301 Park Avenue (between 49th & 50th Streets)
Architect: Schultze & Weaver
By Carter B. Horsley
There are grand hotels and
then there's the Waldorf, which moved to this location after its
former site was acquired for the Empire State Building.
This and the Chrysler Building
and Rockefeller Center are the crown jewels of Art Deco New York.
According to his family, the Waldorf was Conrad Hilton's Holy
Grail, the ne plus ultra of hotels, that he sought for
years to acquire.
The Waldorf Astoria's former
site is now occupied by the Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue
between 33rd and 34th Streets where the Waldorf Hotel had been
built by William Waldorf Astor and named after the German Village
from which John Jacob Astor, the founder of the Astor fortune,
came, and the Astoria Hotel had been built by Caroline Schermerhorn,
William Waldorf Astor's cousin, who had the architect Henry J.
Hardenbergh, who also designed the Plaza Hotel, provide for the
joined hotels to be separated. The joined hotels were often referred
to popularly as the "Hyphen." In 2003, the hotel started
using an equal sign rather than a "hyphen" between its
On November 21, 2006, the
Hilton Hotels Corporation sold the 1,245-room hotel at 301 Park
Avenue to BH Hotels LLC, a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group
that had bought out Hilton in October for about $26 billion. for
In early 2009, the hotel
decided to drop the "=" sign in its title. (2/16/09)
The hotel is in the base of
the building while the top is devoted to the Waldorf Towers apartments,
which have their own entrance on 50th Street. The Starlight Roof,
which was for many years a major nightclub, is on the top floor
of the base fronting Park Avenue. The hotel's ballroom, the largest
elegant ballroom in the city, is four stories high with several
major adjoining smaller ballrooms and regularly hosts many of
the city's most prestigious benefits and political dinners.
The many and extensive lobbies
are not individually sensational, but in the aggregate they are
superb in their proportions, scale and richness of materials and
finish. The guestrooms, including the large Presidential Suite
on the 35th floor, are not up to the level of the public spaces,
but are not shabby.
The Park Avenue lobby, shown
below, behind the handsome Art Deco grill above the entrance canopy,
shown above, is up a broad flight of stairs to a large hall that
on one side led up a short flight of stairs to one of the hotel's
famous nightclubs. The hall also leads directly into a procession
of lobby spaces that run from Park to Lexington Avenues. In addition
to the hotel's front desk and concierge stations, there are lounges,
and bars and luxury retail shops on this level as well as on a
lower level. A major restaurant, the Bull & Bear, is on the
Lexington Avenue frontage and a large private club, the Marco
Polo Club is on a mezzanine level at the Lexington Avenue end,
where there are separate elevators and coatroom facilities to
accommodate those attending functions in the vast ballroom facilities.
For years, the large circular
Art Deco mosaic by Louis Rigal in the center of the front Park
Avenue lobby's floor was carpeted over, but, thankfully, is now
fully exposed as one of the most glorious Art Deco decorations
in the city, a detail of which is shown below. Were it not for
its pastel colors, one might assume that Art Deco sprung not from
Art Nouveau but the great Italian Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna.
Of course, the surging fluidity of Art Deco conjures early morning
swills of champagne when the lights are dimmed, which they never
The main central lobby, shown
below, is nobly scaled and focused on the clock executed by the
Goldsmith Company of London for exhibition at the Chicago World's
Fair in 1893. The 9-foot-high clock weighs about 2 tons and the
eight faces of its base have likenesses of 7 American Presidents
and Queen Victoria.
The clock is surmounted by
an eagle and the Statue of Liberty and is directed beneath a silver-gilt
Art Deco maiden on the ceiling. As impressively ornate as this
clock is, it never attained the popularity of the famous clock
at the Biltmore Hotel on Madison Avenue and 43rd Street, which
was rebuilt into an office building. The Biltmore clock was the
one referred to the phrase "Meet you under the clock,"
as it straddled the gates leading to the Biltmore's central court
lounge. The far more impressive clock, of course, is at the Waldorf.
To the north of the Waldorf clock, however, is Peacock Alley,
which has over the years changed from a cocktail lounge to a cocktail
lounge and major dining room. In its present incarnation, it encroaches
a bit too much into the main lobby, but does so nicely.
The hotel's base has an impressive
limestone facade, but the bulk of the 47-story towers are rather
bland except for the mysterious and ornamental twin peaks, 625
feet 7 inches high, on the roof.
When the Waldorf Astoria relocated
to this location, Park Avenue north of the former New York Central
Building that straddles the avenue was primarily residential and
the hotel's massive form and twin-peaked roof dominated its skyline.
Another luxury hotel, the Ambassador occupied the blockfront between
51st and 52nd Streets. Although one of the city's most elegant
hotels, the relatively small hotel was razed to make way for an
office skyscraper as have almost all of the other buildings on
the other between 46th and 57th Streets. The Waldorf Astoria's
present site was formerly occupied by the Central YMCA on Park
Avenue and the American Express Building on Lexington.
The massing of the full-block
Waldorf Astoria is as complex and handsome as its labyrinthine
interiors. Until the advent of the major convention hotel era
in the 1960's, the Waldorf Astoria was the only place for very
large, major elegant functions. The New York Hilton, the Sheraton
Center (formerly the Americana) and the Marriott Marquis now compete
with the Waldorf Astoria for the best functions. (The New York
Hyatt, formerly the Commodore Hotel, has a very large ballroom,
but has never caught on well with the party circuit, perhaps because
its location is rather dead at night.)
The room hotel has its railroad
siding and because of the tracks its enormous kitchen is located
on the second floor. The Junior League has facilities on the 19th
floor and the official residence of the United States Ambassador
to the United Nations is Suite 42A in the Towers. The Waldorf
Astoria and Waldorf Towers offers a total of 1,416 guest rooms
and suites, featuring original Art Deco motifs. The Waldorf Towers,
offers 181 rooms, including 115 suites, and occupies the 28th
through 42nd floors of The Waldorf Astoria.