Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
Landmark designations are not only for buildings. Any piece of property that the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) deems to have important cultural, aesthetic, or historical characteristics may become a landmark. The LPC designates individual landmarks such as the Conference House on Staten Island, scenic landmarks such as Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or historic districts such as the Mott Haven Historic District in the Bronx. In addition, the LPC may also consider the interior of a building for landmark status.
Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, overlooking Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, was designated a landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in 1969. However, only the building’s exterior, designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, was protected by the designation.
The hotel’s interior has changed along with its many owners since opening in 1907. In August 2004 Elad Properties purchased the hotel for $675,000,000. Several months later, the real estate development conglomerate announced plans to convert the 805-room hotel into a multipurpose building with condos and space for high-end retail stores. The extensive renovations would require the hotel to close temporarily. Additionally, the building would house only 150 hotel rooms. Nearly 1,000 Plaza Hotel employees, including about 800 belonging to hotel unions, were given notice of impending layoffs.
In response, the New York Hotel Trades Council launched a “Save the Plaza” campaign and urged the LPC to consider landmarking the interior of the hotel. Actress Kate Capshaw, columnist Liz Smith, and NYC Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum indicated their support by allowing the union to use their names for the campaign. Even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg weighed in, inviting the developer and union officials to Gracie Mansion for a talk. After months of tenuous negotiations, Bloomberg announced that an agreement had been reached. The Plaza Hotel would retain 348 hotel rooms and 350 union jobs. In addition, Elad Properties promised that the Palm Court, the Grand Ballroom, and the Oak Bar would remain open for use by the public and visitors to New York, following renovations scheduled to begin on April 30,2005.
Less than two months later, the LPC held a public hearing on the proposed designation of the Plaza Hotel as an interior landmark. Representatives of both the New York Hotel Trades Council and Elad Properties spoke in favor of the designation. On July 12, 2005, the LPC published its findings and announced landmark status for interior spaces in the Plaza Hotel. Below are some of the spaces that are now landmarks.
The Palm Court was modeled after the Palm Court tea room (also known as the Winter Garden) in London’s Carleton Hotel.
The Edwardian Room was originally a restaurant for men only. Also called the Men’s Grill, no business talk was allowed inside the room – its purpose was to provide the atmosphere of a private men’s club.
The Fifth Avenue Lobby and vestibules opened in 1921 and were designed by the firm Warren & Wetmore.
The Oak Room (not to be confused with the previously mentioned Oak Bar) is considered one of the best preserved public spaces in the Plaza Hotel, and rumored to have been the favorite of Hardenbergh, the architect. It closed in 2011 after a dispute between its owner and the Plaza’s owners, although it is still available for private event rentals.
After the $400,000,000 renovation was complete, the Plaza Hotel reopened in March 2008 to mixed reviews. The Plaza’s then-owner, Mike Naftali, said that the public rooms “have been restored to their original glory.” But David Garrard Lowe, president of Manhattan’s Beaux Arts Alliance, had this to say: “I think it is vulgar. No one in charge had any taste. Not that they haven’t spent enough money, but this renovation doesn’t hit the right notes. The Plaza has lost its gaiety, its sense of public festivity.”