Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.’s sale of the luxury Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City will spur a “major renovation” of an Art Deco landmark with roots dating back to 1893, when millionaire William Waldorf Astor built the first incarnation of the historic property.
The original 13-story building, known at the time as the Waldorf Hotel, was erected on the site of Astor’s mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street, according to the hotel’s website. Four years later, Waldorf’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, built the 17-story Astoria Hotel on an adjacent site. He later was aboard the Titanic and died after the ship sank.
The first Waldorf Astoria was sold to the developers of what would become the Empire State Building, and they tore the dated hotel down in 1929, according to the website. The replacement opened at its current location on Oct. 1, 1931, as the tallest and largest hotel in the world at the time. It demonstrated the “nation’s growth in power, in comfort and in artistry,” President Herbert Hoover said in a radio broadcast.
Anbang Insurance Group Co., the Beijing-based buyer of the Waldorf Astoria, “will grant Hilton Worldwide a management agreement to continue to operate the property for the next 100 years, and the hotel will undergo a major renovation to restore the property to its historic grandeur,” the companies said today in a statement announcing the $1.95 billion purchase.
The hotel was the setting of Ginger Rogers film “Weekend at the Waldorf,” the No. 7 film at the box office in 1945. Four years later, hotelier Conrad Hilton, who called the property “The Greatest of Them All,” acquired management rights to the Waldorf Astoria. In 1972, Hilton Hotel Corp., a predecessor company to Hilton Worldwide, purchased the property, birthplace of the Waldorf salad, with apples, celery and walnuts.
The hotel has been a draw for movie stars and elected officials including President Franklin D. Roosevelt because they could use the multiple entrances at the hotel, which occupies a full city block -- along with a secret, underground entrance -- to get in and out without attracting attention, said Nikhil Bhalla, a lodging analyst at FBR & Co. in Arlington, Virginia. Every U.S. president from Hoover on has visited the Waldorf, according to the hotel website.
The property’s 1,232 rooms and other facilities are in need of upgrades and will require “a phenomenal amount of capital expenditure to restore it to its luxury roots,” Bhalla said.
“It absolutely still has a place today for a lot of people to stay there, but the issue is also a functional obsolescence,” Bhalla said. The Waldorf’s “major challenges” include a confusing layout and elevators that are small and slow, he said. “If you’re there for a conference, to get from one point at the hotel to another can take you many minutes.”