The Plaza Hotel, open since 1907, is full

The Plaza Hotel, open since 1907, is full of New York City secrets. (Credit: Handout)

landmarks

Secrets of The Plaza Hotel (think: VIP escape route)

768 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019
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

Credit: Plaza archives/Courtesy of Curtis Gathje

Humble beginnings

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.

This menu from The Plaza dated October 1907

Credit: New York Public Library

In 1907, most dishes on The Plaza's menu cost less than a dollar

This menu from The Plaza dated October 1907 lists items like oysters on the half shell for just 30 cents and lobster salad for a dollar. To compare, in 2016 a plate of chilled oysters at The Palm Court or Champagne Bar goes for $21 and a Caesar salad with grilled chicken is $29, not including tax or tip, of course.

After being rejected from checking into the Waldorf

Credit: Nordsee Museum Husum

The Plaza was one of NYC's first pet-friendly hotels

After being rejected from checking into the Waldorf Astoria hotel in 1908 thanks to her entourage of 12 servants, dogs, cats, owl, guinea pig, ibis, alligators and a bear, Princess Elisabeth of Hungary stayed at The Plaza, which even offered additional space for her exotic pets. A New York Times article from April of 1908 noted that the Princess was "indignant that American hotels do not furnish accommodations for pets as they do in Europe." The Princess, pictured here in a self portrait, was also a renowned artist.

The character of Eloise was the fictional alter-ego

Credit: Plaza archives; Courtesy of Curtis Gathje

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 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 (pictured, left) would be made once the book was back in print, and so it was, in 1964.

The Royal Plaza Suite is the most luxurious

Credit: The Plaza Hotel

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.

While many complained that renovations in the mid-2000s

Credit: The Plaza

The overlooked oasis

While many complained that renovations in the mid-2000s 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.

In 1971, The Plaza turned the Edwardian Room

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.

Inspired by Eloise, The Plaza created a real

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.

Less than a month after The Plaza officially

Credit: New York Public Library Digital Collections

The Plaza is home to an unusual piece of feminist history

Less than a month after The Plaza officially opened, British actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell (her stage name) visited the Palm Court for dinner during her first night's stay at the hotel. She lit up a cigarette and was promptly asked to put it out by the restaurant's head waiter, as only men were permitted to smoke in public at the time. Campbell responded, "I understand this is a free country. I shall do nothing to change it." According to Curtis Gathje in "At The Plaza: An Illustrated History of The World's Most Famous Hotel," the staff set up privacy screens for the actress to finish smoking, though the media picked up on the event. The controversy, according to Gathje, is said to have eventually led to a smoking ban in New York City subway stations.

Taxi owner Harry Allen strategically planned to debut

Credit: Plaza archives / Courtesy of Curtis Gathje

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 30 cents per half mile and 10 cents per quarter mile thereafter. A room at The Plaza was $2.50 per night.

Credit: Plaza archives/Courtesy of Curtis Gathje

"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.

Among the modern equipment in the chic, underground

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

The underground

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.

The current ballroom is actually the third in

Credit: The Plaza

Third time's the charm

The current ballroom is actually the third in The Plaza's history -- it kept rebuilding it until it was just right. A magnet for high-profile weddings, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were married there in November 2000, in a celebration that reportedly cost between $1.5 and $2 million dollars.

In 1964, when The Beatles visited America for

Credit: Newsday

The Beatles stayed at The Plaza for their first visit to NYC -- and checked in with their real names

In 1964, when The Beatles visited America for the first time, they didn't realize that Beatlemania had already crossed the pond! After making a hotel reservation, the band members (then ages 21-23) were swarmed by fans in New York, according to a Newsday article from Feb. 10, 1964.

Author Truman Capote hosted a $20,000 ball as

Credit: Stan Wolfson for Newsday

Truman Capote hosted a ball at the Plaza in 1966

Author Truman Capote hosted a $20,000 ball as a "last ditch effort" to "preserve the spirit" of a formerly elegant era, according to a Newsday article from Nov. 28, 1966. The masked ball brought 520 guests (the original cap was 400 but Capote negotiated) including Kennedys, Frank Sinatra and hometown friends. Capote, Newsday reported, spent 30 cents on his mask while guests spent hundreds of dollars on their getups. Before the main event, Gedahia Kovalsky (pictured) tuned the ball room's piano for eight hours.

Of all the stars who have been a

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

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."

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.

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