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Office tower dooms Hotel Pennsylvania

Hosted Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington

The Hotel Pennsylvania - a New York fixture whose phone number was immortalized in Glenn Miller's Big Band hit "Pennsylvania 6-5000" - will be torn down to build an office tower, according to a real estate report.

Vornado Realty Trust, a real estate giant with big plans in the Madison Square Garden area, intends to replace the 1,700-room hotel opposite Penn Station with a 2.5-million-square-foot building by 2011, the report says.

"The five base floors will be 100,000-square-foot trading floors, and the building will be marketed towards a financial services industry tenant," according to the 2007 market forecast from real estate firm Grubb & Ellis.

A Vornado spokesman said last night the firm had no comment.

The hotel, whose Seventh Ave. entrance is dominated by large columns, was developed by the Pennsylvania Railroad and designed by the renowned architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, which also gave New York its majestic main post office on Eighth Ave., as well as the former Penn Station.

The Statler Hotel Pennsylvania, as general manager Ellsworth Statler's grande dame was originally known, opened in 1919 with 2,200 rooms. It was said to be the largest hotel in the world until the late 1920s.

"New York Panorama," a guidebook produced in the 1930s by the Federal Writers' Project of New York City, described the 22-story Pennsylvania, the Commodore and the Roosevelt as "characteristic of the country-wide type of modern hotel."

Its Cafe Rouge ballroom was a popular venue during the Big Band era of the 1930s and '40s. Besides Glenn Miller's orchestra, bandleaders Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw and the Dorsey brothers thrilled crowds from its stage. Benny Goodman's band was a favorite in the hotel's Manhattan Room.

But with big Midtown office layouts now scarce, the tower envisioned for the site could fetch rents of around $100 per square foot - near the top for Manhattan - and "an accomplishment which would change the face of the Midtown South market," Grubb & Ellis predicted.

Vornado, which announced plans to buy the Manhattan Mall in Herald Square last November, is also part of the development team picked by the state to turn the main post office into an extension of Penn Station.

Though the Farley conversion is now stalled, Vornado and its partner, the Related Cos., are also pushing a much larger project. It would tack a new Madison Square Garden on the Ninth Ave. end of the post office complex and replace the existing arena with office towers and a new Penn Station.

Until the hotel hits its undisclosed closing date, guests can still call Pennsylvania 6-5000 - the hotel's main phone number - and hear a few bars of its signature tune.

Originally published on January 5, 2007

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