Stanley Turkel, Hotel Man, Historian, Civic Gadfly, and Social Activist, Dies at the Age of 96

Stanley managed the Americana Hotel, the Drake Hotel, and the Summit Hotel, managed the Sheraton brand at ITT Corporation, and eventually became the nation’s most widely published hotel historian.  He thrice won “Historian of the Year” in 2014, 2015, and 2020 from Historic Hotels of America, National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Stanley Turkel
Historian of the Year 2014, Historic Hotels of America, National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Stanley Turkel, a hotel consultant, would become the most prolific American hotel historian by writing prodigiously about hoteliers and their hotel entrepreneurship, operations, and architecture. He died on Friday, August 12, 2022, after a brief illness in Alexandria, Virginia in the embrace of his family. He was 96, just short of his 97th birthday.

He published 10 books on hoteliers and hotels, and 270 monthly newsletters entitled, “Nobody Asked Me, But…,” the last of which was pending publication at the time of his passing. Stanley’s recently completed autobiography is also pending publication at the time of this writing. At 90 years of age, Stanley was thrilled to be featured in the New York Times article, “Sunday Routine: How Stanley Turkel, 90, Spends his Sundays.” Earlier in his career, for a time, he had the most “Letters to the Editor” published in The New York Times letters section with more than 30 letters appearing between 1968 and 1974. “Adopt a Subway Station” became his most noteworthy letter which proposed the then-novel idea that corporations “contribute a predetermined annual sum for design, decoration, and upkeep of one subway station.” The City was nearly bankrupt, and the subways were in obvious decline. The letter was enlarged and plastered throughout the subway system. During this time, from 1967 – 1978, Stanley was the President of The City Club of New York and subsequently served as its Chairman. Under his leadership, The Club assumed a “Gadfly” role. The Club insisted on good government and accountability of its elected and appointed leaders to improve the quality of life for everyday New Yorkers. For example, during his tenure, The City Club was instrumental in defeating “Westway,” a mega highway project that would have blocked access to the Hudson River waterfront, now the site of pedestrian-friendly accessible development, parkland, and trails. The City Club hosted many civic, cultural, and community leaders during their monthly luncheons, which included each mayor throughout Stanley’s tenure as President.

A veteran entering the workforce after World War II, he followed his father, owner of the New York Wet Wash commercial laundry on the Upper East Side, into the laundry business. He soon got “the opportunity of a lifetime” to become the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel, later to become the Sheraton Centre and currently, the Sheraton Times Square Hotel on 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue. The Tisch Brothers promoted Stanley to manage the Drake Hotel, a classic luxury property. After a successful tenure at the Drake, he managed the Summit Hotel. 

Stanley was later hired by the then thriving conglomerate, ITT Corporation, and would become the Product Line Manager overseeing the Sheraton Hotel chain. Stanley established the very first 1-800 number for use as a reservation hotline. The Boston Pops Orchestra recorded the melody which would successfully launch the popularity of 1-800 numbers for business use. Before launch, the ITT CEO, Harold Geneen requested Stanley sing the lyrics at a well-populated board meeting. He was a reluctant vocalist and bleated out the earworm jingle, “eight oh oh… three two five… three five three five,” much to the amusement of the room. After leaving ITT, Stanley became a successful hospitality consultant, actively working in the industry for the next forty years. He advised on operations, managed acquisitions, advocated for franchisees, and became an expert witness.

In addition to his esteemed business career, Stanley was a lifelong civil rights activist. In 1956 Stanley attended a lecture given by eighty-year-old W.E.B. Du Bois. This encounter was a pivotal event sparking his passion for social justice, civil rights, and American history, particularly the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. In fact, Stanley’s first book, “Heroes of The American Reconstruction: Profiles of Sixteen Educators, Politicians and Activists” was published by McFarland in 2009 when he was 79 years of age. Preceding this publication was a lifetime of engagement with social justice issues. As a young man, he was a community organizer and a leafleteer announcing meetings and marches and furthering political action. In 1963, he attended “The March on Washington” where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Stanley began acquiring historical artifacts from African American history, photographs, signed letters, and documents. He published articles, gave lectures, and organized, and framed relevant objects such as combining a pass to the impeachment proceedings of Andrew Johnson and the New York Times front page announcing the same. The knowledge he shared was not only educational but inspirational. For example, an elementary school teacher was stunned when Stanley’s grandnephew correctly identified Abraham Lincoln’s first Vice President (Hannibal Hamlin) taking away the $5.00 prize money. The breadth of Stanley’s collection of City Club, civil rights and Reconstruction era papers and artifacts was so substantial that he made curated donations to the New York Public Library, the Schaumberg Center in Harlem, and over 600 objects to the African American Museum in Washington D.C.

Stanley was surrounded by his loving family on the last day of his life. He was predeceased by his first wife, Barbara Bell Turkel, the mother of his two surviving children, Marc Turkel, and his spouse, Meredith Dinneen, and Allison Turkel and her spouse, Toni Robinson. He was also predeceased by his beloved wife Rima Sokoloff Turkel, mother of his surviving stepchildren, Joshua Forrest, and his spouse Susan Kershner Forrest and Benay Forrest, whom he treasured, and his grandchildren, Juno Turkel, Samantha and Anaya Forrest-Spector. If you are so inclined, Stanley would appreciate donations to The Southern Poverty Law Center or the ACLU in his name.

Submit a note or condolence here.