Before it is too late travellers might want to consider splurging on a night or a weekend in New York’s famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The 85 year old art deco landmark will be closed sometime next year for an extended period during which most of it will be converted to luxury condos. A much smaller hotel will reopen offering luxury suites only. For the bargain conscious, the Waldorf is never cheap; but few hotels in New York worth staying in are; but if you book in the off months like February you can get a basic room for about $350 CDN. Given its impending shutdown the rooms are beginning to show their age a bit, but they are still elegant; and the real charm of the Waldorf is simply being there—especially in the common areas—people watching in the fabulous lobby, brunch at the Peacock Walk, or having cocktails in the lobby bar. For those who have visited Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands the Waldorf traces some of its grandeur to George C. Boldt. Who was the first manager at the original Waldorf, which opened in 1893. Though the current Waldorf Astoria, on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th streets, opened Oct. 1, 1931, after Mr. Boldt’s death, his portrait hangs in the lobby and in hotel offices.
The Waldorf has been the favoured Manhattan hostelry for all sitting presidents since Herbert Hoover — including the ever-stylish Obamas. Dwight Eisenhower actually lived in the adjacent Waldorf Suites. Below the hotel is a secret train station.
Speaking of Presidents, there’s no way to detect it from above ground, but right below the Waldorf is a little-known extension of Grand Central Station, built in the 1930s to help Franklin Delano Roosevelt keep his polio diagnosis private. FDR’s custom locomotive sits abandoned under the hotel.
Roosevelt didn’t want the world to know that he had polio, so he commissioned the Waldorf train station — and a bespoke locomotive — so that he could commute between New York and Washington with ease and privacy. The train’s last car was built to accommodate his presidential limousine; its two, ultra-wide pocket doors allowed his driver to three-point-turn the limo off the train and into a custom elevator leading to the hotel’s garage.
Bette Midler will have to find a new venue for her annual Halloween bash. Frank Sinatra was one of the hotel’s most famous residents, and his legacy still lives on in subtle ways. Concerts are still performed in the Empire Room, where Sinatra’s career began and where Louis Armstrong played his last show.
The vaunted hotel was purchased by China’s Anbang Insurance Group Co. for $1.95 billion from Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. in October 2014. The following February Anbang announced that the hotel would undergo a partial condo conversion, where 1,100 of its 1,413 rooms are expected to go residential. The announcement worried many for many reasons, not the least of which is the treatment of the historic hotel’s Classical Modernist and Art Deco interiors. But Anbang says the décor of the historic public rooms will be preserved.