messrs. belvedere

belvedere handball pkstrk

A hidden gem! A setting said to be distinctive for guests on business and leisure alike! Unparalleled location in the heart of Manhattan! Rates starting at around US$167 per night!

That’s the pitch browsers online can find looking for a booking at New York’s Belvedere Hotel, which I wasn’t, recently. I can’t say one way or the other whether it’s the place for you; what I can report, confidently, is that if you do go, your hopes of emulating these early New York Rangers, above, and getting in a game of handball on the roof is zero.

There is a gym at the Belvedere: indeed, the hotel’s website says it’s “proud” to have one, “encouraging health-conscious guests to maintain their active lifestyle while traveling and dining out.”

I guess handball’s heyday has come and mostly gone, but I had a moment’s reverie in which you could still catch a game on high at the Belvedere.

The woman I talked to there when I phoned seemed worried by my rooftop questions. “No,” she told me, “there’s no tennis court.” Handball. “Nope.” When did it close? Did she know? Did someone know? What’s up there now? Anybody I can talk to who can talk about the history of the hotel? I was panicking her, though. “Honestly,” she said, “nobody that’s here has ever seen anything like that.”

•••

That’s Ching Johnson here, of course, on the left, with Bill Cook leaping high over his fallen brother, Bun. All three had been with the Rangers since their inaugural season, 1926-27. It was 1929 now, springtime, and the team was girding to defend the Stanley Cup title it had won the previous year over the Maroons of Montreal. Bun Cook was 25, his brother (the Ranger captain) and Johnson older, 32 and 30, respectively. The team couldn’t quite pull off the defense, falling in that year’s two-game final to the Boston Bruins.

The Belvedere, at 319 West 48th Street, was new in the late 1920s. “The Outstanding Success of the City,” bragged a newspaper ad from those years, before getting down to details: 450 baths complemented the Belvedere’s 450 rooms, all of which were outside rooms, featuring two large windows. The Moderately Priced Restaurant served a Peerless Cuisine. You could get a large double room for US$6 a day; furnished suites with serving pantries ran anywhere from US$35 to US$150.

Times Square wasn’t far and, more to the point, Tex Rickard’s Madison Square Garden was just a block north up 8th Avenue. Handball was just the start of it — over the years, many hockey players would call the Belvedere home. Following, a few notes on that and other Belvedere/hockey associations.

•••

In early April of 1928, just before the Rangers went into Stanley-Cup battle with the Montreal Maroons, the Belvedere and its inimitable menu played host to a hockey awards dinner. At this time, the NHL proper awarded three individual trophies, the Hart (for league MVP), the Vézina (goaltender allowing the fewest goals), and Lady Byng (high skill and gentlemanly conduct), but these weren’t those.

First among honourees on this night were handballing defenceman Ching Johnson, who took the Paramount Theatre Trophy as MVP of the New York teams, Rangers and Americans. The Broadway director and producer (and native-born Newfoundlander) John Murray Anderson sponsored that one, with the New York Hockey Writers Association taking care of the voting. Out of 26 ballots cast, Johnson’s name was on 12, while the two centreman, the Rangers’ Frank Boucher and the Amerks’ Normie Himes, appeared on seven each.

Boucher was the highest scoring New Yorker that year, finishing third in the NHL chart behind Hart-winner Howie Morenz and his Canadiens teammate, Aurele Joliat, and that was good enough to win him the Belvedere Hotel Trophy. (His Cook wingers, Bun and Bill, were runners-up.) But while Boucher would that same year win the first of his seven Lady Byng Trophies (in 1935, they actually gave him the trophy outright, ordered a new one), on this night Boucher had to concede the Roosevelt Hotel Clean Play Trophy to Harold Darragh of the Pittsburgh Pirates. NHL referee-in-chief Cooper Smeaton seems to have been responsible for deciding this one, drawing on what a Brooklyn Daily Eagle report calls his “private records” to determine that while Boucher had been penalized for 14 minutes of the 1674 he’d skated that season, Darragh, a winger, was sanctioned for just 10 of his 1620 minutes.

Bandleader and hockey fan Paul Whiteman presided over the proceedings — or as the Daily Eagle called him, “corpulent ‘Oom’ Paulie Whiteman,” who made Ching Johnson look like a mere “mite.”

•••

In the late 1930s, the Belvedere played host to an annual dinner given by the NHL for the aforementioned New York Hockey Writers Association. At the 1938 edition, Rangers GM Lester Patrick unveiled his proposal for an all-new playoff format. Harold Parrott wrote it up for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

In fact, the Silver Fox of the ice rinks was practically lopsided after expounding his playoff theories to hockey writers last night with the aid of calculus, logarithms, a financial expert he brought along for the purpose — and a lot of patient good humor.

Ahead of the season, Montreal’s troubled Maroons talked of migrating to St. Louis, or maybe Cleveland, but the league turned them down, so they’d suspended operations, leaving seven teams. Patrick wanted the NHL to collapse the remaining teams into one division (previously they’d been divided into American and Canadian halves) with the team that finished on top declared league champion. All seven teams would them compete for the Stanley Cup, with the first-place finisher leaping past the first round with a bye while — importantly — not missing out on its share of ticket profits. Revenue was an important feature of the plan, with teams’ percentages based on (as far as I can discern) a formula accounting both for regular-season and how far they advanced in the playoffs. “The Ranger boss,” Parrott wrote, “figures this will make the teams hustle until the season’s last whistle.”

Interesting that Patrick was sharing with the writers before he took it to the NHL and the teams involved. “Manager Patrick,” noted The New York Times in its report, “is hopeful that his plan will be accepted, although at first blush it seems a most radical and fantastic one, he himself declared.” If the NHL did put this Patrick plan to a vote, it failed to pass. The league did end up rejigging divisions that year, decanting two into one, but when the playoffs came around in the spring of 1939, only the top six teams were in. Last-place Chicago had to watch as Boston went on to beat Toronto in the finals.

•••

The Belvedere is where Stan Fischler got his start to his career in hockey journalism, books, broadcasting and general, all-around mavening. He writes about this in New York Rangers: Greatest Moments and Players (2015). As a Brooklyn College student in the early 1950s he not only joined a Rangers fan club organized by team publicist Herb Goren but launched a club newspaper with a pair of willing friends. “This gave us entrée to interview players,” he recalls, the first being Ed Kullman, “cross-examined in his suite at the Belvedere Hotel.”

•••

Jeff Z. Klein of The New York Times called on Fischler’s formidable Ranger memory when he wrote Don Raleigh’s obituary in 2012. “Bones Raleigh was the quintessential antihero,” Fischler said of the former centreman, Kenora-born, who captained the Rangers and scored back-to-back overtime winners in the team’s losing struggle with Detroit in the 1950 Stanley Cup finals. “He was an intellectual; he would write poetry on the Staten Island Ferry. He would get the puck behind his net and just wend his way up ice on spectacular rushes. Problem was, Bones being so skinny, by the time he got inside the enemy zone, he was usually body checked. But we didn’t mind because he was our guy.”

For much of his ten-year NHL career, he was one of many Rangers to make a hockey-season home at the Belvedere. Klein talked to teammates Harry Howell and Pentti Lund, among others. They both remembered him calling in teammates to his suite for pre-game strategy sessions. He was a book-reader and a bon vivant, loved life in New York, enjoyed the sense of humour:

“Old Bones Raleigh, he used to be our cook in the hotel,” Howell said. “He used to buy the groceries, and we’d pay him. One night, he gave a huge can of peaches to the players, and we thought, Boy, this is really something. So Bones, before we ate the peaches, said, ‘Now you guys realize you each have to give me 12 cents per peach.’ We all knew what he was like and just laughed.”

•••

I’m assuming that Raleigh was on hand at the Belvedere on the last night of 1952 as the Rangers, with wives and girlfriends, heralded the new year. Frank Boucher was there, the Rangers’ GM now, and so was Bill Cook, his coach, who’d almost died twice in the year gone by thanks to irate bulls and exploding tractors. The Leafs and Rangers had played to a 3-3 tie that night but while Toronto’s hockey players had packed up and travelled on to Boston after the game, several of her hockey writers had stayed on to party at the Belvedere. The Globe and Mail’s Gord Walker was one of them, which is how we know that Gladys Gooding was at the piano when the time came to sing Auld Lang Syne, when Rangers captain Allan Stanley wore a plastic fireman’s hat to welcome the midnight. “There was quite a noise for a while,” Walker wrote. “It died down shortly because he wives kissed their husbands, and the girl friends kissed their escorts and the Toronto hockey writers shook hands with each other.”

nobody could say bill’s washed up

bun + bill cook 1930

“This notion that Bill Cook is through, that his legs have gone back on him, is all nonsense. Ask Doc Clauss if there’s anything the matter with his legs. Why, Bill’s got at least two seasons more of great hockey in his system! He can’t be over 36. Speaking of ages, there’s his brother, Bun Cook. Bun hasn’t been going any better than Bill. Yet he’s only 25 or so. Nobody could say Bun’s washed up.”

Frank Boucher’s heart was in the right place, even if his math was bad: in December of 1930, his New York Rangers linemates, Bill Cook (above, right) was 35, while his younger brother Bun (left) was 27. It is true that the Rangers hadn’t started the season as well as they might have, winning just three of their first eight games. But to lay the blame on captain Bill — well, as Boucher told Harold C. Burr, the time to count out old Bill wasn’t now. The headline on Burr’s Brooklyn Daily Eagle column: “Frank Boucher Just Laughs at the Idea Bill Cook’s Through.” True enough: by season’s end, he was the Rangers’ leading scorer. He was to play a further seven seasons in the NHL, topping the league in scoring in 1932-33. That was the year, too, that he put a puck past Lorne Chabot of the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime to win the Rangers the Stanley Cup.

 (Photo: courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

scrub on skates

worters

A birthday today for Roy Worters, born this day in 1900, in Toronto. Shrimp they called him, of course, because he was a tiny goaltender, smaller even than Darren Pang. The smallest man to have played in the NHL? Maybe so. Five-foot-three, 135 pounds are the dimensions generally given in the standard hockey references. He played nine seasons, most of those for the New York Americans, and won a Hart Trophy and Vézina for his miniature efforts, though never a Stanley Cup. He died in 1957; 12 years after that, in 1969, he was elevated to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Harold Burr of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote about a stop Worters made in January of 1933 against the Rangers:

Bill Cook took Frankie Boucher’s pass and beat Roy, refusing to go in and draw the Shrimp’s spread-eagle defense. The Rangers were riding rubber now and Bun Cook sent one swishing in on Worters, at the height of the little fellow’s jugular. It came with the velocity of a projectile, and from well beyond the blue line, lots of room to pick up speed.

“I swear I didn’t know how to play it,” confessed Worters, still rubbing a red spot on his neck and voice a little husky. “There wasn’t any time to jump and take it on my wishbone. So I got it in the Adam’s apple instead. It hurt, all right.”

 

the fish and bun cook

Reel Time: As a New York Ranger left winger, Bun Cook won two Stanley Cups playing on a line (the Bread Line) with his older brother Bill and Frank Boucher. He took to coaching after his playing days were done, mostly for the AHL's Cleveland Barons. In the summer of 1950, at the age of 46, he went fishing while rumours eddied that Art Ross was about to offer him the job of coaching the Boston Bruins. Didn't happen: Lynn Patrick was the man for that. Cook stayed in Cleveland. the next season he guided the team to the Calder Cup, his fifth. (Photo: Hank Andrews)

Reel Time: As a New York Ranger left winger, Bun Cook won two Stanley Cups playing on a line (the Bread Line) with his older brother Bill and Frank Boucher. He took to coaching after his playing days were done, mostly for the AHL’s Cleveland Barons. In the summer of 1950, at the age of 46, he went fishing while rumours eddied that Art Ross was about to offer him the job of coaching the Boston Bruins. Didn’t happen: Lynn Patrick was the man for that. Cook stayed in Cleveland. the next season he guided the team to the Calder Cup, his fifth. (Photo: Hank Andrews)

but they were only hockey players

henry and mrs fordHenry Ford was in a good mood in the winter of 1932 — on at least one day at the end of February, he was as eager as a small boy with a new electric train.

Yes, it was the third year of America’s staggering depression. But Ford felt that people were ready for what he called real values. That’s what the 68-year-old pioneering founder of the Ford Motor Company was telling Raymond Clapper, manager of the United Press, as he guided him around the company’s vast automobile works at Dearborn, Michigan. In another few weeks, a new biography by Jonathan Norton Leonard would be out with these and other nasty things to say about the billionaire industrialist: he was nothing but a shrewd Yankee tinkerer, narrow, bigoted, prejudiced, semi-literate, intolerant, vindictive, dour, domineering. On this day, though, it was Clapper’s phrase that applied, the boy with the train. Leading the newsman into a laboratory, he summoned him to a screened-off corner.

“They’re apt to get mad at me for coming in here,” Ford said. By real values he seems to have meant shiny new product: beyond the screen was the new eight-cylinder beauty he was about to unleash on the nation. He was grinning as though he were getting into his mother’s cookie jar as he pointed out the V-Type’s streamlined body, longer and wider than the classic T, featuring bigger wheels with heavier tires. Ford revealed that he had 83,560 paid-up orders already in hand.

“We expect to start shipping final parts in four or five days,” the emperor of mass production told his visitor. “The new models should be available for display very soon after that. We have already 50,000 bodies made up. Our immediate objective will be 6,000 cars a day.” By year’s end he hoped to have 1,500,000 of the new cars wheeling across America. The economy was looking up, after all: bank failures were down since the new year and there were estimates that Americans had $24,000,000 of their cash squirrelled away at home.

This was big news, though there was about to be much bigger. Two days later, on the first day of March, kidnappers snatched Charles Lindbergh’s year-a-half-old son and, as The New York Times framed it after a week of frantic, fruitless searching, “An empty cradle in a house on Sourland Mountain in New Jersey filled the heart and the mind of America.”

Five hundred men, police and firemen, went door-to-door in Newark. Clues gusted in. A postman discovered a message pencilled on a card: “Baby safe. Instructions later.” Mrs. Fannie Fischer, a landlady, called in to say that three men and a woman in a car had stopped by to ask about rooms and in the back of the car there was — seemed to be — a bundle. A brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad noticed two nervous men with a crying baby on the platform at the Clinton Street Station. Police on motorcycles chased a suspicious sedan near Manlius, New York, and in Wheeling, West Virginia, authorities were on the hunt for a speeding car with New Jersey plates.

The New York Times filled two-and-a-half columns with tips and false leads, including:

A Miss Anna Kurtz at Portland, Pa., which is over the Delaware River about thirty miles from the Lindbergh’s, found a baby’s jacket that would have fitted him. But it belong to a neighbor’s child, having blown off a clothes line. In Providence, R.I., the police chased a car that had been reported to carry four men and a baby. But they were only hockey players — and there was no baby.

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the bull and bill cook

Alex Galchenyuk scored early in overtime tonight as the Montreal Canadiens slipped past the New York Rangers 3-2, mere moments after Don Cherry got his hometown history mixed up.

New York holds a 2-1 series in the Eastern Conference final. The two teams meet again on Sunday night.

The history lesson came in the intermission between the third period and overtime when Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean cornered Cherry with a quick tribute to the earliest 1920s-era Rangers, including Frank Boucher and brothers Bill and Bun Cook, who (cue the Coach) lived for long years in Cherry’s beloved Kingston, Ontario.

MacLean didn’t want Cherry to tell us all how the elder Cook, Bill, died — that’s what he said. So Cherry did tell: Cook was a farmer and one of his big bulls crushed him against a gate.

It’s a story Cherry has told before. For example, in 1997 in a selfless Q-and-A with Hamilton Spectator readers:

Q. Whom do you consider is the best player from Kingston, Ont.?

— Rick McCarthy, Vancouver

A. We’ve had a lot of great players come from there, including myself, Wayne Cashman, Kenny Linseman, Jim Dorey, Rick Smith, Doug Gilmour, Kirk Muller.

But the best, from what I’m told, was Bill Cook, a player for the New York Rangers back in the 1930s. He was a Hall of Famer, a big tough player who could skate like the wind and score. He was an all- star and a Stanley Cup winner.

Unfortunately, a sad thing happened to Bill. He lived to be about 85, and still worked his farm there. He had a monster Holstein bull. People kept telling him, “That bull is too mean.” The bull killed him, caught him between a gate and a fencepost.

It was a sad way for Bill to go out, but I would have to say he’s the best one ever from Kingston.

In fact, Cook died in Kingston at the age of 89, in 1986, of cancer.

He did have a bad experience with one of his bulls, but that was in the spring of 1952, not long after he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It happened like this:

cook bull

the shape you’re in

shaping up

Summer ends, eventually, and that’s when the hockey starts. If the months before that happens seem to go on forever, what can you do but keep yourself trim? That’s Leo Bourgault, above, on the rowing machine, at Alberta’s Jasper Park Lodge in July of 1931. Born in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, he’d started his NHL career in Toronto in 1926 before moving on to the New York Rangers for five seasons. He played the 1930-31 season for the Ottawa Senators; later he joined Montreal’s Canadiens. Spotting him, golf club in hand, is Bud Cook, brother of the Rangers’ famous Bun and Bill. He’d spent the previous season starring at left wing for the Providence Reds before Boston manager Art Ross came calling to buy him for the Bruins. He only lasted a season there. His other NHL stints were in Ottawa and St. Louis before he settled in to a lengthy career with the farm-league Cleveland Barons.