Waldorf Astoria Hotel
Claim: William Waldorf Astor rewarded a helpful hotel manager's
kindness by making him the manager of the grand Waldorf hotel.
Status: True, but embellished.
Origins: For over a century the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York has reigned as a symbol
of the grandeur of the American dream. It all began when William Waldorf Astor razed his
home at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street to construct the Waldorf, a magnificent
hostelry that, when it opened on 13 March 1893, boasted 450 rooms and an army of nearly
1,000 employees. The Waldorf hosted the most famous of guests and the most elegant of
society functions (after John Jacob Astor IV built the Astoria next door in 1897, the two
hotels were run jointly as the Waldorf-Astoria) until it was closed on 3 May 1929 to make way for what would become the world's
most famous skyscraper, the Empire State Building.
|A new Waldorf-Astoria was constructed on the block extending from Park Avenue to
Lexington, between Forty-ninth and Fiftieth Streets and opened in 1931.
Although it was
William Waldorf Astor who conceived and financed the opulent Waldorf Hotel, it was the
Waldorf's first manager, George C. Boldt, who established the premiere level of service
for which the Waldorf (and later the Waldorf-Astoria) became world-renowned.
The story of how George C. Boldt, who came to America as a nearly penniless European
immigrant, ended up as the manager of the finest hotel in the world is a rather remarkable
One version of the tale (origin unknown) that has been circulating on the Internet
lately reads as follows:
One stormy night many years ago, an elderly man and his wife entered the lobby of a
small hotel in Philadelphia. 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 in 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.
As he paid his bill the next morning, the elderly man said to the clerk, "You are the
kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe
someday I'll build one for you."
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 palace of 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
"You must be joking," the young man said.
"I can assure you that I am not," said the older man, a sly smile playing around
The old man's name was William Waldorf Astor, and the magnificent structure was the
original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The young clerk who became its first manager was George C.
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. The Bible says that we are not to
turn our backs on those who are in need, for we might be entertaining angels.
Although the basic facts of this version are true, some of the details are (typically)
exaggerated. First of all, George C. Boldt was no mere hotel clerk. He had arrived at New
York Harbor from central Europe in the 1860s with little money, and the only job he could
obtain was as a dishwasher at the Merchants' Exchange Hotel. After a brief excursion to
Texas in search of better employment opportunities failed to pan out, Boldt 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 industriousness and attention to service made
such an impression on an upstate New York hotel owner that Boldt was offered a position as
a hotel manager. In time, Boldt turned a 24-room hotel on Philadelphia's Broad Street into
the Bellevue, the best hotel in Philadelphia. (Another property, the Stratford, was soon
added to form the Bellevue-Stratford.) Thus it was Boldt the manager of the Bellevue who,
on the evening when the enormously wealthy William Waldorf Astor entered the Bellevue in
search of living space for himself and his wife, moved his own family out of his personal
suite of rooms to accommodate Mr. and Mrs. Astor. (A mere clerk would not have a room of
his own in a hotel like the Bellevue, especially one that could accommodate a couple.) At
forty-three, Astor was not exactly "elderly"; and Boldt, who was about forty,
was no "young man."
Additionally, it came as no surprise to Boldt when he was tapped to manage the newly-built
Waldorf Hotel in 1893. (As noted above, William Waldorf Astor didn't build the
"Waldorf-Astoria" — he built the Waldorf Hotel, which didn't become
the Waldorf-Astoria until John Jacob Astor IV erected the Astoria Hotel next door four
years later.) Boldt didn't suddenly receive a ticket out of the blue from Astor one day
— he and Astor had become close friends since meeting at the Bellevue two years
earlier. And the Waldorf certainly wasn't built for Boldt — 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 had Boldt waiting in the wings to manage
The George C. Boldt story has a sad coda, however. Boldt eventually became quite wealthy
himself, and he invested $2.5 million in constructing an exquisitely detailed replica of a
16th century Rhineland castle (enclosing a 120-room mansion in eleven buildings) on an
island in Alexandria Bay as a Valentine's Day present for his wife Louise. Boldt's wife
died suddenly in January 1904, and the heartbroken hotelier order all construction work
stopped. The unfinished castle was left to the mercy of the elements (and vandals) until
it was acquired by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977.