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The Waldorf Astoria’s prestigious 85-year run, captured in historic photos

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As the hotel prepares for its next phase—condos, of course—a look back at its history

The Waldorf Astoria in the night sky, circa 1937.
Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York’s Digital Collection

Say goodbye to the Waldorf Astoria as it’s been known for the past 85 years: this week, the hotel will close its doors as it prepares for a several years-long renovation that will bring as many as 300 condos to the storied building. When it reopens, the Waldorf will still have a hotel—though the exact number of rooms is TBD—along with private residences in the building’s towers, which are currently home to its priciest, most exclusive suites.

The condo plan has been in the works for some time: In 2014, Chinese developer Anbang bought the legendary hotel for $1.95 billion with an eye towards conversion, as many other luxury hotels—the Plaza, the Sherry-Netherland, and the Trump Soho among them—have done before. Though initial reports estimated that around 1,000 apartments would be created as part of the transformation, Anbang has since scaled back.

The Waldorf Astoria in 1930, with the Chrysler Building in the background.
Irving Underhill/Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York’s Digital Collection

The developer has also promised to keep the hotel’s public spaces—Peacock Alley, the grand ballroom, and the like—more or less intact, though a determined group of preservationists is hoping to have the interiors landmarked before construction begins. (The Landmarks Preservation Commission heard testimony in January, so a hearing could happen sometime in the next few months.)

Of course, this isn’t the first time that big changes have come to the Waldorf. The hotel itself was established in 1893, when wealthy multi-hyphenate (businessman-politician-philanthropist) William Waldorf Astor decided to open the Waldorf hotel on the site of his Fifth Avenue mansion. The Astoria hotel, opened by his cousin John Jacob Astor IV, followed just four years later.

But as time went on, the two hotels—which were connected by a colonnade dubbed “Peacock Alley,” allegedly because of the very rich and famous folks who would regularly be seen there—aged out. In 1929, they were sold to the developers of another soon-to-be icon: the Empire State Building.

The Waldorf Astoria, meanwhile, moved uptown to its current Park Avenue location, opening in October 1931. In the years after, it became the lodging of choice for dignitaries, celebrities, and presidents alike. To celebrate the hotel’s legacy, take a trip back in time with these vintage photos, which show it soon after its 1931 opening and beyond.

The Waldorf Astoria towers, with the Empire State Building in the background, circa 1931.
AP Photo
The Park Avenue foyer of the Waldorf, circa 1933.
Library of Congress
The Waldorf’s Silver Gallery circa 1933.
Library of Congress
The Waldorf Astoria’s grand ballroom, circa 1933.
Library of Congress
Murals by José Maria Sert lined the walls of this ballroom, circa 1933.
Library of Congress
The Waldorf’s Basildon Room is notable for its frescoed ceiling, as seen in this image from 1933.
Library of Congress
President Franklin Roosevelt speaks at the Waldorf Astoria
Photo by George Skadding/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Princess Margaret, one of many celebrities who would attend events at the Waldorf over the years, circa 1965.
AP Photo/Pool
In 1983, the hotel’s Grand Ballroom underwent a restoration that brought it to its current state—which will hopefully be preserved post-conversion.
AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler

Waldorf Astoria New York

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