LPC Mulls Waldorf Interiors, With Pleas for Starlight Roof

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Preservationists, though happy the LPC is considering interior landmarking designations in the Waldorf Astoria, are urging the commission to include the 18th floor Starlight Roof. | WALDORFNEWYORK.COM

BY JACKSON CHEN | There’s no decision yet regarding a proposed landmark designation for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel’s interiors, but during the first public hearing on the question many voiced their desire to have the Landmarks Preservation Commission include the hotel’s 18th floor Starlight Roof as part of the landmarking.

During the LPC’s public hearing on January 24, several preservationist groups came out to offer testimony supporting the designation of the luxurious interiors that witnessed a great deal of history over the past 85 years. Many may assume the grand hotel’s interiors are already landmarked, but preservation advocates rang the bell when Anbang, a Chinese insurance giant, purchased the property in 2014 and reports arose of its intention to do gut renovations. Facing backlash, the company is now cooperating with the LPC on a possible landmark designation after the commission quickly took up the issue.

Andrew Dolkart, an architectural historian on the faculty of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, said that many consider the Waldorf Astoria “the unofficial palace of New York and a major social center of the city.”

Dolkart said the hotel’s completion in 1931 proved to be an important boost to the city as the country slogged through the Great Depression, and remains one of the greatest interior spaces in the city.

According to the Art Deco Society of New York, the Waldorf Astoria is an architectural masterpiece that exemplifies a cohesive Art Deco style. Since the building was designed with all elements in mind, interior and exterior, Meghan Weatherby, the group’s director of operations, said they deserve equal protection.

“The aesthetically interconnected nature of these interior design elements exemplify the Art Deco ideal of an all-encompassing, unified aesthetic,” Weatherby said.

The Waldorf Astoria, the group maintains, is more than simply architecturally significant as its construction reflected the city’s evolution as a global destination. World leaders and dignities have long made the hotel their home base in the city, and it has traditionally also been the first choice of US presidents in town on official business.

While many preservationists praised the LPC for reacting so expeditiously after the property was purchased in 2014, they appealed to the agency to add the Starlight Roof.

The 18th floor restaurant originally had a retractable roof that allowed diners to see into the night sky, but it was permanently closed in 1950 to accommodate air conditioning. Still, the Historic Districts Council argues that the interior elements are largely intact and deserve preservation.

The Starlight Roof. | WALDORFNEWYORK.COM
The Starlight Roof. | WALDORFNEWYORK.COM

“While HDC understands the rationale of its disjointed nature from the other spaces because of its high-floor situation,” Barbara Zay, HDC’s manager of preservation and research, said at the hearing, “we hope thorough evaluations of this room’s historic resources were considered and that they will not be lost.”

Zay is hoping the LPC will work with the new owner in preserving the Starlight Roof’s marvelous ceilings.

Some of the hotel’s employees are showing their support for interior landmarking. Jeff Kalfus, a private dining waiter and wine server at the Waldorf, appeared at the hearing to testify on behalf of many of his co-workers. In the 16 years he’s been at the Waldorf, Kalfus said, he’s learned much about the building’s rich history, Frank Sinatra performing at the Starlight Roof just one among many stories he’s heard.

“The Art Deco and the rooms are so beautiful,” Kalfus said. “It’s just an amazing place and we don’t want the new company to just dismantle it, we want them to preserve and restore it.”

Even though roughly half of the hotel’s employees opted to leave after Anbang offered buyouts, most of them still cherish their workspace as illustrative of a glamorous element in the city’s history, according to Kalfus.

“I love my job, it’s like being invited to a party everyday,” he said. “It’s just a special place.”

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