The Century Plaza Hotel: 50 Years of Leisure

By Ellie Robins

$2.5 billion, it will cost, to turn this hotel into another hotel. To reimagine leisure.

The work is noisy but invisible: the beep of trucks reversing, the whirr of digging and demolition below ground, while 19 stories still shimmer, crescent-shaped, into the sky.

It was a hard-won victory, this invisible renovation, this renewal from the inside out. They wanted to tear it down. Leisure has changed — unrecognizable, apparently, since the 1960s, when the hotel opened. When this place was good enough for a president to celebrate the moon landing. Rip it down, they said, and years were spent begging to keep it.

Leisure today, FYI, requires “mixed use, open space, and increased pedestrian access.” We don’t like to feel boxed in. Please, make my luxury unobtrusive. Let my imagination run free. Do not remind me of my luck in an arbitrary system.

Leisure today means fewer rooms, too: from 726 to 394, plus condos. 726 rooms for 50 years. That’s 13.25 million nights spent here — more, since few travel alone. 13.25 million sheet changes. More than 100 million hours of sleep. And with every one of those nights, this 60s idea of leisure grew more dated. Did the guests feel it? Did they look at the chandeliers and gold carpets and enjoy themselves less? Did they lose self-respect? Did they act out?

When the work is complete, almost half as many people will come here to enjoy a new form of leisure. A modern, diaphanous sort of luxury, though who knows how long this one will last, or what will replace it. What will be happening in another 50 years. Who will be able to travel? Who will have the time, the money, the permission?

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