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Landmarks to Take Up Waldorf Interiors Preservation

The clock in Peacock Alley, just off the Park Avenue Lobby at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. | JACKSON CHEN
The clock in Peacock Alley, just off the Park Avenue Lobby at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. | JACKSON CHEN

BY JACKSON CHEN | The Landmarks Preservation Commission has decided to calendar interior spaces within the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and will be determining a date for a public hearing on November 1.

At that later hearing, the commissioners will deliberate on the interior spaces of the Waldorf Astoria’s ground, first, second, and third floors and their individual merits. According to the LPC agenda, consideration would be given to spaces including several lobbies and ballrooms — the Park Avenue Lobby, Peacock Alley, and the Grand Ballroom among them, but not the 18th floor Starlight Roof that was noted by many preservationists.

Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said the Starlight Roof’s exclusion was unfortunate, but added there were many alterations to that portion of the hotel. Bankoff and other preservationists, overall, are excited about the news and the unexpected speed in addressing the hotel’s interiors.

“It’s fantastic news,” Meghan Weatherby, the director of operations for the Art Deco Society, said. “It’s another step in the right direction in hopefully protecting these wonderful interiors and to really bring this in front of the public so that everyone can present testimony on why the Waldorf is so important.”

The staircase that leads from the Park Avenue entrance to the Waldorf Astoria’s Main Lobby. | JACKSON CHEN
The staircase that leads from the Park Avenue entrance to the Waldorf Astoria’s Main Lobby. | JACKSON CHEN

The Waldorf Astoria, at 301 Park Avenue between East 49th and East 50th Streets, was purchased by the Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese company that is currently investing heavily in American hotels, for $1.95 billion in 2014. Preservationists feared the removal of the glamorous interior areas of the legendary 1931 building when reports arose in June of Anbang’s intentions to do gut renovations. According to those reports, much of the hotel would be converted into condo units with far fewer hotel rooms remaining after three years of construction.

While Anbang previously had plans to demolish the interiors, the company has softened its approach and been cooperating with the LPC in determining the Waldorf’s future.

In a written statement released late on October 28, the company stated, “Anbang knows the Waldorf’s history is a large part of what makes  this hotel so special. That’s why we fully support the LPC’s recommendation for what would be one of the most extensive interior landmark designations of any privately owned building in New York. These designations are consistent with our vision and will protect the Waldorf’s significant public spaces. We are now finalizing renovation plans for the Waldorf that preserve these spaces and will ensure that the Waldorf will provide memorable experiences for generations to come. We look forward to sharing our plans publicly when they are complete.”

In early September, State Senator Brad Hoylman sent a letter urging the LPC to consider the landmark designation for the Waldorf’s interiors, noting its cultural significance in hosting “countless New Yorkers and visitors alike, including United States presidents, world leaders, and prominent figures in business, the arts, and civic life.”

Hoylman said the Chinese company has been well served by its advisors and that its recent actions indicate it wants to be a good citizen and caretaker for the Waldorf.

COVER PHOTO BY JACKSON CHEN
COVER PHOTO BY JACKSON CHEN

“I’m elated because these interiors at the Waldorf are some of the most beautiful and historic, representing a very important period of New York City and American history,” Hoylman said. “That the possibility is favorable that we could preserve these for future generations is an incredible statement about how the city regards its history.”

Describing himself as still only “cautiously optimistic” about the Waldorf situation, Bankoff emphasized that he appreciates Anbang’s cooperativeness.

“It’s really good they’re working with the Landmarks Commission and that they’re acting so swiftly before activity has happened,” Bankoff said of the insurance giant. “While I’m sure Anbang has plans at least on the drawing board, they are bringing the Landmarks Commission in before the plans become public. It becomes much less confrontational and more of a collaboration.”

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