Waldorf Astoria launches 90th anniversary oral history project

Posted On Tue, September 28, 2021 By

Posted On Tue, September 28, 2021 By In History, Hotels, Midtown East

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

October 1 marks 90 years since the Waldorf Astoria opened its doors on Park Avenue. It was the world’s tallest hotel for 32 years and became perhaps the most famous hotel on the globe, too, attracting Hollywood’s elite, world leaders, and famed cultural events and galas. Since 2016, the landmark has been closed for a restoration and reimagination that will bring 375 hotel rooms and suites, along with 375 luxury condos as part of The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria. In anticipation of the reopening in early 2023, and to mark its nine-decade-long history, a new website called Waldorf Stories will “honor, document, and preserve the oral history of the world’s most famous hotel through stories told by the people that lived them.”

Anyone who has a personal memory of the hotel can go on the website and upload videos, photographs, written testimonials, and scanned memorabilia. A winning entry will be awarded a “Weekend at the Waldorf” for two, a VIP opportunity to be one of the first guests to stay at the hotel when it reopens in 2023.

“When we purchased the legendary Waldorf Astoria, we knew we were taking on the mantle of preserving its great history. We are celebrating the hotel’s 90th anniversary by capturing its memories through the people who have walked its hallowed halls, said Andrew Miller, CEO of Dajia US, the hotel’s owner and developer.

For its launch, the website is featuring a curated selection of stories. Here is a sampling from these oral histories:

“It was such a global feeling to be at the Waldorf Astoria. Frank Sinatra had a suite. One day, I walked out of that suite not looking at all and ahead of myself, and I bumped right into a gentleman who was quite tall. I looked up and there was Superman! It was Christopher Reeves!” said Abbie Newman, whose first job was in the housekeeping department and who is today the President of LIVunLtd.

“It was a typical early Friday evening at Peacock Alley in 2007 when there was a knock at my office door. As the beverage director at the bar, I was coordinating the daily shift change and it was not unusual for the staff to seek my attention during this time. This time though, was different. It was the restaurant hostess, a young lady, just out of college, so it was easy to forgive her question: Who is Chuck Berry and why is he looking for you? And thus began one of my most memorable evenings during my nearly twelve-year tenure at the Waldorf Astoria,” said Frank Caiafa, who was the bar manager of the Peacock Alley and La Chine restaurants at the Waldorf from 2005 until it closed and author of “The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book.”

Hughie Weir was the events manager at the Waldorf Astoria for around 30 years starting in 1958 (he’s now in his 90s) He remembered: “Elsa Maxwell, who lived at the Waldorf, was a grand lady and she knew how to throw a party. I remember we had a Friday night in April when the Grand Ballroom was empty and my boss said ‘Hughie, get something in here.’ I remember Elsa said ‘Why go outside? Let’s create an event.’ And that’s when they created the April in Paris Ball.”

Hughie also shared: “When John Ringling North of the Ringling Brothers had his circus in New York at Madison Square Garden, that was the famous year when I had to get a baby elephant over there from the garden and bring it to the Grand Ballroom.”

You can hear all these stories and more, as well as submit your own, on Waldorf Stories. The building’s Instagram will feature selections from the website using the hashtag #WaldorfStories.

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