SONESTA HOTEL, FRENCH QUARTER, NEW ORLEANS, 1964
AND THE ARTHUR SONNABEND CONNECTION
There weren't many hotels being built at the time that we designed
the Royal Orleans for the New Orleans French Quarter in 1960. That
boom was just getting started. Conrad Hilton had bought the Statler
in New York and was planning a major expansion. We designed a thousand-room
hotel for a site owned by Tulane University at Canal Street and Claiborne
Avenue. Terkuhle and I traveled by train to New York to try to sell
it to Hilton. He sent us to Beverly Hills to meet his partner, Neil
Toomey. It was a fast crowd that we couldn't cope with.
|Click on the image to enlarge.
view of the Royal Sonesta Hotel
in the historic French Quarter.
Photo by Abbye A. Gorin, 1989.
another hotel for the French Quarter in New Orleans on Bourbon Street
to be operated by Hyatt, at that time a modest hotel chain. With
the help of Richard Koch and his partner Samuel Wilson Jr., the
building was designed in the style of the Quarter to blend with
the character of the historic district. It had a half basement under
it for parking. Because of the high water table in the city, the
excavation for this space required sheet piling around the perimeter
and a dewatering process. To our dismay, after all of the excavation
had been completed, the entrepreneur declared bankruptcy. The contractor,
of course, stopped work, and the project was closed down. For two
years the site was abandoned, and residents of the neighborhood--in
fact, almost everyone in town--referred derisively to the new lake
in the French Quarter. The inevitable lawsuits commenced, a new
experience for us. Irate neighbors sued the contractor and the pile-driving
contractor for cracks that had either developed or were conveniently
discovered. We were named as third-party defendants in suits that
were settled out of court. Claims for "loss of antiquity"
made the settlements difficult.
suits were cleared, Lester Kabacoff stepped forward, and with Hotel
Corporation of America as operators and Jim Nassikas as manager,
the project was completed and was known as the Royal Sonesta Hotel.
The Royal Sonesta and the Royal Orleans, both relatively small in
size, became the most profitable properties in the Sonnabend chain.
As a result, other developers in other cities began coming to Arthur
Sonnabend, the owner, with prospects. The developer would own the
land; Hotel Corporation of America would be the operator, and the
financial strength of the operator could be used to borrow money
proposed that if our firm were to open an office in New York near
his base of operations, he would send all of these prospects to
us. The idea of such a move seemed so enticing that we immediately
set about trying to find an architect who could take charge of what
would be our new branch office in New York. We first approached
Dean John Lawrence of the Tulane School of Architecture. He declined,
saying he didn't feel quite that expansive, so the job was offered
to young Walter J. Rooney, who readily accepted the challenge.
only about twenty-seven years old, three years out of Tulane, and
married with two young daughters. He and his wife, Pat, and family
went to live and work permanently in New York. Rooney was made an
equal partner in what was to be known as CADNY, Curtis and Davis
New York, as opposed to CADNO for our New Orleans office. Our first
location was on the third floor of a building at 338 Madison Avenue
on the corner of 43rd Street, one block from Sonnabend's Roosevelt
Hotel. After we had committed ourselves to New York, Sonnabend died.
His son, Roger, was not interested in expansion and sold the chain,
only holding on to the Royal Sonesta in New Orleans and the Sonesta
in Bermuda. We sought commissions elsewhere.
Our New York
operation became a complete, self-contained office that was set
up to obtain commissions and to carry them through to completion.
The partners met in New York monthly to review the projects and
discuss business matters and prospects. Some of our best work was
done in New York.