Hotel History

Hotel History - Hotel History: The Opening of the Current Waldorf-Astoria

Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 131 - By Stanley Turkel, CMHS

HTrends 1. Hotel History: The Opening of the Current Waldorf-Astoria

In 1931, the new Waldorf-Astoria Hotel opened at Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets under Lucius Boomer's direction. The Art Deco style hotel, designed by architects Schultze & Weaver, dazzled thousands of onlookers when it was unveiled. With 42 stories and 2,200 rooms, the building was the largest hotel in the world at the time of its opening.

On September 30, the night before the official opening, thousands of New Yorkers gathered in the great ballroom as Lucius Boomer raised his hands in a gesture of silence and a voice from far-away Washington squeaked through a radio loud-speaker... It was Herbert Hoover, the first President of the United States to speak at the opening of a hotel. "Our hotels have become community institutions," said Hoover. "They are the central points of civil hospitality... The erection of this great structure," he continued, mindful of the awful Depression that had settled over the nation, "has been a contribution to the maintenance of employment, and an exhibition of courage and confidence to the whole nation."

Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

Oscar of the Waldorf was one of the executives who managed both the original and the current Waldorf-Astoria. Oscar commanded a staff of 1,000 employees besides conducting a school for waiters, at the time the only one of its kind in the United States. In 1896, Oscar had written one of the greatest cookbooks of its time: "The Cook Book by Oscar of the Waldorf." It contained 907 pages and 3,455 recipes.

Those who remembered the old Waldorf were as pleased to see the broad hallway which paralleled Park Avenue and was entered from the main foyer. Its walls were paneled with French burl walnut inlaid with ebony, its pilasters faced with French rouge marble and topped with capitals and cornices of nickel bronze. Installed along the walls, were a series of maple vitrines fronted with glass in which leading New York merchants displayed their wares. It was a handsome corridor which captured the spirit, though it did not duplicate the appearance, of the fabled promenade in the original Waldorf. But it bore the same name, Peacock Alley, and that fact was enough to warm the hearts of nostalgic guests.

Even during the bleak years of the Depression, the Waldorf-Astoria was widely acclaimed as the world's greatest hotel. Top-name entertainers appeared regularly in its Empire Room. Important balls and banquets were held in its ballroom. One of the remarkable features of the hotel was a private railroad siding beneath the building where guests in private cars could come directly to the hotel via the New York Central tracks. In a Waldorf-Astoria advertisement which is reproduced in Lucius Boomer's authoritative book Hotel Management: Principles and Practice, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, New York, (1938), the following words appear under a Waldorf-Astoria photograph:

The Waldorf-Astoria is definitely something more than a hotel. For more than forty years, the great figures of the earth have chosen the Waldorf-Astoria as the one hotel compatible with their political dignity, their economic importance, or their artistic fame.

An advertisement for The Towers of the Waldorf-Astoria, shows a photograph of a "Living-Room of an apartment in 18th Century English.":

The very fact that no expense was spared in creating the superb period apartments in the Towers is proof of a very large expense spared to you! You are spared a costly investment in such a home as only your private fortune could otherwise build! You are spared concern for the custody and protection of that investment! And you are spared domestic cares by a service that has for 40 years been unique! Apartments are available by the day, month or year. 50th Street just off Park Avenue, New York.

The Waldorf Towers with its own private entrance, lobby and elevators on Fiftieth Street is exclusively for long-term tenants. Hundreds of notables, ranging from European kings to Indian maharajas, bedded down in its luxurious tower suites. President Hoover, after his departure from the White House, made his home in the Waldorf, as did General of the Army Douglas McArthur, the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor, publishers Henry Luce and William Randolph Hearst, Jr., song writer Cole Porter, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope, the Sultan of Brunei, etc. The Towers has 115 suites and 90 rooms on the 28th to 42nd floors. Because of its unique design and layout which permits stringent security, it is the preferred New York City hotel for United States presidents, heads of state and celebrities.

A plaque in the Presidential Suite reads:

The Waldorf-Astoria Presidential Suite.

A few of the famous occupants

Every President of the United States since 1931

Queen Elizabeth II, England

King Hussein, Jordan

King Saud, Saudi Arabia

General Charles de Gaulle, France

Chairman Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Union

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel

Prime Minister Menachen Begin, Israel

Premier Giulio Andreotel, Italy

President Valery Giscard D'estang, France

Emperor and Empress Hirohito, Japan

King Juan Carlos I, Spain

President Nicolai Ceausescu, Romania

King Olav V, Norway

King Faisal, Saudi Arabia

Lucius Boomer introduced such U.S. hotel business "firsts" at the Waldorf-Astoria as the six-day work week, a floor reserved exclusively for women guests, a floor with Spanish-speaking clerks and maids to cater to guests from Latin America (which might not seem a novelty in New York today, but was unheard of in the 1929's) and the employment of women as front desk receptionists and clerks. Boomer laid great stress on modern management techniques softening the harsh carrot-and-stick methods of Henry Ford and the father of scientific management, Frederick Taylor. New institutions guided this shift to a kinder, gentler form of scientific management. On June 26, 1947, Lucius Boomer died of a heart attack while vacationing in Homar, Norway. He was sixty-seven years old.

2. My new book, "Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf":

Lucius Boomer, one of the most famous hoteliers of his time, was Chairman of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel Corporation. In a career of more than half a century, he owned and directed such celebrated hotels as the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia, the Lenox in Boston and the McAlpin, Claridge, Sherry-Netherland and the original as well as the current Waldorf-Astoria in New York. With T. Coleman DuPont, he built, owned and managed the current Waldorf-Astoria Hotel from 1929-1947.

George C. Boldt was the genius of the original Waldorf-Astoria (on the site of the Empire State Building). It was said of him that he made innkeeping a profession and, more than any man, was responsible for the modern American hotel.

Oscar of the Waldorf was described in 1898 by the New York Sun, "In only one New York hotel, however, is there a personage deserving to be called a ma"tre d' hotel. Anyone who studies him closely will soon arrive at a firm conviction that he might quite as appropriately have been called General or Admiral, if circumstances had not led him into the hotel business. Oscar knows everybody."

To purchase a copy, visit my website ( and click on the book title (Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf). You can then order a Softcover for $19.95 or a dust jacket Hardcover for $28.95 or an E-Book for $3.99 directly from the publisher (AuthorHouse).

To purchase an autographed dust jacket Hardcover copy, send a check for $43.00 (which includes shipping and handling) to me at:

Stanley Turkel, CMHS

147-03 Jewel Avenue

Flushing, N.Y. 11367

Be sure to include your mailing address.

3. 2014 Historian of the Year

I am pleased to report that I received the 2014 Historian of the Year Award by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The awards ceremony took place at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania on October 2, 2014.

The Historic Hotels of America Historian of the Year Award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion of greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.

About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley Turkel is a recognized authority and consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases and providing asset management and hotel franchising consultation.

Prior to forming his hotel consulting firm, Turkel was the Product Line Manager for Hotel/Motel Operations at the International Telephone & Telegraph Co. overseeing the Sheraton Corporation of America. Before joining IT&T, he was the Resident Manager of the Americana Hotel (1842 Rooms), General Manager of the Drake Hotel (680 Rooms) and General Manager of the Summit Hotel (762 Rooms), all in New York City.

Turkel serves as a Friend of the Tisch Center and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. He served for eleven years as Chairman of the Board of the Trustees of the City Club of New York and is now the Honorary Chairman.

Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. More than 275 articles on various hotel subjects have been published in the leading hotel magazines and posted on the Hotel-Online, BlueMauMau, HotelNewsResource and eTurboNews websites. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute. A third hotel book was called "passionate and informative" by the New York Times.

Stanley Turkel, CMHS

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