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New York’s historic Waldorf Astoria closed for facelift

Many worry hotel's famous Art Deco features will disappear after renovation

It is goodbye for now to the Waldorf Astoria, New York. One of the world's most luxurious hotels is closing for renovations.

The legendary establishment opened at its Park Avenue location in mid-town Manhattan in 1931 with more than 1,400 rooms, the largest - and tallest - at the time.

From Marilyn Monroe to former US president Barack Obama, as well as global leaders in town for the United Nations General Assembly every year, the Waldorf Astoria has been the place to stay.

The hotel is massive, occupying a full city block of prime New York real estate. The Art Deco style is carried through to the door handles in the lobby bathrooms.

However, the grande dame is showing her age. Guests have complained about dated rooms, peeling paint and issues with cleanliness.

Hotel owner Anbang Insurance Group closed the Waldorf for major renovations on Wednesday. The work is due to last two to three years.

The Chinese company bought the Waldorf in 2014 from the Hilton hotel chain for US$1.95 billion (S$2.8 billion).

Anbang is expected to convert a large number of rooms into luxury apartments with boutique stores on the ground level, leaving only a small part of the building as a hotel.

The facade - which became an official landmark in 1993 - is in no danger, but the interior is not protected under the landmark designation.

Waldorf Astoria closes for makeover
The Grand Ballroom at the New York City's Waldorf Astoria.PHOTO: AFP
 
Waldorf closes for makeover
The iconic facade of the Waldorf Astoria (above) will be retained during the renovation. PHOTO: AFP

 

Waldorf Astoria closes for makeover
Visitors take photographs in the main lobby at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.PHOTO: AFP

Some are worried that treasures such as the four-storey grand ballroom, and mosaic by French artist Louis Rigal at the entrance will disappear, despite Anbang's promise to consult conservation officials.

"I'm very, very sad," said 70-year-old Donna Karpa from Washington, a regular from the age of five who was in town for the weekend.

"We would come with my family for Christmas and we'd see the Rockettes (a dance show) and we would go ice skating at Rockefeller Center. It's great and the location is wonderful," she said.

Each of the hotel's employees - 1,400 of them - has a favourite memory of an encounter with the rich and famous.

Mr Michael Romei, head concierge of the 42-storey central tower known as The Towers - a hotel-within-a-hotel boasting the most luxurious suites - has worked there for 23 years.

His best memory? "Being blessed by the Dalai Lama."

But like many guests, the staff agree that it is time to refresh.

"We love the nostalgia, but it's kind of dated," said guest Ron Ruth, an aircraft mechanic from San Francisco who came for his 23rd wedding anniversary.

"The heating and the cooling... And the bathrooms are really small, too small for my wife." - AFP

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