The Scoop: The Secret Life of the Plaza

Murder, movie stars, and more: A new book explores the Manhattan landmark’s riveting history—and the iconic characters linked to it.

by Natalie Chomet

For author Julie Satow, the Plaza has an undeniable attraction. From her background as a real estate writer, to her childhood attending school near Central Park, to her wedding (she got married there), it seems like she was destined to write a book about the fabled hotel.

“I feel like the Plaza really symbolized all the aspects of real estate that I love: politics, hotel unions, development deals, hotel deals—it has so many different sides to it,” she says.

The Beatles at the Plaza, 1964

The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel has something for everyone—grand parties, anecdotes on The Beatles’ stay, big deals, even a murder among the construction workers who built the hotel.

Satow’s favorite tidbit, leaning toward the less macabre, pertains to a group of women known as the 39 widows. “People would come to the Plaza just to see these rich, old dowagers who lived at the hotel and were super eccentric,” Satow explains. “I loved learning about their different personalities.” F. Scott Fitzgerald “used the Plaza as a shorthand to symbolize wealth and glamour and glitz. For so many people, the Plaza seems like this fantastical place—Truman Capote had his famous Black and White Ball there—so I think it is in the collective memory of all of us.”

Children’s author Kay Thompson with TV Eloise star Evelyn Rudie

The Plaza is also synonymous with longtime hotel resident Eloise, Kay Thompson’s children’s book character, who inspired an influx of youthful visitors. Some fans even called the front desk asking to speak with Eloise—and once Thompson obliged, answering her room phone in character.

The Plaza is a fascinating tour of the hotel through the years, with all the intrigue, drama and plot twists of a novel. Readers also learn about New York through the hotel and how changes in the landscape of the city affected and are reflected in this historic mainstay. The high-end condos now available in the Plaza hark back to its beginnings. “The Plaza was one of the first places that very wealthy people moved to, from single-family mansions into early-style apartment living,” Satow explains. “We have come back to that idea. The Plaza has always been at the forefront of housing trends. It is so many people’s dream, and now it can be a reality.”

 

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