The Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel

New York City’s own Plaza Hotel carries tremendous history. The luxurious hotel was home to many people whether it be residents, visitors, staff, or owners. The Plaza played a large roll in the progression in New York City’s society from the early twentieth century up until present day. Having been through generations of societal changes, trends, and leaders, the Plaza Hotel has remained a living building – up with the times of each generation of its life. Whether it is the consistent exterior design of the building or the always-changing design of its interior, the Plaza Hotel sits as one of the most beautiful and iconic hotels in America. The building even worked its way into a few classic Hollywood blockbusters. The Plaza Hotel, remaining significant through its generations, has played an instrumental role in the history of New York City.

An unknown source once said, “Nothing unimportant ever happened at The Plaza.” New York’s most prominent hotel, The Plaza opened its doors on October 1, 1907. With its location at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, this luxurious hotel was constructed in the most fashionable residential section of New York City. As iconic as it is, The Plaza Hotel as we know it today was the second Plaza Hotel on the very same site. . In 1883, construction began on the first Plaza Hotel. However, New York Life Insurance Company, the first purchasers of the hotel, ran out of funds to complete the construction. But thereafter, architects McKim, Mead, and White were hired by the company to complete the hotel and redesign its interior. In 1905, the first Plaza Hotel was demolished in order to build an even larger hotel. The Plaza was constructed in twenty-seven months at a cost of $12.5 million. Its remarkable doors opened then open on October 1st, 1907[1].

In 1910, Lord Kitchener, British officer and statesman, became the first world-renowned public figure to stay at the Plaza during a much-publicized visit. As the years progressed into the 1920’s, the Plaza underwent construction in which a 300-room annex was added to the 58th Street side of the hotel. Also, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published that included scenes taking place at the Plaza Hotel. During the mid 1930’s, the Hotel’s front offices decided to break up the larger suites in order to permanently transform them into visitor guest rooms. The early 1940s called for the hotel to enforce a three-day maximum stay during the war years. But in October of 1943, Conrad Hilton and Atlas Corporation acquired the hotel for $7.4 million.[2]

As the 1950ss rolled around, ballrooms and banquet halls in The Plaza underwent industrial deign remodeling by Industrial Designer Henry Dreyfuss. This sort of remodeling becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the Hotel’s history. Also during this decade, Architect Frank Lloyd moved into Suite 223-225 where he called The Plaza his residence for the next six years. Famously in 1964, The Beatles arrived from London where they would stay for six days. And by 1978, The Plaza Hotel was added to The National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior and in 1980, The Plaza was added to the New York State Register of Historic places. What would follow that would be the notorious 1988 purchase of the Hotel by Donald Trump – acquired for $390 million.[3]

The famous holiday blockbuster Home Alone 2 with star kid actor Macaulay Culkin would begin filming in the 59th Street lobby in December of 1991. Two years later in 1993, Donald Trump wedded actress Marla Maples in The Grand Ballroom. Jumping ahead to 2005, The Plaza closed its doors for three years to fulfill and extensive lobby-to-roof restoration performed by Elad Properties for $480 million[4]. In just over a century, The Plaza Hotel turned into a global icon. Producers were dying to shoot their movies there, tourists wouldn’t leave the city without visiting, and America’s elite didn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate a lifelong milestone at New York’s most famous hotel. Profits were flowing and the Plaza became worth more and more every single day.

A stunning trend The Plaza Hotel displayed over the course of its history was the remarkable increase in property value. An 1888 New York Times article reported that The New York Life Insurance Company paid $925,000 for The Plaza. They were the top bidders at an auction in which different investors would place their bids for the chance to own the hotel. Bidding started at $600,000 and made its way up to the selling bid of $925,000. Since the property was valued at $1.25 million, The New York Life Insurance Company was “very well satisfied with its bargain”[5]. This article reveals how desirable the opportunity to own this hotel was to wealthy business owners. They sought the investment as an opportunity to grow their wealth and must have predicted the future success that the Hotel would ultimately have.

Fourteen years later in 1902, The Wall Street Journal reported that the New York Life Insurance Company sold The Plaza Hotel for $3 million to a group of investors involving the Central Realty Bond & Trust Co., Hallgarten & Co., and the George A. Fuler Co which included all personal property, as well as all realty owned by The New York Life Insurance Company on the premises of The Plaza[6]. The 1888 and 1902 articles reveal that in just under a decade and a half, the value of the property more than tripled. The increase in value shows how significant The Plaza actually was in the culture of New York City at the time it was being constructed and getting ready to open to open its doors.

This historical trend continues further into 1953 where The New York Times reported yet another sale of The Plaza Hotel. Involved in this sale was Conrad Hilton in which he took the Hotel into ownership for $15 million. The Plaza was an addition to the several hotels he and interest partners had owned at the time[7]. The last of these sales records once again confirms the drastic increase in property value The Plaza Hotel had in the twentieth century. This marks the first sale in which an American elite, specifically a real estate entrepreneur, purchased the building. Donald Trump would later follow these footsteps in 1988 in which he purchased The Plaza for $490 million.

Designed by architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, the eighteen-story Plaza Hotel became an instant landmark by combining the elegance of a French chateau with the breath-taking scale of a New York City skyscraper. Over the course of history, the Plaza’s interior was cosmetically remodeled with each time depicting a hotel in which was seen to be for the wealthy. These changes brought concern to the people of New York because the hotel that “belongs to New Yorkers” was slowly becoming more out of their reach than it already was[8].

Throughout the early to mid twentieth century, The Plaza Hotel went from a New Yorker’s hotel to one of exclusion dominated by the wealthy. Not only was it expensive to stay even one night, but also the wealthy virtually pushed out all other classes. This was the beginning of what would be the social context in which The Plaza found itself. The main factor contributing to a wage gap among the Hotel itself was the elite who resided there. With their pent house views of Central Park and their first class caviar dinners, the residents of The Plaza predominantly were responsible for this shift. As a result, services, renovations, events and other accommodations started to tailor to the desires of their residents – the wealthy. All of this, in turn, would then soon affect the way The Plaza as a whole would run its everyday operations[9].

Not only was the wage gap becoming more evident in regards to The Plaza Hotel, but also the people in the entire city were becoming more conspicuous in the way they flaunted their belongings. Although these behaviors were historically true about the middle-class at this time as well, that did not take away from the economic gap separating the wealthy New York elite from “an everyday New Yorker”[10]Although The Plaza was built with the headlines of serving New Yorkers throughout the twentieth century, it had an adverse effect – New Yorkers were servants of the hotel. As the middle and working classes admired its significance and its beloved architecture, millionaires were inside the ballrooms toasting their brandy and puffing their cigars.

The rise of The Plaza Hotel in 1907 fell directly in the time period where New York City saw a shift in modest living to braggadocios flaunting. Located on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, the hotel offered countless penthouse views of Central Park – a view that the city hadn’t yet seen before. The Hotel attracted world leaders, movie stars, corporation owners, and politicians, which the newspapers could not get enough of. Along with the newly lost modest lifestyle came a craving for gossip and chitter-chatter. New Yorkers could not get enough of what newspapers were publishing and The Plaza Hotel seemed to often make it into the newspapers somehow. The hotel opened its doors during the rise of The New York Times in which Times Square would get its name. The Plaza Hotel couldn’t have been more wrapped up in the culture at the turn of the twentieth century.

Whether it is the generations of history The Plaza Hotel carries or the mark it has left on New York City as a whole, its walls have been submersed in societal changes throughout the twentieth century. From its construction to its sales, guest rooms to its penthouses, and residents to its visitors, The Plaza Hotel has become one of America’s most celebrated and raved about buildings. It doesn’t matter if someone has traveled many miles or has caught a glimpse of it on the movie screen, The Plaza Hotel will always have its place in history. The Plaza Hotel, remaining significant through its generations, has played an instrumental role in the history of New York City.

[1]“History”, The Plaza Hotel New York,” The Plaza. Accessed November 14, 2017.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] “Sale of Plaza Hotel,” New York Times, September 19, 1888, page 3.

[6] “The Plaza Hotel Sold,” The Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1902, page 3.

[7] “$15,000,000 Paid For Plaza Hotel,” The New York Times, October 15, 1953, page. 60.

[8] Wayne Curtis, “The Plaza Checks Out,” Preservation 57 (2005): 22.

[9] Paul Erling Groth, Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in The Untied States, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 1994), 212

[10] Rodney J. Morrison, The Standard of Living in New York City in 1907: An Early Twentieth-Century Study of Consumer Expenditure Patterns, The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 6 (1972): 71.

This 1883 image shows the construction of the very first attempt at building the Plaza Hotel. There was a brief intermission of the construction due to financial issues but they were eventually resolved.
This 1910 image illustrates the completed second Plaza Hotel. This is the current hotel that will be seen in New York City today.

Work Cited

“$15,000,000 PAID FOR PLAZA HOTEL.” 1953.New York Times (1923-Current File), Oct 15, 60.

Curtis, Wayne. “The Plaza Checks Out.” Preservation 57, no. 6 (November 2005): 22-27. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed November 14, 2017).

Groth, Paul Erling. Living downtown : the history of residential hotels in the United States. n.p.: Berkeley : University of California Press, ©1994., 1994. Seton Hall University, EBSCOhost (accessed November 14, 2017)

“History | The Plaza Hotel New York.” The Plaza. Accessed November 14, 2017.

Morrison, Rodney J. “The Standard of Living in New York City in 1907: An Early Twentieth-Century Study of Consumer Expenditure Patterns.” Journal Of Consumer Affairs 6, no. 1 (Summer72 1972): 71. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed November 14, 2017).

“Sale of Plaza Hotel .” New York Times (New York, New York ), September 19, 1888. Accessed November 14, 2017.

“The Plaza Hotel Sold .” The Wall Street Journal (New York, New York ), June 03, 1902. Accessed November 14, 2017.