Who hasn’t fantasized about living in a hotel? A hotel with a secret masonic club history seems to be just the cherry on top. The Level Club condominium is the closest one can get to that daydream…
The Level Club at 253 W. 73rd St. is Manhattan’s secret hideaway filled with its own twists and turns left behind by the Freemasons. Now it is in the hands of the lucky few living in their restored 1920s clubhouse hotel.
Entering the building today, there is still the unmistakable atmosphere of a private club (if you can get past the talkative resident who hangs out with her goldendoodle dog named Toby). It’s a place that was in fact the first of its kind in the United States, with a total of 225 bedrooms to welcome its secretive members– not to mention the luxurious Turkish baths, an indoor pool, bowling alleys, handball courts, a fully-equipped gym, barber shop, manicurist, ballroom, banquet hall, auditorium, roof garden– pretty much everything you would expect to accommodate one of the most clandestine clubs in the world.
In the shadows of the iconic New York Ansonia building, the Level Club was originally built by the Freemasons themselves. One of the original residents Bruno Bertuccioli has even written a book about it called The Level Club: A New York City Story of the Twenties : Splendor, Decadence and Resurgence of a Monument to Human Ambition Paperback.
In 1925, the original members, all twenty-two of them, wrote to the president,
Mr. President: We gentlemen represent and speak for five million Masons throughout the world. The greatest Masonic monument is about to be erected in the City of New York, costing $2,000,000, or more, which will be the first and most complete Masonic hotel and clubhouse in the world, open to every living Mason.
Two years later, the private hotel of the particular fraternity would open with support from many government officials including Theodore Roosevelt.
The Neo-Romanesque temple would be erected as the only true-t0-size replica of King Solomon’s Jewish Temple– smack in the middle of New York City. At the centre of the facade, two pillars held up by sculptures of Hiram Abiff and Solomon himself mark the entrance. The Star of David, the all-seeing eye, an hourglass, a level, the square and compasses, a beehive, and an emblem with LC for the Levelers Club, are all traces of the building’s Masonic history, if you’re curious enough to look up.
The grand society, however, only had a lifespan of two years in its New York clubhouse until it gave into the Great Depression. Left from then is only a carcass full of clues to what was initially a place exclusively for the Masons.
The building would next be turned into the Riverside Plaza Hotel, keeping the lobby of the original hotel, which has been preserved much the same as it was originally built– just a few egg-shell paint jobs over the original wood to keep it intact.
Originally, there would have also been a cigar room, theatre tickets booth, shoe polishing, phone booths, and other services surrounding the open space.
After its conversion into a hotel, Babe Ruth, who lived nearby, was a frequent visitor for the bowling alleys. A white imperial staircase leads down the centre from a wraparound balcony with mirrored doors and windows hiding behind the secret meeting rooms.
A hotel is just as good as its pool though, and the 25 by 75 feet pool must have been one of this hotel’s main attractions back in the day. Now, a total wreck, the sub-basement still spans a gymnasium and azurra-colored pool.
The original drinking fountains, showers, and even a Turkish-bath still stand, barely in-tact. The space would not require much work to restore.
Currently, the entire face of the building is being restored with the original terracotta stones. Little-by-little, the Level Club is regaining its old form.
The appeal of the building to tenants is indeed the quirky and strange remake of hotel rooms into apartments. Each one is absolutely unique. The sixth floor was original the mason’s billiard room and fumoir with a fireplace that is now used as decoration. Because of the hotel’s layout, each apartment door is now in a different place. The hotel hallways each have different shapes too– one floor even has a hidden apartment behind a stairwell. One tenant also found a window behind a wall.
The building had a 3,000 seat auditorium, which spanned from the third to fifth floors. The remnants of the theatre have disappeared (in its place an brand new fourth floor), but rumour has that even Tchaikovsky’s pieces was recorded here during the Riverside Plaza days.
A loyal superintendent, an author, a club-mascot dog, a writer, and maybe even some members of the masons claimed their territory in the centre of Manhattan and nestled their own unofficial society here at the Level Club Condominium. Just another reminder to look for the hidden architectural clues. You never know what your city, or even your own neighbourhood is hiding.