A lively tale about the “white marble mountain rising in the center” of Manhattan.
In her debut, New York Times real estate contributor Satow chronicles the history of one of New York City’s most iconic structures. Drawing on architectural, financial, social, and popular history, the author “examines how the Plaza is ground zero for the increasing globalization of money and the slow decoupling of pedigree from wealth.” She interviewed hundreds of people, from bellmen and managers to lawyers and chefs, to give her story a rich, personal touch (she was married in the hotel’s grand Terrace Room) and an entertaining, novelistic flair. The first Plaza was built in 1890 only to be torn down 15 years later. Financier Harry Black hired renowned architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh to construct a “nineteen-story white gleaming tower”; the construction cost “$340 million in today’s dollars.” The hotel was lavish and opulent, filled with the finest linens, silverware, 1,650 chandeliers, exquisite dining rooms, and a “dog check room.” It made its debut—along with the New York taxicab—in 1907, and the first guest was Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, “the dashing millionaire.” Satow clearly loves details, and most of them are fascinating. The Plaza had a staff of 1,500, including more than 80 cooks and two men to dust the chandeliers. Throughout this sumptuous, busy history, the author enlightens and entertains with stories and anecdotes that recount the hotel’s many famous and colorful guests, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and author Kay Thompson (later evicted), whose fictional character Eloise also lived at the Plaza; how it weathered Prohibition and the Depression; changes in ownership, American (Conrad Hilton, Donald Trump) and foreign (Saudi Arabia, Singapore, currently Qatar); bankruptcy, and its controversial 2005 conversion to multimillion-dollar condominiums. As Satow writes, over “its 111 years, the Plaza has extolled beauty on the surface and grit behind the scenes.”
An infectiously fun read.