IT’S more a berth than a bed, but you won’t get seasick if you sign on at the new Jane Hotel, at Jane and West Streets.
The original 1908 red brick structure was built as a lodging house for seamen, and its residents included some men rescued from the Titanic. Now, having been renovated by the developers Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode, it is one of New York’s most unusual, and economical, lodgings.
Established in 1828, the American Seamen’s Friend Society sought to bring civilizing influences to bear on the tens of thousands of sailors passing through the port of New York.
The society opened the chunky Georgian-style building, opposite the pier of the Cunard Line, in 1908. It had 156 rooms for seamen, and others for officers and engineers and cooks and stewards; ranking aboard ship transferred to shore. Charges were 25 cents a night for seamen and 50 cents for others.
The officers had rooms similar to those in a hotel, but the rooms for sailors, about seven by seven feet, were strung out along two narrow corridors, like berths on a yacht.
The architect, William Alciphron Boring, gave the building an octagonal corner tower, separate amusement rooms for each of the three groups, an auditorium for 400 and a chapel — civilizing included Christianizing.
The society’s 1911 annual report noted that the seamen found it refreshing to go to “a bright, airy, comfortable place to sit without being annoyed by the fumes of liquor or soul-rasping profanity.”
In 1912 survivors of the Titanic were sheltered there. More than 100 of them gathered one night for a memorial service at which they sang “Nearer, My God, to Thee” with “a mighty, roaring chorus,” according to The New York Times. The sailors were destitute, their pay having stopped the day the Titanic sank, and people left money and clothes for them at the building.
In 1931 the society joined with other organizations to build a more modern shelter at 20th Street and the Hudson River, and the 1908 building was converted to an annex. In 1933 space was tight, and The Times reported that 70 seamen were given cots in the auditorium. They did not keep things very shipshape, ignored commands to clean up, and hurled chairs and books at staff members and police officers who came to restore order.
In 1944 the Seamen’s Friend Society sold the building to the Y.M.C.A., and by the 1950s it was the Jane West Hotel. The society closed in the 1980s.
Gradually, the Jane West hit hard times, and the tiny rooms evolved into long-term housing for the down and out, including drug addicts.
Mr. MacPherson is one of four partners who decided to make a virtue of its vices, reimagining the old sailor’s retreat as the Jane Hotel and offering the podlike rooms at $99 per night. Mr. MacPherson and Mr. Goode also built the Bowery Hotel and renovated the portholed Maritime Hotel, at 16th and Ninth Avenue, built in the 1960s for sailors.
Their Bowery Hotel is a new building, but the bar nicely imitates a 1920s club or restaurant, with wood paneling and heavy curtains, although it is more homage than convincing reproduction.
But the bar in their Jane Hotel, created from the old auditorium and called the Jane Ballroom, appears to be a truly period room — Victorian, perhaps — adorned with acquisitions made over decades by a high-end pack rat. You drink your Stella Artois on a settee covered in a faded bargello fabric, next to the D.J.’s console, which mimics a Napoleonic-era Egyptian-revival daybed, under the gaze of stuffed pheasants and a bighorn sheep, with walls covered with paintings of an antique cast. Someone has probably coined a word for this type of décor: neo-accretion retro?
The convincingly original room, with its paneled ceilings, old cornices, vintage columns and brass-studded leather doors, is completely invented. Mr. MacPherson says he wanted the public rooms to look as if “one family has owned it a long time.”
A 20-something man seated in the bar noted that the drinks menu also promoted the rooms upstairs, “just in case it’s a good date,” he said.
Here, Messrs. Goode and MacPherson have pulled no punches — a guest gets the same rooms that the seamen got, a bunk on one side, some storage on the other, and barely enough space to turn around. However, they are fitted out like yacht cabins, with polished wood, as well as flat-screen TVs, WiFi and iPod docking stations. The bath is where it always was: down the hall.
Some of the old tenants remain, and their battered doors form a distinct contrast with the newer, fancier doors of the renovated rooms. German tourists looking for a bargain share the elevator with people who have been living there since actual sailors plied West Street.
At the Jane, the hip young bankers in the bar, the old-style and new-style tenants in the lobby, and the peculiar mix of artifacts and convincingly fake architecture, all combine to give it a distinct wash-ashore quality, as West Street evolves from shipping to hip.