Waldorf Astoria closes for major renovation

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NEW YORK — New York's historic Waldorf Astoria has hosted every U.S. president since Herbert Hoover, as well as celebrities, world leaders and business tycoons, but on Tuesday, guests will walk through the place for the last time before the hotel shuts its doors.

Anbang Insurance Group, the Chinese holding company that bought Waldorf Astoria for $1.95 billion in 2014, will officially close the hotel on Wednesday. The iconic hotel, which opened in 1931 on Park Avenue, will undergo a major renovation that is expected to convert many of the hotel rooms into apartments, with boutique shops on the ground floor.

A portion of the Waldorf Astoria will still be a hotel, but far fewer than the current 1,400 rooms will re-emerge.

Angbang Insurance Group plans to reopen the Waldorf Astoria in two to three years.

Former employee Jimmy Eldrissi, who worked as a bellman at the hotel for 51 years before retiring last month, looked back at the once-in-a-lifetime experience he had at the Waldorf Astoria.

"I met every president, from President Johnson until President Obama," Eldrissi told PIX11 News on Tuesday.

Eldrissi said his favorite run-in was with 40th U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who he insisted on calling "Mr. President" at the time even thought Reagan had not won the election when they met.

"He said Jimmy, not yet! So I tapped him on the shoulder and said no, yo will be the president," Eldrissi said thinking back to that moment.

Current tenants at the Waldorf Astoria bid their last goodbyes to their once homeon Tuesday.

"We had to get all out stuff out, how about that," Tom Barnett, who lived and ran his custom suit business out of The Waldorf for 16 years, said.

Barnett shook every employee's hand on Tuesday.

"It's been a family. My family has come here and he [the doorman] has met my parents and my sister-in-laws. Everyone that has been here have been here forever," Barnett said.

Amid concern about the fate of the historic public Art Deco areas, a hotel spokesman told The New York Times that those spaces will be restored.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to determine if a list of items and rooms, including the grand ballroom, the "wheel of life" mosaic and the highly-recognized Park Avenue entrance, will be made interior landmarks, the Times reported.

The landmarked facade will remain mostly unchanged.

The hotel reassured people in a post on Facebook last Friday that the restoration would not strip the history or beauty of the place, but celebrate it.

The post also said the upcoming renovation was a "new chapter" into the hotel's history and included the hashtag #BuildingUnforgettable.

The final renovation plan, however, has not been released to the public. Angbang Insurance Group released a statement to PIX11 News:

“The Waldorf Astoria New York is part of the fabric of New York City. As stewards of this iconic landmark and its historic legacy, we are committed to restoring its public spaces to their original beauty, ensuring that the hotel retains its rightful place as a premier focal point for the city and a premier destination for the world.”

Though The Waldorf is known for its elegance, recent guests have been noting the decor and furniture in rooms need some freshening up.

The original Waldorf Hotel was open in 1893 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street. It was torn down in 1929 to build the Empire State Building.

When the hotel reopened in 1931 on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th streets, it was the tallest and largest hotel in the world.

"The opening of the new Waldorf Astoria is an event in the advancement of hotels, even in New York City," Former President Herbert Hoover said at the time.

It became a New York City landmark in 1993.

It has hosted balls, events and meetings that drew presidents, politicians, world leaders and A-list stars year round. Among those events that will need to find a new home is the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, an white-tie annual gathering of the city's political elite that makes headlines ever October. This past year, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton attended the gathering — and their every move was scrutinized.

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