hotels hired guards to protect their sugar supplies -- 8/23/19

Today's selection -- from The Plaza by Julie Satow. World War II provided a huge economic boost to much of America, but New York did not benefit as much as other regions--and luxury hotels like the Plaza suffered mightily:

"In 1939, World War II had broken out in Europe, and with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, America joined the fighting. Across the country, factories that had been idle during the length of the Great Depression once again turned on their conveyor belts, churning out tanks and army uniforms for the war effort. Members of the labor force, meanwhile, began to awaken as if from a long slumber, finally rejoining the ranks of the fully employed.

"In New York, however, it was another matter. The city's manufac­turing sector was not equipped to handle the machinery and other industrial equipment needed in wartime. So even as other parts of the country were resurgent, New York remained in abysmal shape. As late as mid-1942, there were fifty thousand more people registered as unemployed in New York City than there had been in 1939.

"It was just as bleak for New York's hotel industry. The 1920s hotel boom had left a glut of oversupply, which kept downward pressure on hotel room rates. There was also a shortage of sup­plies resulting from the war effort, and the grim realities of war­time rationing. In 1944, the year that [real estate magnate and Plaza Hotel owner] Harry Black's U.S. Realty & Improvement Company filed for bankruptcy and a year after it had sold the Plaza to [legendary hotelier Conrad] Hilton, wartime prosperity was peaking across much of the country. Yet, in New York, the rates that hotels were charging guests for rooms were still below the highs that were reached during the heyday of the 1920s.

"At the Plaza, for instance, when Hilton took over, just 61 per­cent of its rooms were occupied, and many of its public areas remained shuttered. Just as during World War I, 'conservation' and 'restraint' were the watchwords. Housekeepers were ordered to limit the amount of stationery they inserted into desk drawers and the number of coat hangers they hung in the closets. No extra rolls of toilet paper were stacked in bathrooms, and even complimen­tary face soaps were reduced from 3/4-ounce to 1/2-ounce portions. Napkins were made smaller to save on linen, and if they remained untouched by guests, they were reused before washing. With war­time foodstuffs being diverted to feed troops, waiters were barred from offering mints or petits fours gratis to diners at the close of a meal. Jam and marmalade weren't offered either, unless requested; free coffee refills were halted; and hotel managers were urged to use smaller dippers for ice cream scoops.

In October of 1943, Conrad Hilton and Atlas Corporation acquire
the hotel for $7,400,000

"Just as it had been during the last war, sugar was an especially rare commodity. Articles such as 'Cooking and Baking without Sugar' were popular, as were advertisements for 'sugar-server enve­lopes,' which promised to 'put an end to the irritating monotony of asking every customer if he or she wants sugar,' while simultane­ously diminishing the risk of spillage or waste. Hotels even hired guards to protect their supplies. 'Sugar is being placed in the con­trol of a designated person and all supplies allotted thru one source,' Hotel Monthly wrote of one hotel's practice.

"Meat rations were instituted, and the Plaza began searching for alternatives. There was 'roast larded Dakota bison,' which 'rather surprises' diners, the chef admitted, and once again, Meatless Mondays became a matter of patriotism. The Plaza also began serving more cold entrees, like 'ham printaniere,' which involved whipping together boiled ham, cream sauce, and lukewarm meat jelly, then adding heavy cream and chilling the concoction in the refrigerator before serving. Lamb stew also was on offer, and as the New York Times noted, 'If the great Plaza, known for dignity plus glamour makes a to-do over lamb stew, why should any housewife feel apologetic over serving such a dish to her family?'"



Julie Satow


The Plaza


Hachette Book Group


Copyright 2019 by Julie Satow


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