One New York building that I have long been wanting to stalk is the famed Plaza Hotel – a location that was referred to in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York as “New York’s most exciting hotel experience”. During my first trip to the Big Apple, in December of 2005, the Plaza was one of the very first locations I dragged my boyfriend to. And I was absolutely dismayed to discover that the famed hotel had been closed. How could a New York institution like the Plaza be closed?? I mean, it’s the Plaza for Pete’s sake! But in April of 2005 the Plaza did indeed close its gilded gold doors as it underwent a $400 million, three year restoration. And, every December since then, while on my annual winter pilgrimage to New York, I would sadly walk by the boarded up hotel wondering when I would get the chance to take a peek inside. Well, that chance came just a few weeks ago. And, sadly, it was not the Plaza experience I had been hoping for all these years.
The Plaza was built in 1907 by famed New York architect Harry J. Hardenbergh, who also built the Dakota apartment building and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The Plaza’s name has long been synonymous with the utmost in luxury, elegance, and wealth, and to me it symbolized the City of New York. The magnificent French Chateau style building once housed 805 hotel rooms and has been owned by a slew of wealthy tycoons, including Donald Trump who paid $407.5 million for it in 1988. Of the pricey purchase he said, “I haven’t purchased a building, I have purchased a masterpiece – the Mona Lisa.” Sadly, though, today that masterpiece looks more like a cheap imitation. 😦 In 2004 the Plaza was purchased by real estate development company El Ad Properties. It was closed down shortly thereafter for the massive rennovation project. The Plaza had actually been long overdue for a face-lift – much of the furniture was worn and outdated and most rooms lacked central air conditioning. El Ad masterminded the renovation project and decided to convert the famous hotel into a luxury condominium building. Due to public uproar and conservationists’ protests, El Al ended up keeping 130 of the Plaza’s rooms to be used as hotel rooms and consolidated the rest into 152 condominium rental units and 181 privately owned spaces. Much of the hotel’s public areas were also completely remodeled and renovated, as well.
Sadly, the interior of the hotel is almost unrecognizable from before the renovation. While I had never seen the interior of the Plaza before this past New York trip, I have watched Home Alone 2 about a hundred times. And I am sad to say that nothing from the movie looked familiar in person. 😦 And, amazingly, neither the concierges nor our cocktail server could tell us much about the hotel’s history or what movies had been filmed there. When I asked about the filming of Home Alone 2, one of the concierges actually said to me “Home Alone 2 was filmed here?” I mean, COME ON! REALLY??? Kevin’s mom couldn’t have been more on point when in Home Alone 2she asked Tim Curry, “What kind of idiots do you have working here?” LOL
My parents stayed at the Plaza for a few nights on their way to Europe over 25 years ago and had an absolutely magical time. My mom, who was able to tell me more about the changes in the hotel layout than the Plaza staff, said that the lobby had been moved to another area of the hotel entirely. The former lobby and check in area (the one that was featured in Home Alone 2) is now the residence entrance and is closed off to hotel guests. It also looks quite different from how it appeared in the movie, as you can see from the above pics that I managed to snap through the closed off residence entrance doors.
In Home Alone Kevin stayed in Room 411, one of the Plaza’s Central Park Suites, and, yes, filming did take place in an actual Plaza hotel room. But the massive suite that Kevin and his family stayed in at the end of the movie can’t actually be found at the Plaza. As a a matter of fact, it can’t be found in New York at all. According to The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations, that suite is the $5,000 per night Conrad Hilton Suite at the Hilton Chicago. Duncan’s Toy Chest, the supposed New York toy store that Kevin visits in the movie that causes him to say “This is the greatest mistake of my life!” is also located in Chicago. Go figure!
But Home Alone 2 is hardly the only production to have filmed at the Plaza. In fact, the Plaza is one of New York’s most oft filmed locations. Just a brief list of productions that have filmed there – Crocodile Dundee, It Could Happen to You, Plaza Suite, Barefoot in the Park, North By Northwest, Almost Famous, Brewster’s Millions, The Cotton Club, Hollywood Ending, Network, The Great Gatsby, Annie Hall, Scent of a Woman, and Arthur. It will also be featured in the upcoming Bride Wars, in which best friends Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson both book their wedding at the Plaza on the same day. The Plaza is no stranger to television, either. The hotel made an appearance in the Season 5 episode of The Sopranos entitled “The Test Dream”.
And it also showed up quite a few times during Sex and the City’s second season. The Plaza’s Terrace Room was the location of Miranda’s interior decorator’s whirlwind wedding in “The Chicken Dance”,
the Presidential Suite stood in for Samantha’s 72-year old boyfriend’s home in “The Man, The Myth, The Viagra”,
and Carrie, emulating the final scene from The Way We Were, said (what she thought was) a final good-bye to Big outside of the Plaza in “Ex and the City”. (Both scenes are pictured above.)
The Plaza is no stranger to the literary world either. In Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Ties the Knot, main character Becky Bloomwood’s nuptials take place at the Plaza – well, sort of. You’ll have to read the book to hear the story behind that one. 🙂 Eloise, the main character in Kay Thompson’s series of children’s books, lives at the Plaza hotel – and this was long before the rooms were turned into condominiums. In real life, the weddings for both Katherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas, and President Nixon’s daughter were held at the famed hotel. And Leo and Kate were just spotted lunching in the hotel’s famous Oak Room.
While we were stalking the Plaza, we decided to grab a few drinks in the lobby’s Champagne Bar (pictured above), hoping to relive some of the magic my parents had experienced during their stay there in 1980. Unfortunately, a magical time was not had by any of us. For one thing, the prices are outrageous. Which I actually don’t mind, as long as the service and ambiance match up to those prices. Sadly, neither did. Our waiter brought us our check and came back several times hoping to collect it before the cheese plate appetizer we ordered had even arrived. To make matters worse, part of the champagne bar had been closed off for a private party, which would not have mattered had techno music from the party not been blaring throughout the entire lobby during our cocktail hour. The “quiet elegance” of the Plaza wasn’t so quiet after all. And to top it all off, the part of the bar that was closed for the party also happened to be the only part of the lobby with a bathroom. So, to use the only restroom available to bar patrons, I had to take a good five minute walk, down a very long and dark hallway, down two very dark and empty stairswells to what seemed to be the basement of the hotel. Not the Plaza experience I had hoped for, to say the least. Even with all of the problems, though, it was still very cool to be sitting in the Plaza sipping champagne. I just don’t think it is something we’d ever do again. 😦 I, of course, still recommend stalking the Plaza, as I think everyone should see it at least once in their lives. It truly is a spectacular building. But be prepared to be disappointed – it’s not the hotel it once was. And apparently, I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Until next time, Happy Stalking! 🙂
Stalk It: The Plaza is located at 750 Fifth Avenue in New York. Rooms start (yes, START) at $600 per night! You can visit their website here. The Hilton Chicago Hotel is located at 720 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. You can visit their website here. Duncan’s Toy Chest from Home Alone 2 is located at 209 South La Salle Street in Chicago.