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The Plaza

History: 
    The Plaza
 in New YorkHistory: 
    The Plaza
 in New York

History

A member of Historic Hotels of America, The Plaza is one of America’s finest and most celebrated luxury hotels. Originally opened amidst much fanfare on October 1, 1907, The Plaza was reported as being the “greatest hotel in the world.” Financier Bernhard Beinecke, hotelier Fred Sterny, and Fuller Construction Company president Harry S. Black together purchased a fifteen-year-old hotel on the famous site at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South and set about replacing it with what is now The Plaza.

They constructed the 19-story hotel—at the time considered a skyscraper—at the cost of $12 million, an astronomical amount in the early 20th century. Designed in the style of an opulent French Château, the interior designer Henry Janeway Hardenbergh spared no expense. He placed the single largest gold-encrusted china order in history with L. Straus & Sons, along with an order for 1,650 crystal chandeliers.

The Plaza originally served as a residence for wealthy New Yorkers. The first to register were Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. For those who rented rooms on a nightly basis, the cost started at $2.50 per night. Since then The Plaza has served as a luxurious home away from home for a wide variety of guests, from presidents and royalty to Hollywood stars and professional athletes.

In 1969, the hotel was designated a landmark by The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Plaza was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and in 1986 the hotel was designated a National Historic Landmark; currently the Plaza is the only New York City hotel with this prestigious designation. In 2005, eight interior rooms of The Plaza were designated by The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission: the Palm Court, the Grand Ballroom, the Terrace Room, the Edwardian Room, the Oak Room, and Oak Bar, the 59th Street lobby, and the Fifth Avenue lobby. The Plaza is also a member of Historic Hotels of America.

In 2005, The Plaza closed for an unprecedented complete $450 million renovation. It reopened in 2007, just in time for its 100th birthday, amid much fanfare just as it had in 1907. Today the hotel continues to welcome discerning guests to the pomp and elegance of a true luxury hotel.


*****

"I am Eloise. I am six. I am a city child. I live at the Plaza."

Eloise, the precocious young girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel, the New York City landmark hotel, was introduced to the world in 1955 by Kay Thompson, an entertainer in the Persian Room at The Plaza.

Rumors say that Eloise was Kay Thompson’s creation and was started out as her ‘alter ego’ during rehearsals and night show acts, and since Kay’s home was The Plaza, when friends started calling the hotel and asking for ‘Eloise’, it was time to document Eloise’s adventures. Other people say that Eloise was based on Liza Minnelli as a child living here when her mother Judy Garland was performing at The Persian Room. Either way, Kay Thompson’s first book about Eloise was published in 1955, and the world was introduced to Eloise’s adventures in The Plaza, and while her adventures continued to Paris and Moscow, she always returned to her home at The Plaza.

The story of Eloise reached a global audience, and guests and visitors wanted to ‘meet Eloise’ at The Plaza, and see where her escapades took place. Remember her dog Weenie who looks like a cat? And Skipperdee, the turtle who wears sneakers and eats raisins! Nanny, the ‘rawther’ British nanny who tried her best to watch over Eloise as she took interest in every part of the hotel, sometimes bringing chaos to those around her.

In 1998, The Plaza was designated a Literary Landmark by the Friends of the Library (now the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundation), one of only three hotels in the United States with this prestigious designation. Today The Plaza proudly promotes Eloise’s residency, from the Eloise flag at the front of the hotel to the one-of-a kind Eloise Suite designed by Betsey Johnson, the Tricycle Garage in the summer months, and the ‘Eloise at the Plaza’ shop on the Concourse, where young girls today can experience some of those moments of joy that Eloise experienced. The Eloise Ambassador and Eloise Concierge will help re-create some of the wonderful experiences of Eloise, from Afternoon Tea at The Palm Court to the Live Like Eloise overnight package and of course take their photo by the portrait of Eloise in the lobby of The Plaza.

Little known fact: Kay Thompson was Liza Minnelli’s godmother.

*****

Guest Historian Series

Stanley TurkelRead more about the history of The Plaza, as told by Historic Hotels of America 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year Stanley Turkel. Excerpt is taken from his latest book Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013).


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