Say Goodbye to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, a New York Icon
See the Waldorf Astoria before you can’t
Update: It is too late …. the Waldorf is closed
Will I be able to take the guided tour again when it reopens in a few years?
The Waldorf Astoria is one of the most famous hotels in the world. It is a New York icon that epitomizes American standards of luxury and quality from the Golden Age of Achievement.
I took a guided tour of the Waldorf. It was an excellent tour that was more about the history of New York. It was an expensive tour: $65 but that includes a 3 course lunch in its famous Peacock Alley restaurant.
Take the tour while you can.
The Waldorf has been sold to the Chinese. The Anbang Insurance Group of China purchased the Waldorf for US$1.95 billion, making it the most expensive hotel ever sold. The new owners have announced that they will close the hotel in the spring of 2017. Their plan is to gut the hotel and convert most of the rooms into condos.
They have pink-slipped the staff.
Who is behind Anbang?
Owners ofAnbang, a Chinese insurer behind a wave of multibillion-dollar deals, include relatives and friends of its politically connected chairman
When you think of the Waldorf Astoria, you may think of its iconic architecture, its long history or even the salad invented in its kitchens. You probably don’t think of villagers and rice paddies in eastern China. But The New York Times has uncovered that some small-time merchants and villagers in Pingyang County control multibillion-dollar stakes in Anbang Insurance Group, the company that bought the Waldorf and has been making waves with its enormous deals.
When the Waldorf re-opens in 2020, will they offer guided tours?
Look up to see the Spirit of Achievement
The female figure takes flight from a globe. She symbolizes human ambition and achievement.
The sculpture was designed by Nina Saemundsson from Iceland. She started sculpting with snow and ice when she was a child.
Before the lobby was refurbished in the 1990’s, the sculpture was hidden above an awning. Now the sculpture is visible above a clear awning.
Hi Tech meets Old World
Google booked the iconic old-world luxury Waldorf Astoria Hotel for a party. Google took over most of the hotel and decorated 14 themed rooms, including The Lost Library of Alexandria in the Grand Ballroom; Greek Mythology in the lobby; Fantasy World in the Astor Salon; Science Fiction in the Empire Room.
Fittingly, Google made a map to help Googlers plan their evening. This picture might suggest that I attended the party and took this photo. Although I was in New York on the night of the party, sadly, I was not on the guest list. I found this picture on Google images, taken by todaysnew.com.
My tour of the Waldorf included sights that were not on the Google map.
The highlight of the tour for me was the visit to the beehives and herb garden on the 20th floor terrace.
Lots of Buzz
The Waldorf has its own beehive city on the 20th story terrace. This is a high-rise home for 300,000 honeybees.
Their honey sweetens everything in the hotel, including ice cream, Baked Alaska, and pedicures in the spa.
Each colony has a name: my favourite, “It’s hive o’clock somewhere.”
What will happen to the hives when the Waldorf closes?
The view from the herb garden on the 20th floor is fabulous
Chefs from the Waldorf kitchens gather fresh herbs from the herb garden on the 20th floor terrace. Public access to the 20th floor terrace is only with the tour. Hotel guests do not have access. When the Waldorf re-opens in 2020, will it have tours of the herb garden?
Will there be a herb garden in the new Waldorf condos?
Our tour stopped for cookies in the kitchen
The Waldorf is famous for creating its signature Waldorf salad. The recipe was created out of desperation when the kitchen was short on salad. They threw in some apples to stretch the salad. It was an instant success.
A young Anderson Cooper
Our excellent tour guide stopped to point out a photograph on the wall of a young Anderson Cooper, CNN news anchor, with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, artist, fashion designer and heir to the Vanderbilt fortune amassed by Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built Grand Central Terminus, the theme of an earlier post.
The Waldorf Astoria does not have a basement: is built right over Grand Central. It has its own private train platform and elevator built to accommodate an armoured car. This allowed President Franklin D Roosevelt to be driven from his private railway car directly into the Grand Ballroom.
Andy Warhol hosted a wild underground party on the platform in 1965. At the time, Warhol was broke. He thanked the party organizers by giving away 10 silk-screen prints.
The platform is now abandoned. FDR’s private train car is still sitting there, dust covered and deserted.
Please book me into the Marilyn Monroe Suite!
The Waldorf was home for many celebrities. Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe had their own suites.
This is one of the many chandeliers in the Waldorf
The standard of luxury that was set by the Waldorf changed the definition of a hotel. It transformed the idea of a hotel from a place for travellers into a social centre for the city. It hosted grand balls and benefits that drew the elite to its magnificent party rooms.
The Waldorf is credited with advancing the status of women by welcoming women without escorts.
Versailles was the inspiration for the Silver Corridor
The Silver Corridor leads to the Great Ballroom. It is styled after the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, with stunning chandeliers and mirrors decorated with silver leaf.
Below is my photo of the Hall of Mirrors that I took at Versailles just before closing time, when I was the only tourist in the room! You can read more about Versailles in my post.
This clock is a tribute to friendship with France and England
Queen Victoria commissioned this clock for the Chicago World Fair in 1893. It was a gift to show friendship between England and the United States.
The base of the clock has 8 faces, each decorated with portraits of American presidents.
The sound of the chime is copied from Westminster Cathedral.
After the World Fair, Chicago was left with a huge financial debt. To pay down the debt, Chicago sold all items that were on display during the Fair. J
ohn Jacob Astor IV purchased the clock for the lobby of his grand hotel.
Subsequently, France gave a gift of a replica of the Statue of Liberty to John Jacob. He placed it on top of the clock.
England was not amused.
Make it New
The stunning art deco lobby did not fit the ‘make it new’ culture of the 1960’s.
Fortunately, the 1960’s make-over just covered the lobby; it did not destroy it. The floor was covered with wall-to-wall carpeting. The walls were panelled in plywood and painted white.
In the early 1990’s, the lobby was restored to its former glory. The wall-to-wall carpeting was removed to reveal the stunning mosaic on the floor. It is made of 150,000 hand-cut marble tiles. The plywood was removed to show the murals that frame the ceiling. They depict the pleasures of life.
This is not my photo of the lobby. I just had my phone with my on the tour so the photos are not great. This photo is on the Waldorf Astoria site.
The Waldorf was a victim of ‘make it new’ in the 60’s. What will it look like when it reopens in 2020?
In an earlier post, I wrote about the efforts of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to save Grand Central from the ‘make it new’ culture. Where is today’s vanguard to protect the Waldorf?
The new owners have not released any details of their gutting and refurbishment.
Will we see this lobby in 2020?
See the Waldorf before it closes in the spring
Perhaps I need to take another trip to New York and stay in the Waldorf before it closes in the spring. I have a feeling that when it re-opens in 2020, its target market will not be the average tourist.
Update: Too late …. I did not get back to New York to say goodbye to the Waldorf:
March 1, 2017: NEW YORK — The word “grand” matched few hotels in the world better than New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, but this bastion of gilded splendor is now closing for two to three years for a transformative makeover.
The last guests were checking out by noon Wednesday after enjoying the rich Art Deco style of the old Waldorf one last time.
When the building reopens, it will still have a hotel, but hundreds of its 1,400 guest rooms will have been converted into privately owned condominiums.
“I’ve been watching New York disappear in front of my eyes,” lamented Shade Rupe, 48, an author and actor who visited the hotel’s lobby this week for one last look around.
Wrapping his arms around an entrance pillar, he noted that the ever-changing city has a history of devouring its own landmarks.
About 1,500 hotel employees are being laid off due to the closure.
At exactly noon Wednesday, dozens of hotel staff and guests spontaneously gathered around the lobby clock that served as a meeting place, cheering and clapping their farewell to the hotel that for 85 years symbolized money and power.
Next week, we will visit 10 highlights of Rockefeller Centre.
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