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Discover the Plaza, the iconic luxury New York City hotel that has hosted guests from around the world since opening in 1907.

The Plaza, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1991, dates back to 1907.

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Hotels With A Past: The Plaza Hotel New York

Hotels With A Past presents The Plaza Hotel New York. Peter Greenberg explores The Plaza Hotel in New York City, a hotel with a unique and interesting past.

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A U.S. National Historic Landmark, The Plaza has stood as one of New York City’s most iconic destinations since the beginning of the 20th century. Yet, the current hotel actually a second version. The first iteration of The Plaza appeared in upper Manhattan in 1883, when several aspiring hoteliers decided to construct a magnificent boutique hotel on the site of the New York Skating Club. But the builders failed to raise the necessary funds to finish the construction, forcing the New York Life Insurance Company to foreclose on the whole project. Now the building’s steward, the bank hired renowned architectural firm McKim, Mead and White to complete it. In all, it took some 27 years to fully erect the first hotel. By 1905, the New York Life Insurance Company had managed to find new owners for the structure: Fred Sterry, Harry S. Black, and Bernhard Beinecke. It soon became apparent to the three men that the hotel was too small to meet the growing demand among its customers. As such, they subsequently dismantled most of the hotel in order to construct a far more magnificent one on the same spot. The men spared no expense. For their ambitious scheme, they hired architect Henry J. Hardenbergh to design its entire layout. Designing the hotel in a style reminiscent of a French chateau, Hardenbergh used only finest building materials, including brilliant oak paneling and rare marble from across the world. He even placed the single largest gold-encrusted china order in history with L. Straus & Sons, along with an order for 1,650 crystal chandeliers.

Taking some two years and $12.5 million to complete, the new version of The Plaza debuted on October 1, 1907. Just as the doors opened that morning, an ornate, horse-drawn carriage pulled up to the entrance. Its passenger was the powerful millionaire Alfred Gwyne Vanderbilt, a great-grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. A renowned railroad magnate, he wanted to make the headlines by being the very first guest to book a guestroom. Vanderbilt’s arrival marked the beginning of a long tradition, in which many prominent international luminaries would visit the hotel. Most of the 20th century’s biggest names stayed at The Plaza, including Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Frank Sinatra. Others held spectacular galas, such Truman Capote and his famous “Black and White Ball.” Some went on to perform down in the hotel’s Persian Room, like Marlene Dietrich, Eartha Kitt, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Peggy Lee. And a few—including actress Kay Thompson and architect Frank Lloyd Wright—even lived for a time inside the building’s luxurious suites. The Plaza has also hosted a number of high-profile weddings over the years. One of the earliest ceremonies to transpire at the hotel involved Patricia Kennedy marrying British film star Peter Lawford. Held in 1954, their nuptials featured a wealth of influential people, such as Patricia’s brothers Robert Kennedy (future Attorney General), Ted Kennedy (future U.S. Senator), and John F. Kennedy (future President of the United States).

Conrad Hilton acquired the hotel during the height of the Second World War for a sum of $7.4 million. He spent an additional $6 million on renovating the entire structure, opening the legendary Oak Room in the process. Yet, Hilton would then sell his rights to the hotel to A.M. Sonnabend roughly a decade later, in order to raise money to construct for the nearby Savoy-Plaza Hotel. Sonnabend ran The Plaza for the next 18 years, managing the building through his business, the Hotel Corporation of America (HCA). Sonnabend then sold The Plaza to Westin International Hotels in 1973, which renamed it as “The Westin Plaza.” Future U.S. President Donald J. Trump then acquired the building for $390 million and invested another $50 million into completely renovating the site. Wit his first wife, Ivana, acting as its president, the Trumps managed to create a healthy operating income for the hotel for the first time in years. El Ad Properties eventually acquired The Plaza in 2004, which subsequently spent $450 million on renovating the structure. Today, The Plaza is owned by Katara Hospitality, although it is operated by Fairmont Hotels and Resort. This spectacular historic hotel still retains its brilliant historical eloquence, all while providing the latest in contemporary comfort for the modern traveler. A member of Historic Hotels of American since 2011, few places in downtown New York City are better for a historic vacation than The Plaza.

  • About the Location +

    The hotel is located on the westside of a picturesque public square known as Grand Army Plaza. It resides at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 59th Street in upper Manhattan. Completed in 1916, the New York City Board of Aldermen named the park after the Civil War-era Army of the Potomac. Grand Army Plaza was originally designed by the architectural firm Carrère and Hastings, which had been responsible for creating many other beautiful structures throughout the United States. Among its most celebrated buildings were The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia; the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington D.C.; and the Ponce de León Hotel in St. Augustine, Florida. The firm specifically designed Grand Army Plaza with Beaux-Arts-style architecture, having been selected from a contest of four other applicants. Carrère and Hastings’ plan called for the park to be divided into two sections by 59th Street, with the northern part carved out of the southeastern corner of Central Park. This area of Grand Army Plaza would then be developed around an equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman that had stood in the area since 1903. Meanwhile, Carrère and Hastings would develop the southern section around a new monument called the “Pulitzer Fountain.” Designed specifically by the firm’s own Thomas Hastings, the structure was meant to resemble the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Its most striking feature was a brilliant bronze statue created by Karl Bitter. The New York Preservation Landmarks Commission subsequently identified it as a New York City Designated Landmark in 1974.

    The Plaza also sits opposite of The Pond and the Hallett Nature Sanctuary in Central Park. One of the area’s most iconic landmarks, The Pond was originally created by renowned landscape architects Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead. The two men had formed the body of water from a creek called DeVoor’s Mill Stream in accordance to their “Greensward Plan.” A historic crossing called “Gapstow Bridge” covers the length of The Pond, which architectural firm Howard & Caudwell developed in 1896. Made of schist, it replaced an earlier structure designed by Jacob Wrey Mould some two decades prior. Several statues also surround The Pond, including busts of poet Thomas Moore and composer Victor Herbert. A 3.5-acre large peninsula juts out into the water, forming the basis of the Hallett Nature Sanctuary. Originally known as the Promontory, it is the site of a large bird refuge. The destination specifically got its name from George Hervey Halley Jr., who was an avid birdwatcher and conservationist from New York City at the height of the Gilded Age. The Hallett Nature Sanctuary is typically open for half-hour tours, although it had spent nearly a century closed-off to the general public. Central Park itself was the crown achievement of Frederick Law Olmstead and his colleague, Calvert Vaux. Constructed from 1859 to 1876, it quickly became one of the largest public parks in all of New York. It has since retained that status as it currently covers a total of 843 acres. It is also one of the most filmed locations in the world, having served as the set for more than 230 movies. Central Park today is recognized by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark.


  • About the Architecture +

    The current version of The Plaza was originally designed by the great architect, Henry J. Hardenbergh. He had developed a reputation throughout the nation for his unrivaled use of Beaux-Arts design aesthetics as well as many other types of French-inspired architecture. For The Plaza, Hardenberg had specifically incorporated Châteauesque-style into its overall design. This unique architectural form blends elements of Revivalist and French Renaissance design aesthetics to achieve its distinctive appearance. Buildings constructed in such a way are also known to incorporate pitched roofs and elaborate towers that borrow heavily from Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture. Yet, he also embraced an organic approach, which promoted practical design elements for the sake of convenience and safety. Much of Hardenbergh’s work emphasized the presence of symmetry in order to achieve an appealing, uniform design. He accomplished this feat with The Plaza through the repetition of such architectural motifs as balconies, balustrades, arches, loggias, pilasters, and columns. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s official report:

    “The picturesque gables of the Fifth Avenue front successfully counterbalance the ornate dormers facing Central Park. The relation of the upper loggias to the breaks in the front wall has been skillfully worked out. It is these subtleties of design, as well as many attractive details, which make the hotel so satisfying architecturally…the main facades are tripartite in composition, being composed of a recessed central portion with projected terminal sections at each corner. Vertically, they consist of a base, a shaft and a crown, each clearly marked off by horizontal string courses or balconies for emphasis. The base consists of three stories of marble, two of which are rusticated. The shaft is formed by ten floors of white brick topped by a marble balcony which casts a band of deep shadow. The crown consists of the top five floors including the gables on the Avenue side and steep slate roofs with their dormers facing the park. The two corners of the rusticated base on the east side are rounded, and flow logically upward into turrets which rise uninterruptedly for fourteen floors, through shaft and roof crown, and are terminated by small domed roofs.”

    The Plaza originally had two entrances: the main one located along 59th Street and a more exclusive entry point on 58th Street. Only the most prominent guests had access to the latter entrance. Those two areas were then joined by a third entrance that faced Grand Army Plaza and 5th Avenue. As visitors entered through this entryway, they would first encounter the world-famous Palm Court. It was first known as the Tea Room though and featured a wealth of fantastic architectural components. Some of the most iconic aspects of the room’s architecture included columns of Caen stone, Italian Breche violet marble, and Chinese cachepots. The renowned Persian Room was located further south of the 5th Avenue lobby, which had been decorated by Joseph Urban and Lillian Palmedo following the repeal of Prohibition. To the east was the Fifth Avenue Café, later renamed as the “Edwardian Room” in 1955. Complete with a beamed ceiling, it contained a beautiful array of dark wood paneling that contained red damask. Perhaps the greatest space featured inside the hotel was the Oak Room. Hardenbergh employed a different series design aesthetics for the venue that were inspired by the German Renaissance. Constructed with English and Flemish oak, it contained a grape-laden chandelier, several faux wine casks, and numerous frescoes depicting Bavarian castles.


  • Famous Historic Events +

    Plaza Accord (1985): The Plaza Accord was a joint international plan created by financial representatives from France, West Germany, Japan, Great Britain, and the United States. Held at The Plaza on September 22, 1985, the attendees had agreed on devaluating the U.S. dollar in a bid to bolster global markets. The deal specifically sought to support the Japanese yen and the German Deutsche mark. Industrialists in the U.S. had lobbied the Reagan administration extensively for the talks to commence, in the hopes that a stronger international finance market would inspire foreign trading partners to buy American-made goods. A secondary goal also emerged that sought to reduce America’s trade deficit with both Japan and Western Europe. The policy proved to be a mixed bag in the long run. The United States managed to achieve both of its primary goals in Europe, but it never came close to satisfying its economic challenges with Japan. Many historians today cite the Plaza Accord as the moment in which Japan emerged as a significant influencer within the international monetary system.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Greta Garbo, actress known for her roles in Grand Hotel, Romance, and Anna Christie.

    Marilyn Monroe, actress known for her roles in Bus Stop and Some Like It Hot.

    Elizabeth Taylor, actress known for her roles in Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew.

    Richard Burton, actor known for his roles in Cleopatra and Where Eagles Dare.

    Marlene Dietrich, actress known for her roles in Morocco, Shanghai Express, and The Blue Angel.

    Mia Farrow, actress known for her roles in movies like The Purple Rose of Cairo, Rosemary’s Baby, and John and Mary.

    Kay Thompson, actress known for creating the Eloise children’s book series.

    Josephine Baker, actress and civil rights activist known for being the first African American to appear in a motion picture.

    Eartha Kitt, singer and actress known for such songs as “C’est si bon” and “Santa Baby.”

    Duke Ellington, Jazz musician whose orchestra famously played at the Cotton Club.

    Frank Sinatra, singer and actor part of the famous Rat Pat known for selling 150 million records worldwide.

    Miles Davis, musician remembered as being one of the key figures in the history of jazz.

    John Lennon, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the legendary rock band, The Beatles.

    Paul McCartney, lead vocalist and bassist for the legendary rock band, The Beatles.

    George Harrison, vocalist and lead guitarist for the legendary rock band, The Beatles.

    Ringo Starr, drummer for legendary rock band, The Beatles.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald, author best known for writing The Great Gatsby.

    Truman Capote, author known for such stories as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood.

    Andy Warhol, artist and film director who played a central role in the development of 20th-century American pop art.

    Frank Lloyd Wright, architect responsible for creating over 500 legendary building, including Fallingwater.

    Conrad Hilton, founder of the Hilton Hotels chain and one-time owner of The Plaza.

    Edward VIII, King of the United Kingdom and Duke of Windsor upon his abdication in 1936.

    Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. Attorney General and Senator from New York (1965 – 1968)

    Ted Kennedy, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1962 – 2009)

    Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, First Lady to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1961 – 1963)

    John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States (1961 – 1963)

    Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States (1969 – 1974)

    Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States (2017 – present)


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    No Limit (1931)

    The Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

    North by Northwest (1959)

    Man on a String (1960)

    Barefoot in the Park (1967)

    Funny Girl (1968)

    Plaza Suite (1971)

    40 Carats (1973)

    The Way We Are (1973)

    Network (1976)

    The Front (1976)

    Love at First Bite (1979)

    The Rose (1979)

    Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)

    Arthur (1981)

    Prince of the City (1981)

    Paternity (1981)

    They All Laughed (1981)

    Author! Author! (1982)

    The Cotton Club (1984)

    Unfaithfully Yours (1984)

    Brewster’s Millions (1985)

    Crocodile Dundee (1986)

    Big Business (1988)

    Soapdish (1991)

    Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

    Scent of a Woman (1992)

    Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

    Seinfeld: The Doodle (1995)

    The Pickle (1993)

    It Could Happen to You (1994)

    The Associate (1996)

    For Richer or Poorer (1997)

    Almost Famous (2000)

    Gossip Girl: The Goodbye Gossip Girl (2007)

    Bride Wars (2009)

    The Great Gatsby (2013)

    The Post (2017)


  • Women in History +

    Kay Thompson: Eloise—the precocious young girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel—was introduced to the world by Kay Thompson in 1955. An entertainer in the Persian Room at The Plaza, she spent many years living at the hotel. Rumors say that Eloise was Kay Thompson’s creation and was started out as her ‘alter ego’ during rehearsals and night show acts. 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, entitled, Eloise: A Book for Precious Grown-Ups. Three more books were to follow, ending with Eloise in Moscow in 1959. (A fifth book, Eloise Takes a Bawth, was posthumously published in 2002). While the work followed Eloise around the globe, she always found herself returning back 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 commemorates Thompson’s legacy, from the Eloise flag at the front of the hotel to the one-of-a kind Eloise Suite.


Guest Historian Series

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Nobody Asked Me, But…


Hotel History: The Plaza (1907): New York’s Most Celebrated Symbol of Turn-of-the-Century Splendor



By Stanley Turkel, CMHS



Originally constructed between 1905 and 1907, the Plaza Hotel is set back from Fifth Avenue and is prominently located near Grand Army Plaza and the Pulitzer Memorial Fountain. The 1969 New York Landmarks Designation Report said:



  • “By day, the impressive white mass of the Plaza Hotel is visible above the trees in Central Park. By night, the lighted windows and the picturesque silhouette of the high roofs, reminiscent of a French Renaissance Chateau, add a note of beauty to the skyline… the building occupies one of the finest sites in the City and is the most elegant of our great New York hotels…. The boldness of mass and good scale of this eighteen story white brick and marble structure make the Plaza the outstanding example of American hotel architecture of the first decade of the Twentieth Century.”

Eve Brown, in her book, The Plaza, Its Life and Times, says, “From the cotillion to the bunny hug, to the Charleston, to the frug; from diademed dowager to dancing deb; from Lillian Russell to Eloise; from Elinor Glyn to Eleanor Roosevelt; from Groucho to Gromyko; from Billie Burke to Brigitte Bardot; from Caruso to Ringo; from High Society to Hollywood – through all phases of transition, the Plaza has always managed to be in tune with the times, its dignity unruffled, its good taste unimpaired.”



The Plaza is the beneficiary of the work of three important early twentieth-century American architects:



  • Henry J. Hardenbergh’s original design of 1905-1907
  • Warren & Wetmore’s addition of the Fifth Avenue lobby and Terrace Room in 1919-1921
  • Schultze & Weaver’s 1929 Grand Ballroom renovation

The Plaza has had numerous famous guests and performers and been the setting of many movies, including:



  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of “The Great Gatsby”
  • Cary Grant in “North by Northwest”
  • Walter Matthau in “Plaza Suite”
  • Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in “The Way We Were”
  • Clara Bow in “No Limit”
  • “Barefoot in the Park”, “Crocodile Dundee”, “Home Alone 2”
  • “Man on a String”, “40 Carats”, “Network”
  • “The Front”, “The Rose”, “Love at First Bite”
  • “Just Tell Me What You Want”, “Arthur”, “Prince of the City”
  • “They All Laughed”, “Paternity”, “Author! Author!”
  • “The Cotton Club”, “Unfaithfully Yours”, “Soapdish”
  • “Brewster’s Millions”, “Big Business”, “The Pickle”
  • “Scent of a Woman”, “Sleepless in Seattle”
  • “It Could Happen to You”, “The Associate”
  • “For Richer or Poorer”, “Gentleman’s Agreement”

Of all the show people who have been part of the Plaza’s history, only one has a permanent monument there. He’s an American theatrical icon named George M. Cohan, who was an actor, composer, playwright, producer, theater owner and a legend; the only person ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for a song, the World War I favorite “Over There”. The Plaza is the only ten minutes away from Broadway and it was a convenient place for Cohan to unwind before the evening performance. From 4 PM to 7 PM each day, he had pre-theater cocktails in the Oak Room; his reserved table was a booth in the northwest corner. After he died in the early ‘40’s, the Lambs Club put a bronze placque on the wall above his booth which reads, “Here in this corner where he spent many happy hours, the Lambs have placed this tablet in honor of the most brilliant and versatile gentleman in the theatre of his day, George M. Cohan”. The Plaza, then owned by Conrad Hilton, officially named the Oak Room’s northwest corner, “The Cohan Corner”. In 1959, a statue of George M. Cohan was finally erected in Duffy Square on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets- the same site that had earlier been proposed for General William Tecumsah Sherman’s monument which now stands in Grand Army Plaza opposite the Plaza Hotel.



For nearly 40 years, the Persian Room, a legendary nightclub at the Plaza, presented the most talented live performers. It opened on April 1, 1934, four months after the repeal of Prohibition, in the southern half of the Fifth Avenue dining room. It was designed in Art Deco style by the Viennese designer Joseph Urban, with murals by Lillian Gaertner Palmedo. Until it closed in 1975, the Persian Room featured such stars as Liberace, Carol Channing. Burl Ives, Eddy Duchin, Kitty Carlisle, the Mills Brothers, Bob Fosse, Victor Borge, Marge and Gower Champion, Eddie Fisher, Xavier Cugat, the McGuire Sisters, Dinah Shore, Vic Damone, Bob Hope, Robert Goulet, Frankie Laine, Ethel Merman, Eartha Kitt, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Hildegarde (record holder for most performances there).



In 1943, the Plaza was sold to Conrad Hilton for $7.4 million after 36 years of continuous original ownership by Harry S. Black, Bernhard Beineke and Fred Sterry. Hilton made important physical changes:



  • Removed the brokerage firm of E. F. Hutton from its ground-floor parkside office (monthly rent: $416) and established it as the Oak Bar with continuing success
  • Converted a basement storage area (once the Grill Room) into the Rendez-vous supper club
  • Mezzanine writing rooms overlooking the lobby were converted into private meeting rooms
  • Vitrines were installed throughout the lobby. When Conrad Hilton was told that the hotel could make $18,000 a year by renting a “vitrine” in the lobby corridor, Hilton said “I don’t know what a vitrine is, but if it will bring in eighteen thousand dollars, install it immediately.”
  • The leaded-glass dome over the Palm Court was removed to allow for air conditioning equipment

Hilton sold the Plaza for $15 million in 1953 to the Boston industrialist A.M. Sonnabend, whose Hotel Corporation of America (HCA) focused on improving the operations. HCA bought professional management to the Plaza under some of the most famous General Managers in the industry: Neil Lang, Al Salomone, Jack Craver and George De Kornfeld. A.M. Sonnabend’s sons Roger and Paul, both Ivy League-educated, were the executives who revolutionized the hotel’s budgeting, advertising, leadership and human resource functions.



The Plaza was the hotel where the Beatles stayed when they came to the United States for their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. A few days before their arrival, one of the Plaza reservationists picked up the fact that G. Harrison, R. Starr, J. Lennon and P. McCartney had booked reservations. After their identification and arrival, the Plaza was overrun by hordes of teenage girls who found their way into the hotel’s fire stairways, in the front and back-of-the-house, a prospective public relations nightmare.



The Sonnabends developed a five-year strategic plan that identified the need for additional function space that was eventually installed on the second floor. They also created the famed Oyster Bar, in an underutilized area then occupied by the Hitchcock Gift Shop. They also operated other original restaurants including:



  • Trader Vic’s: A branch of the legendary restaurant opened in the Savoy-Plaza Hotel in 1958 and moved to the Plaza in 1965 when the Savoy-Plaza was demolished. It replaced what was originally a Turkish Bath, and later the hotel barbershop in the Plaza’s basement. It closed in 1993 after serving Chinese and Japanese dishes and sweet rum drinks (including the mai tai cocktail) for twenty-eight years.

  • Rendez-Vous: Adjacent to Trader Vic’s was the Rendez-Vous created by Serge Obolensky in October 1947 in the old Grill Room which was used for storage during the Depression. It was a gourmet’s delight with flaming swords of shashlik, crepes suzette and marrons flambés, an ice-sculptured tree laden with frozen oranges. Gypsy musicians alternated with a modern dance orchestra.

  • Plaza 9: In the former Rendez-Vous, a little theater-type cabaret bearing the name “Plaza 9” was created for the sharp-edged comments of Julius Monk, a brilliant creator of satiric revues. A typical Monk skit depicted four Harvard professors, with a gleam in their eyes singing: “Don’t do the beguine, take mescaline, and the visions you’ll have are sure to be obscene.”

  • Palm Court After 8: General Manager Alphonse Salomone transformed the Palm Court into “an enchanting continental setting” after 8PM with subtle lighting, a gold and white striped awning on the lobby windows, waitresses (for the first time) in Victorian costumes and soft background music. Clementine Paddleford, in her syndicated food column described it as the “most fashionable uptown coffeehouse in New York”.

In a stroke of advertising genius, James Lavenson, HCA’s Director of Marketing, devised a humorous advertising mail campaign to 30,000 business executives featuring a chatty chambermaid named Mary O’Sullivan (there was such a person). The ad copy drew a strong response; many businessmen wrote letters in kind and the hotel occupancy improved. But the Plaza’s greatest publicity bonanza (aside from having the Beatles as guests) began in 1955 when Kay Thompson published “Eloise”, all about an incorrigible 6-year-old who lives in the Plaza and does things such as ask room service for a raisin and seven spoons. Eloise became a world celebrity and her portrait adorns the Plaza lobby.



In 1969, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Plaza Hotel as a landmark. Its designation report said:



  • “The Plaza Hotel has had numerous well-known guests and its public rooms have held many notable events. Only a few days after the opening, Gladys Vanderbilt accepted Count Laslo Szechenyi’s marriage proposal in the Palm Court. In January 1908 Vanderbilt and Szechenyi, along with another engaged couple, Theodora Shonts and the Duc de Chaulnes, had tea in the Palm Court and attracted throngs of people who also wished to have tea. The New York Times reported: “at 4 o’clock crowds began to assemble in the hotel corridors and within a few minutes it was apparent that there was an unusual attraction. Within half an hour the corridors were impassable.” Over 3,000 people arrived to have tea, causing (General Manager) Sterry to open the men’s-only Edwardian Room and Grill Room in the basement. The Palm Court was immensely popular. The New York Times reported in 1909: “The Plaza is another of the hotels that has a large tea room [the Palm Court]. This has a capacity of 350. But here, as at the Waldorf, there is the same story of overflow into the main dining room. On an average 500 is the daily patronage, this number more than doubling on Saturdays. On these days, the main dining room and sometimes the breakfast room is given over to the tea drinkers. On a number of recent Saturdays the patronage swelled to such a volume that the management was on the point of commandeering the men’s café. By the early 1920s, the Tea Room was referred to as the Palm Room; it was officially renamed the Palm Court in the mid-1930s.”

The Edwardian Room was first known as the Fifth Avenue Café, then the Plaza Restaurant in the 1940s before it was named the Edwardian Room in 1955. For its first 20 years, it was a men’s-only restaurant until the rule was relaxed in the 1930s. In 1971, it was named “The Green Tulip” and garishly redecorated. It took three years for management to mercifully restore it to its former elegance.



The Oak Room, originally the Men’s Bar, remained a bar until Prohibition, when the bar at the west end was removed and the room was used for storage.



Part of the 1940s restoration was the addition of three murals by the American painter Everett Shinn, a member of the “Ashcan School”, a turn-of-the-century movement to recreate a realistic cityscapes. Each time the hotel was sold after reopening of the Oak Bar, the Shinn paintings were not part of the sale and each successive owner had to negotiate separately for them. Westin Hotels negotiated for 14 months before actually buying them.



The Landmarks Designation Report continues:



  • “Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who always stayed at the Plaza when he was in New York, reportedly took credit for stopping a potentially disastrous renovation of the Oak Room and Edwardian Room. In the late 1940s the Oak Room was opened to women for supper but closed to them until 3 p.m. when the stock exchange closed. In August 1958 the Oak Bar played a supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”, in the scene where Cary Grant is abducted from the hotel. On February 12, 1969, the National Organization for Women staged a sit-in at the Oak Room to protest the lunch men-only policy. Betty Friedan, Diana Gartner and a third woman sat at a table and were refused service until 3 p.m. After picketing and negative publicity, the Plaza Hotel rescinded the men-only policy around four months later.”

Schultze & Weaver redesigned the Grand Ballroom in 1929 so successfully that it became the premier place in New York to hold the most important and lavish celebrations, benefits, receptions and weddings. For example:



  • The Duke and Duchess of Windsor attended the December Ball, a benefit for disabled veterans, on December 11, 1946. Patricia Kennedy and Peter Lawford held their wedding reception in the Grand Ballroom on April 24, 1954. On December 8, 1959, Senator John F. and Jackie Kennedy attended the Wild West Ball benefiting the Kennedy family charity, the Kennedy Child Study Center for Retarded Children. The Grand Ballroom was the site of Truman Capote’s famous November 28, 1966 Black & White Costume Ball. Capote held his “little masked ball for Kay Graham and all my friends,” in honor of Katherine Graham, president of the Washington Post, and invited 540 people who were described “as spectacular a group as has ever been assembled for a private party in New York…” Guests included Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Claudette Colbert, Lady Bird Johnson and Alice Roosevelt Longworth (President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter). Men were asked to wear dinner jackets with black masks, while women were asked to wear black or white dresses and white masks. Capote stated: “I wanted it at The Plaza because I think it’s the only really beautiful ballroom left in the United States.” Shunning a White House wedding, Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower held their wedding reception in the ballroom on December 22, 1968.

On October 16, 1967, the City Club of New York sponsored one of its famous “Distinguished New Yorker” Award Dinners in the Plaza Grand Ballroom. The gala black-tie dinner honored the following (all of whom were present):



George Baehr

Martha Graham

Roger Baldwin

Alvin Johnson

Detlev Bronk

Robert Moses

Gordon Bunshaft

A. Phillip Randolph

Cass Canfield

David Sarnoff

Richard Childs

Earl Schwulst

Kenneth Clark

Whitney North Seymour

Lou Crandall

Arthur Hays Sulzberger

Duke Ellington

Austin Tobin

It was a brilliant affair which was hosted by Stanley Turkel, Chairman of the Board of the City Club of New York. The featured speaker was John Kenneth Galbraith.



The Plaza was sold to Western International Hotels (later Westin) in 1975 for $25 million. Western had owned the 1,000-room Savoy-Plaza Hotel until it was demolished to make way for the General Motors Building on the east side of Fifth Avenue at 59th Street. Incidentally, the Savoy-Plaza was built in 1927 on the site of the old Savoy Hotel and was designed by McKim, Mead & White. In 1986, the Plaza was declared a National Historic Landmark.



In 1988, Donald Trump purchased the Plaza for $390 million. Trump said “I haven’t purchased a building, I have purchased a masterpiece- the Mona Lisa. For the first time in my life, I have made a deal that was not economic-for I can never justify the price I paid, no matter how successful the Plaza becomes.” With his then-wife Ivana (for the oft-quoted salary of “one dollar a year plus all the dresses she can buy”), he revitalized the hotel with careful renovation of the lobby, banquet rooms and certain suites.



In 1995, Trump sold the Plaza to Prince Alwalid bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Saud, partial owner of the Fairmont Hotels and CDL Hotels for $325 million.



The King of Morocco checked in with 1,269 pieces of luggage, rented the entire sixth floor and a section of the kitchen for his own chefs and cooks. A thick, strong incense odor lingered on the sixth floor long after the king and his entourage checked out. The King and Queen of Sweden arrived for a weekend with a mere 400 pieces of luggage.



While the exterior of the Plazas was designated a landmark in 1969, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2005 found that certain Plaza Hotel interiors “have a special character, special historical and aesthetic interest and value and… (are therefore) designated as an Interior Landmark.” This rare and unusual designation covers the following interior areas: The Oak Bar, The Oak Room, The Palm Court, The Edwardian Room, 59th Street Lobby, Fifth Avenue Lobby and Vestibules, Grand Ballroom, Main Corridors, Terrace Room and all the Connecting Corridors, Foyers and Stairways.



The Commission further stated that, “among its important qualities, the Plaza Hotel Interiors are part of one of the world’s greatest hotels since it opened in 1907; that in 1971 New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called the hotel ‘New York’s most celebrated symbol of cosmopolitan and turn-of-the-century splendor, inside and out’.”



After losing out on acquisition of the Mayflower Hotel, the Israeli company El-Ad Properties bought the Plaza for $675 million and then invested another $400 million to refurbish and convert it to a condo-hotel. After three months of a noisy and public battle with the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, El-Ad’s owners Yitzhak Tshuva and Miki Naftali agreed to the combination of 130 transient guestrooms (all facing 58th Street), 152 condo-hotel rooms and 182 private residences. The renovation took two years to complete during a complete shutdown of the building.



The Plaza Hotel reopened in 2007 with a 100th anniversary celebration by its owners, the El-Ad Group and the Saudi-based Kingdom Holding Co. In contrast, when the Plaza originally opened in October 1, 1907, it contained 805 guestrooms, 500 bathrooms, many large private suites, 10 elevators and a two-story ballroom.



Meanwhile, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts (who manages the Plaza) has created the Plaza Food Hall with new seasonal offerings by Executive Chef Todd English (who also appears on “The Today Show”). The Plaza launched a new one-of-a-kind Eloise Suite designed by celebrated fashion designer Betsey Johnson.



As Curtis Gathje wrote in At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Hotel (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2000), “Thanks to a number of serendipitous events- a prime location, visionary builders and management, and most recently, the movies – The Plaza has become the most famous hotel in the world. That it has maintained its dignity and reputation over the century is the most remarkable thing about it.”



In its new configuration, as an essentially condo-hotel, will the new Plaza continue to be the most famous hotel in the world?



*****



About Stanley Turkel, CMHS



Stanley Turkel is a recognized consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases and providing asset management an and hotel franchising consultation. Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for worldwide Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1842 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), all in New York City. He serves as a Friend of the Tisch Center and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York and is now the Honorary Chairman.




Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been posted in hotel magazines and on the Hotel-Online, Blue MauMau, Hotel News Resource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times. Executive Vice President of Historic Hotels of America, Lawrence Horwitz, has even praised one book, Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry:



  • “If you have ever been in a hotel, as a guest, attended a conference, enjoyed a romantic dinner, celebrated a special occasion, or worked as a hotelier in the front or back of the house, Great American Hoteliers, Volume 2: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry is a must read book. This book is recommended for any business person, entrepreneur, student, or aspiring hotelier. This book is an excellent history book with insights into seventeen of the great innovators and visionaries of the hotel industry and their inspirational stories.”

Turkel was designated as the “2014 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America,” the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.



Works published by Stanley Turkel include:



Most of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse—(except Heroes of the American Reconstruction, which can be ordered from McFarland)—by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com, or by clicking on the book’s title.



Contact: Stanley Turkel



stanturkel@aol.com/917-628-8549

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