I’ve been reading quite a bit during the “stay at home.” Not that it’s unusual, reading and books have been an important part of my life since elementary school. I majored in and taught English; worked in a book bindery; was a librarian for several decades. There has been a mix of genres the past few months. Some new buys; others rereads from my collection.
I just finished “The Hotel: a week in the life of the Plaza,” by Sonny Kleinfield, a New York Times reporter. “Hotel” was published in 1989. Some might find it dated. But I ordered it with the idea of taking a virtual trip to NYC since we wouldn’t be going any time soon. We’ve been in the Plaza, the 5th Avenue luxury hotel across from Central Park, several times. At least twice we just went in to look around, probably around Christmas when we did Rockefeller Center, Saint Patrick’s, and other Avenue institutions. At least one visit was with Jenny who had read “Eloise.” We had lunch in the Palm Court once and drinks in the Oak room. But we never stayed there.
Kleinfield basically lives in the Plaza for one week; the book is broken up Monday through Sunday. He spends time with all types of hotel employees; at the main desk, with bellhops, doormen, the concierge, the laundry rooms, maids, the kitchen staff, waitresses, bartenders, maintenance and management. Over 1,000 employees. He also mingles with and interviews a variety of guests. There are regulars, one older woman has a rent controlled suite that she has lived in for decades. Businessmen, tourists, celebrities and VIPs. At the end of the week he observes the arrival of the King and Queen of Sweden.
It’s really a fascinating look into the life of a luxury hotel. And it’s amazing what goes into it’s operation. Everyone Kleinfield meets has a story. The customer is always right and if something goes wrong there will probably be comps, flowers, a box of candy or a free room. They also can be extremely demanding. There are elegant suites that cost upward $1,000 a night and small closet like rooms that go for several hundred. Today there are about 300 rooms and suites in the Plaza; in the 1980s there were many more but some floors have been turned into condos.
The Plaza opened in 1907. The architect was Henry Janeway Hardenbergh. French Chateau Style. Many movies have scenes shot in the Plaza — including North By Northwest, The Way We Were, The Front, Home Alone 2, Sleepless in Seattle, The Great Gatsby. The list of famous guests is long; a few stayed for extended periods — Frank Lloyd Wright, Truman Capote, the Beatles, Enrico Caruso, Cecil Beaton, Marlene Dietrich, Christian Dior, do you remember Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s drunken dive into the fountain in front of the main entrance.
The most most famous guest:
George Cozonis, Managing Director of The Plaza Hotel, explains, “Back in the day, the 1940s, there was a very famous performer, Kay Thompson, who performed at the Persian Room of the Plaza, the most famous nightclub in NY. She later learned to write books and also star in movies. So Kay Thompson in her spare time, when she was living at The Plaza and in between performances, came up with the story of Eloise, which is a six year-old little girl who lives in The Plaza and is very mischievous and always up to something and truly loves the luxury of the hotel. She orders room service and she runs around the hotel and meets guests and runs to Central Park with her turtle and little dog. That was 60 years ago. But Eloise, age six, still lives at The Plaza. We see her every day.” A delightful book.
In 1988 Donald Trump bought the Plaza Hotel from Westin. Kleinfield mentions Trump’s purchase in the last chapter but I found a 2016 New York Times article that gave more detail. He wanted it so much he overpaid, $390,000. He did major renovation, some were good, others tacky. His wife Ivana was put in charge. Her imperial manor dove away most of the senior management. In 1992 he married Marla Maples in the Hotel.
From Bloomberg Businessweek:
“Trump had no choice but to give up the Plaza. He was in the midst of negotiating with Citibank and his other creditors to save what he could of his empire, and he couldn’t risk it all falling apart on the basis of one hotel. So in April 1995, the deal with Kwek and Alwaleed finally closed. It valued the hotel at $325 million, or $83 million less than what Trump had paid seven years earlier. The transaction was complex, with Kwek and Alwaleed agreeing to reduce the outstanding debt on the hotel to about $25 million from more than $300 million, in exchange for each receiving a stake in the hotel of just under 42 percent. Citibank was also to stay in the deal, with a 16 percent equity stake.”
In 2018 the government of Quatar purchased the Plaza for 600,000.
I hope that someday, when we are free from the Coronavirus, we can travel again to New York City. The Plaza has changed, the Oak Room is closed; there are expensive condos. It’s not rated the best in NYC but there is still a sense of the classic, an ikon. We won’t stay in the 30,000 a night suite but maybe can get a room for $500, probably not overlooking Central Park, always considered the best view.
Have you been to the Plaza? What are you reading these days?