Synonymous with wealth, glamour, power and opulence, the name “Waldorf” has figured into tales of Manhattan for generations. In movies it has meant everything from broken hearts to fortunes made. For Americans of all stripes, it has meant spending New Year’s Eve in front of the television watching Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians playing “Auld Lang Syne” from the hotel’s Starlight Roof.
One of the country’s more expensive overnights, the luxury hotel properly called the Waldorf Astoria New York is a superior stay for humble history lovers. Its story goes back to 1893 when the wealthy William Waldorf Astor opened his Waldorf Hotel on Fifth Avenue, attracting a monied clientele. William’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, opened a similar hotel right next door in 1897, drawing his well-to-do friends and associates. The two Astors linked their buildings with a corridor and the complex became known as the “Waldorf Astoria.”
In 1929 these successful luxury hotel owners sold their high-priced Manhattan real estate to make way for the Empire State Building. Profits from the deal went into building the present Waldorf Astoria New York. When it opened on October 1, 1931, to President Herbert Hoover’s words of congratulations broadcast on the radio, the 2,200-room New York luxury hotel was the earth’s largest, filling in the block from 49th to 50th Street and stretching 42 floors above the pavement.
Since opening as the world's first skyscraper hotel in 1931, the Waldorf Astoria New York has played host to movie stars, royalty, business tycoons, and every U.S. president since Herbert Hoover, a permanent resident of the New York luxury hotel's exclusive Waldorf Towers. In the words of one guidebook author, "There's a certain electric thrill about being here, even among the well-heeled guests."
Commonly called the “Waldorf,” this New York luxury hotel wove its way into the social history of the 30s, 40s and 50s. Its staff claims it was the first hotel to introduce room service, to abolish the separate ladies entrance and to encourage frequent guests to make their suites permanent homes; the top 12 floors, called the Waldorf Towers, are made up entirely of residential suites. Some of the Towers’ residents have been President Herbert Hoover and five-star generals Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and Omar Bradley.
The initial restoration of this New York luxury hotel's Art Deco treasures in the 1980s revealed a long-lost cache of exquisite artwork that had been covered up for decades, victims of the "modernization" craze that swept the country in the 1950s and 60s. Underneath a carpet in the Park Avenue lobby, for example, was the magnificent, 148,000-piece "Wheel of Life" mosaic by French artist Louis Rigal, whose 13 allegorical oil murals on the adjacent walls were hidden under heavy draperies. A dropped ceiling covered ornate mouldings and gold leaf decorations. Art Deco medallions, grillwork, and other adornments are found throughout the hotel’s public areas.
With a pair of 42-story towers rising from an 18-story base, the Waldorf Astoria New York commands a prominent perch on majestic Park Avenue. The entrance to the Waldorf Towers is just around the comer on East 50th Street, and there's another main portal on Lexington Avenue. Just short walks away are midtown landmarks like Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, plus the smart shops of Fifth and Madison avenues.
The Waldorf’s lobby offers comfortable seating ensembles, accented with marble, dark wood, potted palms, and dim lamps, conveying overtones of formal living rooms from a bygone era. The dress code here stipulates "T-shirts, tank tops, faded jeans, cut-offs, and casual hats are not permitted" in the lobbies and lounges.
Dominating the Waldorf Astoria New York’s main lobby front desk area is an ornately carved bronze clock from the 1893 Chicago's World Fair, which has become a symbol of this luxury hotel and a well-known meeting place. Set on an octagonal marble-and-mahogany base and topped with a shiny bronze Statue of Liberty, the two-ton, nine-foot-tall clock was made by Goldsmith of London. Carved faces on the sides include Queen Victoria, Benjamin Franklin, and Presidents George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Ulysses S. Grant.
For people from all walks of life, staying or dining at the Waldorf Astoria New York is the ultimate Manhattan experience, a magic carpet ride fit for a king or queen. With flair and finesse, this imposing palace on Park Avenue treats every guest like royalty.