Savoy Plaza Hotel 1930s
Savoy Plaza Hotel 1930s

Savoy Plaza Hotel 1930s

Regular price $95.00

Built in 1928 for the developer Harry Black, the twenty-nine-story Savoy-Plaza was a late, tepid design by McKim, Mead & White. But it was grand, and helped define the space of Grand Army Plaza, arguably New York’s most successful public square, ringed by the Squibb Building, Bergdorf-Goodman, the Metropolitan Club, and the Plaza, Pierre and Sherry Netherland Hotels—which were all generally white or beige. The W. P. A. Guide to New York City of 1939 praised the “extraordinary unity” of the surrounding buildings.  

Sixty-somethings and tiki-tiki aficionados know it as the original location of Trader Vic’s, purveyor of Fogcutters, Po-Po, Cho-Cho, and other exotic foods, with outriggers, spears, grass roofs, and other Polynesian decoration overhead.

Alas, the 1960s saw the ascent of Hilton-tacky in hotel design, and the thick walls, elegant spaces, and solid materials of the 1920’s hotels seemed drastically old-fashioned. Thus, when an investment group came down the pike in 1964, the hotel owners checked out—with no tip. In October, the architects and teachers Elliot Willensky and Norval White—who had picketed the demolition of the Savoy-Plaza. Signs included  “Renege on Rampant Wrecking,” and one placard, “Landmarks Preservation Weak,” was a bitter satirical jab at Mayor Robert F. Wagner, who had just declared “Landmarks Preservation Week” but had not put the proposed landmarks law into effect. One student, Miles Kurland, carried a sign “Save the Seagram Building”—he told the New York Times he was “thinking ahead.”

This picket line was insignificant compared to the one at Penn Station, and did even less—the Savoy-Plaza was demolished for Edward Durrell Stone's pretty-awful-but-not-as-bad-as-it-could-be fifty-story General Motors Building, a proto-World Trade Center of Georgia Marble columns and setback sunken shipping plaza, the result of a zoning bonus. “A sick planning joke,” write Ada Louise Huxtable in the New York Times in 1966—the plaza not only broke the building line surrounding the real plaza, but also the sunken aspect created a pedestrian scar in the landscape. The introduction of the plaza bonus was one of those mid-century iconic benefits which were, according to a unanimous orthodoxy, supposed to save the city. It did not. Here was a case where we had all the open space we needed, and in 2000 the developer Donald Trump covered it over.

  • Print Type: Archival Digital C Print
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