When the elegant Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street opened its doors on October 1, 1907, local newspapers immediately labeled it ‘the best hotel in the world’.
The hotel had eight hundred rooms, five hundred bathrooms, private suites with up to seventeen rooms, ten elevators, luxurious carpets, marble walls, staircases and fireplaces. It also featured a two-story ballroom and a spacious tearoom with a Tiffany glass-domed ceiling.
The First Plaza Hotel
It was not the first Plaza Hotel at this prestigious location near Central Park. Already in 1881 an apartment building was planned here. It was named ‘Plaza’ for its location at the Fifth Avenue Plaza, now known as Grand Army Plaza.
When the plain red brick building was almost completed, the developers ran out of money and were foreclosed by the New York Life Insurance company, who hired the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White to transform the apartment building into a hotel. This first Plaza Hotel opened October 1, 1890. The eight-story building with Renaissance-style facade had four hundred luxurious rooms, some with magnificent views over Central Park.
The New Plaza Hotel
The first Plaza Hotel did not last long; already in 1902 the hotel was bought by the Plaza Realty Co., who hired architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, known for his Dakota Apartments, one of the first luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan.
The Plaza hotel was rebuilt by Hardenbergh as a larger version of the Dakota, with the appearance of an oversized French castle. The 18-story building, mostly clad in yellow brick, has a two-story marble base and a large slate roof with numerous dormers.
The new Plaza Hotel opened in October 1907, exactly seventeen years after the first Plaza hotel opened. As one of New York’s most prestigious hotels, it welcomed numerous celebrities, including the Beatles, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Groucho Marx and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Plaza Hotel became a celebrity with iconic status itself and featured in numerous movies including ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘Crocodile Dundee’, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, ‘Plaza Suite’ and ‘Home Alone 2’.
A New York Landmark
In 1969 the Plaza Hotel became the first hotel in New York designated as a city landmark. Only the exterior was protected though, so when plans were made in 2005 to convert the hotel into an apartment building, some of the interior was also given landmark status. Eight of the Plaza’s most famous rooms are now protected, including the Oak Room (a large dining room), the Edwardian Room (with views of Central Park) and the famous Palm Court (originally known as the tearoom).
In April 2005, the then-unprofitable hotel was completely renovated. It converted the 805-room hotel into a complex with a shopping area, 181 condominiums and 282 hotel rooms. The hotel reopened on March 1, 2008.
The hotel’s historical rooms have been restored to their original 1907 appearance. Even the magnificent Palm Court’s glass ceiling, which was removed in the 1940s, has been recreated. The total cost of the conversion was estimated to be around $400 million.