The Plaza Hotel
From its opening in 1907 to today, this iconic hotel has represented the glamour of New York City and has entertained celebrities and world leaders. The current Plaza Hotel replaced a much smaller hotel, also known as the Plaza Hotel, that operated at this location from 1890 to 1905. Investors Bernhard Beinecke, Fred Sterry, and Harry S. Black recognized the value of this location and constructed the present luxury hotel which became the first in the city to become a National Historic Landmark.
Backstory and Context
The three investors in the newly-constructed Plaza Hotel wasted little time expanding their hotel after its opening. The 19-story building was one of the largest hotels at the time of its construction and the investors spared little expense on the interior, enlisting the help of designer Janeway Hardenbergh who worked to make the New York hotel emulate the style of a lavish French Chateau. Hardenbergh designed and placed the single largest gold-encrusted china order in history with Straus & Sons, along with an order of 1,650 crystal chandeliers. The plan was to make the glitz and glam of the hotel inviting to the wealthy clientele it would serve.
The building was also a residence for wealthy New Yorkers. Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt were the first to sign the guest register and many wealthy New Yorkers maintained a suite at the hotel. The Plaza has hosted kings, ambassadors, actors, business executives, and world leaders. The Beatles were among the many musicians to stay at the hotel, and their six-day stay in 1960 enhanced the Plaza's reputation as the city's premier hotel. The Plaza has appeared in many films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 North by Northwest. The hotel was also the site of the filming of the original Great Gatsby, and its temporary owner Donald Trump (whose mismanagement of the hotel led to bankruptcy) was featured in Home Alone 2.
In 1978, the hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Later, in 1986, is was given the prestigious title National Historic Landmark. It remains the only hotel in New York with that designation. Eight interior rooms including The Palm Court, the Grand Ballroom, the Terrace Room, the Edwardian Room, The Oak Room and the Oak Bar, the 59th Street lobby and the Fifth Avenue lobby were designated by The New York City Landmarks Preservation in 2005. That same year the Plaza closed its door for another extensive restoration—with the project’s total cost reaching $450 million. The doors reopened in 2007 to celebrate 100 years of business.
Perhaps ironically, the hotel's most famous resident is a fictional character. Eloise is an elusive and unpredictable 6-year-old created by children’s author Kay Thompson. Eloise was Thompson’s alter ego, and she used her Eloise “voice” to entertain friends. She later wrote a book about Eloise’s adventures living in the Plaza with Nanny, her turtle Skiperdee, and her pug Weenie. The first book was published in November 1955 and was a huge success with three more books following: Eloise in Paris, Eloise at Christmastime, and Eloise in Moscow. Thompson lived at The Plaza and predictably began receiving phone calls from girls saying “Please may I speak to Eloise?” Children even began visiting the Plaza asking to meet the character. Soon, the staff began to play along and respond “I’m sorry, you just missed her. But if you run into Eloise, please tell her we found her missing shoes.” A pair of Mary Jane’s, her signature, was kept on hand to demonstrate Eloise’s continuous presence.
The Plaza embraced Eloise over the years having people come in to play the character for all the visitors. Many parts of the hotel and activities in it were linked to Eloise’s adventures in tribute. In 2010, on The Plaza Concourse Level, the Eloise Plaza Shop opened and Betsy Johnson, a famous fashion designer, designed a spectacular Eloise Suite.
"The Plaza." Historic Hotels of America. Accessed November 18, 2017. http://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/the-plaza/history.php.
Pitts, Carolyn. "Plaza Hotel." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. November 29, 1978. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/05e74221-73db-47ef-9bd3-eba48d72013f.