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Many emotions as Waldorf enters new era

By HONG XIAO in New York and AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-03-01 19:27

Cesar Abrego, who has been working at the Waldorf Astoria New York hotel for 27 years, said he felt very sad on Tuesday.

"My father retired here after 35 years working at the Waldorf; I worked as a bellman for 17 years. I started as a housekeeper, overnight graveyard shift, 10 years before that,"he said.

"It's a great place to work; it's going to be a big legacy. There's nothing like this hotel. Hopefully, they'll make it a grand new hotel when it opens up,"Abrego told China Daily on Tuesday.

The Waldorf, one of the world's most luxurious and historic hotels, closed on Tuesday for a renovation that could take two to three years.

The hotel opened at its Park Avenue location in midtown Manhattan in 1931 with more than 1,400 rooms, the largest — and tallest — anywhere at the time.

"I was very emotional just changing in the locker room and overcome, fighting the tears of joy, because after 27 years, it's not just any job; I started here when I was 20 years old, and I went to 48, so basically I worked here all my life,"said Abrego, who nonetheless believes some renovation is necessary.

The Art Deco masterpiece has hosted a stream of international political leaders, movie stars, tycoons and power players for more than 85 years.

From actresses Marilyn Monroe to Grace Kelly, US presidents Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama, and global leaders in town for the United Nations General Assembly every year, the Waldorf Astoria has been a center of grandeur.

"All the guests here are great ... Frank Sinatra was before my time, but he used to stay here before,"Albrego recalled. "A lot of presidents, delegations came in September, they were here for United Nations, and we get to see a lot of people, different people from over the world. And also, (the) presidential suite, every president has stayed there since President Hoover.”

However, the grande dame is showing her age.

Guests have complained about dated rooms, peeling paint and issues with cleanliness.

The hotel's owner, Anbang Insurance Group of China, says it will close the hotel for major renovations to start on Wednesday. The Chinese company bought the historic gem in 2014 from the Hilton hotel chain for $1.95 billion.

Although it has released no official renovation plan, Anbang is expected to convert a large number of rooms into luxury apartments with boutique stores on the ground floor, leaving only a small part of the building as a hotel.

The facade — which became an official landmark in 1993, joining the Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge — is not in danger.

But the interior is not protected under the landmark designation, and some are worried that such treasures as the four-story grand ballroom and sprawling mosaic by the French artist Louis Rigal decorating the entrance will disappear, despite Anbang's promise to consult preservation officials.

Mark Abushady, a 56-year-old photographer, singer and actor, was taking photos in the hotel lobby on Tuesday afternoon. He still remembers his first visit to the hotel at age 5.

"I just saw on Facebook about two hours ago, and I found out that this was closing, so I came in from Queens where I live, to take pictures and try to take as many pictures I can, because I grew up in Manhattan, I sang in the lobby in a choir when I was in grammar school. I grew up at just about five blocks away from here. We always used to just walk to the lobby, my parents and I,"Abushady told China Daily.

"I love the architecture; I think it's stunning, it's beautiful, I can't believe that they're going to do anything with it, I hope not,"he said. "I understand the outside is landmark status, but I don't know if the inside is. I know they're going to renovate it but I hope they don't touch a single piece of this, because it's so beautiful. It's really, it's a crown jewel in New York in Manhattan.

"I spoke with the women who said that (former US President Franklin Delano) Roosevelt's train car on its tracks are in the subbasement here. I also know Cole Porter's piano is in the lobby, so I want to take pictures of all of it because it's so beautiful.”

Contact the writer at xiaohong@chinadailyusa.com

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