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Waldorf Astoria's condo conversion will move forward with Landmarks approval

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The hotel has been closed since March 1 for the three-year conversion

A rendering of the revamped main lobby of the Waldorf Astoria.
Renderings courtesy of SOM

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel’s conversion into several hundred condos and fewer hotel rooms will officially move forward now that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has given the project its stamp of approval. On Tuesday evening, in a meeting that stretched well beyond the Commission’s normal schedule, the LPC unanimously approved the conversion, which will shutter the hotel for three years.

Big-name projects coming before the Landmarks Commission can often become contentious affairs, but this was one of the rare instances where it was all pretty much smooth sailing. That was in large part because developer Anbang Insurance agreed to work with the Commission on the conversion, and were also supportive of the efforts to landmark sections of the Art Deco gem’s interiors.

That feat was accomplished early last month when the Commission voted in just a matter of minutes to landmark several interior portions of the hotel including Peacock Alley, the Grand Ballroom, and the Park Avenue lobby.

Tuesday’s presentation was led by Frank Mahan, an associate director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the firm leading the conversion. The massive 239-page presentation [PDF!] last over two hours, but was commended by the LPC and people who gave testimony at the meeting for its level of detail and the amount of elements it was incorporating from the original design of the hotel.

Among the changes and restoration work that SOM has planned at the Waldorf Astoria, are plans to replace the existing aluminum frame windows with the steel frame windows from the original design. This is somewhat of a mammoth task considering the design team will work to replace 5,380 windows—less than 40 of the original steel frame windows remain at the hotel today. About 15 percent of the windows will also be enlarged—this will start at about 320 feet where the building has a bit of setback.

Additional efforts will include cleaning up the entire exterior portion of the building, which has taken on somewhat of a muddy coloring over the years. The porte cochere that existed in the original building will be restored but this time the structure will get two separate porte cocheres—one for the residential portion and one for the hotel.

Inside, many of the iconic rooms of the hotel are being restored to their former glory including the Park Avenue Foyer, which will get back its luminous marble ceiling, and the Grand Ballroom.

While everyone who provided public testimony at the meeting spoke in favor of the project, some concerns lingered, most notably placing the residential entrance to the building on Park Avenue. Representatives from both the Art Deco Society and the Historic Districts Council argued that it was unnecessary and would disrupt the flow of the design. Mahan from SOM argued that the Park Avenue address was critical to the success of the condo portion of the building.

A few other concerns remained too including bringing back some of the light fixtures from the original design, but for the most part they seemed to be drowned out by the praise directed towards the redesign.

In addition, the proposal also had the backing of several elected officials including City Council member Daniel Garodnick, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The LPC of course was in agreement as well.

“They've been incredibly receptive to suggestions and recommendations of our staff,” Meenakshi Srinivasan, the chair of the LPC, said at the meeting. “They didn’t gloss over anything and made it a point to explain everything in detail.”

Following the interior designation last month, it was speculated that Anbang might up the condo count at the building from 321 to 409. But Anbang hasn’t confirmed this yet. The number of hotel rooms will be whittled down from 1,413 to 840. The new Waldorf Astoria will make its debut three years from now.