What’s in a Legendary Name? The Waldorf Astoria Is About to Find Out as It Transitions to Condos

Brand was built on decades of welcoming the biggest celebrity guests

Chinese company Anbang bought the Waldorf in 2014 and plans to turn three-quarters of its rooms into luxury condos.
Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria

When New York’s legendary Waldorf Astoria closed its doors earlier this week, it left two things behind: a legend and questions.

First, the legend. In the nearly nine decades since the soaring, Art Deco hotel opened its doors on Park Avenue in 1931, nearly every luminary of the 20th century (and many of the 21st) stayed, danced, ate, performed or lived within its storied limestone walls—Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (to name just a few).

The Waldorf salad was invented in 1893.
Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria

John F. Kennedy and Jackie started their honeymoon at the Waldorf, and every president from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama slept in the $4,000-per-night presidential suite.

The Waldorf has been in song lyrics (“Give My Regards to Broadway”) and in movies (The Godfather Part III, Scent of a Woman).

The Waldorf’s kitchens gave the culinary world the Waldorf salad (a jumble of apples, celery and walnuts), along with eggs Benedict and Thousand Island dressing.

Waldorf even became the name of a Muppet, the white-haired codger in the theater box seat who, with his sidekick Statler, taunted performers with merciless jibes.

As for the questions, there are many. Chinese insurance firm Anbang dropped $1.95 billion to buy the 1,413-room Waldorf from Hilton in 2014 and plans to turn three-quarters of its rooms into luxury condos. Anbang has not disclosed how many of the hotel rooms will remain (reportedly as few as 300). Nor has the company revealed how pricey the Waldorf condos will be. (Fair guess: extremely pricey.)

When the Plaza Hotel, another grande dame in midtown Manhattan, underwent its conversion to condos in 2008, the apartments hit the market between $6 million and $36 million, though the landmark building proved unable to consistently command those prices or appreciate in value compared with other luxury buildings in the area.

Developer Benjamin Shaoul, president of Magnum Real Estate Group, which develops residential properties in New York, thinks it’s going to be “a little challenging” for Anbang. “It’s a tough time in the market to have such high aspirations, and unless they have some kind of special formula in selling these apartments … I think it’ll be a tough lift,” Shaoul says.

Of course, there is one thing special in this formula, and that’s the Waldorf brand name itself.

The Waldorf's Deco lobby off Park Avenue
Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria

Across the country, the adaptive reuse of older structures is nothing new, and what frequently determines prices in such projects are the usual factors such as location, views and amenities. But in the Waldorf’s case, a wild card in the marketing of the apartments will be the cachet of the hotel’s name.

Will it be enough to make a difference? Well, that depends on whom you ask.

“The Waldorf is still considered the Tiffany of hotels, even if it’s not really deserved,” notes Hayes Roth, founder of marketing firm HA Roth Consulting. “It’s a gold-standard name and brand, and it’s also known as where heads of state stay,” he says, referring to the Waldorf’s favored hotel when the nearby U.N. General Assembly meets each September. So when the place reopens as a condominium, Roth says, “the brand is eminently revivable.”

www.marilynmonroe.com, www.sinatra.com

Shelley Clark agrees. Clark, who worked as the Waldorf’s publicist from 1998 to 2006, not only praises the opulence of the hotel’s architecture and public spaces, but also believes that its history ranks among its chief brand assets.

“The Waldorf name and history will be in their favor,” Clark said. “Who wouldn’t want to have the bragging rights to having the former presidential suite of the Waldorf? Or the Royal Suite where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed? Or Frank Sinatra’s suite? It goes on and on. How many buildings offer that?”