This blogger skimmed the book, “The Story of The Waldorf-Astoria” by Edward Hungerford, published in 1925. The Waldorf-Astoria was originally “The Astoria,” built by the Astors, a super-rich family.
For most of the 19th century and before, Broadway was the favored location for hotels. However, the 1880’s saw congestion from a street railway and cars. The thirteen-story, 450-guestroom Astoria was therefore originally located at 35th Street at Fifth Avenue. Construction started in 1891. “From the first the idea was to create a hostelry with as little of the typically hotel features in evidence as humanly possible… Haste was not permitted… The house was well-builded. And thoroughly. This ideal became an obsession on the part of the men who built it.” It opened in March 1893. In 1895, construction began on another hotel next door, of sixteen stories. In November 1897, the completed complex became known as the “Waldorf-Astoria.”
The hotel’s restaurant served partridge and lobster. Its general manager, George C. Boldt, believed in “management by wandering around.” In the summer of 1898, he commissioned a classy steam-yacht, the “Calypso” that could be booked by up to 25 guests for a day. He also offered car rides around town before common people drove. Boldt trusted all the guests, even those who asked to cash personal checks. No other hotels were so trusting.
The hotel boasted a number of “firsts.” It was the first building to have a passenger elevator in the United States. Boldt had the brilliant idea of carving a street at the rear of the combined hotels to ensure no one could ever take away their light and air rights between 33rd and 34th Streets. The Waldorf became the first hotel in Manhattan to take up a whole city block.
In 1776, in order to collect extra revenue, government official Peter Stuyvesant established the liquor license for taverns. “It was especially forbidden to sell strong drinks to Indians.” The hotel obtained a liquor license. Unfortunately, the passing of Prohibition cost the hotel lots of revenue. It re-purposed its bar. The Waldorf also offered a roof garden, which became an ice skating rink in the wintertime.
The author wrote, incredibly (italics added by this blogger), “Upon the broad open desk lie the registers, three or four of them so that in a pinch, as is frequently done, guests may be received and assigned rooms at the rate of sixty to ninety to the hour.”
Read the book to learn further details of the hotel’s existence through the mid 1920’s.