$350 million restoration to include re-creation of the Palm Court’s original 1907 laylight. On July 12, 2005, Landmarks voted to designate eight interior rooms in the Plaza Hotel; the Palm Court, the Grand Ballroom, the Terrace and Edwardian Rooms, the Oak Room and Oak Bar, and the 59th Street and Fifth Avenue lobbies. The Plaza’s exterior had been designated in 1969.
Landmarks calendared the interior rooms’ designation after the Plaza’s new owners, Elad Properties, filed a change of use application with the City, seeking to allow permanent retail space in areas like the Terrace and Edwardian Rooms as part of its proposed conversion of the hotel to condominiums. 2 CityLand 41 (Apr. 15, 2005). After two public hearings where there was strong support for the interior rooms’ designation (2 CityLand 92 (Jul. 15, 2005)), all Commissioners on July 12, 2005 enthusiastically and unanimously approved their designation. Chair Robert B. Tierney summed up his feelings by saying it was a proud moment for Landmarks and that he could not think of a series of rooms that were more evocative of New York City and its history.
At the same public hearing, Landmarks approved Elad’s certificate of appropriateness and change of use application for the proposed conversion of hotel floor area to commercial use. Representatives for Elad spoke first of the preservation purpose for the change of use application, highlighting that there will be substantial restoration to the 58th Street storefront and the Palm Court. Walter B. Melvin, the architect for the interior restoration, explained that the Palm Court will become the new centerpiece of the building. After taking into account Landmarks’ comments, Elad has agreed to rebuild the original laylight, a glass window diffusing light from above, which was installed in 1907, but was removed during World War II out of a concern that it would become a beacon during air raids. Elad plans to recreate the original 30 by 36 foot laylight by restoring its dome and by using leaded glass, a steel frame, and available lighting technology to simulate sunlight.
David West, Elad’s architect for the exterior modifications, described the proposed alterations to the Plaza’s exterior sought in the certificate of appropriateness application. These include new barrierfree access doors for the Fifth Avenue lobby, a new storefront and garage door on West 58th Street, an interior addition in the courtyard, new windows within an unusable chimney, and the replacement of the main cooling towers and the installation of screens to make them less visible. In the application, Elad also sought to amend a 1991 approval, which permitted a rooftop addition that was never constructed, to increase the size of the windows within the new addition.
Landmarks questioned Elad about the public circulation in the retail section of the building and plans for retail signage. Miki Naftali, President and CEO of Elad, stated that the Fifth Avenue lobby will be open to the public, that the main entrance for commercial and retail will be on 58th Street, and that no signage would be posted without prior approval by Landmarks.
On the certificate of appropriateness application, all Commissioners considered the modifications to the exterior appropriate and unanimously approved them with the exception of the proposed enlargement to the window openings in the ‘91 approved addition. In disapproving, Landmarks expressed their dissatisfaction with the visibility of the original windows and with their inability to alter the ‘91 approval. On the change of use application, the Commissioners praised the quality of the restoration and were pleased that Elad would re-create the original 1907 laylight. Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz, however, abstained from voting, saying that until Elad had expressed its commitment to restore the laylight she had not seen a positive change showing Elad’s concern for preservation. All other Commissioners voted to approve.
LPC: The Plaza Hotel Interiors, 768 Fifth Avenue (LP-2174) (July 12, 2005); Case Nos. 05-5548, 05-5558 (July 12, 2005) (Jay A. Segal, Greenberg Traurig, LLP; Bill Higgins, Higgins & Quasebarth; David West, Costas Kondylis & Partners LLP, Walter B. Melvin, for Elad Properties).
CITYLAND Comment: Elad plans to complete all renovations and reopen the Plaza with 350 hotel rooms, 180 condominium apartments and 39,000 sq.ft. of commercial space by late 2006, in time to celebrate the Plaza’s 100th Anniversary.