In June, YIMBY reported that major changes are ahead for the Waldorf Astoria New York hotel. After yesterday’s vote by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to calendar portions of the Art Deco skyscraper’s interior, there are unlikely to be too many changes that mar its historic design.
The Waldorf is located at 301 Park Avenue, a full block bound by East 49th Street, Lexington Avenue, and East 50th Street. Designed by Schultze and Weaver and built between 1929 and 1931, it stands 625 feet tall and once boasted over 2,000 guestrooms. In 1993, the building was designated an individual landmark, which means its exterior falls under the protection of the LPC.
The hotel is presently a 1,413-key facility. In 2014, the China-based Anbang Insurance Group announced plans to purchase it, closing the deal a year later. This year, Anbang revealed that up to 1,100 of the rooms will be converted to condominiums, retaining 300 to 500 hotel rooms. The conversion, which could cost $1 billion, will mean closing the hotel for up to three years, starting at the end of March 2017.
The conversion has been the impetus for a new examination of the building’s interiors. The Historic Districts Council recently organized self-guided tours and preservation groups pushed for designation, now on track to be a reality. On Tuesday, the LPC calendared interior spaces for designation, mostly on the first and third floors.
On the ground floor, there is the Park Avenue vestibules and foyer and the Lexington Avenue vestibules and foyer. On the first floor, there is the Park Avenue Lobby and colonnade, the West Lounge (formerly Peacock Alley), the West Elevator Lobby, the Main Lobby, the Main Lobby Hall, the East Arcade, and the Lexington Avenue stairs and landing. On the second floor, there is the Lexington Avenue stairs and landing. On the third floor, there is the Lexington Avenue stairs and landing, the Grand Ballroom and balconies, the Ballroom Entrance Hall (formerly Silver Gallery), the Ballroom Foyer, the Basildon Room, the Jade Room, the Astor Gallery, and the foyer connecting the Jade Gallery and Astor Gallery with Lexington Avenue stairs.
Also calendared are the fixtures and interior components of these spaces, which “may include but [are] not limited to the wall surfaces, ceiling surfaces and floor surfaces, murals, mirrors, chandeliers, lighting fixtures, attached furnishings, doors, exterior elevator doors and grilles, railings and balustrades, decorative metalwork, and attached decorative elements.”
The LPC’s research department said the Waldorf Astoria is one of “the most prominent and culturally significant hotels.” The grand ballroom, measuring 110 feet by 90 feet, can hold 1,500 guests. It is one of the largest venues in the entire city, and plays host to the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump recently traded barbs. The research department added the hotel has some of the “finest and most varied Art Deco interiors.”
Commissioner Frederick Bland called it “one of the most distinctive interiors in the city” and one of his favorites. Commissioner Diana Chapin called visiting the hotel an “unparalleled experience.”
Anbang, thankfully, is supportive of these designations. “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,” the developer said in a statement. “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.”
With a unanimous vote to calendar the designations, the next step is a public hearing, followed by a vote. No date was announced for that public hearing, but it (and a vote) will have to take place within one year’s time. Even though the developer supports the designation, it will still be appropriate if it occurred before major work commences on the conversion.
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