “Great Experiment”. In his Cornish Letter of 1st October 1930 Mr. Blake writes at some length about the negative and criminal results of Prohibition and predicts, with obvious approval, that it will be gone within five years. In fact, Repeal came in 1933.
The Cornubian newspaper previously had continued to carry every week an advertisement for “The Cornish Arms Hotel, 441-443 West Twenty-third Street, New York City. Sid Blake, proprietor” until April 1925, that organ ceasing to publish in October of the same year. It also featured “Extracts from the Cornish Arms Bulletin” although these seem not to have included, as did those in the Cornishman, much news about visitors and guests going to and from Cornwall. One in the January 3rd 1924 edition contained two jokes and two Missing Persons notices. One of these concerned a Charles Carter, said to have left Cornwall 30 years previously and last heard of in Youngstown, Ohio. Any information to be sent to Charles Yates of Redruth. The second enquired after Thomas Herbert Abraham who left Cornwall 4th March 1904 and was last heard of in Butte, Montana. Information to Mrs. Sarah A. Jeffery, Painesdale, Michigan. The January 31st “Extract…” contained what appears to be a Cornish dialect comedy cross-talk routine, probably intended for the vaudeville or music hall stage. Five similar pieces appeared in the issue of April 3rd 1924, after which the “Extracts…” seem to have been discontinued.
Another figure who may have had Cornish connections is mentioned in a Princeton University Alumni Weekly of 1928. James Smitheram (a not uncommon Cornish surname) in news of the class of  ’97 is named as “Vice-president, Comptroller, Secretary, Treasurer and Stockholder in the Cornish Arms Hotel, where he now resides. Mr. Smitheram’s son is mentioned as having graduated as Head of Class from Harvard University and – considerably predating President Obama – soon to be attending Harvard Law School. It is assumed that Mr. Smitheram was involved in the court case of 1929 that ended with the hotel going into receivership. It would be interesting to know if he was one of the defendants or one of the plaintiffs.
And so to some of the other disparate, non-Cornish, folks who made use of the hotel’s facilities.
In October 1928, following a dispute between the United States Football Association and the American Soccer League a meeting was held at the Cornish Arms Hotel – still under the Blake regime – for the establishment of a breakaway Eastern Soccer League. The teams in the new league attest to the multi-ethnic character of the period’s soccer community. They included Bethlehem Steel; Newark Skeeters; New York Hakoah; New York Giants; New York Hungaria; New York Hispano; New York Celtic; Philadelphia Centennials; I.R.T. Rangers (New York subway workers); and Bedford Whalers. The league only operated for one season and, after the original dispute was resolved, the Eastern Soccer League teams returned to the U.S. Football Association fold.
In 1932 one of the hotel’s guests, said to be living in “…a luxurious apartment”, was Vincent Coll. Coll, born in Co. Donegal, was given the nickname “Mad Dog” by New York’s charmingly corrupt Mayor Jimmy “Beau James” Walker. The sobriquet was well-earned as Coll was a notorious hit-man and prominent underworld character in that Prohibition era. By 1932 he had managed to fall afoul of every important racketeer in the city, including such figures as Dutch Schultz, Lucky Luciano and Owney Madden. Following Coll’s attempted shooting of Schultz’s Harlem policy numbers boss, Joey Rao, during the course of which two of Rao’s associates died, while stray bullets killed a five year-old boy and wounded several others, the mob bosses were queuing up to take Coll out. Sometime after his trial for the child killing – of which he was acquitted – on the 8th of February 1932 Coll crossed to a telephone booth outside the London Chemist drug store at 312 West Twenty-third Street, opposite the Cornish Arms, where he had been told to expect a call from Owney Madden for the purpose of calling a truce. Instead a car pulled up outside the drug store and a mob enforcer named “Bo” Weinberg emerged and fired 50 rounds from a machine gun into the ‘phone booth. Owney Madden, born in Yorkshire of Irish extraction, is credited by some historians of the subject as having been instrumental in the formation of modern organized crime in America. He was also said to be the model for Damon Runyon’s character, Dave the Dude, as well as various other fictionalized underworld characters. The late Bob Hoskins played him in the film “Cotton Club”.
One wonders what would have been the reaction of Sid Blake to the shooting, assuming he was still operating his Steamship Office and Tourist Bureau four doors away at No. 320.
Another event – of a slightly different nature than the whacking of “Mad Dog” Coll – taking place in the Cornish Arms Hotel during the eventful year of 1932 was the Eighteenth Annual convention of the Socialist Labor Party of America. Founded in 1876 and thought to be the first avowedly Marxist party in America, the SLP would continue to hold its conventions in the Cornish Arms every Presidential election year through 1948. At their 1936 convention the Party nominated John W. Aiken as their Presidential Candidate. Even by the fissiparous standards of left-wing politics (not to mention Cornish Associations) the Socialist Labor Party was ferocious in its sectarianism. A large proportion of the Party Platforms adopted at these Conventions were attacks on other “so-called” socialist and communist parties for ‘reformism’ and straying from the True Path of Revolution.
The party itself split apart in the 1940s over what some members saw as its domination by a leadership described as a “corrupt and authoritarian, dictatorial clique”, said to have milked the rank-and-file to the tune of $200,000.
The hotel would continue to turn up as the venue for other left-wing and labour meetings. Whether the management(s) of the establishment were sympathetic to such causes or, more likely, indifferent as to who booked the meeting facilities as long as they paid the fees.
An event of a completely different nature took place in the Cornish Arms on February 20th 1936 when members of the New York Maltese community held a ‘Dommerr’ as a tribute to Joseph Calleia. The distinguished Maltese-born Hollywood actor and singer had always remained proud of his antecedents and during WWII actively campaigned to raise funds for food and clothing to be sent to Malta.
Another show business connection occurred early in the WWII years concerning the American comic actor Don Knotts, later to co-star in the Andy Griffiths television show and to appear in such Hollywood classics as “The Shakiest Gun in the West”. Shortly after graduating from high school Knotts arrived in New York hoping to get a spot as a ventriloquist on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show. He failed his audition but before returning home he secured as job as an elevator operator in the Cornish Arms Hotel.
During and after WWII politics would return to the Cornish Arms. In the late 1940’s and early ’50s there was a vicious battle between two rival dock workers’ unions which pitted the notoriously corrupt and gangster-dominated International Longshoreman’s Association against a breakaway ILA affiliated to the American Federation of Labor. In the autumn of 1948 when a key election was scheduled that would decide which union had most support – and that saw many instances of violence and intimidation directed at the new union – its supporters organized a Chelsea-West Side Rally which took place in the Cornish Arms. Among the influential figures in the formation of the ILA-AFL union were several Roman Catholic priests. The history of this war of the dock unions is said to have been the inspiration for the 1954 film “On the Waterfront”.
Taking a short break from politics, the September 1949 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine carried an advertisement for West’s Farm Agency, whose New York address was c/o The Cornish Arms Hotel.
By the 1950s, however, the establishment was still hosting meeting of radical groupings.
In 1953 Sidney Gluck was being questioned by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee. He was, he said, “a self-taught economist”. One of the questions concerned a meeting at the Cornish Arms Hotel on June 3rd of that year of the New York Peace Council of the American Peace Crusade. These bodies were thought by the Committee to be communist front organizations. The Congressional Records of the inquisition of Mr. [Comrade?] Gluck indicate that he continually and effectively stonewalled the Reds-Under-the-Bed witch-hunters by invoking his rights under the First and (especially) the Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
There exists an F.B.I. file concerning one Louise Thompson Patterson. She was a Chicago-based activist in a variety of organizations campaigning for Negro rights, including the Civil Rights Congress, which were all considered by the Feds to be communist fronts. The file appears to have been compiled over a number of years, is quite detailed and contains an amazing number of spelling errors and other miscellaneous errata. The file records Louise Thompson Patterson as attending a July 13th 1954 meeting of the Civil Right Congress at the Cornish Arm Hotel to protest about the imprisonment for his political activities of her husband, William T. Patterson, and to raise funds for his continuing legal fight to be freed.
An event that took place in the Cornish Arms, c.1972, returns to the show business theme and is suggestive of the Italian connection. The occasion was the “wrap party” for Francis Ford Coppola’s film “The Godfather”. This epic, starring Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Sterling Hayden, et alia, was, of course, concerned with the New York Mafia, La Cosa Nostra, or whatever you’re having yourself. [The term Mafia is never used in the film itself.] For a Downtown Manhattan New Yorker of my generation it is a stretch to imagine that an Italian-owned enterprise of the size of the Cornish Arms Hotel – especially in the light of the “Mad Dog” Coll killing, the Prohibition era raid and the U.S. I&N Service brothel investigation episodes – would not have had some Mob connection, however far behind the scenes. A later researcher into the Cornish in America visited the hotel and was told by the then-management that they had absolutely no idea why the place was called the Cornish Arms
The Cornish Arms Hotel as such closed c.1972-3. By 1973 the building was used as proprietary accommodation for the elderly. In 1981 it became the Broadmoor Co-operative Apartments and continues as such to the present day.
The 1930 advertisements for the Cornish Arms when managed by John F. Murray quoted a top room rate of $3.50 a night. In 2014 Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer – also an actress – bought a two-bedroom cooperative apartment in the Broadmoor for $1,740.000.
The 170-year retrospective journey from the final 311-315 West Twenty-third Street incarnation of the Cornish Arms Hotel back through the previous 441-443 West Twenty-third Street establishment, the two Star Hotels, their several competitors for the Cornish immigrant trade, and eventually to Harry Simmons’s Miners’ Arms at 2 Front Street makes, one hopes, for an eventful cross-cultural, multi-personality story of some historical interest to both Cornish and New York people.
At present the author has been left with at least three unanswered questions. Firstly, what finally became of Daniel Hamilton following his mysterious disappearance in 1892? Secondly, what lies behind the apparent existence of the two Sid and/or Syd Blakes? The Cornish Letters of the early 1930s contain some evidence that appears to contradict earlier assumptions as to the Blake(s)’ dates and origins. In one of his later Cornish Letters Sid Blake states that the the family had been in the steamship agency business since 1859. And thirdly, exactly when and under what precise circumstances did the hotel change hands c. 1929-’30? Any answers, or even educated guesses, will be welcome.