Making Moxie from Misery With a Pit Stop in Between

Here at the northeast corner of 36th Street and 7th Avenue, the massive structure at 485 Seventh Avenue is undergoing yet another transformation, and a sorry one at that.  The entablatured M (see below) memorializes a benevolent history, one that slowly deteriorated after War II, and then sank into the swamps of capitalistic greed and social destruction 35 years later.

Back in 1980, an old time real estate operator, one Leonard Schmuckler, operating the SRO hotel for impoverished men as The Keystone Hotel, vacated the structure, throwing 1500 men, already hanging by the skin of their teeth, out on the street.  A real estate syndicate entitled Fashion Avenue Atrium Associates, for which I acted as inside counsel, acquired the structure to turn it into small garment showrooms for those who could not or would not rent space in the towers at 1407 and 1411 Broadway and the like.  So, in the name of profit and nothing else, we indirectly gained from the homelessness and misery among men who held the lowest level jobs in the Garment District, the hand-truck pushers and delivery guys.  I was insensate and following orders, making no protest (how could I as a 28-year old young lawyer?) as the hard-bitten Mr. Schmuckler took me on the vacancy certification tour through the ghostly structure of 6×8 cells with common washrooms  on each floor, a .22 caliber pistol gripped tightly in his right hand.  For this misdeed I will ever be less of a person, regretful to this day.

485 Seventh Avenue had seen much better and philanthropic days as the Mills Hotel Number 3, constructed in 1906-7  by the family of Darius Ogden Mills, the respected upstate banker and railroad man.  Mills Hotels Numbers 1 and 2 were built in similar fashion at 160 Bleecker Street (extant) and on the corner of Rivington and Chrystie Streets (demolished)  in 1896-7 and 1898, respectively, to provide clean and safe housing for men at the bottom of the economic ladder.  The hotels boasted libraries and dining rooms to better the lives of needy, and over the next many decades thousands of mens’ lives were lifted above the norm for their station in life.  For a fuller history of the buildings, see the NYC Landmarks Commission report: 

And for more on their progenitor:

The dining room menus were elaborate, and the fare inexpensive; witness the menus from the early 20th century, the abundant choices and polite wording: [images from the Menu Collection, courtesy of The New York Public Library]










































I’ve walked past the site countless times since 1980, having long ago left the business world.  Imagine my chagrin when I stumbled upon the current renovation.  The M in the entablature has been co-opted from the revered Mills Family it once honored, to the glorification of glitz and gentrification.  All Hail: The New York Moxy Hotel is born !

The newest addition to the plethora of wannabe arrivistes’ hotels in New York takes it name from an early 20th century carbonated beverage. “Moxie” was all the rage in the Roaring 20s;   Wikipedia has much to say about its origins:

“Moxie originated as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food”, which was created around 1876 by Dr. Augustin Thompson in Lowell, Massachusetts. Thompson claimed that it contained an extract from a rare, unnamed South American plant, which is now known to be gentian root.  Moxie, he claimed, was especially effective against ‘paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia‘.

Thompson claimed that he named the beverage after a Lieutenant Moxie, a purported friend of his, who he claimed had discovered the plant and used it as a panacea, and the company he created continued to promulgate legendary stories about the word’s origin. It likely derives from an Abenaki word that means “dark water” and that is found in lake and river names in Maine, where Thompson was born and raised.

After a few years, Thompson added soda water to the formula and changed the product’s name to “Beverage Moxie Nerve Food”. By 1884 he was selling Moxie both in bottles and in bulk as a soda fountain syrup. In 1885, he received a trade mark for the term. He marketed it as ‘a delicious blend of bitter and sweet, a drink to satisfy everyone’s taste.’  Thompson died in 1903.”

Perhaps the Moxy Hotel’s Bar will get smart and offer the still-available beverage at a “suitable” mark-up to its thrill-seeking guests… Might go well with a little blow….

The New York Moxy”s webpage spares no expense in glamorizing its amenities and putative clientele:

“Times have changed” trumpets the hostelry’s website, catering to millennials with no sense of history or the footsetps in which they tread.  Featuring a 24/7 bar and a “curated convenience store” (may I barf copiously please on your face?), the white-tiled walls that decorate some of the bathrooms and many of the public spaces resemble the very same tiles that filled the hallways and common toilet facilities of Mills Hotel Number 3.  At the Moxy we’re talking jailhouse chic, as the French say, “bobo:” bourgeois bohemien.”

Downers are not uppers in the world of the young and beautiful, seeking a so-called budget hotel in the presumptuous extension of Times Square 6 blocks southwards towards the Moxy Times Square.  No memorial plaque, no history, no paean to the past.  At the end of my tour with Mr. Schmuckler, we went to the basement to insure no stow-aways had hidden there.  I picked up and carted out a box  of dusty old papers, including the Thanksgiving Day menu from 1925 of  the hotel’s dining room.  I donated the entire box to the Mills Mansion in Staatsburgh, NY up the Hudson in chi-chi land.  Worth a visit…Not on the list of suggested happening places for the Moxy’s guests I daresay.
















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