Palm Court, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel
Image by elycefeliz
The Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza hotel opened in 1931 and is a National Historic Landmark and charter member of Historic Hotels of America. This Cincinnati hotel features breathtaking French Art Deco that has been restored to its 1930’s grandeur. With rare Brazilian rosewood paneling, indirect German silver-nickel light fixtures and soaring ceiling murals, our historic Cincinnati hotel is one of the world’s finest examples of French Art Deco.
The plans for the Carew Tower and Netherland Plaza Hotel were announced in August 1929 and the project was completed in January 1931. The financing for the buildings came from the Emery family, which had made its fortune in processing the by-products of Cincinnati’s stockyards. John Emery hired Walter W. Ahlschlager and Colonel William Starrett for the construction. Starrett was known as the builder of the Lincoln Memorial and the Empire State Building. Ahlschlager designed the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee and the Hotel Intercontinental in Chicago.
The Carew Tower and Netherland Plaza Hotel were designed to be a “city within a city.” The concept was new in 1929 but Cincinnati were willing to gamble that the combination of shops, department stores, offices and hotel would work. The practicality was made apparent again in 1990 when the Belvedere Corporation invested in the re-development of the Carew Tower Shopping Arcade and Office Tower, featuring a collection of shops, restaurants, a 13,000 square feet fitness center complete with lap pool, and 500,000 square feet of office space.
Emery’s vision of the Carew Tower led him to make some bold financial moves – which worked in his favor. Emery had approached the bank to underwrite financing for the “city within a city” project. The bank did not share the vision of the multi-purpose facility and declined the loan. Emery sold all of his stocks and securities, despite advice from his financial advisors. The plans and financing for the Carew Tower were in place, and then the stock market crashed. Had Emery left his stocks and securities tied up in the stock market, he would have lost everything. But instead, with his money going toward the building of Carew Tower, the project could continue as planned. In fact, the construction project became one of the city’s largest employers.
As the construction on the hotel came to a close, the name St. Nicholas Plaza was selected. Just before the grand opening, the Cincinnati Realty Company (operators of the Hotel Sinton) filed an injunction against the new hotel’s name claiming that it had purchased the rights to the St. Nicholas name when the old St. Nicholas Hotel closed years before. Having invested heavily into the monogramming of linens, china, silverware and stationery, the new hotel’s name was quickly changed to St. Netherland Plaza. The St. came from Starrett’s (for the builder), the Netherland came from the thought that the hotel occupied the space between the Ohio River and the hills, and Plaza was from the original choice. The name was abbreviated to “St. NP.” Eventually, the “St.” was dropped and “Netherland Plaza” is the name that is now famous.
When the hotel opened in January 1931, it boasted the very latest in technology and comfort. The 800 guestrooms featured ultra-modern baths, high-speed automatic elevators, an internal broadcast system both for convenience and safety, and an automatic electric garage. The eleven kitchens that served the hotel’s dining and banquet rooms were specified, ordered and installed in only five weeks. The finest Van Range equipment was so exactingly chosen that the kitchens were able to produce a seven-course meal for 1,800 guests on opening night.
The Palm Court was once the main lobby for the hotel. Egyptian, French, and Greek influences abound and are transmuted into an eclectic vision of Art Deco design. At the far end of the Palm Court is a ram’s-head fountain with a breche marble ziggurat-shaped surround, guarded by two strikingly handsome seahorses, crowned with lotus-shaped lights.
George Unger, a talented theatre designer during the 1920s and 1930s, is credited with the majority of the interior design work. Although myriad mythological figures are found throughout the hotel—the ram, dolphin, seahorse, and mermaid represent protection for travelers—the variety of Art Deco images and forms were adopted not so much for their for their symbolic attributes, but for their dramatic visual effect.