wal1.jpg (31921 bytes) New York Architecture Images- Gone

The Waldorf Astoria 


Henry J. Hardenbergh (1847-1918)


Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street 




Historicist Skyscrapers  Second Empire Baroque  French Chateau


Stone and brick cladding, steel frame. Mansard roof.







In 1890 William Waldorf Astor decided to raze the family mansion on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street and commissioned Henry J. Hardenbergh to build the largest, most luxurious hotel in the world. The 13 story Waldorf Hotel, with 450 rooms, opened in 1893 and was instantly the talk of the town. Its success inspired John Jacob Astor, William’s cousin, who owned the other half of the block, to demolish his house and build an adjacent connected hotel. The Astoria, also designed by Hardenbergh, was combined with the Waldorf in 1897 to form the Waldorf-Astoria. The hotel was not just for travelers—in its 40 public rooms the fashionable society of New York gathered, dined, and entertained. The staff numbered nearly as many as the 1,500 guests that registered daily in its 1,300 rooms. Hardenbergh built many of New York’s grand hotels and apartment buildings of that era, including the Dakota Apartments (1884) and the Plaza Hotel (1906).
The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was demolished in 1929 to make way for the construction of the Empire State Building. The hotel’s refined Art Deco successor soon rose on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.

 The corridor connecting the two buildings became an enduring symbol of the combined Waldorf and Astoria hotels, represented by the quirky "=" the Waldorf=Astoria uses instead of a hyphen in its official logo. In 1929 the original Waldorf-Astoria was demolished to make way for the Empire State Building.

~The Waldorf-Astoria~
In 1890, John Jacob Astor III bequeathed his home to his son, William Waldorf Astor, who decided not to live in it.  He chose instead to live on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street.  It was not William’s intent to live next door to his “Aunt Lina”, with whom he’d been engaged in a family feud for several years.  As far as William was concerned, he was the male head of the Astor family, and therefore, it was his wife, Mary Dahlgren Paul (called Mamie) who was to be referred to as “THE Mrs. Astor”!  It infuriated him that, due to her high social standing, the press and Society had fallen into the habit of referring to his aunt as “Mrs. Astor”.  Frankly, Caroline herself regarded the entire matter with simple indifference, but as William had since childhood considered himself to be superior, and had always been ill-tempered and spoiled, his intent was to seek revenge against his aunt.  Thus, he decided that rather than live in the house next door to her, he would build a large, noisy hotel on the corner of Fifth and 33rd Street that would drive his aunt crazy, and would literally overshadow her!  William Waldorf insisted that the hotel be named “The Waldorf” so as to always remind the public of his importance.  Yet, by the time of the hotel’s completion in 1893, Waldorf had been living in England for two years.  He saw his hotel only once in his lifetime.
The Waldorf opened its doors on March 4, 1893 and was a smashing success.  The grand-opening event was a fund-raising party for the benefit of St. Mary’s Free Hospital for child-ren.  The event was sponsored by some of the most prominent and well-known names of the upper social circles.  The patroness (benefactor) was Mrs. Richard Irwin, who was one of the original “Four Hundred”, and was active in unlimited charities.  Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt (also a Fifth Avenue resident and the topic of the next entry on this webpage) paid for the opening concert, performed by the New York Symphony led by Walter Dam-rosch.
Not only did The Waldorf prove to be very profitable for the Astor estate, it also accomplished William’s underlying purpose of driving his Aunt Lina out of her home at 350 Fifth Avenue.  In actuality, however, Mrs. Astor had begun contemplating her move from 350 Fifth Avenue at the very onset of plans for the Waldorf Hotel in 1890.  At that time, rumors began floating that the residence of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor might be demolished and the site used for a sister hotel.  When William Waldorf moved to England in 1891 (two years prior to the grand opening of his hotel), Caroline’s son, John Jacob Astor IV, became the titular head of the Astor family, and plans for the building of a  second hotel became official.  The hotel was originally to be called “The Schermerhorn”, in tribute to his renowned mother, but in the end, the hotel was named in honor of Astoria, the fur-trapping colony in Oregon where the Astor wealth originated.
The Astoria had a frontage on Fifth Avenue, but its length was along 34th Street.  At sixteen stories, the Astoria stood five stories taller than the Waldorf, but the two hotels were connected and in effect, became one building.

The combined hotel (for which provisions were made that the hotels could be divided at any time; most likely a carry-over from the uneasy relations between the two branches of the family) became known as the Waldorf-Astoria, and was the largest hotel in the world at its opening on November 1, 1897.
In 1900, Harper’s Bazaar described the Waldorf-Astoria as “the fashion of New York and the Mecca of is the chosen gathering place of New York society, which comes here to see and to be observed...”

And though society did go to the elegant Waldorf-Astoria for its gatherings, they were choosing to live farther uptown, albeit still on or near the most elite street of the Victorian Era: Fifth Avenue.
Waldorf-Astoria's Interior "Palm Garden", 1902
With the death of William B. Astor in 1892, and the opening of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1893, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor felt that a move uptown was not only inevitable, but also provident.  After conferring with her son, John Jacob Astor IV (who later died in the 1912 sinking of the Titanic), they contemplated the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th Street as the site for her new home, but decided against it because the neighbor-hood was simply too close to the edge of commercial development and in danger of being swallowed up by industrial growth.  Therefore, it was determined that a better site for the next Astor mansion would be the 75 X 100 foot lot on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 65th Street (which had been purchased by William B. in 1891 for $215,000).  This was indeed grand foresight on the part of Mrs. Astor because, with the entrance of Central Park laying at its doorstep, the area near the plaza at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue acted like a magnet for upper-class development.
John Jacob Astor IV
Renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt began to build the double mansion for Mrs. William B. Astor and her son, John Jacob IV and his family, and it was completed in January 1896.  The double mansion contained separate residences for Caroline and her son, but several grand first-floor rooms that were used for entertaining linked them.  Among these rooms were drawing rooms, libraries, dining rooms and breakfast rooms, in addition to a great hall that contained a colossal double staircase.  The opulent art gallery was situated in the center of the house was transformed into a
Astor Residence, 840 Fifth Avenue
ballroom that was used for the Astor’s’ frequent galas, receptions and balls.  Though the room could easily accommodate 600 guests, it did not give rise to a new standard for society.  The new ballroom never quite saw the grand celebrations that the old ballroom at 350 Fifth Avenue (which only held 400) had.