The Waldorf - Astoria Hotel
It's difficult to compete with The Waldorf Astoria Hotel and its 100-year reign of glamour, luxury, celebrity culture, myth, lore, legend, extravagance, and stratospheric status symbol.
Built in 1893, The Waldorf Astoria Hotel was situated on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street and designed by renowned architect Henry Hardenbergh. The original Waldorf Hotel stood 13 stories tall and was built by William Waldorf Astor to spite his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV.
Not to be outdone, John Jacob Astor IV built his own hotel four years later. It stood 17 stories and was named "The Astoria."
The cousins eventually decided to call a truce for the sake of the business and the hotels were unified by a single hallway. Paying homage to the fashionable aristocrats that would strut up and down as the public watched, the hallway was known as "Peacock Alley" and could easily be sealed up with bricks if the cousins' relationship went awry. This unifying hallway was represented in the new name for the hotel by the hyphen, The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. After Conrad Hilton acquired the hotel in 1949, the hyphen was doubled into what looks like an equals sign (Waldorf=Astoria) to further denote this unifying hallway. However, after 2009, the hyphen was removed altogether and each word stands independently and hyphenless.
A pioneer in the industry, The Waldorf Astoria Hotel was the first in the era to offer complete electricity, private bathrooms, and room service, thus setting hospitality industry standards. They were also the first to introduce a kids menu.
By the 1920s, the Victorian-era building was growing outdated and Prohibition was seriously extinguishing the nightlife. Both William Waldorf Astor and John Jacob Astor IV had passed away by this point. John Jacob Astor IV tragically perished on the Titanic in 1912. He was the richest man on the ship at the time of the sinking with a fortune of $85,000,000. William died of heart failure in 1919. In 1928, the land was sold to developers who demolished the buildings to erect the Empire State Building.
A man by the name of Lucius Boomer purchased the Waldorf Astoria name for exactly $1 and built a new hotel in a different location within Manhattan.
Upon opening in 1931, as its second and present day incarnation, it was the largest hotel in the world. The Waldorf Astoria re-opened with a towering 47 stories over Park Avenue, 2,200 rooms and covered an entire city block. The Art Deco building, designed by architects Schultze and Weaver, surpassed its predecessor in grandeur and luxury.
From its first incarnation, the landmark hotel was known for its lavish dinner parties and galas and it's celebrity heavy guest list.
Today, The Waldorf Astoria Hotel contains 1413 guestrooms. The list of celebrities that have either visited, taken up residence, or simply attended social events and parties at the iconic destination is enough to make one's head spin. Marlon Brando, Cole Porter, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Marilyn Monroe, Ella Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich, Winston Churchill are just a small taste of the celebrity endorsing the legendary status of the hotel. In addition, every sitting president since Herbert Hoover has stayed in the Presidential Suite.
The Waldorf Salad, Eggs Benedict, and Thousand Island Dressing
Iconic staple of dining establishments and households, The Waldorf Salad, Eggs Benedict, and Thousand Island Dressing were all created by by maitre d', Osacar Tschirky.
Guest Historian Series
Read more about the history of The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, as told by Historic Hotels of America 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year Stanley Turkel. Excerpt is taken from his latest book Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013).