100th Birthday
Rick Maiman  /  AP
Fireworks burst from the roof of The Plaza  the famed hotel celebrated its 100th birthday on Monday.
updated 10/2/2007 1:33:40 PM ET 2007-10-02T17:33:40

NEW YORK — The Plaza hotel, the setting for dozens of movies and home to the fictional little girl Eloise, celebrated its 100th birthday Monday with a party complete with fireworks and a 1-ton cake in the building's image.

The party came as the Israeli mogul who bought the famed hotel three years ago was completing its partial conversion to multimillion-dollar condos.

It hardly seemed there would be a party when Yitzhak Tshuva's Elad Properties bought The Plaza for $675 million.

Preservationists feared that beloved public spaces such as the Palm Court and the Oak Bar would be gutted, and union workers protested the jobs that would be lost with the shrinking of the hotel portion of the building.

Landmarks order
But a compromise brokered by City Hall saved hundreds of hotel jobs, and the city Landmarks Preservation Commission designated several of The Plaza's interior spaces as landmarks that could not be destroyed.

"It's a very exciting thing to have The Plaza truly saved," commission chairman Robert Tierney said before Monday night's 100th birthday bash. "There was so much anxiety because the rooms were so special."

When The Plaza's $400 million renovation is completed, the result will include a spruced-up Palm Court and Oak Room plus 160,000 square feet of retail space.

There will be 181 condos, 130 traditional hotel rooms renting for $775 to $1,275 a night and 152 condo-hotel units whose owners will live in them for up to 120 days a year.

Some have moved in
Elad Properties spokesman Lloyd Kaplan said that 90 percent of The Plaza's condos have been sold at prices ranging from $2.4 million to more than $40 million, and a handful of owners have moved in.

The developer Harry Macklowe has reportedly bought several of the condos for more than $60 million.

Elad Properties became The Plaza's eighth owner; others over the years included the Hilton family and Donald Trump.

A year after buying The Plaza in 2004, Elad sold the hotel portion back to Alwaleed Bin Talal, the Saudi prince from whose partnership the company bought it. The prince will run the hotel through his Fairmont Hotels chain.

Kaplan said the hotel would open by the end of the year.

Many of the world's rich and famous stayed at The Plaza through the decades, and dozens of movies have been filmed there, including "North by Northwest," "Funny Girl" and "Barefoot in the Park."

"It's synonymous with celebrity," said Ward Morehouse III, author of "Inside The Plaza."

Famous residents
The Beatles took a whole wing in 1964, and Truman Capote hosted his Black and White Ball, hyped as the party of the century, there in 1966. Author Kay Thompson enchanted readers with Eloise, a little girl who lived at The Plaza.

Not that living there was restricted to fiction; in that sense, The Plaza's new identity as a condo-hotel hybrid is true to its past.

Morehouse said his father, theater critic Ward Morehouse, lived at The Plaza for about a dozen years in the 1950s and '60s and half the rooms were occupied by full-time residents then.

"Marlene Dietrich lived there," Morehouse said. "Frank Lloyd Wright lived there during the construction of the Guggenheim."

'Sugar cube of a bulding'
Designed by Henry Hardenbergh, the architect of the Dakota apartment building and the Art Students League in Manhattan, The Plaza is a French Renaissance structure that evokes a chateau on Central Park South.

"It's a wonderful white sugar cube of a building," said Christopher Gray, an architectural historian who writes a column for The New York Times real estate section and remembers sneaking up the back stairs into debutante parties in the Grand Ballroom in the 1960s.

The Plaza's 100th birthday party included a speech by singer Paul Anka, fireworks and a light show.

The cake was a 12-foot  scale model of The Plaza meticulously crafted by society baker Ron Ben-Israel, who said the cake was baked in sections Sunday and Monday to ensure freshness, while the sugar shell was fabricated over several weeks.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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