As the saying goes: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
New York City’s landmark Waldorf Astoria hotel will close for up to three years while most of its rooms are gutted and turned into luxury apartments, according to The Wall Street Journal. Once the renovation is completed, the remaining 300 to 500 rooms will remain available to travelers as hotel rooms. China’s Anbang Insurance Group, which acquired the hotel in 2015 for nearly $2 billion, plans to close the Waldorf for renovations in spring 2017.
While it’s no secret that the hotel had declined in recent years, with bed bug infestations plaguing the swanky site, this news signifies the end of an era. The 85-year-old iconic hotel has received every United States president since Herbert Hoover and hosted icons like singer Ella Fitzgerald and composer Cole Porter, all while inventing the concept of room service and the Waldorf Salad. The Waldorf Astoria was once the largest and tallest hotel in the world, a must-stay for wealthy New Yorkers and foreign dignitaries. The property was famously called “the greatest of them all” by hotelier Conrad Hilton.
Here are 5 fascinating facts you never knew about the Waldorf Astoria.
1. The original Waldorf Astoria hotel was the product of a family feud.
William Waldorf Astor opened the Waldorf Hotel in 1893 on the corner of 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue. Four years later, Waldorf Astor's cousin John Jacob Astor IV opened the Astoria Hotel next door. The cousins ended up connecting the hotels with a 300-foot corridor called Peacock Alley. The hotel's name was changed to Waldorf=Astoria, with a double hyphen to represent the corridor.
The original building was later knocked down in 1928 to make way for the Empire State Building. Waldorf manager Lucius Boomer purchased the Waldorf Astoria name for $1 and moved the hotel uptown, where it opened at its current address in 1931.
2. There's a secret train platform underneath the hotel.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously used Track 61 to enter the Waldorf Astoria. VIPs with private rail cars could go directly to the hotel instead of Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal.
Author and journalist Sam Roberts wrote in his book, Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, that FDR used the hidden platform "in part to hide his disability from the public." The private railway was made large enough to accommodate the president's armor-plated car, which could drive off the train and straight into the hotel elevator.
3. Marilyn Monroe called the Waldorf Astoria home.
Marilyn Monroe lived in the hotel's $1,000 per-week suite in 1955. A year earlier, Monroe moved to New York City to film "The Seven Year Itch." She also wanted to take acting classes with Lee Strasberg and to leave behind her more hectic lifestyle in Los Angeles. Monroe filmed her iconic white dress scene on a subway grate just up the street from the Waldorf, at 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue. She and husband Joe DiMaggio split soon after the scene was shot.
4. Cole Porter's Steinway piano is in the hotel.
Cole Porter lived in the Waldorf Astoria Towers for 25 years. He played some of his most famous songs in his suite, including "You're The Top" from "Anything Goes." His Steinway & Sons piano still resides at the hotel. Years later, Frank Sinatra and his wife, Barbara, moved into the same suite. The Waldorf's 5-bedroom Cole Porter apartment rents for $150,000 per month, according to the hotel's website.
5. In 2012, the Waldorf Astoria began an amnesty program to retrieve stolen artifacts.
The historic hotel allowed guests to return items stolen from the Waldorf Astoria over the years without any penalty. The hotel showcased the returned items on social media to attract younger generations to the Waldorf, and displayed select pieces in the lobby. The program saw the return of silverware, ashtrays, teakettles and more. Items stolen as long ago as the 1920s finally found their way home.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the musical for which Cole Porter wrote "You're The Top." It was in "Anything Goes." Language has been amended to reflect that Cole Porter is more well-known as a composer and songwriter.