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The Plaza: The Secret Life of America's Most Famous Hotel

Review

The Plaza: The Secret Life of America's Most Famous Hotel

A pond becomes a building, the building becomes a storied gathering place for the rich, famous and, in some cases, notorious, then is reduced to rubble and emerges as a virtual sky palace, both hotel and residence so essential to the New York City view-scape that a future US president dubbed it “the Mona Lisa” of edifices and vowed to have it. In this biography of a building and its weathering of multiple eras, award-winning New York Times real estate journalist Julie Satow creates a vibrant history of the construction, décor, egos, glamour, deals and dirty secrets that comprise the many-storied Plaza Hotel.

"With a thirst for detail, a historian’s balanced viewpoint, deft descriptions of the Plaza’s Trump era, and a retrospective personal exploration of its enchantments, Satow’s debut book should please even the most avid fan of this remarkable environment..."

It was destined for luxury in its first incarnation as a temporary or long-term perch for those who could afford to stay in what was becoming the heart of New York’s wealthiest district. First opened in 1890, the eight-story brick wonder attracted the people who wanted to be the center of attention, as well as those who craved the seclusion of its exclusivity and the discretion of its well-polished, and constantly polishing, staff. Its opening marked the era of curbside taxicabs, private pet minders, grand hallways and almost any delicacy a guest would care to eat or drink, from English tea to turtle soup. Its first guest was a Vanderbilt.

Not many years later, that Plaza was razed, and a new, 19-story white marble marvel took its place, which has been retained and refined for nearly a century. The newer and still extant hotel was bought and sold more than once, run by Westerner Conrad Hilton and later by Donald Trump, who put his wife Ivana in charge --- the first and only female to assume that role --- and then joked disparagingly that he paid her only “$1 and all the dresses she can buy.” Trump’s eyes for the place that was in view of his office in Trump Tower were bigger than his bankroll, though, and the Plaza fell into the hands of a Saudi prince and his Singaporean entrepreneur partner. Today, under yet newer management, it retains some hotel suites after a conversion to condominium-style residences.

With a thirst for detail, a historian’s balanced viewpoint, deft descriptions of the Plaza’s Trump era, and a retrospective personal exploration of its enchantments, Satow’s debut book should please even the most avid fan of this remarkable environment, a business that has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, Prohibition and a raucous incursion of Beatles fans. It became the fictional home of a brassy tyke named Eloise (the alter ego of performer Kay Thompson) and hosted the best and brightest publicity seekers, along with an eerie array of shadowy eccentrics and dog-loving dowagers.

Satow concludes that, with its mystical ambience and odd nooks and crannies, “it is still a hotel” and “a true New Yorker,” destined to live on and roll through another century of changes.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on June 7, 2019

The Plaza: The Secret Life of America's Most Famous Hotel
by Julie Satow

  • Publication Date: June 4, 2019
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve
  • ISBN-10: 1455566675
  • ISBN-13: 9781455566679