Waldorf Astoria Interiors Reach One Step Closer to Landmark Designation
-Park Avenue lobby
-Lexington Avenue lobby
-John Jacob Astor Salon
The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) took the next step towards designating the great public rooms at the Waldorf Astoria at a January 24th public hearing. The Conservancy testified in support.
The Conservancy initiated a public campaign advocating for designation of these worthy rooms last June when we learned that the new owners planned to “gut” the storied hotel. We did extensive research on the architectural history of the wonderful public interiors. We met with the hotel owners’ representatives. And we made detailed recommendations to the LPC for spaces we thought were especially noteworthy for their historic, cultural and social significance. We are pleased that the LPC has moved swiftly in bringing this matter to a hearing.
The LPC determined that the following rooms meet the standards for interior landmark designation:
The Park Avenue Lobby, with its gracious stairway and soaring ceilings, is the front door to the Waldorf Astoria. Its mosaic centerpiece, the “Wheel of Life” by French artist, Louis Rigal depicts the stages of the life in 148,000 individual pieces of marble: Rigal’s original depiction was the medallion of a hand-woven carpet that was used during the winter months; it was replaced in 1939 with the mosaic we see today. Rigal’s series of painted murals along the lobby frieze are allegorical scenes, that according to the Facts About the Waldorf Astoria published in July 1938, depict “hunting, fishing and other scenes relating to the procuring of food, to eating, drinking, dancing and rhythm.”
The Lexington Avenue Lobby is a more intimate entrance to the hotel, with its grand staircase finely detailed with Art Deco railings and grills. While the lobby retains many of its original architectural elements, it was updated in the early 1960s with a modern escalator. The stairway leads to the third floor ballrooms.
The Main Lobby is the heart of the Waldorf Astoria and widely recognized as one of the finest hotel lobbies in the world, decorated with a classic Pompeian influence featuring decorative gilded plaster ceiling, marble columns and paneling in veneers of Oregon Maple burl and Ebony. The centerpiece is the world-famous clock, manufactured by Goldsmith’s Company of London for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago; it was previously installed in the rotunda of the old Waldorf after the fair.
Peacock Alley, today known as the West Lounge, is one of the most legendary interiors in the Waldorf Astoria, named for its equally illustrious predecessor in the old hotel on Fifth Avenue. Paneled with French Walnut burl and Ebony inlay, the contrasting pilasters in Numidian Red marble with nickel bronze capitals and cornices, are complemented by matching nickel bronze grills and gates. Peacock Alley remains one of the hotel’s most beautiful and beloved interiors.
The East Arcade, originally the East Gallery, is a wonderful counterpart to Peacock Alley, with figured Japanese Ash paneling and pilasters of green marble. The elevator doors for access to the ballroom are nickel bronze and feature stunning sculptural work by Louis Rigal.
The Grand Ballroom, located on the third floor, is forty-four feet high with two tiers of balconies and boxes. Measuring 120 feet by 135 feet, the Ballroom is stunning in its Art Deco ornamentation, and at the time of its opening, was equipped with modern conveniences including air conditioning, a great Möller orchestral organ and Movietone, Technicolor and radio equipment. The crowning jewel is the majestic, custom-made, 16-foot diameter, crystal chandelier.
The adjacent Silver Corridor is especially noteworthy given its size and decoration. Walter Rendell Storey of the New York Times gave this space high prize in 1931: “an interior of glistening light whose side walls are covered with panes of mirror glass alternating with broad walnut pilasters…[the crystal chandeliers] suggest cascading fountains, and the coved ceiling is ornamented by a series of murals [by Edward H. Simmons] from the old Waldorf-Astoria.” These murals are allegorical representations of the months of the year. The black and white mosaic tile floor was added during a restoration in the early 1980s.
The Basildon Room is truly an architectural treasure. It is a reconstructed salon taken from Basildon Park in Berkshire, England, attributed to Robert Adam (1776). The room and its fixtures were purchased by architect, Leonard Schultze at auction in London when Basildon Park was being prepared for demolition by a previous owner. Featuring reclaimed paneling, cornices, a marble mantle by British sculptor, John Flaxman and oil paintings by the Swiss artist, Angelica Kauffman, the elements were ingeniously retrofitted by Schultze & Weaver for inclusion in the new hotel.
The third floor also contains two smaller ballrooms, the Jade Room and the John Jacob Astor Salon; both were originally designed for dancing and were heralded by the press in articles announcing the hotel’s opening as, “inspired by eighteenth century art” with marble columns, period accoutrements and crystal chandeliers. They retain much of their original grandeur and form a cohesive design aesthetic for the Waldorf-Astoria’s third floor.
The LPC will be holding a vote on the designation in the coming weeks.
FINAL PUSH FOR INTERIOR DESIGNATIONS IN THE WALDORF-ASTORIA
October 25, 2016
New Yorkers have been vocal about the need to preserve the great interior spaces of the Waldorf Astoria—the very finest surviving examples of Classical Modernist design. The sophisticated rooms hold the collective memory of many New Yorkers. Thanks to the outcry, the City Landmarks Commission has been in discussions with Anbang Insurance Group, the hotel owner, about possible designations. It’s time for a final push, so that the discussions don’t result in a narrow list.
The Landmarks Conservancy has urged that the Park Avenue Lobby, the Main Lobby, Peacock Alley, Grand Ballroom, Basildon Room, Jade Room, John Jacob Astor Salon, Silver Corridor and Starlight Roof be designated. This is the only way to guarantee they will survive.
Without designation they could be altered beyond recognition—or entirely lost.
In our discussions with Anbang representatives last summer, they said that the multi-use nature of their plans would call for interior changes. We pointed to The Plaza Hotel, where the building was changed to mixed-use hotel/condominium but the great public rooms were restored and landmarked.
Anbang plans to close the Waldorf Astoria next March and convert most of the building into condominium residences. The hotel exterior is landmarked.
Waldorf Astoria Owner Discusses Potential Landmark Designation
September 29, 2016
Anbang Insurance Group, the owner of the Waldorf Astoria, is in talks with the Landmarks Preservation Commission about the potential landmark designations of the historic public rooms in the Waldorf. We believe this is very positive news and hopefully will lead to timely protection of the truly significant interiors on the first, third and eighth stories. The Conservancy has shared with both Anbang and the Landmarks Commission our own historic research study of the interiors. This study includes floorplans outlining the spaces we believe are without a doubt worthy of designation.
At an August 1st meeting with Anbang at the Conservancy’s office, the officials present said that they did not wish to be landmarked. We’re delighted that they have changed their mind. We have heard directly from the Landmarks Commission that they are discussing the subject of interior designation. We hope that all the great public spaces will be designated and are heartened by all the public support for designation.
Conservancy Meets With New Owners of the Waldorf Astoria
August 1, 2016
The Conservancy met with three executives from Anbang Insurance Group (AB) to discuss their company’s plan for the future of the Waldorf Astoria. They said they appreciate the historic character of the building and that they know how much the hotel means to New Yorkers. However they oppose any interior landmark designation that would protect the important public spaces.
The Conservancy spoke about the artistic and cultural importance of the public interiors and urged them to keep these interiors intact regardless of the adaptive reuse. Among the most important spaces are the Park Avenue Lobby, the Main Lobby, Peacock Alley, the Grand Ballroom, Silver Corridor and the Starlight Roof. The highlighted areas in the floor plans (see plans) are the ones we believe are most worthy of designation. These floor plans and a research report prepared by the Conservancy describing the history and significance of the spaces have been submitted to Anbang and to the Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
We remain concerned about the future of the great Art Deco interiors of the Waldorf Astoria and are strongly urging the LPC to calendar and designate the great public rooms. This is the only way to guarantee that these great historic spaces will survive.
The AB representatives were non-comital about saving any of these public rooms and mentioned that the multi-use nature of their plans would call for interior changes. The Conservancy held out the example of the Plaza Hotel, where the building was changed to mixed-use hotel/condominium while preserving the historic public rooms.
AB’s managing director for investment, Mr. Philip Yee, explained that they are working with a New York architectural firm to convert most of the building into condominium residences. He added, they should be able to show us conceptual plans this month. Only a small section would remain as a hotel. He said that the current hotel and all other functions in the building are scheduled to be shut down in March 2017
Anbang Insurance Group is headquartered in Beijing. Its Unites States base of operations is in New York City.
Conservancy Asks for Interior Designations at the Waldorf
The Conservancy has asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan to move quickly on designation of the great public spaces in the Waldorf Astoria. A formal request letter followed the recent announcement that the storied landmark hotel will be closed for up to three years, “gutted,” and largely turned into condos.
The Waldorf’s interior spaces are excellent surviving examples of Classical Modernist design and have great cultural significance. The sophisticated urbanism of the Park Avenue Foyer, Main Lobby, Peacock Alley, the Grand Ballroom and other rooms could be lost or altered beyond recognition if not protected. reported June 27 that the new Waldorf owner, China’s Anbang Insurance Group, plans to close the landmark building in the spring and convert as many as three quarters of its rooms into private apartments.
Aside from holding the collective memories of generations of New Yorkers, the hotel has hosted U.S. Presidents and notables from around the world. It is one of New York’s iconic buildings.
The lobby and main entrances have graceful black and cream marble pilasters and wall surfaces, polished marble and mosaic floors, delicate geometric patterns in the ceiling coffers and exquisitely detailed fixtures.
Timely action by the Commission protected the great public rooms of The Plaza when that property was redeveloped into a smaller hotel and condos. Initial plans would have severely changed the Terrace and Ball rooms and other elegant spaces. While the developers at first had no intention of saving these interiors, they wound up proud of the restoration they oversaw on the newly landmarked rooms.
Saving The Plaza interiors garnered great public support. The Waldorf is another New York symbol that deserves protection so future generations can continue to enjoy and experience its remarkable interior architectural features.