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Changes to Oak Room and Waldorf-Astoria Clear Latest Hurdle

By Jill Colvin | September 7, 2011 1:45pm | Updated on September 8, 2011 10:16am
A rendering of the Waldorf-Astoria's proposed new Park Avenue entrance.
A rendering of the Waldorf-Astoria's proposed new Park Avenue entrance.
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Courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

MIDTOWN — The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has unanimously approved proposals to alter two of the city’s most iconic hotels, the Plaza and the Waldorf-Astoria.

The commission voted 6-to-0 Tuesday in favor of  a bid to alter the Plaza Hotel's turn-of-the-century Oak Room bar by slicing a new door into a wooden panel near the back of the bar to create an entrance to a staircase. It would lead to new basement bathrooms, spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon said.

Patrons are currently forced to walk out of the eatery, into the hotel and into the Plaza’s food hall if they need to use the bathroom, architect Glen Coburn told Midtown’s Community Board 5 when he unveiled the plan last week. The plans were submitted on behalf of the bar's potential new owners.

The Oak Room and Bar at the Plaza Hotel is currently closed.
The Oak Room and Bar at the Plaza Hotel is currently closed.
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Coburn said the impact of the change would be minimal, since the same piece of wood removed from the panel would be used to construct a new, hinge-free door which he said would blend into the wall when closed.

But while CB5 backed the change, the Historic Districts Council voiced opposition, arguing that cutting into the wall would change the experience of the room, that necessary signage and handles would make the door more noticeable, and that the move would open the bar to additional changes.

"Many interiors in New York City require a little extra walking to get to the restrooms," they wrote in testimony submitted to the commission, citing The King Cole Bar at the St. Regis and Grand Central Terminal’s Oyster Bar.

"Rather than being a hassle, the trip can mean seeing more of the historic interior, which is likely what drew the customer to the location to begin with," they added.

The commissioners, however, disagreed, voting unanimously in favor of the plan.

“I think in this case it’s not about need, it’s about the appropriateness of an intervention,” Commissioner Frederick Bland said, according to a transcript.

The Oak Room and Oak Bar are currently closed, following a dispute between the Plaza and the eatery's former operator who was slapped with a $33 million lawsuit for allegedly tarnishing the hotel's storied reputation with all-night parties, burlesque dancing and other bad behavior.

The commission also voted unanimously in favor of a proposal by the Waldorf-Astoria hotel to install a new marquee on its iconic Park Avenue façade and redesign its ground-floor motor court and parking lot.

The redesign calls for a new glass and nickel silver canopy along the building’s Park Avenue entryway that would emphasize its unique three-portal design.

Instead of a single canopy anchored by four tie-backs, the proposed design features three separate overhangs connected by panels of glass to keep the sidewalk dry, according to renderings by architects from BBG-BBGM.

The Commissioners broadly endorsed the plan, which had also been praised by the Landmarks Committee of Community Board 5.

“I find the whole plan to be thoroughly appropriate,” Commission Chairman Robert Tierney said.