|S. Gregory Taylor: 1888 - 1948
A Greek Patriot and Hotel Magnate
By Patricia and Edward Shillingburg © 2006
In 1997, the Shelter Island Town Board accepted the gift of Taylor’s Island from the estate of S, Gregory Taylor who had died in 1948, nearly 50 years before. Who was this man for whom there was little local memory?
According to the February 1963 Orthodox Observer, the official periodical of the Greek Orthodox Church in American, Taylor’s name at his christening was Soterios Gregorios Tavoulares. He was born in 1888 on the Greek Island of Prikonnesos, Marmara where his family was well known, and where during the Turkish occupation, his grandfather Tavoulares was the ethnic leader of the Greek community. Among the members of his family were the Most Reverend Metropolitan Sophronis and Nicholas Kyriakides, who was a member of the Patriarchal Council and the founder of the local school that bears his name. He attended the local elementary school and went to the gymnasium for high school at Raidestos, Thrace.
Taylor was 20 years old when he came to the United States. He learned the hotel business from bellhop to manager with the Manger chain of hotels, one of the largest in the country in 1928 when the principle of the company, William Manger, died.
In April 1925, Taylor leased a fifteen-story residential hotel, the Buckingham, at the corner of 57th Street and Sixth Avenue from the developers Harris H. and Percy Uris. The lease was for $200,000 a year for 21 years. The building was scheduled to open on September 1. Almost immediately he was in trouble with the law for his flamboyant advertising. He erected a 100-foot long by eight foot high sign on the bridge over the sidewalk advertising the hotel and its room rates. The Bureau of Highways was ordered to remove the sign by Borough President Julius Miller. “I notified the people at the Hotel Buckingham three weeks ago that they were violating the [sign] ordinance by displaying the sign. They changed two or three words in the advertising matter. The gigantic sign was still in front of the hotel Friday night when I passed there, so I instructed the Bureau of Highways to cause its removal.” An advertisement appeared in the New York Times on May 17 announcing the residential hotel with 1, 2, 3, or more rooms with a serving pantry and automatic refrigeration in each apartment.
On November 1, 1928, Taylor opened another hotel, the Montclair, between 49th and 50th streets on Lexington Avenue. It was designed by Emory Roth with a façade in Spanish style and built by the Harper organization. Taylor was president, Oscar W. Richardson, resident manager and Gaston Lauryssen, associate manager. Harris H. and Percy Uris were also the developers, and the mortgage was for $2,500,000.
By December, another deal was in the offing. The New York Athletic Club was moving into its new clubhouse, a 21 story structure on the East side of Seventh Avenue between 58th Street and Central Park South (where it remains today), and the Uris brothers contracted to buy the old clubhouse at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Central Park South for $2,500,000. They planned to build a 35 story 900 room hotel at a cost of $10,000,000. The hotel was to be managed by S. Gregory Taylor, who would now have a chain of three hotels.
In 1930, Taylor was living at the Buckingham Hotel at 101 West 57th Street with his sister Martha, age 21. According to the Census, both were born in Turkey. However, it was actually Greece, as Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) before World War I.
On the Fourth of July, at 9 pm on WGBS radio, Taylor spoke on “America’s Contribution to Greek Independence.”
In August, he announced the new Hotel Dixie between 42nd and 43rd Streets between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. “No Finer Food Anywhere.”
On October 16, Taylor opened the Hotel St. Moritz, at Central Park South and Sixth Avenue, under construction for two years, with great fanfare. The hotel was 38 stories with 1,000 rooms in units of one room to large suites, with many terrace apartments, and three penthouses. A dinner and dancing salon was on the 31st floor, with Omar Khayyam murals done by David Karfunkel, as well as commanding panoramic views of New York City. Emory Roth was the architect and Laurence Emmons designed the interior. The Rumpelmayer pastry and tea shop was on the 59th Street side of the building.
Of special occasion was the presentation of a huge painting of the city of St. Moritz in Switzerland, to hang in the lobby, a special gift from that city to the hotel named after it. The mayor of St. Moritz, Carl Nater, presented the painting. It was painted by the contemporary Swiss painter Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933).
Much of Central Park South, as we know it today, was built during this period.
In October 1931, the Hotel Dixie and the St. Mortiz, both owned by the Uris brothers, were in receivership. Taylor reassured the public, “The foreclosure will clarify situations which confronted the real estate corporation and the hotels will continue to operate as before.”
In January 1932, in the Continental Grill the Carltons, in” modern dance interpretations,” and Harold Stern’s St. Moritz Orchestra were appearing nightly.
On January 13, 1932, the New York Times reported that a company headed by S. Gregory Taylor had taken over the St. Moritz. Philadelphia interests were said to be associated with him in the new company, the Engadine Holding Corporation, which was slated to acquire the property from the Bowery Saving Bank. The sale actually took place in June for about $4,000,000. Partners in the venture included his brother Charles Taylor, Jean G. Venetos, Christopher Stephano, and Spyros Skouras.
Skouras had arrived in the United States in 1910 with his brothers Charles and George. They worked in a large hotel in St. Louis as busboys until they hard scraped together $4,000 to invest in part of a local movie house. Soon they owned all of the movie theaters in St. Louis, which they sold to Warner Brothers in the late 20’s and soon Skouras was managing all of their exhibition houses. Between 1930 and 1932, he worked for Paramount. In 1932, the Skouras brothers took over the management of over 500 Fox-West Coast theaters. He helped merge Fox with 20th Century films in the 1930s and served as President from 1942 until 1962. 20th Century Fox’s slogan Movies are Better than Ever was enhanced with the Skouras’s introduction of Cinemascope with the film, The Robe, in 1953, which is credited with saving the movie industry from its newly introduced competitor, television.
Charles Taylor remained president and managing director of the Hotel Buckingham.
On May 1, Taylor opened the “sky garden,” an outdoor terrace, on the 31st floor of the St. Moritz with murals and other decorations under the direction of the American painter Dean Dietrich.
On August 7, 1932 the New York Times reported the engagement of Taylor’s sister Martha to Constantine S. Stephano of Athens, Greece and Philadelphia. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Stephano of Elkins Park in Philadelphia. She had attended the Constantinople Women’s College and Miss Bredlinger’s Hillside School in Norwalk, Connecticut and the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. He was graduated from the Colorado School of Mines and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The wedding took place in December at the St. Moritz with five children of Spyros and George Skouras attending. The couple’s wedding trip was to the Orient.
In December, Greece rewarded the Rockefeller Foundation, at 61 Broadway, with a sculptured head of the goddess Hygeia for its service to public health in Greece. The sculpture by Constantin Dimitriadis was a copy in Pentelic marble of an antique head in the Museum of Athens. Taylor attended the ceremony.
In April 1933, Taylor hosted a 49th birthday party at the St. Moritz for Auguste Piccard, the Swiss scientist, who in his studies of the stratosphere has ascended higher than any man in a hot air balloon. The plan was for a dirigible to fly over the hotel after lunch and pick up Piccard and his companions on the roof for a flight over the city. High winds prevented the dangerous adventure.
In January 1934, a new polo club was formed at the St. Moritz, with Taylor as chairman. The St. Moritz Polo Club joined the Indoor Polo Association of America and the United States Polo Association, playing indoors at the 105th Field Artillery Armory on Saturdays, and outdoors on Sundays at Berkshire, where three fields were available.
At the end of March, alterations began at the northwest corner of the St. Moritz for an open-air café in the Parisian style to be known as the Café Continental.
In October, Park Commissioner Robert Moses met with a group of men concerned about the poor condition of the bridle paths in Central Park, with Taylor among them.
In November 1936, a gala matinee of the Opera Carmen was held to raise funds for six American colleges in the near east, including the American University of Beirut, Syria; the International College in Beirut; the American College in Sophia, Bulgaria; Athens College in Greece; Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey; and the Istanbul Women’s College. Taylor was one of the very distinguished guests who had purchased boxes.
To learn more about Taylor's Island and about local memory of Mr. Taylor, please visit the Taylor's Island website at taylorsisland.org.