Jane Street’s long history in Greenwich Village has evolved over time. Historians believe that its name was derived from a cow path that at one time lead to the Jayne Farm which grew tobacco in the area. Today, at the most western point of Jane Street lays a storied building with a somewhat sordid history at 113 Jane. The current Georgian style, red brick building designed by architect William Alciphron Boring was built in 1908 for the American Seaman’s Friend Society, a then eighty year old organization who “sought to bring civilizing influences to bear on the tens of thousands of sailors passing through the port of New York.” The six-story building functioned as a seaman’s hostel with 156 rooms for sailors plus more for officers, engineers, cooks, and stewards. The rank of the men while at sea came ashore with them and determined which rooms they could rent or which amusement rooms they could frequent. Seaman paid $.25 per night while others paid $.50. No alcohol was allowed on the premises and Christian proselytizing of the rough set was common.
When the Titanic infamously sank on April, 15 1912, many survivors of the tragedy found their way to New York. Ironically, the luxurious Titanic had been designed to compete with the Lusitania and Mauretania operated by rival company Cunard Line. When the R.M.S. titanic sank in the frigid waters of the Atlantic, the Cunard Line’s Carpathia rescued the survivors and returned many of them to the operator’s pier on the Hudson River across from 113 Jane. More than 100 of the survivors gathered there one night for a memorial service at which “a mighty, roaring chorus” could be heard singing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” according to the New York Times. Many of them were sailors, now destitute after losing their jobs aboard the Titanic, and New Yorkers left clothes and money for them at the building.
The building was converted to other uses in 1931, but many sailors remained in the cramped living quarters. In 1933, the NYPD was dispatched to deal with the surly bunch who hurled chairs and books at staff members attempting to keep order. The American Seaman’s Friend Society sold the building to the YMCA in 1944 and it was converted to the Jane West Hotel in 1951. The hotel, which was never substantively remodeled from the tiny 49 square foot rooms that housed sailors along narrow corridors with bathrooms at the end, was eventually used as single room occupancy (SRO) residences by some of New York City’s down and out. The operation later changed its name to the Hotel Riverview.
By 2009, long-term residents paid $200 per month for their meager West Village abode while transients passing through paid $99 per night. This is where Sean MacPherson, Eric Goode, and their partners came in. They envisioned pod like rooms that would appeal to young travelers with the $99 per night price tag in a city where modest accommodations regularly top $250 per night. They had already built the Bowery Hotel and renovated the Maritime Hotel, at 16th and Ninth Avenue in Chelsea – both of which had become nightlife destinations. In order to bring their vision to fruition, over 150 residents, many of whom where drunks, degenerates, and drug addicts, would need to be relocated. Most would not leave voluntarily and they were protected by housing laws that made it difficult to evict them. But the construction began, many of the SRO residents departed, and 113 Jane was on its way to transforming into the The Jane, the modern hotel the developers envisioned.
Today, The Jane offers its small rooms to travelers looking to experience NYC on the cheap or who are interested in the building’s interesting history. Rooms are decked out with polished wood, flat-screen TVs, WiFi and iPod docking stations. According to Trip Advisor, 77% of these travelers enjoy their stay. Those that don’t, complain about the small facilities, shared bathrooms, and noise from the bar downstairs. That bar, the Jane Ballroom, was created from an auditorium left over from the buildings early days and designed with period décor. It had more recently been used as The Jane Street Theater which was notable for launching such shows as Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The venue became the cocktail den du jour when the Beatrice Inn involuntarily closed its doors in 2009. But the party was short-lived as it lead to an epic battle between the hotel’s owners and the nearby townhouse owners that makeup the Jane Street Block Association. The bar closed, then opened, then closed again but eventually emerged with a much toned down atmosphere in the lounge.
The Jane Hotel, 113 Jane Street at West Street, (212) 924-6700 or http://www.thejanenyc.com