The Plaza

The Secret Life of America's Most Famous Hotel


By Julie Satow

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Journalist Julie Satow’s thrilling, unforgettable history of how one illustrious hotel has defined our understanding of money and glamour, from the Gilded Age to the Go-Go Eighties to today’s Billionaire Row.

From the moment in 1907 when New York millionaire Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt strode through the Plaza Hotel’s revolving doors to become its first guest to the afternoon in 2007 when a mysterious Russian oligarch paid a record price for the hotel’s largest penthouse, the eighteen-story white marble edifice at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street has radiated wealth and luxury.

For some, the hotel evokes images of F. Scott Fitzgerald frolicking in the Pulitzer Fountain, or Eloise, the impish young guest who pours water down the mail chute. But the true stories captured in The Plaza also include dark, hidden secrets: the cold-blooded murder perpetrated by the construction workers in charge of building the hotel, how Donald J. Trump came to be the only owner to ever bankrupt the Plaza, and the tale of the disgraced Indian tycoon who ran the hotel from a maximum-security prison cell, 7,000 miles away in Delhi.

In this definitive history, award-winning journalist Julie Satow not only pulls back the curtain on Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball and The Beatles’ first stateside visit — she also follows the money trail. The Plaza reveals how a handful of rich dowager widows were the financial lifeline that saved the hotel during the Great Depression, and how today, foreign money and anonymous shell companies have transformed iconic guest rooms into condominiums that shield ill-gotten gains, hollowing out parts of the hotel as well as the city around it.

The Plaza is the account of one vaunted New York City address that has become synonymous with wealth and scandal, opportunity and tragedy. With glamour on the surface and strife behind the scenes, it is the story of how one hotel became a mirror reflecting New York’s place at the center of the country’s cultural narrative for over a century.


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1890: The first Plaza opens its doors on the site of a former ice-skating pond; it is demolished fifteen years later.

1907: A new, second Plaza, which still stands today, opens and is immediately hailed as New York’s most opulent and expensive hotel. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, the dashing millionaire, becomes the Plaza’s inaugural guest, while outside the hotel’s entrance, the ubiquitous New York taxicab makes its debut.

1909: Princess Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy becomes one of a long line of colorful guests to check into the Plaza, bringing with her a private zoo that includes a falcon, a family of alligators, and a pet lion who lives in her bathtub.

1920: Prohibition and the Jazz Age arrive, and the Plaza becomes renowned for private parties, tea dances, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who famously jumps fully clothed into the Pulitzer Fountain.

1930: The Great Depression takes hold, leading to the ruination of the Plaza’s mercurial owner, Harry S. Black, who dies soon after from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

1943: Amid wartime rationing and the draft, Conrad N. Hilton acquires the Plaza. He is met with a chilly reception from its blue-blood fans, particularly Clara Bell Walsh, the supposed inventor of the cocktail party and the most famous of the hotel’s eccentric dowagers.

1955: The mischievous six-year-old Eloise becomes the Plaza’s most famous resident, flooding the hotel lobby with diminutive devotees desperate for a chance to glimpse the fictional heroine. The Plaza’s young fan base grows when, a decade later, the Beatles check in and are greeted by a mob of screaming teenyboppers and a nervous hotel staff.

1966: Truman Capote hosts the Black and White Ball at the Plaza’s ballroom, and the likes of Gloria Vanderbilt and Frank Sinatra mingle with the doorman from the author’s apartment building.

1975: With New York City facing fiscal ruin and near bankruptcy, Westin Hotels acquires the Plaza. It soon confronts bomb scares, armed robberies, and a sanitation strike that leaves a seven-foot-high pile of garbage next to the hotel’s front door.

1988: Donald J. Trump buys the hotel for a record price, using entirely borrowed funds. He installs his wife Ivana as the Plaza’s president, promising to pay her $1 and all the dresses she can buy.

1992: The Plaza, unable to pay down the debt that Trump has saddled on the hotel, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the first time in its history.

1995: The Plaza comes under foreign ownership when Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and a Singaporean billionaire purchase the hotel from Trump’s lenders. A Trump lieutenant spies on the negotiations from a hidden room at the Plaza, but fails to sabotage the deal.

2005: In its biggest transformation ever, the Plaza is carved into multimillion-dollar condominiums, a boutique hotel, and retail stores. Preservationists, politicians, and the powerful New York hotel union stage a vociferous resistance, with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg negotiating a compromise.

2008: The first apartment owners move into the Plaza, with a roster of buyers that includes Hollywood executives, Russian oligarchs, and anonymous shell companies with questionable links as far afield as Kazakhstan and the Pacific islands.

2012: Subrata Roy, a colorful Indian business tycoon, purchases the Plaza Hotel without ever sleeping in one of its rooms. Under investigation, Roy is eventually sentenced to two years in jail in Delhi and is barred from traveling abroad.

2017: The Plaza suffers from the indignities of an absentee owner, while Roy entertains offers for the hotel from a cast of characters of dubious repute. A series of fiascos ensues, replete with lawsuits, a fistfight in the Palm Court, and a journalist who is sent to the same jail where Roy himself was imprisoned.

2018: In a surprise move, Roy’s tenure comes to a sudden end when the hospitality arm of the Qatar Investment Authority emerges as a stealth bidder, successfully acquiring the hotel. Longtime Plaza aficionados are optimistic that the new stewards will restore the property to its former glory.


Subrata Roy was reclining on a sofa in a pink shirt, orange pocket square, and plaid blazer, his outfit contrasting sharply with the sparse, all-white living room. It was a steamy August afternoon in New Delhi in the summer of 2017, but inside it was hushed and cool, a world away from the honking and beggars’ cries ringing out from the crumbling streets below. Roy, his hair and mustache dyed the same black as his shiny shoes, sipped water from a glass handed to him by a uniformed servant carrying a silver tray. After a pause, Roy looked at me and declared, “Such lovely history it has!” I waited for him to expound further, answering my question on why he loved the Plaza, his prized New York hotel. But Roy seemed to have nothing more to add.

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the sixty-nine-year-old fallen mogul had little to say about the historic property. After all, Roy had visited the Plaza just once, and then only for a brief tour. That was back in 2012, just before he shelled out $570 million to buy the hotel.1 A few weeks later, the Indian Supreme Court issued a devastating decision, ordering Roy to repay more than $3 billion, plus interest, to tens of millions of poverty-stricken Indians who had invested in his company’s bonds. Roy scrambled to refund the money, and was eventually arrested after failing to appear at a court-mandated hearing. He spent two years behind bars in one of Southeast Asia’s most notorious prisons.2 In 2016, Roy was released on parole, but while freed from his cell, he remained prohibited from traveling abroad. Roy never had a chance to lay his head on a Plaza pillow, let alone relish his newest toy.

When envisioning the Plaza, most people don’t conjure up visions of an absentee owner stuck in India, plagued by investigations and billions of dollars in debt. They think of Eloise, the impish guest who pours water down the mail chute, or lavish weddings in the gold-and-white ballroom. Maybe for some, the Plaza conjures up images of men in top hats riding horse-drawn carriages, or the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald frolicking in the Pulitzer Fountain. These are all accurate depictions. But today, so is Subrata Roy. How did we get from the glory of what the Plaza once represented to its current state? What does this say about historic institutions and changes in America and the moneyed class? This book is a history of the 1 percent, of celebrity, of pop culture and gossip. It also examines how the Plaza is ground zero for the increasing globalization of money and the slow decoupling of pedigree from wealth.

Hotels straddle the public and private spheres, making them uniquely positioned to explore matters of history, money, and class. This is especially true of the Plaza, with its fame and longevity. Hotels are owned by those seeking profit and prominence and peopled with thousands of employees. And anyone—from a guest who rents out the largest suite, to a tired tourist who stops in for tea, to a prostitute who works the bar—can enjoy them. “To many people the fact that the Plaza is in private ownership is merely a technicality,” the former New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger once wrote. “They look upon it as if they themselves were the owners, as surely as they own Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge.”3

When I started this project three years ago, I, too, harbored a more simplistic vision of the Plaza. It was a hotel that epitomized New York in its heyday, the site of Neil Simon’s comedy Plaza Suite, and where Roger Thornhill was abducted in Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest. Or where the spaghetti strap on Marilyn Monroe’s dress broke as she gave a press conference, much to the joy and excitement of the gaggle of photographers who hungrily snapped away.

Growing up, many spring afternoons were spent in Central Park, with the Plaza’s white marble tower looming over Sheep Meadow, a backdrop to my childhood. When my grandmother visited from her small town in Pennsylvania, the Plaza was her hotel. We would often meet for tea at the Palm Court before walking across the street to gawk at the rows of stuffed animals at FAO Schwarz. In 2009, when I was planning my wedding, like many brides before me, I chose to stand among the elegant balustrades, mirrors, and coffered ceiling of the Terrace Room to take my vows.

But as I dug deeper into my research, my view of the hotel shifted. I interviewed retired Plaza bellmen who had spent their careers at the hotel, and frustrated managers who quit after a few short months. I spoke with chefs who oversaw the kitchens, and lawyers who sued management. I traveled from Israel to India to meet with the Plaza’s owners, and if they were no longer alive, I met with their spouses or children. The likes of Eric Trump, President Trump’s middle son, and Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, shared with me their memories of the hotel. I spent days buried in the stacks of hotel archives in search of new material. And thanks to recently digitized newspapers and magazines, I sifted through tens of thousands of articles dating from as far back as 1890. I saw the fashions, vanities, and class politics of the rich shift over time, and the impact of union battles, lawsuits, and financial failures. In the end, my idealized version of the Plaza gave way to a deeper, nuanced perspective.

I discovered that the Plaza is a mirror that has reflected the country’s cultural narrative, from era to era, for over a century. The hotel’s first guests were the country’s richest citizens, such as Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and John “Bet-a-Million” Gates, who ushered in a new vogue among the elite for apartment living. The Plaza’s first owner, Harry S. Black, basked in the success of his creation, an expression of his ambition and drive, becoming the first to helm a skyscraper conglomerate. But there was also a darker side to the glamour and wealth. The construction workers erecting the hotel would commit murder before the building was complete. And Harry Black would ride the stock market of the 1920s to its pinnacle, until the 1929 Wall Street crash would find him, pistol in hand, the victim of ruin.

During the Great Depression, it was the steely will of hundreds of wealthy dowager widows that sustained the hotel, their bizarre antics notwithstanding. There was the Kentucky horsewoman who reportedly invented the cocktail party and the princess who arrived with a menagerie that included guinea pigs and a pet lion. She fled without paying her bill, and turned out not to be the only Plaza guest of dubious royal distinction. In fact, one purported baron was unmasked as a huckster who, wooing an heiress, wreaked havoc of Shakespearean proportions.

The Plaza has existed in periods of plenty, in financial depressions, during times of vice and licentiousness, and when the country was pulled apart by politics. The Great War was accompanied by union campaigns and African American strikebreakers, while Prohibition brought bellman bootleggers and F. Scott Fitzgerald. World War II ushered in the rationing of bread rolls and elevator parts, as well as a new Plaza owner, the archetype hotelier Conrad Hilton. With the 1950s came the postwar baby boom, and, suddenly, the deprivations of the previous decade were replaced with a roaring economy and the birth of modern-day consumerism. As usual, the Plaza epitomized the times, housing the author whose six-year-old alter ego, Eloise, also lived at the hotel, spurring one of the largest publishing juggernauts of the era.

The increasing turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s was marked by the Beatles, bomb scares, and the feminist Betty Friedan. As New York’s finances devolved into near bankruptcy, the city itself seemed to be coming apart. At the Plaza, guests faced down gun-wielding robbers, an incursion of prostitutes, and a seven-foot-high oozing pile of garbage next to its front door.

In the 1980s, at the peak of his real estate prowess, Donald Trump bought the Plaza, gilding its rooms in gold leaf and putting his wife Ivana in charge. Then the Trump empire crumbled, and not even a desperate attempt to spy on his enemies could prevent the inevitable. The Plaza filed for bankruptcy—its first and only time—before a Saudi Arabian prince and a billionaire from Singapore took the hotel off Trump’s hands. An increasingly international cast of characters took central stage, with an Israeli developer eventually selling the hotel to India’s Subrata Roy. The summer of 2018 saw the Plaza’s latest handoff, when a hospitality company controlled by the Gulf state of Qatar acquired the building.

Inside, the Plaza’s original 800-odd hotel rooms have shrunk to less than 300, the most coveted views facing Central Park and Fifth Avenue converted into a series of multimillion-dollar condominiums. The hotel’s once-grand lobby has been halved so that Russian oligarchs, South Pacific politicians, and Hollywood executives can have their own private entrance. Everyone from the creator of American Idol, to a disgraced Spanish businessman, to the owner of Jose Cuervo tequila has had a home there. But few, if any, visit. The residents’ lobby is often empty, and upstairs is a series of darkened hallways and mostly unused penthouses. Some apartments serve as anonymous bank accounts, where the world’s wealthiest citizens park, and in some cases launder, their money.

The changes at the Plaza were inevitable. Large-scale New York City luxury hotels don’t make as much sense today. The cost of upkeep for a historic building, the expense of wages for thousands of employees, and the price of operating dozens of public rooms and restaurants is simply too high. Land in Manhattan is far too valuable, and the vagaries of the hotel industry too unstable to justify it. Today, visitors who pass nattily dressed doormen to walk up the carpeted front steps are confronted with the news that the famed Oak Room is shuttered and that aside from the Palm Court, the only place to dine is in a basement-level food hall. There, a warren of subterranean kiosks serve everything from cupcakes to sushi in windowless rows. It’s a far cry from dinner at the Edwardian Room, where tuxedoed waiters once tossed Caesar salad table-side, mixing the creamy dressing with dramatic flourish. In fact, the Edwardian Room is now a vacant storefront.

Throughout its history, the men who owned the Plaza—yes, they were all men, except for Ivana Trump, the closest thing to a woman owner—exploited the hotel’s status for self-aggrandizement and legitimacy. From Harry Black, to Conrad Hilton, to Donald Trump, and, finally, to Subrata Roy, the Plaza has been a means to an end, a pathway to fame. Like the story of The Giving Tree by children’s poet Shel Silverstein, each subsequent owner took what they needed from the hotel, leaving the Plaza further diminished until, at last, what remained was mostly memories. With the new Qatari owners who arrived last summer, it’s possible that finally, this cycle may be reversed, and a flood of investment could return the Plaza to its former stature.

Why has all of this occurred here? What makes the Plaza so uniquely desired? The answer is in part geography. The hotel’s location at the southeastern corner of Central Park, where Fifth Avenue meets Fifty-Ninth Street, is the crossroads of New York’s high streets, where the wealthiest have congregated since the time of the Astor 400. It is also the physical midpoint of Manhattan island, the hub of New York City, which, in many ways, is the center of America and the world. What better way to announce yourself than by purchasing a piece of the Plaza? It is, as one of Subrata Roy’s executives once told me, the ultimate global calling card.

Despite periodic raids from the robber barons of various eras, the Plaza has also benefited from countless good fortunes. There was the owner who rebuffed entreaties to tear down the hotel and replace it with a lucrative office tower. And, in later years, there was the mobilization of employees and preservationists to protect the Plaza’s interiors from demolition. The Plaza’s longevity has also added to its myth. With every decade it survives, it becomes more unusual, more historic, more emblematic of a passing time.

Over its 111 years, the Plaza has extolled beauty on the surface and grit behind the scenes. It has been a story of aspiration and of base instincts, of the moneyed class and those who serve them. It has played host to the country’s most famous Hollywood starlets, Washington politicos, and Wall Street financiers. It has weathered the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, two World Wars, a new millennium, and an influx of billionaire foreigners. It began in an era before radio and exists in the time of Facebook. Like a white marble mountain rising in the center of the city, the Plaza stands weathered, permanent, and implacable. My hope is that this book will memorialize the hotel’s contributions to many of the country’s greatest characters and moments, and answer the question of how we got here.

—Julie Satow, New York City, August 2018

Chapter 1


“Great hotels have always been social ideas, flawless mirrors to the particular societies they service.”

—Joan Didion

On the morning of October 1, 1907, the hotel bellmen and front desk staff were scurrying about the marble lobby, smoothing their uniforms and making final preparations. Upstairs, maids in starched white aprons checked the sumptuous suites, fluffing feather pillows and straightening the damask curtains. As the hotel manager barked orders, a troop of nervous doormen, dressed in black satin breeches and jackets inlaid with yellow braid, filed outside the Plaza’s bronze revolving door, arraying themselves along the entryway’s red-carpeted steps.

Along Fifty-Ninth Street, crowds had been gathering since the early hours. At 9 a.m., a shiny black carriage finally pulled up in front of the entrance and out stepped Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, one of the country’s wealthiest men. The excitement grew palpable as onlookers jostled one another for a glimpse of the New York princeling, while newspapermen called out for a quote. Wearing a top hat and a wide grin, the dashing Vanderbilt strode past the spectators, up the hotel’s grand staircase, and through the revolving door.

Once inside, Vanderbilt headed straight for the front desk. But instead of meeting the clerk, he was confronted by a young Irish girl perched atop the counter, absentmindedly clicking her heels. Mary Doyle was meant to be minding the Plaza newsstand, but while her fellow employees were busily preparing for the grand opening, she had aimlessly wandered over to the desk when she saw the clerk momentarily leave his post. It was at that exact moment that Vanderbilt made his entrance.

“I suddenly realized that the newsstand, where I was supposed to be on duty, wasn’t even in sight from where I sat,” Doyle recalled in her memoir, Life Was Like That. “But, not knowing what else to do, I remained where I was.” As the debonair millionaire looked on bemusedly at the young girl with thick blond hair and a snub nose, there was “a slightly strained moment of silence.” Then, “with a barely perceptible trace of sarcasm,” Vanderbilt inquired if he might not check in. “Still sitting on the desk, I reached out casually, swung the brand-new register pad around in front of him, and dipped and handed him a pen.”1 Vanderbilt bent over the large book and on the first line of the first page signed, “Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt and servant,” forever inscribing himself as the Plaza’s inaugural guest.

Vanderbilt’s entrance presaged the fact that nothing at the Plaza was quite as it first appeared. While it should have been a ceremonial and formal process, his check-in was anything but. And Vanderbilt himself had agreed to move into the hotel only after insisting that he be its first guest. The Plaza had willingly agreed, leaking the gossip to the papers, which promptly heralded the news to sell that morning’s edition. It was an elaborate staging meant to draw attention to the hotel and indelibly impress it into the New York canon of myth and fantasy. Even Vanderbilt’s “Mr. and Mrs.” hotel inscription was a bit of smoke-and-mirrors: Mrs. Vanderbilt was nowhere to be found.

Vanderbilt’s wife, in fact, was back in the family’s Newport, Rhode Island, cottage, convalescing following a minor car accident the day before. Her absence augured a larger split that would take place in several months’ time, when she filed for divorce in a scandal that led to the tragic death of Vanderbilt’s paramour. But that dark cloud was still months away. For now, attention was wholly focused on the stream of millionaires and celebrities who arrived throughout the morning.

There was “Diamond Jim” Brady, with one hand on a diamond-and-ruby-encrusted cane and the other on the arm of his companion, the actress Lillian Russell. Mr. and Mrs. George Jay Gould followed, with several children in tow, as did John Wanamaker of Philadelphia and Benjamin N. Duke, the tobacco industrialist. The newspapers detailed the new Plaza guests in all their minutiae, one outlet even providing readers a handy diagram showing which millionaire was renting which floor.2 The socialite Mrs. Oliver Harriman, for instance, was to occupy a suite overlooking Central Park; while two floors below were the rooms of Cornelius Kingsley Garrison Billings, famed for throwing an elaborate dinner party where guests sat upon horses, dined off trays attached to their saddles, and drank champagne from bottles nestled into their saddlebags.3

John “Bet-a-Million” Gates was moving into one of the hotel’s most palatial suites, stretching across sixteen rooms, for which he was paying the unheard-of sum of $46,000 a year,4 or the equivalent of $1.2 million today. The barbed-wire magnate was relocating from the Waldorf-Astoria, leaving what had been New York’s greatest hotel for its newest one. Gates’s presence at the Plaza wasn’t a surprise, considering that he had invested in the hotel and was given free rein to customize his suite. Gates had decorated it with gusto, down to a pink-and-yellow bathroom that featured an oversized tub large enough to submerge his mammoth frame, and to which he reportedly retired at least twice a day.5

As the parade of new Plaza residents continued unabated for hours, there may have been a handful of those in the crowd who recalled the headlines that ran the previous summer, when the Plaza was still under construction. Those who remembered would have known that as Vanderbilt, Gates, and the other guests crossed the threshold of their new home, they were traipsing through a battlefield littered as much with violence and bloodshed as the trappings of glamour and riches.

It was on a warm morning back in July 1906, when the hotel was only partially constructed up to its eighth floor, that a deadly fight broke out. Michael Butler, a forty-one-year-old retired cop, had just arrived at work that morning, stepping off the top rung of a ladder and onto the wooden planks that served as the building’s temporary flooring. Sweating from nerves and exertion, Butler struggled to balance on the treacherous, narrow boards, tentatively pushing past a leaning tower of steel rebar as he surveyed the laborers.

If Butler was uncomfortable at such heights, the brawny ironworkers who were busily erecting the steel girding of the hotel were sure-footed. Up here, hundreds of feet above the traffic, was the world of the rivet gangs, the ironworkers whose exertion and industry built the skyscrapers that were just then taking form across the Manhattan skyline. Before there was Rambo, or the Terminator, it was these “cowboys of the sky”6 who, working with neither helmets nor harnesses for safety, epitomized brute male strength.

The rivet gangs practiced a complex, heavy-metal ballet. Some wielded enormous tongs, while others muscled pneumatic-powered jackhammers, while still more flung white-hot metal across yawning gaps of sky as easily as if they were tossing a baseball. It took an experienced gang just minutes to complete the series of moves, which they repeated, tens of thousands of times, as they finished the steel girding.7 To construct the Plaza required ten thousand tons of steel, with ironworkers completing two stories every six days.8

That July morning, as Butler commenced his rounds, he turned a corner, showing his back to the ironworkers. Just then, a heavy metal bolt soared through the air and struck him in the head. Butler swayed, trying to regain his balance, but before he could get his footing, ten workers pounced, raining down blows on the ex-patrolman. When Butler fell unconscious, the men grabbed his limp arms and legs and tossed his body through a hole in the unfinished flooring, where it fell two stories and landed with a thud.

Nearby, John J. Cullen saw the eruption of violence. A former policeman like Butler, Cullen moved unsteadily across the wavering planks to come to his colleague’s defense. But before he could reach Butler, a second gang of furious workmen began assaulting Cullen with their heavy tools, nearly tearing his right eye from its socket. Cullen, too, fell unconscious, and the attackers briefly contemplated throwing him off the side of the unfinished building, but reconsidered after envisioning the horrified reactions from the pedestrians who milled about the Fifth Avenue sidewalk below. Instead, they left him bleeding and slumped against a pile of metal.


  • "Julie Satow...digs deep into the forces that took the Plaza from a living center of aspiring social connection tied to the fortunes of American high society to its present status in an atomized era of pitiless transactional globalism."—Tina Brown, The New York Times
  • "[A] lively and entertaining portrait...Ms. Satow's book draws the reader in from the start...a superb history of how a once-magnificent property became its own Potemkin village, a grand luxury hotel on the outside, a hollow shell within."—The Wall Street Journal
  • "Readers will happily soak up period details and take notes on how the stalwart staff dealt with class snobbery, prohibition and gangsters, wartime privations, the turbulent 1960s, wealthy dowagers, blushing debutantes, persistent groupies, omnipresent prostitutes, and brawling Indian billionaires. This is social history at its best: thoughtful, engaging, and lots of fun."—Booklist (Starred Review)
  • "THE PLAZA reads like the biography of a distant relative as much as the history of a landmark building; the hotel feels alive to anyone who loves it. It's a wild and sometimes vicious life, but so affectionately told that you might come out of the chaos still wanting to visit the old place, after all."—NPR
  • "The Plaza Hotel has a long, sometimes storied, sometimes sordid history. All of it is compelling. People often use the expression, 'If these walls could talk...' Reading Julie Satow's wonderful and revelatory history of the fabled hostelry, I couldn't help but think that they'd talked -- a lot -- to her."—Michael Gross, New York Times bestselling author of 740 Park and House of Outrageous Fortune
  • "Julie Satow's biography of America's most famous hotel is a fascinating tale of spies and sugar daddies, murder and madness, the real Eloise and Donald Trump, rich cheapskates who left 4% tips and Ragtime-era servants fighting for a half day off each week. Satow's story, as elegant as the exterior of this architectural dowager, digs deep into the century of secrets hidden deep inside the Plaza."—David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author of The Making of Donald Trump and It's Even Worse Than You Think
  • "Julie Satow has written the definitive biography of the Plaza Hotel -- and it is a biography, because the Plaza has been a living, breathing part of New York's cultural, political and business landscape for more than a century. She captures the Plaza's glorious, ribald, tortured history in all of its dimensions and offers a thorough and poignant account of almost everyone of note who has passed through the hotel's doors or scrambled to claim it as their own. Elegance, decadence, power, money, greed and dreams have all resided at the Plaza, and this is the narrative that weaves all of that together -- lovingly and knowingly."—Timothy L. O'Brien, award-winning author of TrumpNation and executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion
  • "Julie Satow's THE PLAZA expertly shows not only the characters and events that shaped one of New York's most iconic landmarks but how it became a plaything of a global class of uber-wealthy whose questionable finances often ran through tax havens and Swiss bank accounts."—Jake Bernstein, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Secrecy World
  • "In this wide-ranging and compulsively readable book, Julie Satow tells the story of American high society and its many low moments through the narrative of the Plaza. Not since Eloise was written has anyone captured so charmingly the glamour and spectacle attendant on this hotel, but here we find also the seaminess of a place where the rich have manifested their most despicable tendencies and their most naked ambition time and again. The story of the Plaza as told in these pages is the story of New York's last and greatest century."—Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of Far & Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change
  • "In THE PLAZA, Julie Satow has done a masterful job of creating a gripping narrative that spans just over a century. Her meticulously-researched tale starts with a grisly murder, and thus, in quasi-Shakespearean fashion, the reader lurches between the gritty concerns of the union-workers who built the edifice to the extravagant, excessive realm of the Plaza's various owners and inhabitants. Satow has written the stories of their entwinement with its marble halls and notorious grand ballroom in vivid, suspenseful detail."—Vicky Ward, New York Times bestselling author of The Liar's Ball and Kushner, Inc.
  • "Throughout this sumptuous, busy history, [Satow] enlightens and entertains with stories and anecdotes that recount the hotel's many famous and colorful guests...An infectiously fun read."—Kirkus
  • "Glamorous . . . funny and insightful. Satow's entertaining parade of eccentric characters will appeal to readers curious about real estate and the rich, famous, and weird personalities of the twentieth century."—Publishers Weekly
  • "[THE PLAZA] offers a fascinating, in-depth look at the famed New York hotel's history of odd guests and various owners."—Vulture
  • "In her thoroughly-researched book, Julie Satow delivers the delicious and engrossing tale of a century of history at the iconic Plaza Hotel, recalling its triumphs, unearthing its secrets, and bringing to life a revolving parade of famous owners and even more famous guests."—Meryl Gordon, New York Times bestselling author of Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend
  • "Covering billionaires to laundresses, charlatans to lovers, Capote to The Beatles, THE PLAZA captures the pulse and fortunes of 20th century New York. Millionaires such as Vanderbilt, Bloomberg, Trump, and Macklowe enjoyed themselves amidst Scotch whiskey and damask. Eloise's haunt comes to life through Julie Satow's lively writing and meticulous reporting, providing an enticing window into one of America's great institutions."—Lisa Keller, professor of history (Purchase College SUNY) and executive editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City, Second Edition
  • "The Plaza is a splendid story of a splendid New York institution. Funny, surprising, intriguing, well-researched, and always candid, Julie Satow has done a wonderful job of bringing to life one of the city's -- and America's -- most beloved buildings...Ms. Satow knows her New York!"—Kevin Baker, bestselling author of The Big Crowd and Strivers Row
  • "What do scoundrels and working men, widows and prostitutes, billionaires and murderers all have in common? Meticulously researched and full of stories of crime, duplicity, and deal-making, Satow's THE PLAZA reveals this infamous hotel in all its glory."—Sheila Nevins, New York Times bestselling author of You Don't Look Your Age
  • "This is an eye-opening portrait not just of a hotel but of a city."—BookRiot

On Sale
Jun 2, 2020
Page Count
384 pages

Julie Satow

About the Author

Julie Satow is an award-winning journalist who has covered real estate in New York City for more than a decade. A regular contributor to the New York Times, her work has also appeared on National Public Radio, the New York Post, HuffPost, and elsewhere.

Learn more about this author