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The Plaza Lives!


Yvonne Smith
room attendant
I saw Elizabeth Taylor back in 1970. She showed off her diamond ring—the one Richard Burton gave her. She was in her room in a negligee; she wasn’t dressed up or anything. I said, “I heard about your ring!” And she held out her hand and showed it.

The Trump Years
Donald Trump
I bought it in 1988. I thought owning the Plaza would be extremely cool, which is sort of my investment policy in life and it seems to work. It was in terrible shape. In terms of dollars, I can’t exactly tell you how much I put in, but I redid the lobby, the interior of the elevator cabs, which were literally falling apart, the Palm Court. I bought beautiful crystal chandeliers from Austria. I brought it back. Unfortunately, people haven’t taken very good care of it. I didn’t love to sell [in 1995]. You sort of hate to sell the Plaza.

Ivana Trump
I loved it, too, but there were many headaches. I remember when all the carpeting was redone. We went to the finest workshops in India, and the carpet for the Palm Court was hand-loomed in one piece. A modern miracle, except it was so big and inflexible, they couldn’t load it on any cargo ship. So, we had to get a huge 747, load it through the front, and bring it to New York. Here it was put on a flatbed, and we had to dismantle all the doors on the 58th Street side, take down the chandeliers so they wouldn’t break, and install it—still in one piece!

Curtis Gathje
The Trumps’ buying it gave it some jazz. Over the century it needed a little jazz—the Beatles, Capote. Ivana gilded everything. Fortunately, now they’ve got a little patina, they don’t look so bright.

Catherine Saxton
former PR executive for the Plaza
Ivana covered all the scaffolding with moiré silk in dark bottle green, and a lot of people didn’t realize there was a scaffold underneath. There was discussion of putting a swimming pool in the basement space, but then they realized it was over a subway. She was always thinking of concepts.

Michael D’Aniello
Ivana was a little tough. One waiter made homemade wine, and his hands were the color of the grapes. Ivana said, “I want this guy sent home.” Then Donald called the guy over and said, “You made the wine? Don’t worry about it. Bring me a bottle, I want to try it.”

The Parade Continues . . .
Catherine Saxton
On 59th Street there was a small desk for VIPs. Don Johnson used to register as Dick Head. Billy Joel as Rocky Shores.

Freddy Davilla
One January night, I stepped in to warm up a bit. When I came out, Charles Bronson was standing with all his luggage and he cursed me out. I brought his bags in, and then he started laughing and gave me a $10 tip.

Gem Livingston and Brenda Williams
Marla Maples lost her baby pictures and also—once—her panties.
B.W.: “They had us in a panic looking for those.” G.L.: “I think it was under the pillow.”
Michael Jackson was a good tipper.
B.W.: “Maybe he should have kept some of it.”
Roseanne Barr: “Nice.”
James Brown: “Left no tip.”
Stevie Wonder: “Used the name Eliot Ness to check in, so that’s what we used to call him.”

Michael D’Aniello
Eddie Murphy got married here, but he didn’t like our carpets. We had to put down white carpets just for one night.

Mohammed Mukhtar
waiter at the Palm Court
I shook John Kennedy Jr.’s hand when he ordered cheesecake. It was probably six months or so before the crash. He was limping a little; he looked like he had something wrong with his ankle. He asked my name and about the cheesecake and how come we are so slow. I said usually we are more busy. When the crash happened, I could not hold my tears.

Lawrence Harvey
director of catering, helped coordinate Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas’s wedding
For two months I talked to Catherine nearly every day. They were both very exacting. There was a gigantic tree in the Terrace Room. You clipped your place card down from it with scissors. We flew the Welsh flag outside the hotel. She introduced us to her dance teacher from the fourth grade, who was in her nineties. No one wanted to leave. The Welsh people certainly can drink. I think I left at 4 A.M.

The Final Battle
Miki Naftali
CEO of Elad Properties
We bought it [for $675 million] in August. The Plaza had been losing money for many years. There was a real need to bring the infrastructure to where it should be, but the only way to do that is to generate revenue through sales and downsize the hotel [by converting most of the building to residential condos].

Peter Ward
president of the New York Hotel Trades Council
We didn’t have a sit-down with them until December. Originally we tried to work out a severance package and we couldn’t. Then it became clear that this [condo] conversion was part of a serious trend. We had to make a stand.

Cindy Adams
To see it go would have been absolutely painful for me. I can see the Plaza from my terrace.

Joshua Sirefman
chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff
The very first [secret] meeting was in February at Gracie Mansion. The Olympic committee’s staying at the hotel brought the issue to the mayor’s attention. The situation was so sensitive that anything in the press, I felt, could have had a damaging effect, and I made it clear that we were not going to negotiate this through the media.

Peter Ward
We had several polite exchanges of our views, and then we began to have impolite exchanges. By April 8, I said to Josh, “They may close on April 30, but they’re going to close with a picket line outside.” It turns out Elad had called, too. We just knew it was time to take advantage of the mayor’s hospitality or we were going to have a drawn-out, nasty affair. Because of the Sabbath, we agreed to meet Saturday night.

Miki Naftali
The mayor asked both of us to come back to the table. We almost took over City Hall. We had five different conference rooms with architects, labor lawyers, real-estate lawyers, hotel experts. In each different scheme the number of rooms would change. It was intense. We ate a lot of junk food.

Joshua Sirefman
We started at 7 P.M. on Saturday and went until midnight, then came back Monday until 4:30 A.M., then Tuesday, then Wednesday. I wouldn’t let people leave. I spoke to the mayor, and I called the two principals in and said, “On behalf of the entire city of New York, you’re in two separate places, and it’s time to split the baby.” There was a moment of silence, and both sort of stared at me. And it worked. At 4:36 a.m., everyone signed a new floor-by-floor site plan [with 348 hotel rooms rather than the 150 Elad had originally wanted, and 190 condos rather than 225].

Freddy Davilla
I’m ecstatic. I’ve worked here for fifteen years, so it’s personal.

Rosita Sarnoff
Stribling real-estate broker for the hotel’s new apartments
We’ve gotten hundreds of calls. We get a lot of people saying, “We’d like to buy five or six,” as investments. One man said, “I just have to buy Room 824 because I’ve stayed there for 30 years.” I tried to explain that I didn’t know where particular rooms will end up. Everybody asks me about the price range, and I tell them, “Imagine the highest.” Somewhere between $3,000 to $4,000 a square foot on the park side.

Curtis Gathje
I really thought the hotel was in peril, that it would become something your children can’t experience. The idea of tradition, maybe that’s not as important in American life as it once was. But people need something to balance out all the Paris Hiltonization.


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