Inside the $ 1 billion Waldorf Astoria makeover

Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

This month marks 90 years since the Waldorf Astoria opened on Park Avenue in New York in 1931, becoming the world’s largest and grandest luxury hotel in an inuspicious time, as the Great Depression projected. his shadow.

The hotel’s famous Art Deco interiors have been the backdrop for countless high-society galas and performances, as well as the site of historic conferences for international politicians. Celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra have made it their home, while all American presidents, from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama, have laid their heads in the presidential suite.

But the Waldorf Astoria has also been closed for four and a half years, undergoing a more than $ 1 billion renovation after it was bought for $ 1.95 billion in 2014 by Chinese insurance group Anbang (now Dajia Insurance Group). While parts of the hotel are restored to their original condition – rooms including the Grand Ballroom are protected by the New York City Monuments Preservation Commission – much of the building is completely redesigned for the future. And, for the first time, the Waldorf Astoria will offer residential apartments to own, rather than rent, in the Waldorf Twin Towers.

“In the section I worked on, there was nothing that was staked out, so there was no starting point, there was nothing to preserve,” said Jean-Louis Deniot, the French designer responsible for transforming the new apartments and equipment. (The hotel rooms are being redesigned by Pierre-Yves Rochon.) “I wanted to be more modernist… fresher, but still rooted.”

When the Waldorf Astoria reopens in 2023, it will have 375 hotel rooms, up from 1,400, and 375 condominium units. Apartments for sale will range from studios starting at $ 1.8 million to four-bedroom starting at $ 18.5 million (plus two penthouses, prices withheld). Amenities accessible only to residents will include the 82-foot-long Starlight Pool – formerly the Starlight Rooftop where Ella Fitzgerald performed regularly – as well as the leafy Winter Garden, a bar and lounge transformed into a green oasis.

“There is something very peaceful and inviting about the serene feeling of being connected with nature,” Deniot said.

Deniot designs residential spaces with the layout of a mansion in mind, he said over the phone, conceptualizing recreation and entertainment rooms, such as the majestic Presidential Library and Bar and the Monte Carlo game room. with a modern look.

“I wanted it to look like a big house and not a hotel,” he said.

A long heritage

The major renovations are the biggest renovation the Waldorf Astoria has received since it opened. But this is actually the second iteration of the hotel – the first, established in 1893, was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building. The first hotel was not immediately appreciated, with the Indianapolis Times reporting in 1928 that “people all over the country were laughing” at the idea that it would offer 350 private bathrooms, calling the project “folly of” Astor ”.

The hotel was actually two buildings – the results of a proverbial measuring contest between two wealthy cousins ​​of the Astor family. William Waldorf Astor, who became America’s richest man through his father’s legacy, built the Waldorf. Four years later, his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, destined to become the richest man to die aboard the Titanic in 1912, built a larger hotel next door. They eventually ditched the animosity and cut the name of the hotel as well as the buildings, connecting the two by a 300-foot marble hallway dubbed “Peacock Alley.” Among its advantages, the Waldorf-Astoria claimed it was the first to offer private bathrooms as well as room service.

But when the Waldorf Astoria restarted on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets, it was no longer in the hands of the Astor family (William Waldorf Astor died in 1919), but in the hands of hotelier Lucius M. Boomer, who ran the hotel after it was acquired by T. Coleman du Pont in 1918. Following the sale of the site, the board of directors sold him the rights to the Waldorf-Astoria name for one dollar as a sign of goodwill, and he took advantage of the affair.

In the decades that followed, the property entered its prime, drawing the most famous faces in the world. The suites were named after Elizabeth Taylor and Winston Churchill after their stays, and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt kept an apartment in The Towers over a decade ago. Other famous longtime residents of the Waldorf include Sinatra and composer Cole Porter, both of whom stayed in Suite 33A – Porter for 30 years, until his death in 1964, and then Sinatra in the 1970s and 1980s. Monroe, meanwhile, occupied suite 2728 for much of 1955, paying $ 1,000 a week for fun (around $ 10,200 today).

When former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower moved to the seventh floor in the 1960s, they chose a floor below the towers because of her fear of heights, according to the hotel. They had a reconfigured elevator to stop at their floor to give them full access to the amenities of the tower.

Adding a new art

The Waldorf has preserved some of its most famous artifacts over the years, including Porter’s 1907 Steinway piano. Elle, as well as the murals, mosaics, and the hotel’s nine-foot lobby clock – a An intricate 19th-century timepiece commissioned by Queen Victoria for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago – will also be refreshed.

Joining them now will be a new collection of works of art curated by auctioneer and art dealer Simon de Pury, presented in the common facilities of the Tours. The collection will only feature original works of art, including pieces by emerging artists such as Taiwanese Canadian sculptor An Te Liu, Korean mixed media artist Minjung Kim and Swiss painter Philippe Decrauzat.

“Ninety-five percent of hotel projects worldwide feature prints and reproductions,” de Pury said via email. “Original art is much more personal. We made sure to select works that highlight the architecture and decor in a contextual way.

Renderings have been released for many new residential spaces, but the crown jewels – the two penthouses designed by Deniot – are still in the works. By emphasizing the design of “more contemporary” but still “timeless” spaces, he does not necessarily look to the building’s long history for guidance.

“You don’t want to go too far back in time. There is that feeling of melancholy, ”he said. “In the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, they all had a lot of fun there. The reason the whole place has been renovated is to bring it into the next century.

Top image: A rendering of a two bedroom condo, designed by Deniot.

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