Named for its original airway beacon located on the roof of the hotel, Hotel Beacon harks back to a lesser-known time in New York City history, one in which the country was young, prosperous and enthusiastic about the advancements of the day, most notably the rising popularity of flight.
Designed by architect Walter Ahlschlager in the beaux-arts style in 1928, Hotel Beacon opened its doors alongside the Beacon Theatre to a great amount of buzz. At 24 stories high, it towered above all other buildings in the neighborhood and rivaled the skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan.
Yet the most talked about piece of the Hotel Beacon wasn’t its height - it was its beacon. One of only three hotels in all of New York City to install an airway beacon on its roof, the beacon at the hotel wasn’t just seen as a novelty, it was a visual representation of the modern marvels of the day. In fact, just one year before, Charles Lindbergh had completed his first solo transatlantic flight - and for a short period of time, it seemed like every new skyscraper was installing an airway beacon as part of the growing excitement.
The head of the Hotel Beacon construction, J. Henry Small, caught the city’s beacon craze and commissioned the Sperry Gyroscope Company for a beacon 5 feet in diameter with 1.2 billion candles in power. Such an impressive instrument called for an impressive opening - which it was. The hotel’s beacon was christened with an elaborate ceremony, in which a plane flew through a thunderstorm over the hotel, with Hotel Beacon providing the guiding light.
Although said to be the largest airway beacon in the world at the time, the hotel’s beacon was forced to turn out the lights just a few years after its christening when the Department of Commerce ruled that only official airway beacons could use white light. Nevertheless, the name Hotel Beacon stayed, and today, over 90 years later, the Hotel Beacon is just a recognizable as it was when its original beacon was first lit.