NEW YORK -- Hundreds of tourists and ordinary New Yorkers flocked to The Plaza Hotel Saturday to take part in the landmark’s reopening after a three-year, $400 million renovation.
“They say this place is the world’s most famous hotel,” said doorman Freddy Davila, who worked for the hotel for 15 years before it closed in 2005. As he welcomed visitors up the red-carpeted steps and through the revolving doors, he added: “It’s wonderful to be back.”
“We just had to see inside,” said Owen Mathieu, visiting from Marblehead, Mass. “We’ve seen it in the movies. Everybody’s heard of it.”
The Plaza, which is a National Historic Landmark, first opened in 1907. Marilyn Monroe was photographed here, the Beatles stayed here and Frank Lloyd Wright lived here. The hotel ballroom was the setting for Truman Capote’s “Black and White Ball” and the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter Julie. Movies shot at the hotel include “North by Northwest,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “Crocodile Dundee” and “Home Alone 2.” Owners have included Conrad Hilton and Donald Trump.
Many fans also know the hotel from children’s books by Kay Thompson about a naughty little girl named Eloise who lives at The Plaza. A portrait of Eloise hung in the lobby for nearly 50 years; hotel officials say it will be back up later this spring.
The Plaza’s current owners, Elad Properties, originally planned to convert all guest rooms into condominiums, but the plan was criticized by preservationists and the hotel workers’ union. Negotiations with Mayor Michael Bloomberg led to a deal that resulted in 282 hotel rooms, down from the original 805, and 181 apartments.
Rates for the hotel rooms start at $1,000 a night.
“When you hear $1,000 a night for a room it might seem like a lot, but in the end it’s not about the price, it’s about the experience,” said Bill Carroll, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. “It’s such a unique destination. It really is about the cachet.” Carroll spent his honeymoon at The Plaza 41 years ago.
Nelda Johns of Dallas, who stopped by Saturday, recalled staying at the hotel as a child with her parents. Her husband Ken Johns said the place had gotten “a little dingy” before it closed. But looking around at the gleaming mosaic floors, sparkling chandeliers and gold-trimmed ceilings, he said, “They’ve done a nice job.”
A highlight of the restoration is a stained-glass ceiling, called a laylight, in the Palm Court dining room near the lobby. The laylight was replaced in the 1940s by a plaster ceiling, so “it hasn’t been seen in most people’s lifetimes,” said Sarah Carroll, director of preservation for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which worked with the hotel owners to ensure that landmarked features were properly restored.
Glass shards and old photos were all researchers had to go on to recreate the laylight. Carroll called the result -- a backlit yellow-and-green geometric design trimmed with roses -- “a perfect crown for that room.”
The Palm Court serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea. A new Champagne Bar in the lobby offers cocktails, champagne by the glass ($25-$60) or by the bottle, with a top price of $3,350 for a magnum.
Hotel general manager Shane Krige said the renovated guest rooms “bridge the world between the old and the new” with flat-screen TVs, electronic key cards, iPod docks and digital touchscreens that let guests change lighting and temperature or call for assistance. Touches of old-fashioned opulence include 24-karat gold-plated faucets, mosaic bathroom floors and white-gloved butlers, one per floor, on call 24 hours. Guests of all ages can request an “Eloise” bubble bath, with milk and cookies.
Ruthann Picerno of Lyndhurst, N.J., checking in with two friends, said she was thrilled to be among the first guests. “I wanted to stay here since I was 17. When they closed, I was crushed.”
All but one residential unit has been sold - including one that went for $50 million. The Plaza Residences got some bad publicity last week, however, when Joanna Cutler, renting an apartment from an owner, said she was trapped overnight in a garbage disposal room on the 13th floor by a stuck door. She was freed by a worker who heard her screams.
The Plaza apologized and inspected all common-area doors, but Cutler’s lawyer Susan Karten said in a phone interview that she was filing a lawsuit.
Saturday was considered a soft opening for the hotel, which plans a grand opening May 10. By then the famed Oak Bar will be back in service, along with a new lounge called the Rose Club. Also opening this spring will be 160,000 square feet of high-end retail space, including a spa.