The word “grand” matched few hotels in the world better than New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, but this bastion of gilded splendor is now closing for two to three years for a transformative makeover.
The last guests were checking out by noon Wednesday after enjoying the rich Art Deco style of the old Waldorf one last time.
When the building reopens, it will still have a hotel, but hundreds of its 1,400 guest rooms will have been converted into privately owned condominiums, according to a spokesman for the Anbang Insurance Group, the Chinese company that bought the storied hotel for nearly $2 billion in 2015.
The exterior is protected by law as a New York City landmark.
The Waldorf Astoria’s history dates to 1893, but its original home was torn down to make way for the Empire State Building. The “new” Waldorf Astoria’s more than 40 stories opened on Park Avenue in 1931, built at a cost topping $40 million ($639 million in today’s dollars) making it one of the world’s largest and most expensive hotels at the time.
It has welcomed well-heeled guests including every American president — in the Presidential Suite, of course, behind bulletproof glass windows.
The hotel also lent its name to the Waldorf salad, a mix of dressed apples, celery, grapes and walnuts that’s become an American standard.
Plans for the renovation are still not finalized, but some in the hotel industry said the new Waldorf will mirror the concept of New York’s Plaza hotel, which was renovated a decade ago into a mix of private apartments and a smaller hotel. Anbang bought the Waldorf in 2015 from Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., which continues to operate it.
“This can be a great real estate transaction, if they can get enough money selling the condominium units to cover the purchase price,” said Bjorn Hanson, professor of hospitality and tourism management at New York University.
About 1,500 hotel employees are being laid off due to the closure.