NEW YORK, August 27, 2016 –The Waldorf Astoria is a national treasure. It is more than a hotel; it is a landmark. It is, in its own unique way, a museum of modern history with bedrooms. When it comes to iconic places, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel is in a class by itself.
The New York landmark may not be the most expensive hotel property in the city or the most luxurious, but when you combine its history and prestige, the Waldorf Astoria is unrivaled.
The Waldorf is its own book of trivia filled with historic events and world famous celebrities from every walk of life: politicians, diplomats, royalty, entertainers and, even, gangsters.
From its inception the Waldorf Astoria was destined to become America’s most prestigious hotel address in America’s biggest and best known city.
It began as a family feud between two great-grandsons of John Jacob Astor in the late 19th century.
Living in mansions on Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets, William Waldorf Astor and John Jacob Astor IV may have been neighbors, but they had a healthy dislike for each other.
Out of spite, in 1893, William Waldorf Astor demolished his mansion, moved to England and built the 13-story Waldorf Hotel overlooking his cousin’s four-story brownstone residence.
Not to be outdone, four years later John Jacob Astor IV opened the more elegant 17-story Astoria Hotel next door.
Over time, the two relatives came to a truce and agreed to operate the two hotels under the name Waldorf-Astoria with the hyphen becoming a significant feature of the name. So important did the hyphen become to the name, that an expression evolved along with a song titled, “Meet Me at the Hyphen.”
When Conrad Hilton purchased the hotel in 1949 he changed the symbol to a double hyphen similar to a plus sign. Today, the name is simply the Waldorf Astoria without embellishments.
Despite their “alliance” the cousins never completely trusted each other, so a 300-foot hallway was built as the only connecting point between the two properties. The idea being that should the tenuous partnership fail, the hallway could easily be bricked up to separate the buildings.
The elegant marble corridor became known as “Peacock Alley” where the rich and the famous could admire themselves in the mirrored passageway while an awestruck, curious public gazed upward to get a glimpse of the hotel’s aristocratic clientele.
Perhaps the historic footnote that John Jacob Astor IV was among the 1,514 passengers who perished when the Titanic sank in 1912 was an omen of what the future would hold for the hotel.
Just four days after the Titanic sank, a senate congressional committee gathered in the Waldorf ballroom to hear testimony from the survivors of the disaster.
In 1929, the same year the Great Depression began, the original hotel was demolished to make room for the Empire State Building. By 1931 the Park Avenue address, where it stands today, was completed.
For the next 32 years the Waldorf Astoria was the world’s tallest hotel at 47-stories.
Among the Waldorf’s most famous employees was Oscar Tschirky, the Swiss born maitre d’hotel who worked at both locations from 1893 until his retirement in 1943.
Better known as “Oscar of the Waldorf”, Tshirky was the creator of acclaimed culinary traditions like Eggs Benedict, Thousand Island dressing and, of course, Waldorf salad.
Initially a “Waldorf salad” did not contain walnuts and grapes which were added to the apples and celery in later renditions.
Over the decades, the Waldorf has garnered international attention for its countless meetings, conventions, fundraisers and balls that are far too many to list. However there are numerous other noteworthy events that are worthy of mention:
• Former president Herbert Hoover lived at the Waldorf for more than 30-years following his retirement.
• Frank Sinatra paid a million dollars a year to maintain a residence in the hotel.
• Three 5-star American generals lived at the Waldorf for a time: Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and Omar Bradley.
• Gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a major force in the development of the Las Vegas Strip, owned an apartment at the Waldorf during the 1930s.
• Lena Horne was the first black performer at the hotel.
• Sir Harry’s Bar, is the home of the Rob Roy and Bobbie Burns cocktails.
• The Waldorf was the first hotel in the world to offer complete electricity and private bathrooms. It was also the first hotel to offer room service and to hire women chefs.
• Speaking of women, the Waldorf was influential in allowing women to register for accommodations without an escort.
• In 1948 the Waldorf was the site of the press conference that introduced the first LP record.
• IBM unveiled its first personal computer at the Waldorf in 1981.
• The NBA held its first draft lottery for non-playoff teams in 1985 with the first pick being Patrick Ewing.
• Songwriter Cole Porter and Linda Lee Thomas had an apartment in the Waldorf Towers. Thomas died in 1954, but Porter wrote his famous song “You’re the Top” which includes the lyric, “You’re the top, you’re a Waldorf salad” twenty years earlier.
Believe it or not, there is also an abandoned subway station beneath the hotel that was linked to Grand Central Station just a few blocks away. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used it while in office in an attempt to keep his wheelchair from public view.
The presidential train could pull into the platform where Roosevelt’s armor-plated limo would then drive down a ramp and into an elevator that led to the hotel garage.
On October 15, 2014 the Anbang Insurance Group from China purchased the Waldorf Astoria. It is scheduled for massive renovations which will take three years to complete beginning in the spring of next year.
Throughout its fabled history the Waldorf Towers have encompassed the 28th floor to the 42nd featuring 181 rooms. Approximately 75% of those accommodations are 1 to 4 bedroom suites.
At one time, the number of high profile guests residing in the towers was so abundant that author Ward Morehouse III referred to it as a “kind vertical Beverly Hills.”
When it comes to character and personality the Waldorf Astoria is legendary. Its corridors, banquet halls, ballrooms and clientele represent a who’s who and a what’s what of the past 150 years of American and world history.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News
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