Following a false start in 1890, Manhattan's Plaza Hotel opened in 1907 and has had more lives than a cat. The Plaza: The Secret Life of America's Most Famous Hotel explains how it survived union battles, Prohibition, the Great Depression, wartime abstemiousness, recession, 9/11 and perhaps its greatest existential threat: ownership by the man who would become the 45th president of the United States.
New York Times reporter Julie Satow tells the absorbing story of the building, a National Historic Landmark since 1986, through accounts of its owners, employees and visitors, among them F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Beatles and Kay Thompson, author of the beloved Eloise picture books. (Both Thompson and her fictional heroine made the hotel their home.) Satow, who interviewed key players in Plaza history for her book, is attuned to how the hotel's ebbing and flowing fortunes reflected the times. When Donald Trump bought the building in 1988 for more than $400 million in borrowed funds, the sale "epitomized the hubris of the go-go '80s, when greed was good." The hotel went bankrupt four years later.
In her introduction, Satow distills her book's central question: "How did we get from the glory of what the Plaza once represented to its current state?" She's referring to the fact that in 2005, many of the hotel's units were turned into condominiums, which went on to be purchased by people of extravagant wealth, some of them probably using ill-gotten gains. To crib a Times op-ed title: "What Would Eloise Say?" --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer