Letter From Boston: What Happened to the Park Plaza Hotel?


October 17, 2016

If YOU READ my updated piece about the evolution of Boston’s Logan Airport, you’ll know that I consider it one of the country’s most attractive and underrated airports. As they say, I love what they’ve done with the place.

But let’s switch locations for a minute, to a spot in Boston that has, on the contrary, been taken down a notch. I’m talking about the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, the former Statler Hotel and a Boston landmark since 1927.

Winston Churchill once stayed at the Park Plaza. So did Gandhi. It’s that kind of hotel. Old-fashioned, you’d probably call it, or maybe “Old Boston.” The rooms can be tiny and drafty, with shoe-box sized bathrooms, but the location is outstanding, only steps from the Public Garden. The greatest thing about it, though, was its lobby. The lobby of the Park Plaza was a tourist attraction in itself, a sumptuous space of ornate molding, Oriental carpets and crystal chandeliers. It was a feast for the eyes, elegant, luxurious and quiet. It was anachronistic, sure, and special for just that reason: a lobby in the style of the world’s most classic hotels — a gilt and marble holdout in a time when accommodations everywhere are stripping down.

Well, not any more. I met a friend for a drink there a few weeks back, and when I walked into the lobby I nearly came out of my shoes. The place has been renovated, to the tune of some hundred million dollars, and the result is almost unspeakably awful.

The luxurious carpeting is gone; the ornate molding has been stripped away. Everything is white, sleek, and charmless. The chandeliers have been replaced by V-shaped, nightclub-style fixtures that bathe everything in screaming fluorescent light. At the back of the lobby, in the bar, the two-story arched windows have been covered over with wide-screen TVs. The multicolored hexagonal-pattern floor tiling has been replaced with simple black and white.

The lobby was always small, and now they’ve dropped a cafe right into the middle of it, with seats and tables clustered around what used to be valuable pedestrian space. There’s hardly room to move.

Worst of all, though, is the noise. The cafe is always jam-packed, and with the carpeting gone, the tiling, bare plaster and glass amplify every footstep and conversation. If that’s not bad enough, music is piped in — some shitty Euro-trash that blares through speakers mounted on the mezzanine. The lobby is so loud that one almost has to yell while checking in. Just a few feet away, in the cafe, patrons scream their orders to a waitstaff that must be suffering permanent hearing damage. It’s that loud. It looks peaceful in the photograph below, but that’s a very misleading shot. Photoshop in about a thousand people, and crank the music to eleven.

All together it’s a harsh mix of a 19th-century ballroom, a Newbury Street cafe, a nightclub, and a hospital operating room. The whole thing is just hideous — yet another property selling its soul in hopes of being described as “trendy,” “modern,” or that most nauseating of all aesthetic aspirations, “hip.”

If there’s one specific spot, a nexus that encapsulates the pompous vulgarity of the renovations, it’s the monstrous “hand chairs” found in the alcove just off the lobby cafe. See the photo below. Is this the Park Plaza, or a Grace Jones album? Mr.Churchill, just take a seat here for a moment and somebody will be with you…

A plea to the Omni Parker House: don’t let this happen to you.

The old lobby at Boston’s Park Plaza.

Park Plaza Old 2

You call this progress?     Photo by the author.

You call this progress? Photo by the author.

hand-chairs

 

Update: The Park Plaza responds:

Preference of style and decor is quite subjective and we can certainly appreciate diversity of taste. However, the “old” style of the Boston Park Plaza that you previously enjoyed was simply not the style preferred by the vast majority of our guests. Our hotel’s transformation did take us away from the more Renaissance style you describe, marked by heavy drapery, dark woods, and dated finishings such as the heavy, dark carpet you specifically mentioned. The designers thoughtfully kept key pieces of the building’s history and heritage in our public spaces such as the antique mail chutes and decorative wood carvings along the mezzanine, while creating modern, clean, airy designs for our guest rooms. We post plenty of new photography on our website and social media feeds to accurately set expectations regarding our post-renovation decor and style.

The renovation of our hotel now gives us the opportunity to serve the next generation of travelers with blazing fast internet, in-room streaming and casting capability, e-check in and checkout options, access to PressReader, and the opportunity to experience several new tenants that complete the experience such as STRIP by Strega, David Barton Gym, CYC Fitness, and, coming soon, Starbucks Reserve.

We understand that this updated product does not meet your taste, however, and thank you for giving us a try.

Boston Park Plaza Guest Relations.

 

I appreciate the hotel taking the effort to write. We can argue whether the results are, in fact, an improvement, but if indeed a vast majority of guests disapproved of the property’s older styling, then it’s hard to argue that a major renovation wasn’t a good idea. Their case is a perfectly reasonable one. Taste factors aside, however, the letter fails to address the noise issue, which is possibly the biggest negative. — PS

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11 Responses to “Letter From Boston: What Happened to the Park Plaza Hotel?”
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  1. Traveller says:

    I’m trying figure out how changing the lobby helped improve the Internet speed.

  2. Preppy6917 says:

    I stayed at the BPP maybe 9 months ago or so…it was definitely post renovation. I wish I’d had a chance to see the lobby in its previous state–I’ve a feeling my taste lies somewhere in the middle. I do remember the lobby having a certain nightclub feel that had me scrambling directly to the elevators every evening when I walked in.

    PS – My room was HUGE. I’d venture it was two rooms converted into a suite, as it had two bathrooms. And no, my employer does not splurge for room uprades….especially in expensive Back Bay.

  3. laurie Cummins says:

    Reminds me of what they did to the St. Francis Hotel lobby in San Francisco !

    Certainly there are ways to refresh and upgrade without destruction !

  4. Marc Erickson says:

    Ambient noise is a killer (almost) to anyone with less than perfect hearing. That means anyone over 50. 🙁

  5. Johnny Panic says:

    Well, at least we know where Buster Bluth stays when he’s in Boston!

  6. Marshall says:

    To take a contrary view, yes I would call that progress. In the older photo, the color scheme is dominated by a cheerless assortment of beige hues and cheap-looking wood veneers. The ceiling coffers appear unadorned, the arched “windows” toward the rear appear garishly paned with mirror glass, and the floral treatments bestow all the charm of a nursing home. It all sadly evokes a hotel in Omaha trying to mimic something much grander in Chicago.

    As for the update, it is a breath of fresh air, though one that will admittedly have a short shelf life. The vertical sheeting is a light, visually arresting way to suggest large, heavy columns. The dining space looks more inviting to casual sippers (like me) than the previous elevated eating space, which might generously be described as steakhouse meets jury box. As the lobby space recedes, you see the bar, a tempting wall of libations, and flanking TVs instead of the cheesy mirrored windows. The lobby is thus something of a visual mullet: business in front, party in the back. I would’ve preferred a dash of color and more subdued lighting, but I suspect that the blanched palette is a misplaced attempt to maintain an air of Bostonian patrician reserve.

    I’m with you on the hand chairs, though. One wonders whether they were originally designed to be a parody of avant garde furniture. You nailed it. Grace Jones album. Perfect.

    • Patrick says:

      A good comment; thanks for leaving it. Subdue the lighting, shrink or get rid of the middle-of-the-lobby cafe, and TAMP DOWN THE NOISE, and my opinion might be different.

  7. PSimpson says:

    That last photo left me wanting to break off all but one of the fingers.
    Sad that the new owners didn’t see any reason to presreve the historic lobby.

    (and lots of ambient noise seems to be “in”…my new work location skipped the carpeting in favor of the “industrial chic” look…every sound echoes and it’s hard to concentrate)

  8. Scott says:

    Harsh! My company stays at the Plaza too and I like the remodel a lot. That old stuffy style was just that.

  9. afeman says:

    Reminds me of the Korova Milk Bar

  10. marknyc says:

    I can’t argue with your assessment of the renovation based on those photos, but the last time I stayed at the Park Plaza (about 5 years ago, for a conference) it was one of the worst hotel stays I’d ever had. My room was bizarrely large, but for some reason had two bathrooms so tiny I had to squeeze myself between the door and the sink to get in and out (clearly the result of another prior renovation). The service was terrible, the wifi worse. The acoustics in the ballrooms had me using Twitter like subtitles to follow the conference speakers. They were due for a change! Too bad they seem to have botched it.