The Plaza Hotel: From the Champagne Porch to the Black and White Ball

PODCAST REWIND  The Plaza Hotel has become one of the most recognizable landmarks in New York City, a romantic throwback to the last days of the Gilded Age. It epitomized the changes that were arriving on Fifth Avenue, steering away from the private mansions of the moneyed class and towards a certain kind of communal living that was increasingly being seen as acceptable and even preferable.

We take a look at the Plaza’s unusual history, from its days as an upper class ‘transient hotel’ to a party place for celebrities.

Starring: John ‘Bet-a-Million’ Gates, Eloise, Truman Capote and of course the unflappable Mrs. Patrick Campbell.

NOTE: This show was originally recorded in November 2008. The Plaza is currently owned by Sahara India Pariwar.

A special illustrated version of the podcast on The Plaza Hotel (Episode #69) is now available on our NYC History Archive feed, via Stitcher streaming service and of course on iTunes.  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well.

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #3-#68, subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.

The Plaza Hotel in 1912. Its romantic exterior and sumptuous rooms eased New York's wealthiest class into the habit of hotel living. (Cleaned-up picture courtesy Shorpy)
The Plaza Hotel in 1912. Its romantic exterior and sumptuous rooms eased New York’s wealthiest class into the habit of hotel living. (Cleaned-up picture courtesy Shorpy)
By the 1930s, the Fifth Avenue mansions below 59th Street were gone, and the Plaza was joined by other luxury hotels. (Picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
By the 1930s, the Fifth Avenue mansions below 59th Street were gone, and the Plaza was joined by other luxury hotels. (Picture courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
The first Plaza Hotel was deemed out of fashion and indeed looks quite plain in comparison to the building which would replace it.
The first Plaza Hotel was deemed out of fashion and indeed looks quite plain in comparison to the building which would replace it.
We're so used to the Plaza being surrounded by department stores and office buildings. But in fact its first neighbors were mansions as illustrated in this photograph from 1923 (Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)
We’re so used to the Plaza being surrounded by department stores and office buildings. But in fact its first neighbors were mansions as illustrated in this photograph from 1923 (Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)
Looking up Fifth Avenue, taken sometime after 1907. The Plaza peaks over the mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Courtesy Library of Congress)
Looking up Fifth Avenue, taken sometime after 1907. The Plaza peaks over the mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Courtesy Library of Congress)
This picture was taken in 1940. Except for the shoe-shine boy and the automobile, it could have been taken yesterday. (Photograph by Roy Perry, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)
This picture was taken in 1940. Except for the shoe-shine boy and the automobile, it could have been taken yesterday. (Photograph by Roy Perry, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York)
Truman Capote and Katherine Graham at the Black and White Ball, 1966
Truman Capote and Katherine Graham at the Black and White Ball, 1966
Fans await the Beatles outside the Plaza Hotel 1964 (Courtesy New York Daily News)
Fans await the Beatles outside the Plaza Hotel 1964 (Courtesy New York Daily News)
Trader Vic's in the basement of the Plaza (courtesy the blog TikiRoom)
Trader Vic’s in the basement of the Plaza (courtesy the blog TikiRoom)
The ballroom of the Plaza, 1907 (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
The ballroom of the Plaza, 1907 (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)