Secrets of The Plaza Hotel
Since The Plaza Hotel opened its doors in 1907, offering luxury rooms at a rate of just $2.50 per night, it has welcomed guests from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Frank Lloyd Wright to Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles. It has been knocked down and rebuilt, updated and restored. But through it all, its status as a New York City icon has remained constant.
No matter how many times you've strolled by, stopped in for tea or even stayed the night, there are many things you probably didn't know about the landmark hotel.
The ultra-valuable piece of property that the Plaza stands on today was once the Fifth Avenue Pond. During the winter, the pond was reserved by the New York Skating Club for use as a private skating rink. (Credit: Plaza archives/Courtesy of Curtis Gathje)
The hidden escape route
The Royal Plaza Suite is the most luxurious retreat in all of the hotel, with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a hand-picked library, grand piano, formal dining room, state-of-the-art kitchen and sweeping views of 5th Avenue. But that's not all $30,000 a night will get you-- inside the salon (that's the master bathroom to us common folk) is a secret panel that opens as an exit door for guests who need to make a quick (or discreet) escape to the outside world. (Credit: The Plaza Hotel)
Birth of the motorized taxi
Taxi owner Harry Allen strategically planned to debut New York City's first motorized taxis on Oct. 1, 1907 to coincide with The Plaza's opening day. Rides were $0.30 per half mile and $0.10 per quarter mile thereafter. A room at The Plaza was $2.50 per night. (Credit: Plaza archives/Courtesy of Curtis Gathje)
An infinite happy hour
Of all the stars who have been a part of The Plaza’s history, only one has a permanent monument inside the hotel. George M. Cohan, an American theater icon, actor, composer, playwright and producer, spent 4 to 7 p.m. every day in the Oak Room drinking pre-show cocktails. His reserved booth in the northwest corner of the room now boasts a bronze plaque, thanks to the Lamb's Club, reading: “Here in this corner where he spent many happy hours, the Lambs have placed this tablet in honor of the most brilliant and versatile gentleman in the theatre of his day, George M. Cohan.” Conrad Hilton, the owner at the time, officially named the area “The Cohan Corner." (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
The disappearing portrait
The character of “Eloise” was the fictional alter-ego of Kay Thompson, the author of the famed children's book series, who actually lived at The Plaza. A four-by-six-foot portrait of Eloise by the book's illustrator, Hilary Knight, was hung in the lobby two years after the first book was released. But on Thanksgiving night in 1960, the same night a college dance was held at the hotel, the portrait vanished. It was never found, but a few years later, Princess Grace of Monaco toured the hotel and remarked on its absence. It was decided that a new portrait would be made once the book was back in print, and so it was, in 1964. (Credit: Plaza archives/Courtesy of Curtis Gathje)
The tricycle garage
Inspired by Eloise, The Plaza created a real tricycle garage in 1956, at the 58th Street loading dock. Dressed in red and white candy stripes, the garage provided hotel guests with free tricycles and bike racks, and rented the space to others for 15 cents per day, or $3 per month. The program may be revived in the near future, Plaza sources say, but don't expect to pay in nickels. (Credit: Plaza archives/Courtesy of Curtis Gathje)
Third time's the charm
The current ballroom is actually the third in The Plaza’s history-- they kept rebuilding it until they finally got it right. (Credit: The Plaza)
Among the modern equipment in the chic, underground Frank Gehry-designed fitness center, La Palestra, a few older and less polished walls stand out. They were made with original New York City subway tile. There are also old coal shoots exposed, marking the hotel basement's original purpose. (Credit: Nina Ruggiero)
"Home Alone 2" redecorates
"Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" was inadvertently responsible for changing The Plaza’s lobby. In order to shoot a scene where actor Macaulay Culkin slid across the floor, the film crew was given permission to remove the wall-to-wall carpeting. To their surprise, the hotel found a beautiful mosaic tile floor beneath it, and the carpeting was banned thereafter to let the original floor shine. (Credit: Plaza archives/Courtesy of Curtis Gathje)
A failed experiment
In 1971, The Plaza turned the Edwardian Room into the flashy Green Tulip restaurant, complete with hot pink and lime green walls and potted plants. The space transformed into a disco-dancing nightclub after 10 p.m. First, the plants all died-- an omen for what was to come. The restaurant/club got scathing reviews, received complaints from guests and drew few revelers. It was closed down in 1974 with this mock funeral announcement. (Credit: Plaza archives/Courtesy of Curtis Gathje)
The overlooked oasis
While many complained that renovations left fewer Central Park view rooms for guests in favor of converting those into private residences, The Plaza is actually shaped like a "U," with a landscaped interior courtyard that offers a green alternative even in the winter months.
For more photos and little-known facts of The Plaza Hotel, see Curtis Gathje's "At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World's Most Famous Hotel," available at the hotel gift shop and at amazon.com.Secrets of Grand Central Station (Credit: The Plaza)