Restoring the Whitehaven Hotel
Anne's Weekly No Holds Barred Discussion of the Hotel Restoration - September 1995
Episode 3: Breaking it to the Parents
Foolsplay? An Impossible Project? A Building that Wanted to Save Itself?
Four weeks into our marriage and two weeks into our life with the Whitehaven Hotel, my new in-laws came to town. I was sure their visit would snap Ken back into reality and our new life together. I was anxious to share photos of the dilapidated building with sensible folks who would ground Ken and his high-flown schemes. They, like me, would laugh dismissively at the pictures, Ken’s dreams would evaporate, our marriage would be on track and that would be that.
I should have known that I was out of my league on this one. I had a sign. On the way to meet my in-laws for dinner, I saw the Pope. At the time, I took the sighting of the Pope’s motorcade crossing the Upper East Side right in front of me as spiritual validation of the new suit I had just purchased at Bloomingdale’s a few moments before. I believe it is true that sometimes God talks and we don’t listen but it is also true that sometimes God talks and we just misunderstand what he is saying. It’s like a game of cosmic “Telephone,” with the message getting mixed up on the way down. I thought God was saying, “That new outfit looks swell,” not “Renovate the Whitehaven Hotel.” The Pope waving to me from his car was divine affirmation.
Full of Christian good will, I met my husband and in-laws for dinner. My mother-in-law‘s brother had also joined us. Good, I thought, another potential scoffer. The weight of reason was on my side. Something went wrong, though. No scoffing ensued. In fact, they oohed and aahed over the pictures, very much not scoffing. I felt like I was in the pivotal scene of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” where the Grinch realizes the Whos are celebrating Christmas just after he has stolen their presents and just before his heart grows. It came despite scoffing, it came despite nags, it came despite reason, money or snags. I hadn’t stopped the Hotel from coming into our lives. Somehow or other it came just the same.
“Now what is this – the original paint scheme? Do you think you could restore it?”
“These views are great.”
“Some of the old family furniture would be perfect in here.”
What, I wanted to scream, about the giant hole in the floor/ceiling of the east wing? What about the listing west side of the building? To say nothing of the entire section that had fallen down and been removed.
“Hey, great footprint of the building for you to reconstruct.”
They were drawn to it like moths to a flame - fascinated. By the end of dinner, the entire reconstruction had been plotted and a business plan was underway. While my heart did not grow three sizes that day – or any since- what did grow was my understanding of the Trippe family. I realized that I was not in a family of conservative business professionals but a group of entrepreneurs, risk takers. I had laughingly referred to my husband as “The Scheme-o-Matic” but at least I knew now that it was genetic.
Some years into the project, the Hotel began to serve as a focal point for the family, bringing them closer together. For the first time ever, my husband and his brother spent weekends together working at the Hotel. My father-in-law’s involvement was crucial to overcoming roadblocks in the project’s progress. During his brief but valiant battle with cancer, the Hotel was always at the top of his “To Do” list. The Hotel was also the site of the last big family gathering before his death – one of those golden times everyone could look back on happily.
While the dinner that night, and the entire restoration project, gave me a lot of insight into my husband and his family, I was unsure what it meant for our marriage. Clearly, the honeymoon was over. It was one of my husband’s friends who asked during this period, “Where does Anne fit into this?” It’s fair to say this question has never really been answered and in some ways has been more difficult to work through than the restoration of the building itself. Like the restoration itself, it’s always developing. Perhaps, God was trying to send me a message the night of the Pope’s drive-by that I have yet to decipher. Of course, at the office the next day, my cynical New York co-workers tried to convince me I couldn’t have seen the “real Pope.” I had probably seen the “dummy Pope” that was supposedly being driven around Manhattan as a security decoy. But I knew I had seen the real thing. I also knew, from here on in, we were in the grip of a higher power.