Restoring the Facade at the Plaza Hotel

The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, newly renovated and converted from 800 rooms to 282 with 165 condominiums, has now undergone a complete facelift for its exterior façade. A+A recently interviewed managing director George Cozonis regarding the extent of the work on architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh’s 1907 masterpiece:

Why renovate the exterior now?

One of our key objectives as stewards of this historic building is  to make sure that it looks its best at all times.  The Plaza underwent a complete renovation and restoration which resulted in its reopening, five years ago, as the ultra-luxury  hotel that it is today.  The restoration of the exterior, which took nearly two years,  was the last step in that process.  It brought to completion the work that was intended to prepare and position The Plaza for the second century of its history.

What was its condition?

I think it would be fair to say that it was in the condition one would expect a building over one hundred  years old, in a large city,  to be.  It wasn’t poorly maintained, but it showed its age.  Over the decades, some of the decorative elements, such as the beautiful terracotta ornaments and the marble and limestone sculpted elements had become eroded and deteriorated.  Dirt and pollution had accumulated  on the various surfaces.  There was also some cracking and spalling.

What materials were used in the original building that had to be replaced? What was used to replace them?

The mortar joints that needed re-pointing were repaired with historically compatible mortar. Matching the color and hardness of the mortar was essential to ensuring that the building maintained its historic look. Due to the age and relative softness of the original mortar, a conventional mortar blend would be harder than the original and would stress and damage the masonry.  The historic mortar was analyzed and a mortar with matching characteristics was used for re-pointing.

Deteriorated terracotta was repaired with custom colored patching compounds.  The balusters were severely deteriorated and were replaced with custom molds created from the original pieces and matching the original finishes.  Several units were hand carved to create a perfect match to the original pieces.

Water was ponding at the 15th floor balconies. The roofs were replaced and sloped towards the drains with new patina green roofing.  At the 18th floor dormers on 58th Street fluid-applied flashing was installed at the intersection of the terracotta parapets and the tile roofs. New copper patina leaders were installed on the Fifth Avenue façade to discharge water away from the masonry

What was the goal of the renovation?

Our goal was to restore The Plaza Hotel with the utmost integrity, preserving its historic French Renaissance château-style architecture.  We wanted to ensure  that not only our guests, but visitors to New York City, as well as all New Yorkers, who rightfully regard The Plaza as their Plaza  may continue to enjoy its elegance in the fullest for many years to come.

Its inspiration?

The Plaza Hotel is a Manhattan landmark, and it has been an icon on New York City’s landscape since 1907.  Its history and character provided excellent inspiration.  Inspiration was also drawn from our commitment to staying true to the vision of architect Henry Hardenbergh,  Equally inspiring was our desire to honor the talented craftsmen who brought that vision to life with their skill.

Where did its original artisans hail from? What about those who worked on the renovation?

The original façade was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, an American architect best known for his luxury hotels and apartment buildings.  Hardenbergh was born in New Jersey, hailing from a Dutch family.  The Dakota Building on Central Park and the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston are other buildings for which he is known.  He also designed the original Waldorf Astoria on the site now occupied by the Empire State Building.

Unfortunately not much is known to us about the workers whose craft made The Plaza a reality.  Yet they live in glory in every perfectly executed detail of the magnificent façade and palatial interiors.  Their legacy is as strong as that of any named protagonist in the history of The Plaza.  We owe them a debt of gratitude.

The renovation was overseen by Howard L. Zimmerman Architects PC, headed by Howard Zimmerman, a native New Yorker.    The execution was placed in the able hands of the team of Skyline Restoration, Inc.

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