Photo by Richard Averill Smith (1935)
Funny how a tidbit of fact checking can lead to some interesting reading and a blog post. I simply needed to make sure the hotel I wanted to feature in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was indeed open for business in 1935. I had a pretty good idea that the Waldorf=Astoria had been built and would be available for John’s best friend, Claude Willoughby, and his wife, Patsy, to spend the first night of their honeymoon in the lap of luxury. Still, I’ve been burned before on assuming facts for my novel, so I conducted a little research to make sure the hotel wasn’t closed for remodeling or some other detail that would prevent me from mentioning it in my book.
As soon as the fact was confirmed, I could have stopped. After all, I simply needed to say where Claude and Patsy spent their first night and that it was a gift from Claude’s grandparents. But it’s the Waldorf=Astoria, and the opulence, that drew me in. I won’t waste your time with overwhelming amounts of useless history. Rather, I’ll skip right to the interesting facts and secrets.
For instance, did you know how the “=” came to be the official symbol in the title Waldorf=Astoria?
The roots of this New York institution go back to 1893, when millionaire William Waldorf Astor opened the 13-story Waldorf Hotel on the former site of his mansion at Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street. A private bathroom in every guest chamber and electricity throughout were two on a long list of Waldorf firsts.
Four years later, the Waldorf was joined by the 17-story Astoria Hotel, erected on an adjacent site by Waldorf’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV. The corridor connecting the two buildings became an enduring symbol of the combined Waldorf and Astoria hotels, represented by the quirky “=” the Waldorf=Astoria uses instead of a hyphen in its official logo. In 1929 the original Waldorf=Astoria was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.
The new hotel cost $42 million and was the largest and tallest hotel at the time, having 1,852 rooms and 42 stories.
And here’s some other interesting information regarding the Waldorf=Astoria per luxury suite specialists, “The Jackies,” better known as Jackie Collens and Jackie Carter.
The most requested suite is the Presidential suite. When a president stays there, bulletproof glass is installed.
There’s an underground railroad that runs from Grand Central Terminal to the fourth floor of our basement. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the sitting president, that’s how they would bring him in because many people didn’t know he was in a wheelchair.
Old Waldorf=Astoria Hotel
The largest suite is 33A: The Cole Porter. It’s a five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath configuration suite that’s about 4,300 square feet, which typically rents out on a monthly basis. Prices start at $150,000. Porter lived there for 25 years and wrote a number of famous songs [in the room]; one of his biggest was “You’re the Top” from Kiss Me Kate. His piano is still in the suite, one more reason the room is so popular.
After Porter’s death in 1964, Frank Sinatra took over the lease, and he and his wife Barbara lived there until 1988. Rumor states that they etched their initials into the bathroom door but the door was apparently removed during renovations, and its whereabouts are unknown.
President Herbert Hoover was here from 1932–1964, and President Dwight Eisenhower stayed from 1967–1969. He and his wife lived in suite 700R because his wife had a fear of heights. To accommodate them, we had the elevator specially designed to open on the 7th floor. General Douglas MacArthur lived with us from 1952–1964, which is when he passed away. His wife continued to live here until her death in 2000.
The Elizabeth Taylor has the largest and most exquisite bathtub which can easily accommodate three people. The pillows in the master bedroom of the Royal Suite were created to resemble the Duchess of Windsor’s pugs. Douglas MacArthur’s master bathroom was designed with a constellation on the ceiling.
The hotel was the first to use red velvet ropes (outside the Palm Room restaurant) as a way to create order among the people crowding the entrance. Access was granted only with a reservation, another first; the fact that it created a sense of stature and separation was secondary. They also created rooftop happy hours.
The history-filled hotel is a magnet for guests with sticky fingers, and the items that disappear the most are teakettles, silverware, teapots, plates, and ashtrays. Once, a candelabrum was taken.
Oscar Tschirky, who is known globally as Oscar of the Waldorf, is credited with creating the Waldorf salad. It originally contained sliced apples, raisins, celery, cherries, and walnuts, and was lightly covered in a sugared mayonnaise dressing. Today truffle oil has been added to the mix.
There are many other pieces of history and fun secrets about the Waldorf=Astoria, too many to include, so I’ll leave you with this article, Dear Waldorf, Mummy Stole Your Teapot Back in 1935. So Sorry. The amnesty program wasn’t so much an effort to recoup stolen items as it was an attempt to generate attention on social media. I’d say it worked.
“Waldorf=Astoria Hotel – New York City.” Waldorf=Astoria Hotel – New York City, http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/WaldorfAstoria.html. Accessed 7 May 2017.
Strauss, Alix. “The Secrets of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.” CNT. Condé Nast Traveler, 05 Oct. 2016. Web. 07 May 2017.