Gilsey House was designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch for Peter Gilsey, a Danish immigrant merchant and city alderman. It was constructed from 1869 to 1871 at the cost of $350,000, and opened in 1872.
The hotel was luxurious – the rooms featured rosewood and walnut finishing, marble fireplace mantles, bronze chandeliers and tapestries – and offered services to its guests such as telephones, the first hotel in New York to do so. It was a favorite of Diamond Jim Brady and Oscar Wilde, Samuel Clemens was a guest, and it attracted the theatrical trade at a time when the area – which became known as the Tenderloin – was becoming the primary entertainment and amusement district for New York’s growing population, with numerous theatres, gambling clubs and brothels. Note nearby: the infamous Haymarket saloon, The White Elephant Gambling Resort, Shang Draper’s Saloon, Crawley’s Pool Hall, Kirby’s Gambling Resort, and the saloon owned and run by John Sullivan, the famous boxing champion. A block east on Fifth Avenue the wealthy still held sway. Note the Knickerbocker Club and a number of prominent churches.