Boston is subject to changing investments and ownerships like any big town. It nonetheless came as a shock the other day when I walked by the former Ritz Carlton — the Plaza Hotel of Boston, operating since the mid 1920s — and found that it’s been transformed with a name and a design scheme that’s right out of Las Vegas or Cancun.
The Ritz Carlton changed hands late last year and is now called The Taj. Millenium Partners, which bought the old Ritz Carlton in ’99, sold it in November ’06 to Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, a swanky hotel chain based in Mumbai, India. I’m sorry, but Boston is a conservative, Anglo-Saxon, tradition-bound city, and it’s just icky for an old hotel that’s been around for 80 years to have a name that sounds like a Glitter Gulch casino.
Imagine what Mumbai residents would think if a local hotel was re-christened as the Ritz Carlton. It would be seen as an Anglo-Saxon incursion into the Indian economy, or as a metaphorical reminder of British-Anglo colonization of India. It would certainly not be welcome. If a British or American-owned company were to buy a Mumbai hotel, the smart thing would be to give it a name that doesn’t stand apart from (i.e., in contrast to) the local culture.
Likewise, buying an old-school Boston hotel that overlooks the Public Gardens and re-naming it The Taj is the cultural equivalent of pouring gravy on a tablecloth. It’s a metaphor for a changing multicultural economy and the diminishment of the Boston that used to be, obviously, but it’s really about an Indian company wedging its way into a remnant of an old WASP town and saying, “We’re here, we’re from Mumbai and we don’t give a toss for your blue-blood traditions…get used to it.”