Few hotels in the world have as rich a history as New York’s legendary Waldorf Astoria. And now the Waldorf is getting some of that history back.
Since last July, the Park Avenue landmark has offered an “amnesty program” for guests to return items that have been pilfered from the Waldorf since its 1931 inception.
So far about 200 items have been returned, from silver spoons to ashtrays to teapots.
Matt Zolbe, the Waldorf’s director of marketing, says, “A key component of the amnesty program was our desire to unearth the story behind the item’s acquisition. Our hope was to capture the rationale… Our assumption was that some lifetime milestone was the basis for the Waldorf visit and possibly the returned item held a place of honor in the family as a touchstone of that event.”
The Waldorf is in the process of displaying the returned items in the hotel’s lobby. About 30 items are there now, and the exhibit should be completed in about four weeks.
Many can be viewed as part of the hotel’s archive.
So why did people help themselves to the hotel’s property in the first place? Matt Zolbe tells this story:
“Anniversary dinners, milestone birthdays, company recognitions and other circumstances were what we expected, and indeed the reality met the expectation. We heard dear stories from now-aged folks who recollected a parent being honored for salesmanship.
“One example was a woman who discussed the evening her dad came into their suite with two silver nut dishes. She and her sister had been in one of the suite’s large closets, pretending the sliding doors were elevator doors. Mom and dad came in while they were playing and dad pulled the two dishes from his coat pocket. Both have the Waldorf crest on the underside.
“The nut dishes were displayed annually on their Thanksgiving table and the story was re-told of how dad had been honored in a ballroom event for his work.”
Of course, the Waldorf is an iconic American institution: the first hotel to offer room service, it was later home to residents ranging from former President Herbert Hoover, to gangster Bugsy Siegel to songwriter Cole Porter.
Today, the hotel is part of the Hilton brand (Paris Hilton lived there as a small child), and the Waldorf Astoria name is used on other luxury properties around the globe.
But the New York hotel and towers, with their 1,508 guest rooms, are the original art deco draws.
And with so much heritage, it’s no wonder people have snatched an item or two over the years, which are now being returned with no questions asked.
After all, the law would say those items were stolen… or, as the hotel calls it, “secretly checked out.” ###