When the Waldorf Astoria opened its doors on Park Avenue in 1931, the new building became an instant New York City icon. The world’s first skyscraper hotel has played host to celebrities, royalty, and heads of state, and as a favored setting for elegant social events, it earned the nickname “the unofficial palace of New York.” Designed by the firm Schultze & Weaver, the full-block building features the stepped massing that is emblematic of Art Deco architecture, with distinctive twin towers at the top. It is clad in limestone, brick in a shade known as “Waldorf Gray,” and bronze entryways that lead to lavish interiors. In 1993, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the exterior as a city landmark. Two decades later, a series of its indoor public spaces – from the main lobby and the surrounding corridors to many of the spaces above – were landmarked as well.
But in the 90 years since its completion, the Waldorf Astoria has undergone piecemeal renovations, including many that heavily altered the architecture. SOM is leading a comprehensive and highly complex restoration of the exterior and the landmarked interior, as well as a renovation to convert the former 1,400-room hotel into a 375-unit residential building and 375-key boutique hotel.
The renewed facade will bring back the splendor of the original design, with the bronze entrances and distinctive brickwork cleaned and restored. Before the restoration began, only one of the Waldorf Astoria’s 5,400 windows was original to the building; now that window is serving as the basis for thousands of replacements, with about 900 new windows being expanded a full foot taller to bring in more natural light. Mechanical systems are being removed from the setbacks, making way for new terraces with sweeping views of the city.
These terraces are just one of the many amenities that the new Waldorf Astoria has to offer, including an exclusive porte-cochère for residents, a fitness center, and a cinema. Perhaps the most impressive new amenity is the Starlight Pool, the transformation of the former Starlight Roof nightclub, an expansive space with 16-foot ceilings, into a dramatic, skylit pool and lounge overlooking a garden terrace.
Throughout the landmarked interior spaces – from the lobbies and the long corridors to the conference rooms and ballrooms above – many of the finishes will be refurbished to their original condition, bringing back the aura of the hotel’s storied past. All of these spaces will be unified by soft, ambient lighting – once one of the hallmarks of the interior.
When complete in 2022, the renovation and restoration will recapture the Waldorf Astoria’s mythic grandeur. It will be at once completely new, while true to the legacy and spirit of one of New York’s finest examples of Art Deco architecture.