Written by Laura Wainman, Editorial Intern
September is my favorite month for myriad reasons. Washington weather typically drops a good 15 degrees after August, Starbucks begins serving its tasty Pumpkin Spice latte, and the social media world is abuzz with the latest glittery news from New York fashion week.
This year, September was all the more exciting as I was attending the NYC fashion shows in person for the first time, which gave me the perfect excuse to check out the historic Jane Hotel, home away from home to everyone from sailors to Titanic survivors to bohemian cultural icons over the decades.
After a four-hour post-work bus ride and harrowing cab ride that put me in New York well after midnight, I decided exploring the hotel would have to wait until morning. I went for a Breakfast at Tiffany’s-like meal, sampling a buttery croissant and crisp Cafe Americano from the downstairs Cafe Gitane. I could almost pretend I was Kate Winslet in Titanic (lifelong dream accomplished) sans the cumbersome corset dress as I wandered the narrow corridors reminiscent of ship berths.
The 1908 Georgian-style building was originally used as lodging for sailors as part of the American Seamen’s Friend Society’s attempts to civilize sailors passing through the port of New York, according to the New York Times. The architect, William Alciphron Boring, was well-known for his design of Ellis Island’s immigration station, including the Main Hospital Building (one of our National Treasures, as well as an 11 Most Endangered List entry for 2012).
Boring designed a red brick building with an octagonal tower on the corner of Jane and West streets opposite the Hudson. The facade, tiled lobby flooring, and a stunning fountain in the lobby remain from the original structure and many of the decor elements give a nod to the hotel’s nautical past, including the portholes in seemingly every door. Even the bathrooms are shared hall-style, just as the sailors experienced.
The Jane has grown slightly from its original 156 rooms to today’s 171, but the interiors of the rooms remain true to the past. The 100 standard single cabins and 41 bunk bed cabins all measure roughly seven by seven feet with barely enough space to turn around.
More than 100 Titanic survivors stayed in these very rooms in 1912 and held a memorial service for those they had lost. Guests are said to have stayed for 25 cents a night. The higher-ups on the ships -- officers, engineers, cooks -- stayed in the Captain’s Cabins, which look more like typical hotel rooms.
In 1944, the YMCA bought the building and used it as a residence for transients. The hotel became a beacon of New York’s bohemian culture in the '80s and '90s, and played host to many rock parties such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the Million Dollar Club. The Jane proudly proclaims that it has “continued to house guests with more dash than cash” ever since.
In 2008, its centennial, new owners Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode gave the building a few cosmetic changes to restore the building’s character, and they began offering the berth-like rooms at $99 a night to pay tribute to the hotel’s past as accommodations for those looking for a bargain.
The hotel bar, the Jane Ballroom, sits where the original 400-person auditorium once was and is decorated with an eclectic décor including tufted couches, zebra-print chairs, stuffed animals, and a sequined disco ball.
After my long day of running from fashion show to fashion show at Lincoln Center, I was happy to return to my cozy cabin and more than eager to try a cocktail from the hotel’s bar, the Jane Ballroom. I made my way through the glamazons clamoring to get in the bar, opened the brass-studded leather doors, ordered a white wine, and found a seat on one of the tufted burgundy couches in the very crowded ballroom located where the Jane Street Theater once was.
The room has an eclectic vibe from the zebra chair to the stuffed bighorn sheep residing above the fireplace mantle and the paneled ceilings. MacPherson says he “wanted the public rooms to look as if one family has owned [the hotel] a long time,” according to the New York Times.
I checked out the next morning, ready to head back to my last shows at Lincoln Center, and loving the juxtaposition of experiencing the ever-changing world of fashion in a beautiful, historic hotel dedicated to staying the same.
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