Hamilton Heights and Hotel Kämp

Copyright The Fixers; Source Wikis Take Manhattan 2009

Hamilton Heights is an uptown Manhattan neighborhood which used to have a heavily Russian flavor. Its borders are 155th Street (north), 135th Street (south), Edgecombe Avenue (east), and Riverside Dr. (west). Within Hamilton Heights is the sub-neighborhood Sugar Hill.

It takes its name from Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who lived his last two years there. His mansion, Hamilton Grange in St. Nicholas Park, is a reminder of a bygone era when NYC was mostly farmland, with detached houses.

Hamilton Grange, Copyright olekinderhook; Source

Mount Cavalry United Methodist Church

Much of the housing dates from the late 19th and early 20th century. As beautiful as this architecture was, it became less desirable to white residents in the 1930s and 1940s because many African–Americans had begun moving in. At the time, they were just as affluent as the white residents.

In the wake of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, and again after WWII, many White Russian émigrés, Poles, and Ukrainians called Hamilton Heights home. The neighborhood was home to Russian churches, bakeries, groceries, bookstores, theatres, and delis, a library, and a Russian House.

Today, only the Holy Fathers Church is left.

Holy Fathers Russian Church, Copyright Beyond My Ken

Church of St. Catherine of Genoa, Copyright Beyond My Ken

Today, most of the residents are Hispanic, African–American, and West Indian. Many African–Americans in the eastern section are professionals.

Like just about every other Manhattan neighborhood, Hamilton Heights too has been taken over by gentrification and hipsters. Many of today’s non-Hispanic white residents are artists, actors, teachers, and other professionals.

Trinity Church Cemetery

Landmarks include St. Nicholas Park, Riverbank State Park, Riverside Park, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Trinity Cemetery, the former High School of Music & Art, the Audubon Mural Project (depicting the birds painted by John James Audubon in the early 19th century), the City College of New York, and the Harlem School of the Arts.

My character Mrs. Viktoriya Yeltsina and her two oldest daughters, Valya and Zina, settle in Hamilton Heights after they escape to the U.S. in January 1924. They ran boarding houses in Moskva and Tver, so it’s only natural they establish a boarding house in Hamilton Heights.

Their boarding house serves the Russian community, and they have their own spacious apartment within it. When Valya finally marries at 39 (to a man thirteen years her junior), she stays in Hamilton Heights to raise her family and run a Russian gifts boutique.

Hotel Kämp was designed by prolific Helsinki architect Carl Theodor Höljer, and built in Neo-Renaissance style by restaurateur Carl Kämp. After its grand opening in October 1887, it quickly gained a reputation as Helsinki’s grandest, most luxurious hotel.

The hotel had 24 gas lamps, 25 electric lamps, 75 rooms, a beer house in the cellar, a street café (débuted summer 1891), a French-style roof (sadly lost after 1914 renovations increasing the hotel’s height), and its own horse-drawn transport from the depot and port. It was also Finland’s very first hotel with an elevator.

Many famous artists, singers, musicians, composers, writers, intellectuals celebrities, and royalty stayed by Hotel Kämp, or met in its café. The newspaper Päivälehti (now Helsingin Sanomat) began its publication from the café.

As it originally looked

After the 1918 Finnish Civil War, the occupying Germans used Hotel Kämp as their HQ. During the Winter War of 1939–40, the hotel was used again by foreign occupiers. Many Finnish and foreign diplomats and politicians also stayed by the hotel during WWII.

Over the years, the hotel lost its former glittery prestige, and closed in 1965, among many protests. The historic building was razed, with a new hotel taking its place in 1969.

Since 1999, the hotel has once more become Finland’s grandest.

Pre-demolition interior

Copyright Kämp Collection Hotels; Source

Copyright Mikkoau

My character Pyotr Litvinov often stays by Hotel Kämp during his Finnish holidays. As the son of a high-ranking Party member, he has more leeway for travelling abroad than many others.

In June 1940, Pyotr takes an enormous risk by bringing his baby sister Yaroslava on his annual summer holiday. Pyotr has been planning to defect for some time, but his plans are hastened when Yaroslava, under suspicion as a “social parasite,” begs him to help her escape.

They spend one night in Hotel Kämp, and after a late, long, leisurely breakfast by the café, they set off for Sweden and defect.

18 April 1918, Copyright Gunnar Lönnqvist

The Empress Hotel and The Emporium

Copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, CC-By-SA-3.0

Victoria, British Columbia’s beautiful landmark Empress Hotel (now The Fairmont Empress) was built by British architect Francis Rattenbury from 1904–08 as a terminus hotel for the nearby Canadian Pacific steamship line.

Initially, The Empress served businesspeople and well-off visitors. To accommodate all the patrons, new wings were added from 1909–14 and in 1928. When Canadian Pacific stopped serving Victoria, the hotel remarketed itself as a tourist resort.

Copyright Another Believer

Famous guests include Prince Edward, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mum), Katharine Hepburn, Douglas Fairbanks, Jack Benny, Rita Hayworth, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Tallulah Bankhead, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, and Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan.

Prince Edward’s waltzing till dawn in the Crystal Ballroom in 1919 was so important to Victorians, elderly women’s obituaries almost fifty years later bore headlines like “Mrs. Thornley-Hall Dies. Prince of Wales Singled Her Out.”

Copyright Another Believer

Most of the 477 rooms overlook the Inner Harbour or the rear courtyard gardens. There are four restaurants—The Veranda, Q at The Empress, Q Bar, and The Lobby Lounge. The lattermost hosts the famous Tea at the Empress, which has run daily in the summer ever since the hotel’s opening on 20 January 1908.

More than 400 people enjoy this classic Victorian-era tea service every day, which features tea sandwiches, a house blend of tea, pastries, scones, quiches, clotted cream, strawberry preserves with lavender from the rooftop garden, mousse, and champagne.

The house tea was first served to King George V in 1914 in Stoke-on-Trent, England, upon the opening of the Booth factory, and the china was first used for the 1939 visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Copyright Bobak Ha’Eri, CC-By-SA-3.0

For many years, there was no sign above the door. As workers raised the sign, a furious man proclaimed, “Anyone who doesn’t know this is The Empress shouldn’t be staying here.”

In 1965, debate was raised about whether The Empress should be torn down to make room for a more modern hotel. Thankfully, this beautiful Edwardian landmark was preserved, and launched a $4 million restoration campaign, “Operation Teacup.”

In 1989, $45 million more were spent on renovations. While new features such as a health club and indoor pool were added, the goal was to restore it to its prewar elegance instead of bequeathing a new image.

Many people report ghostly sightings, such as an early 20th century maid who helps with sixth floor cleaning.

Copyright Brandon Godfrey; Source

My characters Inga Savvina and Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov go on their first date to Tea at The Empress in August 1947, the day after Yuriy finally confessed he’s been in love with Inga almost since they met five years ago.

Yuriy is so excited to finally be on a date with his dream girl, he almost misses their streetcar stop. He never thought Inga would want to be more than friends, or go out with someone almost five and a half years older.

Yuriy’s family also treats his spinster aunt Zina to tea and supper by The Empress for her 60th birthday.

San Francisco’s Emporium department store opened on Market Street in 1896. For decades, this was a beloved shopping destination, but it sadly closed on its 100th birthday. Today, only the glass dome and façade survive.

In 1896, it was advertised as “the most beautiful store on earth,” with “a grand display of a million-and-a-half dollars worth of all good kinds of merchandise,” fifteen acres of floor space, and a concert by The Emporium Orchestra.

In the gaslight era, The Emporium boasted 10,000 electric lights and its own power plant. Every morning, the store opened with a bugle call, and “improperly-dressed” saleswomen were sent home.

Surprisingly, the 1906 earthquake didn’t damage the building too badly, but the resulting fires destroyed the stock and all the records (accounts receivable among them). That summer, The Emporium set up temporary new digs at Van Ness Avenue.

In 1908, it reopened with a new glass dome 110 feet high. In 1936, it became the city’s first big store to use escalators.

For years, upper-class San Franciscans shunned The Emporium, since it was on the south side of Market Street, a major social dividing line.

After WWII, kiddy rides were installed on the roof during December.

Corporate shakeouts, the proliferation of retail stores, and the bourgeois move to the suburbs all led to The Emporium’s decline.

The Emporium’s restored glass dome in Westfield San Francisco Centre; Copyright http://flickr.com/photos/maveric2003/; Source

My characters Vsevolod Smirnov and Nadezhda Lebedeva shop in The Emporium during their exhilarating first full day in America in April 1933. They buy new clothes and swimwear, and marvel at the modern appliances they never dreamt existed. Nadezhda doesn’t even recognize a modern telephone.

Machal and Le Meurice

m

1024px-List_of_Fallen_Mahal_Soldiers_in_Mahal_Memorial_in_Israel

Machal is an acronym of Mitnadvey Chutz L’Aretz, Volunteers from Outside the Land. During Israel’s 1948–49 War of Independence, about 4,000 volunteers from around the world (some Gentiles) came to the newborn state’s assistance. Right after Israel declared its independence, she was attacked by Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Liberation Army. All hands were needed on deck.

Most Machalniks were WWII Army vets from the U.S. and U.K., but many also came from other countries. A total of 58 countries provided volunteers. The majority of Machalniks served in Israel’s fledgling Air Force, since they had a lot of experience with flying planes during WWII, and were able to purchase used planes for relatively cheap.

In all, 123 were killed in action, 119 men and four women. Possibly the most famous Machalnik who was killed in action was American Mickey Marcus. Another important Machalnik was Milton Rubenfeld, father of Paul Rubens (whom I as an Eighties kid will always think of as Pee-wee Herman). Many returned to their countries of origin, but some stayed in Israel. Some of the founders of El Al airline were Machalniks.

1024px-Mahal_Memorial_in_Israel

My character Imre Goldmark leaves his studies at the University of Montpellier to fight as a volunteer after his girlfriend Csilla and her friends leave for Israel in 1948. Imre is a hopeless intellectual, romantic, and dreamer, but he wants to prove his manliness to Csilla by fighting on the front lines. Csilla has no idea he’s in Israel, let alone in uniform, until she hears him screaming her name in hospital, in the throes of the worst pain of his life.

Csilla, who doesn’t know the true extent of his wounding, vows to take care of him and nurse him back to health. However, before Imre can be discharged and released to her care, his mother and professors intervene and have him taken back to France against his will. It’s a long, twisted road to happily ever after for these two.

1024px-PikiWiki_Israel_20746_The_Palmach

French Machalniks

Le Meurice is a gorgeous 5-star hotel in the First Arrondissement of Paris, opposite the famous Tuileries Garden, on the Rue de Rivoli. The Louvre is a short walk away. Its 160 rooms and suites are decorated in the style of King Louis XVI.

The first Hôtel Meurice opened in Calais in 1777, and the Parisian branch opened in 1815, at 223 Rue Saint-Honoré. In 1835, it moved to its present location, in a new, beautiful, luxurious building, with all the same amenities and perks.

1024px-Hôtel_Meurice_-_Paris

Copyright Axou

In 1891, electric lights were added, and in 1905–07, the Hôtel Métropole on Rue de Castiglione was added and the building underwent a thorough rebuilding under the direction of famous architect Henri Paul Nénot. Modern, tiled bathrooms were added; Louis XVI style was introduced; telephones and electric butler bells were added; reinforced concrete was added for privacy; public rooms were relocated; a wrought iron canopy was put over the lobby; a grand salon and new restaurant were added; and the lift was a copy of Marie Antoinette’s sedan chair.

Le_Meurice13

Hotel restaurant, Copyright Janine Cheung, Source Flickr

Le_Meurice6

Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

From September 1940–August 1944, the occupying Nazis used the hotel as their headquarters. During that final month, General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, stayed there. He was under orders to destroy Paris, but he disobeyed Hitler and surrendered to Free French forces. Supposedly, Hitler screamed “Is Paris burning?” to him over a Le Meurice telephone.

Many famous guests have stayed by Le Meurice, such as Salvador Dalí, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, FDR, the Shah, Rudyard Kipling, Plácido Domingo, Ginger Rogers, Yul Brynner, Mata Hari, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Le_Meurice4

Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

The cheapest lodgings, the Superior Room, starts at 830 Euros a night, and the priciest option, the Belle Étoile Suite, starts at 14,500 a night. Other options include the Presidential Apartment, Executive Junior Suite, Deluxe Junior Suite, Superior Junior Suite, Prestige Suite, and Superior Suite. It’s a very child- and pet-friendly hotel, and has an amazingly beautiful restaurant, with fine dining.

800px-Le_Meurice1

Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

1024px-Le_Meurice10

Hotel restaurant, Copyright Janine Cheung, Source Flickr

My characters spend a thrilling week by Le Meurice in December 1945, financed by Marie’s dear friend Wolfram Engel. They run into one another by the depot, as Marie and her friends have just arrived from Florence, and Wolfram has just arrived from Lyon. Without a wife and children, Wolfram has a lot of disposable income.

Staying by Le Meurice is a dream come true for these young survivors, a complete turnaround in their fortune in less than a year.

L’Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne and Hashomer Hatzair

h

hotel-11

L’Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne was a luxury hotel in Nantes, France, the city’s finest hotel for many years. The main façade is on Rue de Henri IV, and overlooks Place Duchesse-Anne (a city square) and the gorgeous Medieval Château des Ducs de Bretagne. It miraculously escaped the brutal bombardments during WWII. Much of the city was reduced to rubble, just like Budapest, but the grand hotel wasn’t among the destroyed buildings.

The hotel was founded in 1874, and in the 1930s, architect Ferdinand Ménard made some modifications to the building. Among these modifications was adding an Art Deco façade.

duchesse-anne-AFP-OK

Sadly, the roof of this beautiful historic hotel was destroyed by fire on 17 June 2004, and a legal battle over its fate ensued. It’s fallen into great disrepair and degradation, and planned demolition work slated for October 2015 wasn’t carried out. If the building is rehabilitated, it’ll probably be for luxury apartments, not a new hotel.

In December 1945, my characters spend a week by the Duchesse-Anne, while native Nantaise Marie Sternglass searches for word about her family. Sweet little Marie is finally pushed to her breaking point and has a bit of a mental breakdown when she finds strangers living in her old house and refusing to acknowledge her claim to the house or anything inside. She’s also deeply hurt by the cold, indifferent reception she gets from many people she considered friends just a few years ago.

800px-Hashomer_Hatzair_youth_group_of_the_city_Slonim_in_Poland,_1934

Hashomer Hatzair of Slonim, Poland, 1934, Courtesy Talma Lahav, Daughter of Bilha Podberevsky

Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard) is a Socialist–Zionist youth movement founded in Galicia in 1913. In the British Mandate of Palestine (i.e., pre-State Israel), this was also the name of the group’s political party. It was formed by the merger of Hashomer (The Guard), a Zionist scouting group, and Tz’irei Tzion (The Youth of Zion), a group studying Jewish history, Socialism, and Zionism.

The first members of the group made aliyah (moved to Israel) in 1919, and founded four kibbutzim. On 1 April 1927, these kibbutzim joined to form Kibbutz Artzi (Nationwide Kibbutz). As of 1998, they had 85 kibbutzim and 28,000 members.

Initially, it was strongly based on the principles of the Scout Movement (e.g., camping, hiking, self-reliance), and the German Wandervogel movement (which emphasised the creativity and independence of youth).

Hashomer_Hatza'ir_Pultusk

Hashomer Hatzair of Pultusk, Poland, 30 May 1931

The group’s political party in pre-State Israel sought a binational solution, with full equality between Jewish and Arab Israelis. In 1936, they formed an urban political party, the Socialist League of Palestine (not to be confused with their Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party, founded in 1946). Hashomer Hatzair was the only political party in pre-State Israel to support Arab rights, accept Arab members as equals, and call for a binational state.

There were 70,000 members of the youth movement by 1939, mostly in Eastern Europe. During WWII, they fought against Nazi occupation and were involved in resistance and rescue efforts. After the war, they were among the first to start smuggling survivors into Israel. They also were active in the Haganah (underground army) and Palmach (shock troops) during the bitter fight to get the British to leave. Many of their kibbutzim were in the front lines during the War of Independence, and bore the brunt of Arab attacks. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai (named for the heroic leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) and Kibbutz Negba blocked the Egyptians’ path to Tel-Aviv.

PikiWiki_Israel_8607_Gan_Shmuel_-_Members_of_the_Greater_Tel-Aviv_1943

Members of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, Greater Tel-Aviv, ca. 1943, Source Gan-Shmuel archive via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project

My characters from Abony, Hungary, join Hashomer Hatzair in 1943, and receive training in farming, weapons, Hebrew, history, and other useful skills. They all desire to move to Israel and start new lives there, but many of them aren’t destined to live that long. For the select survivors, their passion to make aliyah becomes even more important.