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A Waldorf Story by rafael rodriguez

Ever since I was a child in third grade on the West Side of Manhattan, I learned to identify the prestigious name of the Waldorf Astoria… my family of five had arrived in New York with thousands of exiles and refugees from communist Cuba, and we were hunkered in two rooms of an apartment hotel called the Bradford that was owned by a Mr. Tisch.

One day we found bedbugs in one of the beds and Mr. Tisch was kind enough to replace all the mattresses in our suite. He was happy that his decaying building was being filled with the recent arrivals: one family brought another one in true immigrant style and despite the precarious situation in the neighborhood at the time there was a sense of community and friendliness.

Relatives of ours were better off financially and called one day from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. At first, I thought: why two names? We used to stay at the Astoria Hotel in Varadero Beach sometimes back in Cuba, and although the name sounded familiar, I asked if the hotels in the United States always two names had, if there was some reason of prestige that applied to this hotel. The name stuck in my mind as it always rang so true to my relationship with New York City, and with its history and all. I learned that it had moved to the newer building on Park Avenue from 34th Street and that it also had apartments, among them one being the suite reserved for the US Ambassador to the United Nations.

Years later I was living in New Jersey and would as a young man be invited to formal events like balls and conferences that had to do with my studies’ curriculum, the venue being of course no small part of the attraction. It seems that every VIP who visited New York City had to make a stop at the “Waldorf” from the King of Spain to the President of France, and many others. The Debutante Ball on December 31st was an alternative to the Times Square New Year’s Eve Watch on Television. Guy Lombardo and his orchestra or Xavier Cugat would make those bodies move in variations concertantes to use a term from the dance world. People watching and seeing how they dance was always a favorite pastime of mine.

There came a time when I was living in Midtown East, for all of 20 years to be exact, where I had a view of the famous “Towers” from my balcony on 47th Street. In retrospect it was one of the best views of New York City, with to the right the Turtle Bay Gardens and to the left, the elegant mass of the Waldorf Towers, greenish, capped and brightly shining at night.

We held countless lunches at the Bull and Bear, held conferences and attended parties in the Ballroom, including Benefits for many an altruistic cause (one night a friend said that he had just visited the men’s room and was amazed that he saw Michael Korda there freshening up! The author had just published the book Power and How to Get It.) There was the business center where one could hang one’s hat and spend some time making photocopies and working away at a project, even hold a meeting. There were many conferences with simultaneous interpreting in many languages, which was my business, and the year after 9/11 the World Economic Forum held its annual “Mass” at the Waldorf as a message of healing to the city and tribute to its renewed potential. One of the days I happened to be going through the security check while a grey-haired gentleman who had no ID on him whatsoever, was saying…“It is clear who I am, don’t you know my face? I am Senator Orrin Hatch, from Utah”

Finally, and not the least of its contributions to the city that we love, New York City, for the average pedestrian, commuter or tourist, the long and festive lobby was a welcome shortcut between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue on very cold or very hot days, for a respite from the rigors of climate.

Best wishes to the Waldorf in the years to come!

Rafael VG Rodriguez