One last “Weekend at the Waldorf”

by Juliana

Facade

Waldorf Astoria Park Avenue Entrance

As the first blog feature, I felt it was appropriate to start with one that is so important in New York City history.  Not just any hotel has the power to lure me out of my home to spend the night a few blocks away, but this was a special occasion: my personal farewell to the iconic Waldorf Astoria before it closes indefinitely for renovations where the majority of the building will be converted to condos. My staycation in this NYC landmark started with a tour led by the wonderfully passionate Karen, followed by a delicious lunch at Bull & Bear, and to complete the experience, a relaxing massage at the property’s Guerlain Spa (soon moving to the Plaza Hotel) before checking out.

Guerlain Spa

Guerlain Spa

Opened in 1931 as the tallest and biggest hotel in the world, the 301 Park Ave address was introduced to society to much fanfare, fully adorned in the most exquisite art-deco style. Back in the 1930s it was impolite to handle cash in front of a lady, so a special Ladies sitting area in Greek-roman style facing Park Avenue in contrast with the more sober, darker Gentlemen’s lobby where the World’s Fair Clock with Westminster chimes sits front and center. It was a present from Queen Victoria to America at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago and purchased by Col. John Jacob Astor IV, co-founder of the original Waldorf=Astoria on 5th avenue.

World Fair Clock

World Fair Clock

It is the only New York City hotel to feature a true Presidential Suite as it has been the one to accommodate all American presidents since its opening. The hotel has made every effort to comfortably and safely host countless heads of state, politicians, celebrities and VIPs over its 85 years of history. Instead of a basement, a secret train track was built under the building to facilitate direct access to the hotel. These tracks were also the venue chosen by Andy Warhol for his “Underground” party in 1965.  President Franklin Delano Rosevelt’s rail car, which now sits dormant in its track 61, transported his Pierce-Arrow limo into the secret platform and into the massive freight elevator that goes directly up to the hotel. Although when the President is not in town, the Presidential Suite is available for guests to book their stays. The hotel was also home to famous residents including Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.

FDR train car

FDR train car

The Waldorf Astoria was also the birth place of 24h room service, the Waldorf Salad, created by Maitre d’ “Oscar of the Waldorf” Tschirky, the brunch staple Eggs Benedict, and the world famous Red Velvet Cake. Besides of course hosting New York’s high society parties in the intimate Basildon Room or the Grand Ballroom such as Elsa Maxwell’s Circus Ball of 1935.  Touring the spaces and sampling the food was a sensory feast, and I imagined myself living in the olden days, sipping champagne under the stars in the Starlight Room.

Waldorf Salad

Apples, celery, grapes, candied walnuts (added later) in a mayonnaise dressing

Indeed, the property had been overdue for a much needed renovation, and as the end of the Waldorf as we know it approaches, its public areas are no longer the backdrop for dramatic comings and goings of characters or the intersecting story lines of the Ginger Rogers’ title in reference. It felt bittersweet but warming to see the long time staff continuing to put their best feet forward despite their jobs’ soon expiration date.  So much history took place in this Grande Dame that I truly hope the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission succeeds in preserving as much of its interior and history as possible once the last guest is checked out on this coming March 1st, 2017.

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