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Waldorf looks to recapture past glory

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-12-17 23:49
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Piano given to Cole Porter, famed composer and longtime Waldorf Astoria resident, by the hotel is being restored; it will be featured in hotel lobby when it reopens in 2022 after renovations. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

New York's famed Waldorf Astoria is undergoing a $1 billion renovation by its new Chinese owners who will repurpose the hotel and look to revive its former glamour.

The iconic building located on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan was closed two years ago to commence its transformation into a condo-hotel hybrid on behalf of new owner Anbang Insurance Group (now called the Dajia Insurance Group). The group was taken over by China's government last year.

The hotel was purchased in 2015 for $1.95 billion and has been painstakingly transformed and will feature 375 condos and 375 hotel rooms. The outside of the building has landmark designation, but it too has been updated.

The new Art Deco-inspired condos called The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria were designed by Jean Louis Deniot, a Paris-based architect. They will be listed for sale in February.

The hotel rooms for "royals, presidents and guests" will reopen in 2022. The hotel's new public spaces are being designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon.

Andrew Miller, CEO of Dajia US, is confident that the luxurious units that start at $1.7 million for a studio and will include a mix of sizes will lure domestic and international buyers.

"The heritage [of the Waldorf Astoria] … is a really significant thing," Miller told China Daily. "The location of the building and the heritage of it brings a level of stability that is very reassuring for people in an uncertain world."

However, the Waldorf's residential splash into the market comes at a challenging time for New York City real estate sales, as there is a glut of condos. There is also a mansion tax that could sting high net worth buyers.

The residential units will have entrances and elevators separate from the hotel entrance, so guests "never have to mix" unless they want to.

There is a residential closet that locks from both the outside and inside of the apartments for package deliveries. The residential lobby will feature marble floors, mirrored ceilings and a seating area. Residents will have access to an 82-foot pool, fitness center and spa.

Built by competitive cousins William Waldorf and John Jacob Astor IV the original Waldorf Hotel first opened at 33rd street and Fifth Avenue in 1893. Four years later the Astoria was constructed next door. When they were combined they created the largest hotel in the world. The hotels had an alley separating the buildings because of the fraught relationship.

By the 1920s, the Victorian-era Waldorf Astoria had become outdated, and was demolished in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building.

Hotel manager Lucius Boomer purchased the "Waldorf Astoria" name and raised money to build a grander version of the hotel on Park Avenue, which opened in 1931.

The Waldorf offered a radio in all 2,200 rooms and even "manufactured weather", an old-fashioned name for air conditioning.

Hollywood stars, royalty, presidents and prime ministers helped cement the hotel's place in history. Former US president Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, former British prime minister Winston Churchill, "Ol' Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck and Zsa Zsa Gabor all spent nights at the Waldorf.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to arrive at the hotel on a private railroad car on a platform that was built under the hotel, close to Grand Central Station.

President Herbert Hoover lived at the Waldorf for more than 30 years after he left the White House. Every American president since Hoover had stayed at the Waldorf.

President Barack Obama was the first US president not to stay at the hotel after its sale in 2015. The developers of the project have built new hotel suites for new world leaders.

Composer Cole Porter lived in Room 33A, a six-bedroom suite at the hotel. There he wrote songs such as I've Got You Under My Skin and Let's Misbehave.

His famous piano — given to him by the hotel — has been restored to its old glory. It will be featured in the lobby when the hotel reopens.

Dan Tubb, senior sales director for The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, told China Daily: "It's incredibly important for us [to honor the past] because whether it's the past of what people remember over the last few decades … it's an integral part of the passion people have for this building. It's been wonderful to work with (Dajia) to restore the original details."

Another familiar sight will be the Grand Ballroom, which has been moved to the third floor, minus the chandelier. It was pieced back together using pictures and the original floor plan.

The hotel entrance once featured the Spirit of Achievement by Icelandic sculptor Nina Saemundsson. The winged woman has been updated and will return to the front canopy of the hotel to welcome new visitors.

The West Lounge, formerly Peacock Alley, also will be restored.

A clock commissioned by England's Queen Victoria for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago also will be a feature. "The entire development team, not just (Dajia), but the hundreds and hundreds of consultants, each of them the very best at what they do, is very aware of the responsibility we have that this is a global icon and one of New York's most important cultural institutions," Miller said.

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