By Terry Trucco
It’s a good thing the iconic red neon ESSEX HOUSE sign blazing atop the roof doesn’t mention the hotel’s brand. Following its sale last week to Chicago-based Strategic Hotels & Resorts, the Essex House has a new manager — again.
Sometime between now and early September, the hefty metal Jumeirah marquee over the entry will come down, along with all things redolent of the Dubai-based hotel group that owned and operated the hotel for six years.
In its stead, look for JW Marriott on cocktail napkins, invoices and the marquee. As the JW Marriott Essex House, the 509-room Art Deco tower becomes the first Manhattan outpost of the luxe-infused Marriott brand sandwiched in the company portfolio between the sumptuous Ritz Carlton and the plain vanilla Marriott. With the Ritz Carlton New York Central Park just up the street, Marriott now dominates blue chip hotel real estate on Central Park South, a very nice place to rule.
Having Marriott on the marquis is a homecoming of sorts for the 81-year-old brick tower perched 40 stories above Central Park. Between 1969 and 1985, the hotel was Marriott’s Essex House. But a slew of other concerns have run the building that opened in 1931 as Sevilla Towers. After a spell as Essex House Nikko New York when Japan Air Lines owned it from 1985 to 1999 it became Essex House – a Westin Hotel from 1999 until Jumeirah’s arrival in 2006.
Jumeirah did the heavy lifting, renovating the hotel bottom to top – lobby, South Gate
restaurant and guest rooms — to the tune of $90 million and bumping up its ratings on the luxometer. In contrast, Strategic is coughing up $18.3 million, mainly for new signs and branding materials and a few public space improvements, according to Marriott.
They don’t need to do a lot if a recent stroll around the place is any indication. Jumeirah did a fine job, hiring a curator who commissioned contemporary art exhibitions for the lobby and showcasing the talents of executive pastry chef Deden Putra, whose ten-foot tall white chocolate Christmas tree was a lobby showstopper (alas for Essex House, Putra has moved on to the Peninsula Hotel).
Jumeirah also orchestrated some of the most eye-catching lobby flower arrangements in town. We hope they pass their florist along to JW Marriott. The deal calls for Marriott to manage the place for 50 years.