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Preservationists Worry About Plaza Hotel Interiors

Photo courtesy Rubenstein Public Relations

New York City’s Plaza Hotel has been one of the world’s most famous for nearly a century. But this coming April, for the first time in its history, the hotel is due to close. The Plaza’s new owner, Elad Properties, is planning to build a luxury department store inside the structure and convert most of the hotel rooms to luxury condominiums. The impending renovation has raised concern in New York City’s preservation community about the fate of the Plaza’s historic interior public spaces.

While the exterior of the Plaza was one of the city’s first landmarks to be designated, the hotel’s interior public spaces do not have landmark status. The preservationists are particularly worried about the Oak Room restaurant and the hotel’s ballroom.

The German Renaissance style Oak Room is virtually unchanged since it was built in 1907. It retains its original ornately carved wood walls, elaborate chandeliers, and murals of the Bavarian countryside. And the Beaux-Arts style ballroom built in 1921 is one of New York City’s four remaining grand hotel ballrooms.

 

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A New York-based team comprised of Gal Nauer Architects and Costas Kondylis and Partners is finalizing plans for the renovation. No structural changes will be made to the Plaza’s historic interiors says Steve Solomon, an Elad Properties spokesperson. But Solomon maintains that the hotel needs fixing up. “ A lot of the stuff, even the woodwork is worn out and some of the doors are in bad shape,” he says, adding, “They {the owners} are going to respect the architectural integrity of the spaces, but where enhancement or upgrading is needed they are going to do it.”

 

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has not yet decided whether the Oak Room and the ballroom merit landmark status. But the Commission’s chairman Robert Tierney says that the interiors in question are noteworthy and that his agency is looking into the matter. In addition, Tierney maintains that because the Commission already regulates the Plaza’s exterior, it should be able to influence the owner to preserve the Oak Room and the ballroom even though those areas do not have landmark status. “They {the owners} are already under our jurisdiction, ”he says, “so when we call them in because we are interested in other parts of the building, it gets attention.”

Some preservationists say that it makes business sense for Elad Properties to preserve the Plaza’s historic interiors. “Preserving those spaces will enhance their {the developer’s} bottom line and serious alterations would be a public relations disaster,” says Peg Breen, president of the Landmarks Conservancy, a New York City based preservation group.

But others say that the Oak Room and the ballroom are in jeopardy because they do not have protection under the city’s landmarks laws. “This owner may choose to respect the architectural integrity of the interiors but who knows what is going to happen two years from now, “ says Anthony Dolkart, professor of Architectural History at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture Preservation and Planning, adding “Even if they respect the interiors now, next year they could decide to rip them out and they have the legal right to do so because these spaces have not been designated as landmarks.”

By Alex Ulam

 

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