Former educational publisher Lewis recalls growing up in a signature New York hotel.
For 33 years, the author’s father was general manager of the mighty Taft Hotel, nestled against the Roxy movie palace just off Times Square. Ben Bernie and Vincent Lopez played the hotel’s Grill Room. There were pay toilets on the mezzanine, and the Lewis family lived on the 15th floor. The old neighborhood encompassed Radio City Music Hall and the theaters of 42nd Street. Stephen and kid brother Peter grew up surrounded by Runyonesque characters and attended by regiments of servile staff. The bellmen, waiters, telephone operators, elevator operators, maids, chefs, porters, painters, carpenters, and stewards all offered myriad forms of homage to the kids of the boss. It was youth in a palace, and Dad was king. Candy, comic books, and all the best of the Taft were free for the taking. Life was a bowl of cherries rolling in on a room service table. “Jumbo shrimp, bottles of Scotch, and freshly ironed sheets were ours without limit,” Lewis reports. Life outside, though, was unfamiliar. A year in suburban New Rochelle, where the boys tremulously mistook a moth for a bat, was a failure. Back in the family suite, demanding and imperious Mom again presided while Dad, wounded by the Depression but wise in hotel ways, made his rounds. In other words, he was generally absent and remains a remote figure even here. The Taft is dead now, with not even a ghost of a hotel on the old site, but its devoted child vividly recalls its best days.
Nostalgia runs rampant, but this postcard from a vanished age nicely captures a special childhood rivaling Eloise’s.