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The Flight History of Hotel Beacon

March 30 2018 | Arts & Culture

All things considered, planes haven’t been around that long — just 115 years. Orville Wright and his brother, Wilbur, invented the airplane in 1903 and set off an absolutely unprecedented age of innovation. To understand just how fast the world changed in the early 1900s, consider this: Even after they accomplished flight, both Orville and Wilbur thought flying over the Atlantic Ocean would be forever impossible.

Charles A. Lindbergh achieved that feat only 24 years later in 1927.

And by the time Orville passed away in 1948, he had witnessed the massive deployment of planes in WWII and the breaking of the sound barrier — the fastest he ever flew himself was just 50 mph.

A Sign for the Times

It was in the center of all this innovation when Hotel Beacon rose to join the New York skyline — also in 1927. In fact, as Lindbergh was taking off from Roosevelt Island on May 20, 1927, just five miles to the northwest, construction of Hotel Beacon was well underway. Designed by architect Walter Ahlschlager to be 24 stories tall, the hotel eventually towered above all the other buildings in the neighborhood and even rivaled the skyscrapers of Midtown.

A Towering Light

Hotel Beacon’s name, of course, comes from its storied rooftop airway beacon, which is the same age as the hotel itself. The head of the construction company, J. Henry Small, was caught up in the short-lived "beacon craze" sweeping through the city. Sperry Gyroscope Company was commissioned for a beacon 5 feet in diameter with 1.2 billion candles in power.

The beacon itself was also christened as a plane — dispatched from the same field where had Lindbergh taken off — flew through a thunderstorm over the hotel, with Hotel Beacon providing the guiding light.

History Shines On

The beacon was said to be the largest candle-powered light in the world at the time and could be seen on clear nights as far as seventy miles away in the air and twenty-five miles on the ground.

Alas, a few years later, in 1931, the Department of Commerce ruled that only actual airway beacons could use white light and the hotel’s beacon was turned off, never to be lit again.

The beacon may not operate anymore, but Hotel Beacon still shines, having endured through the years to emerge as one of the few remaining residential hotels. Here, you can settle in and really experience New York, with apartment-style rooms and two-bedroom suites — all the comforts of home but you’ll be surrounded by history, even overhead.