Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza
The Beginning – A City within a City
The plans for the Carew Tower and Netherland Plaza Hotel were announced in August 1929 and the project was completed in January 1931. The financing for the buildings came from the Emery family, which had made its fortune in processing the by-products of Cincinnati’s stockyards. John Emery hired Walter W. Ahlschlager and Colonel William Starrett for the construction. Starrett was known as the builder of the Lincoln Memorial and the Empire State Building. Ahlschlager designed the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and the Hotel Intercontinental in Chicago.
The Carew Tower and Netherland Plaza Hotel were designed to be a “city within a city.” The concept was new in 1929 but Cincinnati were willing to gamble that the combination of shops, department stores, offices and hotel would work. The practicality was made apparent again in 1990 when the Belvedere Corporation invested in the re-development of the Carew Tower Shopping Arcade and Office Tower, featuring a collection of shops, restaurants, a 13,000 square feet fitness center complete with lap pool, and 500,000 square feet of office space.
Stock Market Crash
Emery’s vision of the Carew Tower led him to make some bold financial moves - which worked in his favor. Emery had approached the bank to underwrite financing for the “city within a city” project. The bank did not share the vision of the multi-purpose facility and declined the loan. Emery sold all of his stocks and securities, despite advice from his financial advisors. The plans and financing for the Carew Tower were in place, and then the stock market crashed. Had Emery left his stocks and securities tied up in the stock market, he would have lost everything. But instead, with his money going toward the building of Carew Tower, the project could continue as planned. In fact, the construction project became one of the city’s largest employers.
The Name Game
As the construction on the hotel came to a close, the name St. Nicholas Plaza was selected. Just before the grand opening, the Cincinnati Realty Company (operators of the Hotel Sinton) filed an injunction against the new hotel’s name claiming that it had purchased the rights to the St. Nicholas name when the old St. Nicholas Hotel closed years before. Having invested heavily into the monogramming of linens, china, silverware and stationery, the new hotel’s name was quickly changed to St. Netherland Plaza. The St. came from Starrett’s (for the builder), the Netherland came from the thought that the hotel occupied the space between the Ohio River and the hills, and Plaza was from the original choice. The name was abbreviated to “St. NP.” Eventually, the “St.” was dropped and “Netherland Plaza” is the name that is now famous.
The Hotel is Open for Business
When the hotel opened in January 1931, it boasted the very latest in technology and comfort. The 800 guestrooms featured ultra-modern baths, high-speed automatic elevators, an internal broadcast system both for convenience and safety, and an automatic electric garage. The eleven kitchens that served the hotel’s dining and banquet rooms were specified, ordered and installed in only five weeks. The finest Van Range equipment was so exactingly chosen that the kitchens were able to produce a seven-course meal for 1,800 guests on opening night.
The historic hotel in Cincinnati opened with seven restaurants: the Frontier Room, the Restaurant Continentale, the Arcadia Tea Room, the Coffee Shop, the Rotisserie Grill, the Luncheonette, and the Pavillion Caprice. In the room now known as the Continental Ballroom, patrons were entertained with an ice-skating show. The Pavillion Caprice was a “big band” nightclub that featured live entertainment, including Doris Day’s professional debut, in a tiered ballroom.
Through the years
In January 1942, the hotel suffered a damaging fire on the fifth floor between the hotel and Carew Tower garage. Most of the damage was due to the water used to extinguish the fire. The chandelier in the Hall of Mirrors was destroyed and during the 1980s renovations, was replaced with a mural that replicated the shape and colors of that original chandelier.
The Netherland Plaza did suffer a period in the 1960s when, not unlike many properties of the period, much of the detail was covered in a modernization effort. But in 1981, the hotel closed for nearly two years of renovations. The carpets were removed, exposing the grand marble; the light fixtures were all cleaned; the murals in the Palm Court had 50 years of smoke and dirt removed to reveal their beauty once again and the paint that had covered the wood paneling was scraped off. The hotel’s breathtaking Art Deco was restored to its 1930s glory.
In 1985, The Netherland Plaza earned National Historic Register and National Landmark status. The hotel also won the prestigious Preservation Honor award because the restoration went far beyond the requirements of the Secretary’s Standards for Rehabilitation. In 1989, the hotel became a charter member of Historic Hotels of America.
While the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza has been renovated to showcase its 1930s grandeur, it continues to move into the future with the technology for guest service and operations that distinguishes a truly world-class hotel. Belvedere Hotels, Ltd., a locally owned company that operates the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza as well as other historic hotels, ensures that the grand dame of 1931 will face the future with a “positive outlook” indeed.