Jazz Age Hotel

Waldorf Astoria’s art deco interiors one step closer to landmark status

East Interiors Preservation
New York's Waldorf Astoria lobby. (Courtesy Alan Light/Flickr)
New York's Waldorf Astoria lobby. (Courtesy Alan Light/Flickr)

The Waldorf Astoria hotel is one of the most important works of art deco architecture in New York City. Its interior spaces, designed in 1929 by Schultze & Weaver, embody the spirit of the Jazz Age architecture that captured the city in the 1920s.

The exterior was landmarked in 1993. Today, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously to calendar the interior spaces for designation, most of which are part of the block-long network of interiors. The new designation could protect the large spaces and connecting hallways, many of which are publicly accessible. Putting the interiors on the calendar is the first official step in the landmarking process.

Chinese holding company Anbang Insurance Group purchased the building for $1.95 billion in 2014 and is looking to invest up to $1 billion more for a major renovation that could transform the hotel into luxury residential apartments. The building is scheduled to close for renovations from spring 2017 until 2020.

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Ballroom at Waldorf Astoria in New York. (Courtesy Abhisit Vejjajiva/Flickr)

In a statement released today, Anbang declared its support for the LPC’s move:

Anbang knows the Waldorf’s history is a large part of what makes this hotel so special. That’s why we fully support the LPC’s recommendation for what would be one of the most extensive interior landmark designations of any privately owned building in New York. These designations are consistent with our vision and will protect the Waldorf’s significant public spaces. We are now finalizing renovation plans for the Waldorf that preserve these spaces and will ensure that the Waldorf will provide memorable experiences for generations to come. We look forward to sharing our plans publicly when they are complete.

The spaces under review include the Park Ave foyer and colonnade, the West Lounge (a.k.a. “Peacock Alley”), the East Arcade, the Lexington Avenue stairs, assorted lobbies and vestibules, the Ballroom entrance hall, and the famous Grand Ballroom. The ballroom hosts many high-profile events, including the Al Smith dinner that serves as comedic relief each presidential election season as the two candidates take light-hearted jabs at each other.

The decadent architectural details inside represent an early embrace of the Machine age, even if in a “superficial way,” as described Marianne Lamonaca, author of Grand Hotels of the Jazz Age, a 2005 book about New York’s remarkable hotels of the era.

“This is one of the most distinctive interiors in the city,” Commissioner Frederick Bland explained. “In Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas writes a whole chapter on this extraordinary city within a city. I always encourage my students to visit this sequence of spaces. That is what make this so special to me. It is public, or nearly public. To walk on that main axis, entering from Park Avenue, and ending up down a level on Lexington is wonderful. It is probably my favorite interior in all of New York. The fact that it is not landmarked already is really horrifying. This is a delightful day for me.”

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