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."

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.

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