Speakers at hearing on designation lavish praise on quality and significance of hotel’s opulent Art Deco interior spaces. On January 24, 2017, Landmarks held a hearing on the potential designation of certain interior spaces in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, at 301 Park Avenue in Manhattan. The exterior of the hotel, with its block-sized footprint, was designated an individual landmark in 1993. Landmarks officially added the interiors to its calendar on November 1, 2006. The specific interiors in the potential designation were identified by Landmarks staff as the most important spaces, as well as the corridors that connect them. The hotel was designed by the firm Schultze and Weaver, with partner Lloyd Morgan overseeing the project.
The spaces identified for potential designation include the ground floor Park Avenue Foyer with its murals and floor mosaic, and the Main Lobby which features black marble columns. Also on the ground floor is an elevator bank with distinctive metal doors, and double staircases ascending to the third floor Silver Gallery. The Silver Gallery, a hallway linking four ballrooms, possesses mirrored walls and a black-and-white mosaic floor, with murals on the ceiling artistically representing the months of the year. The Grand Ballroom is an iconic event space with three levels, projecting balconies and a gilt ceiling. The Basildon Room is decorated with panels salvaged from an 18th century English mansion. Also on the third floor are the Jade Room and Astor Gallery, ornamented with gilding, mirrors and paneling. The interiors have been altered to various extents over time, but retain their original dimensions and distinctive features.
Landmarks’ Research Department noted that the Waldorf Astoria and the Plaza Hotel were the only two early 20th century luxury hotels in the City to largely retain their original interiors. The Renaissance-Revival interiors of the Plaza Hotel, designated in 2005, contrast with the Waldorf Astoria’s of-its-time Art Deco design.
The hotel was acquired by Chinese investment firm Anbang in 2014. The new owners intend to close the hotel for a period of renovation. The renovated hotel will partially host condominium use. Anbang has called the possible interior designations “consistent with our vision,” and allowed Landmarks unrestrained access to the spaces for study prior to calendaring.
Andrew Dolkart, Professor of Historic Preservation at Columbia University, drew attention to the hotel’s monochromatic limestone exterior with the lavish ornamentation of interior. Dolkart also noted that designation would help preserve the “masterfully calibrated” circulatory patterns, which segregated hotel occupants and function attendees of varying social strata. The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Glen Umberger said the interiors epitomize that which makes the Waldorf-Astoria extraordinary, as well as the “Art Deco zeitgeist.” The Art Deco Society’s Lisa Easton testified that the interiors were one the City’s “richest collections of Modern Classical spaces,” displaying both “creative design” and “sophisticated elegance.”
A tour guide testified that the Waldorf Astoria always impresses the most jaded visitor, both long-time New Yorkers and tourists from all over the globe. An employee of the Waldorf said the hotel was “a special place to all of us,” and its Art Deco interior was part of its identity and allure.
Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council testified in favor of landmarking, and asked that the Commission extend the designation to include the Starlight Roof. The Starlight Roof was a small ornate ballroom on the top floor with a retractable ceiling. The room is now closed to the public, but the ceiling remains intact.
There was no testimony in opposition to designation.
Before closing the hearing, Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that Council Member Daniel Garodnick and State Senator Brad Hoylman had communicated their support for designation to the Commission. Srinivasan said the Commission had received 20 additional e-mails urging Landmarks to designate the interiors.
No date was established for a vote on designation.
LPC: Waldorf-Astoria Hotel Interiors, 301 Park Avenue, Manhattan (LP-2591) (Jan. 24, 2017).