This Week's Hotel Voice


Book Salutes Plaza Employees and HTC’s Historic Campaign to Save the Hotel

Hotel Voice - July 25, 2019 Share/Save/Bookmark

Author Andrew Solomon calls the book "compulsively readable," and Hotel Voice wholeheartedly agrees!

The book is entitled, The Plaza: The Secret Life of America's Most Famous Hotel. Written by New York Times contributor Julie Satow, it provides not only a fascinating history of the Plaza Hotel but also a chapter on our union's unforgettable effort in 2005 to stop the property from converting totally to condominiums.

One of the many rallies to Save the Plaza.

In reading the book you'll learn about who designed and built the hotel, some of its secrets, many of its famous guests, its fictional and delightful young inhabitant, Eloise, and much more. Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Cay Johnston, quoted on the book's jacket, says, "Julie Satow's biography of America's most famous hotel is a fascinating tale of spies and sugar daddies, murder and madness, real cheapskates who left four percent tips and Ragtime-era servants fighting for a half-day off  each week."

It gets better. Readers will learn about one of the first hotel strikes in New York City, in 1912, and the terrible working conditions hotel employees faced before the founding of HTC 80 years ago, in 1939.

As the book clearly shows, there is little doubt that the Plaza is the most iconic hotel property in New York City. It's outstanding location across from Central Park at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, contributes to the Plaza's celebrated reputation, but so do the gorgeous interiors like the Palm Court, Grand Ballroom, etc., and, as in all hotels, the employees themselves

And all the glamour and history almost came to an end 15 years ago, when an Israeli company, El Ad, bought the hotel and soon announced plans to convert it into condominiums.

In a chapter entitled, "Save the Plaza," Julie Satow mentions that even with all the money behind the developer, "Opposition to El Ad's plan would find its strongest voice in an unlikely corner of the city." That strongest voice was the Hotel Trades Council.

The book explains that in 2004 six out of seven hotels sold in New York City were converted into condominiums and that HTC lost 1,100 members as a result. Author Satow says, "By taking a stand on the Plaza, Peter Ward hoped to set a precedent and safeguard the union's future. It would turn out to be a prescient decision."

What followed was the HTC's memorable "Save the Plaza" campaign. The rallies, the celebrity and political support for the union's position, the extensive media coverage, the radio and TV ads and the union's political muscle all combined to make "Save the Plaza" one of the most historic — and successful — union campaigns in New York City history.

As the book reports, "The Plaza controversy grabbed worldwide attention." The union's legendary meeting that drew an overflow crowd to Radio City Music Hall, Mayor Bloomberg's promise to HTC members made at that meeting, the march and rally that drew 10,000 people and  the tireless efforts of Peter Ward and representatives from the El Ad and the City of New York to reach an agreement to save the hotel and so many jobs all heightened the drama in the effort to keep a good portion of the Plaza functioning as a hotel, and all of it is recounted in Satow's book, as is the highly successful conclusion of the campaign.

In a very favorable review of the book in the New York Times, Tina Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, writes, "The other great character in this teeming cast is not a billionaire but a union leader. Peter Ward represented the 35,000 bellmen, doormen, banquet waiters and maids who made up the powerful New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council. By the time he enters the story, we’re thirsting to hear more about the downstairs life of the Plaza."

Satow herself pays tribute to the Plaza employees and all hotel workers in an acknowledgement in the book: "The lion's share of my gratitude goes to the countless Plaza bellmen, doormen, housekeeping staff, and so many others who, over these many decades have worked their hardest to keep the historic building running so that all of us may enjoy it. I can never again walk into a hotel — the Plaza or any other — without noting how much effort goes on behind the scenes to make things run."

That's quite a tribute to the members of our union. In fact, HTC has always said that without the employees a hotel is just a building. Satow seems to understand this, and her book is a compelling read, with great gossip and colorful history. If you'd like to read more about this landmark property, HTC's campaign to save it, and the workers who give the Plaza — and every other hotel — their distinct personalities, you can find The Plaza: The Secret Life of America's Most Famous Hotel in bookstores and online at websites like Amazon.com.