August 30, 1987|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

NEW YORK — It is known as Mr. Guterman's dream house.

Indeed, a dream for none other than Gerald Guterman Esq., the noted New York land baron who once worked as a porter for Donald Trump's father and who, during the past 10 years, is credited with converting more than 6,000 weary apartments scattered across New York into fashionable condominiums and cooperatives.

In this case, however, his joy isn't showered upon some shabby fixer-upper but a hotel of distinction (and one of Manhattan's more expensive addresses). Gerald Guterman's dream house is the venerable Stanhope Hotel on Millionaires' Row directly across the street from the imposing Metropolitan Museum of Art at Fifth Avenue and 81st Street.

After purchasing the hotel for $19.6 million, the 44-year-old Guterman (he grew up in East Flatbush) spent another $25 million converting the 61-year-old, 16-story hotel into the American counterpart of the "finest little hotel London has to offer, namely the Connaught."

In the beginning the address was known as one of "supreme distinction, a property removed from the crush of the city," as it still is. While renovating the hotel, Guterman cautiously avoided tampering with the personality of the property. Its entrance remains unobtrusive, keeping with the dignity of the neighborhood in which the hotel remains a landmark.

Up and down Fifth Avenue, on either side of the Stanhope, imposing buildings have stood since the era of the horse carriage, a gracious period of refined living when gowned ladies and their escorts in black tie crowded the hotel's fashionable public rooms.

It was the original owner's intention to create in every detail the sense of a distinguished private house. Windows faced Central Park and walls were paneled in rich oak. Each apartment was decorated differently, a tradition carried on by Guterman.

Stepping through the door of the Stanhope, Guterman insists, is like entering the warmth of London's Connaught, which is precisely what Guterman had in mind when he commissioned decorator Shelley Azapian to work her magic on the Stanhope.

Guterman, who had already invested in hotels in Europe, told Azapian he wanted the Stanhope to reflect the opulence and graciousness not only of the Connaught but of the Imperial in Vienna and the Crillon and the Ritz in Paris.

The recently departed mistress of the Stanhope, Mimi Russell (daughter of Lady Sarah Spencer-Churchill), had transformed the Stanhope into a bastion of Victoriana. The hotel was crowded with both Empire and Victorian pieces--solid mahogany chests, pedestal tables and velvet rockers. Walls were hung with so many Hudson River paintings that the hotel was considered a mini-museum. In her enthusiasm, Mimi Russell laid claim to the largest collection of 19th-Century Americana antiques in the nation.

Then along came Guterman, who, in a single afternoon, tossed out everything--furnishings and paintings alike. Everything was placed on the auction block. Guterman sold every armoire, every Tiffany lamp, every oil, every knife and fork.

By nightfall the hotel was empty. A shell. In place of the Victorian trappings he hung baccarat crystal chandeliers and ordered truckloads of Louis XV period furniture along with 24-carat gold-rim caraline Limoges cups and saucers, Ercuis sterling silver, Fitz & Floyd china and crystal glassware.

He brought in an artist to do a trompe l'oeil ceiling in one of the salons. Carpets loomed in Britain were laid and walls were swathed in silk.

Guterman spent $300,000 alone on uniforms for his employees.

Until 4 p.m. guests are received by a staff in morning attire, after which they appear in tuxedos while waiters stand by in tails and maids and waitresses serve guests in designer uniforms that complement the richness of Guterman's hotel. To avoid the risk of offending a guest, Guterman requires each member of his staff to carry (and use) a mouthwash. The dress code for guests is similarly strict. Jeans are out; coats and ties, and appropriate dresses for the ladies are in.

Stefan Simkovics, the hotel's general manager, graduated to the Stanhope from hotels in Europe, including the Barclay in London, the Imperial and the Ritz, where he hosted the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Coco Chanel and Salvador Dali, among others.

No two guest rooms at the Stanhope are alike. Each of the 118 suites and rooms is decorated differently to express the sense of a treasured hotel of the sort found only in Europe.

Baths contain Chanel perfumes, soaps and shampoos valued at $50, which guests are encouraged to slip into their luggage when checking out. On the other hand, designer robes are strictly for use in one's room unless the guest prefers to purchase one of the garments, in which case another $120 is added to the bill. (One may even buy the telephone for an extra $240.)

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