What became of the first, short-lived Plaza Hotel

When the Plaza Hotel finally opened its doors on October 1, 1890, the debut of this elegant, long-awaited hotel (construction began seven years earlier, but the developers needed more financing to finish it) at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South was heralded across the city.

This “magnificent” new building “was inspected by an immense number of people, and illimitable appropriation was bestowed upon the management for the almost perfect arrangements, elegance of decorations, etc,” wrote Brooklyn’s Standard Union newspaper.

King’s Handbook of New York City also gushed praise. “It is a palatial establishment…and it is sumptuously furnished,” stated the 1892 book. “There are 400 rooms…it is one of the grandest hotels in the world.”

Ads for the Plaza painted a luxurious image, like the one above. “Absolutely fireproof…Overlooking Central Park…the pioneer in the new hotel centre.”

Sounds a lot like the Plaza Hotel that’s been an icon of New York City for more than a century, right?

Except this isn’t the 19-story Plaza Hotel holding court on Fifth Avenue today, the one that was designed to be a skyscraper-high chateau in French Renaissance style.

These rave reviews actually describe the first Plaza Hotel—a more modest eight-story building that only stood at this elite corner of Manhattan for 15 years.

Why was it demolished, especially considering the swooning reception it received? Basically, “it was unprofitable,” according to The Encyclopedia of New York City, Second Edition.

The design of the first Plaza Hotel—called neo-Classical and Italianate by Inside the Plaza, by Ward Morehouse—also quickly became dated in a city of newer, more fanciful hotel buildings.

So the first Plaza Hotel was bought by a new developer, who had it demolished in 1905.

The second Plaza Hotel, “with three stories composed of rusticated marble, the rest white glazed brick, all topped by a three-story mansard roof,” according to Morehouse (those small windows peeking through the roof were for the servants rooms), went up in just two years.

The new Henry Hardenburgh-designed Plaza Hotel (which served more as a longterm residence than a per-night kind of place) opened to equally rabid fanfare and acclaim on October 1, 1907.

 Here it is at the end of 2019, still stunning in a transformed city.

[Top photo: MCNY X2012.61.31.9; second image: New York Times, 1894; third image: MCNY 2010.28.15; fourth image: MCNY 93.1.1.6467; fifth image: MCNY 93.1.3.1529; sixth image: Ephemeral New York]

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10 Responses to “What became of the first, short-lived Plaza Hotel”

  1. thekeystonegirlblogs Says:

    A bland monolithic structure for sure — long before the Third Reich!

  2. Greg Says:

    If only it were still the case that nice buildings get replaced by better ones.

    The first Plaza is strangely undistinguished. It looks like an average tenement.

  3. Bookpod Says:

    A gem I never knew about until Ephemeral New York wrote about it.

  4. burkemblog Says:

    Eloise would never have been as content in the first Plaza!

  5. Tom B Says:

    The Plaza Hotel looks small now surrounded by its neighbors. We stayed there Thanksgiving week,1999. It wasn’t that nice then, needed to be refurbished, which it was later. I saw my first Broadway Play, RAGTIME and the Macy’s Parade, 22 degrees.
    I was always intrigued with its 7 story apartment building attachment on the northwest corner, 22 CPS. No history about it, yet controlled by The Plaza. Now it has been converted to full floor condos. I always thought it was the safest/best location in the City, but some say you would get tired of all the tourist traffic and the Hansom Cab smell.

    • Tom B Says:

      I always thought this was a solid square building. Looking down from above it is shaped like a squared off cornered capital U. I guess for natural light.

  6. kl3eo Says:

    that’s digusting archs

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