Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wednesday Jan 30

Am happier today with
the $5.00 raise to my salary
which I got today.

Enjoyed immensely the
lecture given by Dr. Arthur
Ruppin at the meeting of
the Zionist Sustaining members
at the Hotel Pennsylvania.
The lecture was of great
educational value to me.

[the rest of this page contains a
continuation of the next day's entry]


Matt's Notes

Arthur Ruppin was one of the biggies of the Zionist movement, a promoter and facilitator of land purchases and settlement in Palestine and also a founder of Tel Aviv. The World Zionist Organization Web site discusses the origins of certain Israeli street names, and its explanation of Ruppin Boulevard has a good biography of Ruppin (as do many other Web sites and books) so I won't talk much about him here other than to say he would have been a major celebrity to Papa. The Ruppin lecture was clearly a W.Z.O. or Z.O.A. benefit for contributors at the Sustaining member level ("sustaining member" is a typical organizational membership term, but I'm not sure what it signified in this case).

The setting was certainly commensurate with Ruppin's status: The Pennsylvania Hotel, which stood, as it still does, at 32nd Street and 7th Avenue. If you're familiar with the Pennsylvania, you certainly don't think of it as an impressive spot; nowadays it's known more for being the official hotel of the Westminster Dog Show than for being the "The Largest Hotel in the World," as its brochure accurately claimed when its 2,200 rooms opened in 1919. It was managed in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company by E.M. Statler, who was known for tricking out his hotels with quirky innovations. Besides describing the "ingenious 'servidor' device which enables a guest to send out his laundry, or clothes to be pressed, without any contact with servants" the Pennsylvania brochure also brags:

In the Pennsylvania, every bed-room has its private bath-room (with either tub or shower bath); and pure, fresh drinking water (iced) flows in every guest-room upon pressure of a button.
Apparently all in line with the American dream, since "The United States is, as everyone knows, a land of bathtubs and iced drinking water." I'm not sure Papa thought of America that way, though he was certainly no stranger to cold water -- and only cold water -- running from his tenement taps and into the toilet he shared with everyone else on his floor. But anyway:
The convenient location of the Pennsylvania is one of its most-appreciated features. The finest of New York's shops are just nearby, the theatre district is immediately to the north, and the business and financial sections ("down-town") are within easy reach by the "subway" (underground electric railway), which has a station in the hotel. Bus lines and surface cars (electric) pass the door, and an elevated railway is but a block away. Landing-stages of the steamer-lines are nearby.
I quote this not because it's fun to read, though it is, but because it gives us another look at Papa's New York. Think about it: only five years prior to the Ruppin lecture, tourist brochures still felt the need to define "subway" and "down-town" and point out that one could lead to the other. In fact, the West 30's hadn't been well served by underground electric rail for long, so on his way to the lecture Papa was probably giddy over all the ways he could get there. If I were him, I would have taken the BMT from from Essex to Canal and switched to an uptown train to Penn Station. Then again, he might have gone out of his way to take the IRT just for novelty's sake -- memories of the days before 1918, when it finally started running from Chambers Street to Times Square, were probably still fresh in his mind.

Regardless of which train he took, Papa would have emerged into a landscape dominated by the old Penn Station, an architectural marvel that was demolished in 1964 to make room for Madison Square Garden. ( has an appropriately disgusted write-up on this heartbreaking travesty).

penn station

Papa probably headed to one of the Pennsylvania's ornate second-floor banquet rooms or ballrooms for his meeting. I haven't yet learned what Ruppin lectured about; in 1924 he was still a proponent of bi-nationalism in Palestine (as he would be until violent riots in 1929 changed his mind) so perhaps he had something to say about that, or maybe he presented new ideas about land development and settlement.

All in all, between his $5.00 raise and a stimulating lecture, a good day for Papa.


Additional notes:

  • While the Pennsylvania Hotel was still under construction, a dynamo inside caught fire, resulting in a huge explosion that damaged a number of neighboring buildings and caused a few women to faint, though according the the Times they "were revived in nearby drug stores." The whole article, entitled "Explosions Rock Big New Hotel" is in the April 9, 1918 edition of The New York Times (subscription required).

  • "Times Sq. Grows As Subway Centre", The New York Times, July 1, 1918

  • "World's Biggest Hotel Opens Today", The New York Times, January 25th, 1919

  • Wikipedia's Penn Station entry

  • The New York Observer had an article by Chris Shott in its August, 2006 issue about the sorry state of the Pennsylvania Hotel. The Observer makes it way too hard to link to articles in their archive, so I won't bother, but I did learn one fun fact from it: "the phone number immortalized by Glenn Miller, Pennsylvania 65000, still rings at the front desk."


Image credits: Penn Station circa 1920, Library of Congress # LC-USZ62-74598

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