The Essex House

During college and for some time after I worked at the Essex House Hotel in New York City (1979-1982). One day while working at the hotel a Japanese business man checked in and I was escorting him up to his room. He spoke as the elevator doors closed. He said that the hotel looked very different from the last time he had been here. I then said, “Oh, you’ve stayed here before Sir”. He replied with an amazing story that I will never forget. He said that he didn’t exactly stay here in the hotel, but slept across the street in the park. He now had my undivided attention. He went on that it was right after World War II. He had been a Prisoner of War on the west coast. After he was released the U.S. military gave him passage money back to Japan. He and a fellow POW, thought they might like to see this great country they had heard so much about before they returned home. They hopped a train and lived by their wits making their way eventually to New York. They found Central Park comfortable enough so they got some whiskey and settled down, laying there looking up at the night sky and the city lights. Soon their eyes settled on a sign at the south end of the park. A large sign atop a building that read “Essex House”. This sign has been there since the early 1930’s when the hotel was built and is still there today. They got an idea and they collected the things they would need and set out to climb that tower. Somehow, they made their way to the top of the building and climbed the sign. His friend who was an electrician in the Army made the required cuts and that’s how the “Essex House” one night became the “Sex House”.

I didn’t know what to say. It was an unbelievable story. I had never heard about this from anyone before. Looking back, I wish I had asked him more questions. Anyway, I returned to the front desk. Later that day, speaking to Pete, one of the older Bell Hops, I related the story not really expecting a response. Well, he had such a look of astonishment on his face. You see, he had been working there since the hotel opened and knew just about everything there was to know about this hotel. He then said, “Follow Me”, and ran off. He lead me to the locker room and opened his locker door. He began rummaging through stuff and soon pulled out a carboard box. He dug through the papers in it and pulled out an old yellowed newspaper clipping. A blurry black and white photo showed the hotel with the words “Sex House” above it. He pointed out the date. It was 1946. He said, nobody knew how that could have happened till now. It was the joke of the town for weeks. The owners were livid. —- So now you know the real story.

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