Simanaitis Says

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A BOOK REVIEW may inform. It may infuriate. It may even encourage a purchase. And, like Tina Brown’s “Theater of Dreams: A Tale of Boom and Bust at the Plaza Hotel,” The New York Times, May 31, 2019, a review may give delight in its prose. Here are tidbits from this review.

The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel, by Julie Satow, Twelve Publishing, 2019.

Tina Brown writes, “The imposing white chateau at 59th and Fifth, with lordly views of Central Park, designed by the Gilded Age maestro Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, dominates the most dynamic corner of the the most dynamic city in the world.”

Let’s excuse Ms. Brown’s gush for “The City.” After all, she was editor of Vanity Fair from 1984 to 1992 and of The New Yorker from 1992 to 1998. She also founded The Daily Beast and served as its editor-in-chief from 2008 to 2013. In 2000 Brown was appointed a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire); she has joint U.S./U.K citizenship, .

And the woman has a way with words.

“The Plaza in its current incarnation,” she writes, “opened its bronze revolving doors in October 1907, and early clientele’s names—Vanderbilt, Wanamaker, Duke—still conjure up the rustle of silk and the sheen of a top hat.” Current? There had been an earlier “quite grand” establishment on the site.

“Over the decades,” Brown says, “the Plaza myth was created as much by writers as by its clientele. It’s hard to stroll by on a sweltering August afternoon without thinking of Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby inside, telling Tom Buchanan that Daisy never loved him.”

The Plaza Hotel in 1926. Image by the Associated Press.

Brown shares what she calls one of Satow’s dazzling fact riffs: At its height, the Plaza employed a staff of 1500, “including 50 each of chambermaids, housemaids and bell boys; plus 200 waiters, 75 laundresses and 25 porters. There were also 20 bartenders, 10 wine cellar men, 15 barbers and, in later years, two men whose sole job was dusting the chandeliers and another who patrolled the hallways stamping ashtrays with the double-P Plaza logo.”

The Oak Room of the Plaza, c. 1974. Image by Paul Hosefros/The New York Times.

The hotel has had its ups and downs of ownership, including Donald Trump’s. Brown cites that Trump “bought it in 1988 for roughly $400 million, every penny of it borrowed.… It took him four years—the equivalent of a full presidential term—to drive the Plaza into bankruptcy.”

“By the time the Plaza was acquired by the Qatar Investment Authority in 2018,” Brown recounts, “its indomitable glamour had seen the free fall of successive foreign overlords. They included a Saudi prince teaming with a Singapore billionaire, an Israeli speculator who carved up the hotel into condominiums and retail spaces, and an Indian con man who negotiated his financial exit from the most evil-smelling hospitality suite in the world, Delhi’s notorious Tihar jail.”

“To me,” Brown recalls, “the Plaza irresistibly represents my days at Vanity Fair in the ’80s, when its swanky Grand Ballroom played host to countless black-tie benefits chaired by Wall Street trophy wives, with their hungry eyes and anorexic shoulders.”

“Today,” Brown concludes, “the Plaza is a grand-facade boutique hotel and retail space under pretentious deluxe apartments owned by the kind of affluent global flotsam who fake their children’s SAT scores. Yet her Serene Highness of 59th Street sails on, confidently awaiting the next custodian of New York’s social dream.”

Brown’s review is a take-action one: I must get Julie Satow’s book. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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