Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Waldorf Astoria

An Astor family feud contributed to the events which led to the construction of the original Waldorf-Astoria on Fifth Avenue.

It started as two hotels: one owned by William Waldorf Astor, whose 13-story Waldorf Hotel was opened in 1893 and the other owned by his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, called the Astoria Hotel and opened four years later and four stories higher.

William Astor, motivated in part by a dispute with his aunt, built the original Waldorf Hotel next door to her home, on the site of his father's mansion and today's Empire State Building. The hotel was built to the specifications of founding proprietor George Boldt; he and his wife Louise had become known as the owners and operators of the Bellevue, an elite boutique hotel in Philadelphia, subsequently expanded and renamed the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. 

William Astor's construction of a hotel next to his aunt's home worsened his feud with her, but, with Boldt's help, John Astor persuaded his aunt to move uptown. John Astor then built the Astoria Hotel and leased it to Boldt. Initially foreseen as two separate entities, Boldt had planned the new structure so that it could be connected to the old by means that became known as Peacock Alley. The combined Waldorf-Astoria became the largest hotel in the world at the time,while maintaining the original Waldorf's high standards.

The Waldorf-Astoria is historically significant for transforming the contemporary hotel, then a facility for transients, into a social center of the city as well as a prestigious destination for visitors and a part of popular culture. The Waldorf=Astoria was influential in advancing the status of women, who were admitted singly without escorts.   George Boldt's wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt, was influential in evolving the idea of the grand urban hotel as a social center, particularly in making it appealing to women as a venue for social events.

When the new skyscraping Waldorf=Astoria was built on Park Avenue, under the guidance of Lucius Boomer, the manager of the old Waldorf, a cast of furnishers and decorators with good reputations was assembled, to give it a grand yet domestic atmosphere. Boomer retired to Florida after the old Waldorf Astoria was demolished, but he had retained exclusive rights to use the name "Waldorf-Astoria", which he transferred to the new hotel. He died in an airplane crash in 1947, and Conrad Hilton bought the Waldorf Astoria in 1949.

The first two advertisements above date from 1931; the second from 1944.  The painting below dates from 1908.

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