Hotel Pennsylvania and Dada Artwork?

For those of you that don’t already know, My name is Steven Lepore.  I’m one of the editors here at HPPS.  I’ve been here since the Hotel Pennsylvania Preservation Society (and even the Save Hotel Pennsylvania Foundation) was created way back when.  I’m currently a Graphic Design student in college.

A full view of Hannah Höch's piece

A full view of Hannah Höch’s piece

The reason for my brief intro is so you understand why I’m about to talk about an Art History course. Today, in that art history course, we were learning about art movement known as “Dada”.  For those of you unfamiliar with Dada, it’s a very unusual style of art which can include sculptural works incorporating objects such as upside-down urinals… The piece today that caught my attention is by Hannah Höch titled “Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany”, 1919-1920. The piece reflects her views of political and social issues in post WWI Germany, and obviously her love of extremely long titles. It is a photo-montage and collage with watercolor.  As I analyzed the piece projected before the class, I noticed what appeared to be a small shape very familiar to me. I looked harder.  I was sure I was mistaken but it looked as if one of the photos in the montage was of Hotel Pennsylvania…  Needless to say I didn’t waste a second pulling up a larger image of the piece on my phone to see if that was, in fact, the Hotel.  It was.

A close up of Hotel Pennsylvania in Hannah Höch's piece (left) and a comparison photograph of Hotel Pennsylvania shortly after it opened (right)

A close up of Hotel Pennsylvania in Hannah Höch’s piece (left) and a comparison photograph of Hotel Pennsylvania shortly after it opened (right)

So now I’m sitting here in class completely perplexed as to why Hotel Pennsylvania is featured in a significant piece of artwork.  It was then that I remembered just how significant Hotel Pennsylvania was back in 1919 when in opened.  When the hotel opened, it was the largest Hotel in the world.  That may not seem like a significant title for a hotel to have nowadays, but 95 years ago this was a huge deal. Hotel Pennsylvania was an engineering feat and huge social topic.  Skyscrapers were all the rage and not many existed yet.  In fact, Hotel Pennsylvania was obviously so significant that Hannah Höch, a prominent artist of the time, felt compelled to included it in her piece as a representation of current society.

From the research I have done, It seems that in general, most who are familiar with this piece can’t identify every image within the collage, but they all know each one is significant.  I’m here to make it clear that despite all of the reasons we already know and have preached for years why Hotel Pennsylvania is a historic structure, here is a mostly unknown and historic example featuring Hotel Pennsylvania because of the fact it is significant! So listen up, Vornado.  Open up your eyes and see the history that is around you.  Embrace it.  Newer isn’t always better. Though you say that you no longer have plans to demolish the hotel, what are you going to do with it?  What will become of the hotel if you renovate it?  You own a very special piece of society and culture.  It’s time you start thinking with your heads and not you wallets. Make hotel Pennsylvania the social icon it once was again, and DO IT RIGHT!  Restore the Hotel back to the gem it once was.  Midtown needs its Grand Dame back.


Sources: Hi-res copy of the piece courtesy of Flickr user “dr jk”