Dissecting the Embellished Truth about the Waldorf = Astoria
By N Mark Castro
Rumours had it that William Waldorf Aster rewarded a helpful clerk’s kindness by making him the manager of the Waldorf-Astorial Hotel.
Status: True, but embellished
One stormy night many years ago, an elderly man and his wife entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia, USA. Trying to get out of the rain, the couple approached the front desk hoping to get some shelter for the night.
“Could you possibly give us a room here?” – the husband asked.The clerk, a friendly man with a winning smile, looked at the couple and explained that there were three conventions in town. “All of our rooms are taken,” the clerk said. “But I can’t send a nice couple like you out into the rain at one o’clock in the morning. Would you perhaps be willing to sleep in my room? It’s not exactly a suite, but it will be good enough to make you folks comfortable for the night.”
When the couple declined, the young man pressed on. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll make out just fine,” the clerk told them.
So the couple agreed.
The clerk looked at them and smiled. The three of them had a good laugh. As they drove away, the elderly couple agreed that the helpful clerk was indeed exceptional, as finding people who are both friendly and helpful isn’t easy.
Two years passed. The clerk had almost forgotten the incident when he received a letter from the old man. It recalled that stormy night and enclosed a round-trip ticket to New York, asking the young man to pay them a visit.
The old man met him in New York, and led him to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. He then pointed to a great new building there, a pale reddish stone, with turrets and watchtowers thrusting up to the sky.
“That,” said the older man, “is the hotel I have just built for you to manage.”
“You must be joking.” – the young man said.
“I can assure you I am not.” – said the older man, a sly smile playing around his mouth.
The older man’s name was William Waldorf-Astor, and that magnificent structure was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The young clerk who became its first manager was George C. Boldt. This young clerk never foresaw the turn of events that would lead him to become the manager of one of the world’s most glamorous hotels.
It is, indeed, a beautiful story.
But far from the reality of the truth … which is tragic yet nonetheless beautiful.
Although it was indeed William Waldorf Astor who conceived and financed the opulent Waldorf Hotel, it was George C. Boldt who elevated it to the premiere level of service for which the Waldorf became known.
Although the basic facts of this version are true, some of the details are exaggerated.
First of all, George C. Boldt was no mere hotel clerk. It has not been a practice of hotels to provide rooms for hotel clerks.
Like most immigrants, George C. Boldt had arrived at New York Harbor from Central Europe in the 1860s with little money, and the only job he could get was as a dishwasher at the Merchants’ Exchange Hotel. He tried his luck out in Texas but even that did not pan out. He returned to New York (with even less money this time) and took another kitchen job.
Boldt was soon promoted to a cashier position, where his hardwork and attention to service made such an impression on an upstate New York hotel owner that Boldt was offered as a hotel manager.
Boldt’s first hotel was the Bellevue (1881), at the NW corner of Broad & Walnut Streets, in Philadelphia. He soon bought a competing hotel, the Stratford, at the SW corner. Two decades later, on the site of the Stratford, he built the largest hotel the city had ever seen, the 1,090-room Bellevue-Stratford Hotel (1902-04, now the Park Hyatt).
In time, Boldt turned a 24-room hotel Bellevue into the best hotel in Philadelphia. And, thus, it was Boldt the Manager who, on the evening when the enormously wealthy William Waldorf Astor entered the Bellevue in search of a room for he and his wife, moved his own family out of his personal suite room to accommodate Mr and Mrs Astor. (A mere clerk would not have a room of his own in a hotel like the Bellevue).
At 43, Astor was not exactly “elderly” and Boldt, who was about 40 then, was no “young man.”
Hence, it was no surprise that Boldt was tapped to manage the newly-built Waldorf Hotel in 1893. He was actually involved in its construction. And he didn’t build the Waldorf-Astoria. The Astoria was built 4 years later and Boldt was crucial in the reconciliation of the feuding cousins.
Boldt also did not suddenly receive a ticket out of the blue — he and Astor had become close friends since meeting at the Bellevue 2 years later.
Waldorf wasn’t certainly built for Boldt. Waldorf built it to drive his aunt insane and away from their area. Astor enjoyed visiting hotels and “wanted to outshine them all” by building the grandest one yet. He would have done so whether or not he had Boldt to manage it.
Posted on July 24, 2013, in General and tagged Astor, Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, Fifth Avenue, hoax slayer, New York, New York City, Philadelphia, urban legends, waldorf astoria, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, William Waldorf-Astor. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.