THE PLAZA HOTEL
750 Fifth Avenue (between 58th
Street and Central
Architect: Henry J. Hardenbergh
Carter B. Horsley
Everyone's favorite dowager
hotel, the Plaza
is the quintessence of Edwardian elegance and New York urbanity.
Its sumptuous lobbies were
lavishly and meticulously
spruced up by Donald Trump's renovation, designed by Hardy Holzman
Pfeiffer Assocs., and they retained their exuberant and unabashed
Several years later,
however, the hotel
changed hands again and it was closed for a major renovation for
more than two years.
Highly polished and carved
luxurious carpets, gilded ceilings, marble walls and lush floral
displays befit the lobby spaces nicely. The colors exude an exaggerated
warmth that effectively coddles the visitor and guest even if
they border on the rococo garish.
The main entrance on Fifth
Avenue, shown above,
opens onto a square lobby that leads directly to the famous Palm
Court, for decades devoid of palm trees and its enormous skylight,
but still with some haughty caratydids. The square lobby once
also included the entrance on the south side to the famed Persian
Room nightclub and later a fashion store. Less confused now, it
functions better simply as an introduction to the hotel.
The Palm Court, despite its
over the years, remains a delightfully large and open space in
which to drink and dine. Surrounded on three sides by promenades
with windowed partitions and on the fourth by mirrors, the "court"
is inviting even when not full of guests, or violinists, or mountains
The Central Park South entrance
below, is formally attractive.
Devotees of grandness and
not disappointed here especially if they explore the various nooks
and crannies that lead to various restaurants, bars and ballrooms.
If they are, they can always jump into the Pulitzer Fountain,
below, outside the Fifth Avenue entrance, or drink away their
sorrows in the Oak Bar with its grand, but dark Everett Shinn
murals that show the former Vanderbilt mansion that once occupied
the site of Bergdorf Goodman south of the fountain.
When the Savoy Plaza Hotel was
make way for the General Motors Building across the avenue, Trader
Vic's moved from the Savoy Plaza into the basement of the Plaza,
adding its special blend of exotic intoxication to the famed hotel's
attractions. Sadly, it closed in 1993 to be replaced by another
restaurant, Gauguin, that lasted not too long.
The windowless Oak Room, the
dining room that
is attached to the Oak Bar, is the city's most baronial and
but its dark paneling and ornate vaulting conjure haunted castles
more than chateau romance.
The Edwardian Room is less
imposing than the
Oak Room largely because of its large windows overlooking Central
Park and the Pulitzer Fountain.
The highly ornate ballroom
facilities are relatively
small and accommodate major parties for a few hundred people.
In the 1960's, the Plaza lost a
bit of its
appeal as the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks south on Fifth Avenue,
became a favorite of the international "jet" set. But
the Plaza has survived, while the St. Regis has had its ups and
downs, because nothing works better than stunning park views,
the best location and opulent surroundings.
Architecturally, the Plaza is
not a masterpiece,
but it is authentically impressive, the city's best chateau that,
like a fine wine, has aged well. If this dowager was a mid-block
property on a sidestreet, it might not have garnered as much attention
Of course, its glistening
bronze lighting fixtures
underneath the stained glass entrance and canopy, the Palm Court
in the center lobby, and ornate elevator doors and brightly colored
carpets in its Fifth Avenue lobby, shown above, help ensure that
the ghost of Eloise, the fictional little rich girl who pranced
about the hotel and whose portrait now hangs in the south corridor
off the Palm Court hasn't lost her sense of humor and flair for
the outrageous, a trait not lost on former owner, Donald Trump,
who got city approval to create penthouse suites on an already
tampered-with roof line. Trump subsequently encountered financial
difficulties and had to sell most of his stake in the hotel that
gave the surrounding business district its name.
New York without the Plaza,
frumpy or pristine,
It is the embodiment of the
even if it pales in size to the likes of the Waldorf-Astoria.
With its roofline peaks and
high loggias and balconies topping its whitish facade, and the
flags of the countries of visiting dignitaries over its Fifth
Avenue canopy, the Plaza avers the somber and the sedate, opting
for the lively extravagant.
Much of the Plaza’s charm
its presence on the plaza across 59th Street from Central Park:
"It was one of the rare events in New York’s grid, an
open space at the corner of Central Park, and for anyone heading
up Fifth Avenue, as every tourist was sure to do, it was the
to ‘millionaires; row,’" observed Gregory Gilmartin
in his superb book, "Shaping the City, New York and the Municipal
Art Society," Clarkson Potter, 1995 (See The
City Review review of the book).
"Olmstead and Vaux [the
designers of Central
Park] weren’t adept at designing urban spaces, and their
plaza was a strange beast: a stand of trees in an oddly shaped
traffic island. In the 1890’s [sculptor Karl] Bitter was
one of the leading figures in the campaign to block construction
of both the Heine monument and the Soldier’s and Sailors’
Memorial in the Plaza. His argument was that the Plaza didn’t
need a fountain or a column sitting in its middle, it needed to
be defined as an architectural room. In 1899 Bitter published
an article on public sculpture in Municipal Affairs,
out points in the city where monuments seemed necessary, and putting
forward his own design for the Plaza. Bitter imagined the Plaza
as a forecourt to the park, half embedded in the urban grid, half
in greenery. He designed two symmetrical plazas, on either side
of Fifty-Ninth Street, each ending in a fountain of shallow basins
modeled on those in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. In 1902,
the statue of General Sherman by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was installed
just off Fifth Avenue, between Fifty-Ninth and Sixtieth Streets.
Otherwise, nothing happened until 1911, when Joseph Pulitzer died
and left $50,000 for a fountain in the Plaza. In choosing the
Plaza, Pulitzer threw done one last challenge to his bitter rival,
William Randolph Hearst, who’d just erected the unfortunate
Maine Memorial on Columbus Circle . Pulitzer must have seen Bitter's
1899 scheme, since he asked that his fountain resemble those in
the Place de la Concorde" in Paris, Gilmartin wrote.
Bitter was recommended by a
was against the plan because it did not take into consideration
the entire space. Eventually Thomas Hastings, the architect, was
commissioned for an overall plan and he selected Bitter to create
a sculpture, Abundance, for the fountain. "The day he finished
the clay model, Bitter was run over and killed by a car outside
the Metropolitan Opera House," Gilmartin recounted.
The French Renaissance-style
design by Hardenbergh
is impressive with its marble base and its very interesting and
subtle window reveals. The ground floor picture windows have bronze
sills. In the 1990's, the hotel put a large television in the
Oak Bar, a modern touch that was unfortunate and hopefully will
On August 14, 2004, an
article by James
Barron in The New York Times reported that the
being sold for $675 million to Elad Properties by Prince Alwaleed
bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia and Millennium
& Copthorne, a London-based company that runs hotels in 18
countries. The sellers had acquired the hotel from Donald J. Trump
for $325 million. The article added that "a real estate executive
who had been briefed on the deal said Elad was considering turning
some of the Plaza's 805 rooms into condominiums....Elad has built
condominiums in a couple of other buildings it has renovated in
New York recently: one a former United Federation of Teachers
office building on East 21st Street near Gramercy Park, another
the old Mercantile Library building at Astor Place and Broadway.
Elad's plan called for
making 200 condominium
apartments in the Plaza, which would be left with about 150 hotel
rooms. The plan was opposed by union workers and after a flurry
of controversy Elad revised its plans by lowering the number of
The hotel was
scheduled to reopen in October,
2007 and press reports indicated that Harry Macklowe, the owner
of the General Motors Building across Fifth Avenue from the hotel
had bought several units for a total of more than $50 million
to combine them into a large apartment. In the August 9, 2007
edition of The New York Post, Brandon Keil reported
fashion designer Tommy Hilfinger was combining two apartments
for about $27 million on a high floor, adding that he would be
joining other new residents such as Robert Kraft, the owner of
the New England Patriots, Flavio Briatore, an "Italian auto-racing
magnate, "beleaguered Bear Stearns boss James Cayne"
and Jocelyn Wildenstein. (8/16/07)
The centennial of the
Plaza Hotel was celebrated
October 1, 2007 night with a fireworks show launched from the
building's roof and many of its windows.
A 12-foot-high cake
replicating the design
of the famous landmark was displayed in the city of the plaza
in front of the east entrance to the hotel, whose $400-million-plus
renovation was nearing completion. The Orchestra of St. Luke's
played on a podium in front of the entrance as images from the
hotel's history were displayed on two very large video screens.
Ceremonies marking the occasion were scheduled to start at 7:15
PM but did not begin until about 7:45 PM as invited guests moved
to the plaza on the northwest corner of 59th Street and Fifth
Avenue where they were given splits of Moet & Chandon White
Star Champagne, opened with straws inserted whose tops were still
enclosed in paper.
Shalva Berti sang the
theme from "Love
Story" and Matthew Broderick, the actor, jibed "Let's
Go Mets" before introducing Isaac Tshuva, the founder and
chairman of the El-Ad Group, whose Elad Properties subsidiary
bought the property three years ago for $675 million from Alwaleed
Bin Talal Abdulaziz Alsaud, a Saudi Prince, and Millennium and
Copthorne Hotels. Elad soon sold the hotel portion of the property
back to the prince for about $500 million. The renovation of the
hotel has created 181 condominium apartments, a 134-room hotel
on floors 4 through 10, and 152 hotel-condo units on floors 11
through 21. According to an article in the October 1, 2007 edition
of The New York Sun by Bradley Hope "just 12 of the
luxury condos have yet to be purchased…, and a third of the
hotel-condos are gone," adding that with…luxury condos
selling at a minimum of $5,000 a square foot, Elad is poised to
rake in nearly $2.4 billion in residential sales."
Mr. Tshuva said that
the hotel portion of
the renovation project will open December 12, 2007, and the remainder
of the project "shortly thereafter…more magnificent
than ever." Other speakers included Peter Ward, the president
of the New York Hotel Trades Council, who was married at the Plaza
24 years ago, Gal Nauer, Mr. Tschuva's lissome daughter, who was
the interior architect who worked on the renovation, and Deputy
Mayor Daniel Doctoroff.
The fireworks display
"100" on the middle of the building's façade
facing Central Park, which elicited a lot of "oohs"
from the crowd. It then escalated and went around the building
to include its east façade and went through a series of
spectacular bursts that seemed to emanate from inside windows
and all over the facades, eliciting loud "wows" from
the crowd, which included Martha Stewart, Robert Tierney, the
chairman of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, and
Ward Morehouse III, the author of a book on the famed hotel.
Paul Anka then serenaded Mr. Tshuva with "My Way," a
song he wrote for Frank Sinatra but had rewritten for the occasion,
referring to living for "a mere $50 million bucks."
Mr. Tshuva, looked ebullient, chimed in on a refrain at Mr. Anka's
The Plaza Hotel was
designed by Henry J.
Hardenbergh, the architect who designed the Dakota apartment building
at 1 West 72nd Street, and opened in 1907. In 1921, Warren &
Wetmore designed an expansion on 58th Street. The hotel's exterior
was designated a city landmark in the 1960s and eight of its public
rooms were declared interior landmarks in 2004.
The "Private Residences" at The Plaza Hotel have their
own entrance on Central Park South and a large garden court with
cascading fountain at the bottom of the building's large rectangular
light well. The "residences" are all on the north and
east sides of the building and the hotel rooms are on the south
side along 58th Street. (10/2/07)
The highlights of the
Elad renovation were
to be the replacement of the ceiling of the Palm Court with a
replica of its original glass skylight and the creation of a landscaped
courtyard in the hotel's main central light well.
The hotel portion of
the project reopened
at the end of February, 2008 and the Palm Court a week or so later.
In a March, 2006
article in The New York
Sun, Francis Morrone noted that the hotel's "restored and
new public interiors....are an unqualified success," adding
that " Right now, for the first time in the living memory
of most New Yorkers, we can appreciate the Palm Court restored
to more or less the way Henry J. Hardenbergh, the architect behind
the French Renaissance-style building and its interiors, designed
it back in the early part of the 20th century. The Fifth Avenue
lobby, which has also reopened, dates from 1919–21, when
additions and renovations were made to the hotel by Warren &
Wetmore, one of New York's greatest architectural firms. A brand
new public space, combining a new check-in lobby as well as the
spacious Champagne Bar, rounds out the currently accessible spaces.
Entered from Grand Army Plaza, the Warren & Wetmore lobby
is both familiar and unfamiliar. Its true palette has been restored,
whiter and creamier than one remembers. It's an outstanding example
of Gatsby-era classicism, a light-as-a-feather style — Elsie
de Wolfe worked in the same vein — employing cream, beige,
large mirrors, French windows, crystal, terrazzo, and simple,
stylized floral motifs in moldings and iron railings. Though the
era hardly shied from gilt, there's no Gilded Age encrustation.
Just a free-floating feeling that goes with drinking one martini
too many and taking a dip in the Pulitzer Fountain. Before the
Plaza closed for renovations in 2005, I'd never really gotten
that out of this space before. Now it's the keynote....Just as
we now see the Plaza's Fifth Avenue lobby more clearly than before,
so do we now more clearly see how Warren & Wetmore took their
cues from Hardenbergh, whose Palm Court lies directly west of
the lobby. I'd always found the Palm Court uninspiring. Now I
find it breathtaking. Its large mirrors, palm trees, marble columns
and pilasters with gilded capitals, gilded grillwork, and crystal
all evoke much the same feeling as the Fifth Avenue lobby. Two
things stand out. First, a set of four caryatids - columns or
piers bearing the human form along the far wall, the work of the
Gilded Age decorators Pottier & Stymus, are all the lovelier
for the way the room overall is loftier and freer in feeling than
what we think of as a Gilded Age interior. Second, there's the
skylight! This was a part of Hardenbergh's original design, but
it was removed during the Conrad Hilton years (1943–53).
It's been restored via a painstaking process, mainly involving
replicating what can be seen in old photos. And it's wonderful:
a simple, geometric design that serves further to lend sparkle
to the space. We're a few months away from the reopening of the
fabled Oak Room and Oak Bar, and the Edwardian Room. The old 59th
Street check-in lobby, though a designated landmark interior,
is now part of the condominium portion of the building, and is
off-limits to the public. Hardenbergh designed the Oak Room, the
Edwardian Room, and the 59th Street lobby; Schultze & Weaver
designed the Grand Ballroom, reopened in January, and Frederick
P. Platt & Brother (or so New York's Landmarks Preservation
Commission surmises) designed the Oak Bar in the 1940s."
An article in Crain's
New York in October,
2008 by Lisa Fickenscher, however, noted that the high-back chairs
in the Palm Court have been replaced by ones with lower backs.
Elad has planned a $5
billion complex in
Las Vegas to be known as Plaza Las Vegas.
A December 17, 2008
article by Steve Cuozzo
in The New York Post noted that a refurbishing of
Oak Room restaurant had "stripped away generations worth
of grime and veneer that had blackened the oak walls and ceilings"
and that "the lobby space is as baronial as ever, but refreshingly
lighter on the eyes." "Our next shock was the food.
On my earlier visit, a cut of olive oil-poached halibut only slightly
larger than an American Express card had been an oily, $38 mess.
The kitchen's gotten shaper since then. Tuna tartar -- more accurately
cubed chunks - sparkled on the plate and on the palate....'The
Plaza has been getting terrible press,' said the Oak Room's owner,
Joey Allaham, plopping himself down at our table. The man can
definitely read. Vanity Fair reports that women wept in despair
on entering the condo-apartment lemons their oligarch husbands
had bought sight-unseen. The Times picked apart the 'Retail
which closely resembles a Green Stamps redemption outlet....with
the Oak Room acting like a real restaurant for the first time
in its history, I hope people will come."
On February 4, 2009,
the Oak Room received
a one-star rating from Frank Bruni of The New York Times
who noted that on one visit it was "a lovely experience of
a rarefied sort," adding that "if heaven is wood-paneled,
it probably looks something like this." However, on other
visits, he added, "Seldom have I had so many black truffle
shavings thrown at me to so little effect." "I'd recommend
the Oak Room for anyone intent on an inimitable atmosphere and
a baronial sense of splurge and who is willing to risk a forgettable,
or even frustrating, meal." "For anyone seeking a relatively
firm assurance that a serious tab will mean serious pleasure,"
he continued, "the Oak Room won't do. It's more looker than
performer....the western wall's fresco-like paintings of splendid,
spooky hilltop castles are as vivid as ever. Bt there are also
new accents and furnishings, including shimmering lights and plush
chairs with bold, wavy strikes. It's all very Versace-goes-to-Oxford,
or maybe to Hogwarts....The Oak Room isn't particularly lively,
but the Oak Bar, with windows onto Central Park, is. It alone
serves food during the day; a $26 burger whose condiment of 'tomato
confit' was more cloying and intrusive than ketchup; a terrific
lobster Cobb salad with enough sweet, supple shellfish to justify
its $28 price." (2/15/09)
An article by Steve Cuozzo in
the March 24,
2010 edition of The New York Post noted that "The
Plaza Hotel's fabled Palm Court will reopen on April 12 after
standing embarrassingly dark for 15 months," adding that
"The noble noshing space framed by marble pillars, lofty
mirrors and a stained-glass skylight will have new furniture (no
more silly 'throne' chairs) and lighting that will actually make
it possible to see it all. "
The article said that "Best of
tea will start at $45, compared to $65 previously. "
landmarked Palm Court touristy and overpriced, but it was one
of those places that defined postcard Manhattan, and was inextricably
woven into the city's fabric of celebration. Like many "iconic"
venues snubbed by locals, but painfully missed when they're gone,
it was beloved by new arrivals better able to appreciate it -
like Palm Court regular John Lennon, who made New York his adopted
home town," Mr. Cuozzo wrote.
A December 24, 2010 article by Josh Barbanel in The Wall Street Journal
noted that "many working New Yorkers dream of living in a hugely
expensive condo high up in the Plaza Hotel, down a corridor where
have once roamed [but] Edwin Pinzon,
the superintendent at the Plaza, gets to
live that dream every day. As one of the perks of his job, he gets to
live in a
large one-bedroom apartment on the 13th floor."
much of the Fifth Avenue
hotel was converted to a condominium in
2007, the condominium buyers were obligated to provide funds to
superintendant's apartment from the converter, El-Ad Properties. Now,
property records show that the Plaza condo board has
completed the purchase, paying $3.1 million for the unit.
That price that may be the most expensive superintendent's
apartment ever purchased by co-op or condo board, brokers
said. While many older buildings
provide their supers with plain
units on lower floors or even the basement, Mr. Pinzon's apartment,
bathrooms, a dining-room alcove, and 1,279 square feet of space, costs
square foot. Similar apartments have been listed at rents topping