The Waldorf Astoria Rooftop Garden
The Waldorf Astoria past, present and future has a rich tradition of roof top gardens. Though the trend of installing rooftop gardens has grown in popularity over the last decade, this concept has deep roots (clever word usage or poor pun- up to the reader to decide).
For thousands of years, civilizations all over the world have installed roof gardens as a way to escape the heat and to have readily available food resources. In New York City, the first roof top garden was installed at the Casino Theatre in 1882 making it a successful travel destination for theatre goers and tourists; however, it was both the former and current Waldorf Astoria Hotels who are responsible for perfecting the concept.
Finding a garden oasis in the concrete jungle is not a difficult task – one can always go to Central Park – but finding one above the concrete jungle is an entirely different matter. When the Waldorf and Astoria Hotels combined in 1897, there were no other hotels in the city (perhaps even the country) that featured a roof top oasis for their guests. In 1903, the hotel’s proprietor George C. Bolt, established the original Waldorf Astoria rooftop. However, it was not until 1916, after Lucius Boomer took the helm as proprietor, when the Rooftop truly gained its popularity. In the spring and summer seasons, the rooftop was opened for the convenience of patrons and their friends in the evenings. Admission was by ticket only and featured two orchestras providing musical entertainment. In the winter months, the rooftop was converted to an ice skating rink which patrons and their friends could also enjoy after obtaining an admission ticket; the rooftop was even used as a children’s playground during the final years of the 5th Avenue Waldorf Astoria.
After the original hotel closed its doors in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building, Lucius Boomer was looking to the future of the Waldorf’s legacy along Park Avenue. His concept of a rooftop oasis was carried over to this location and was created on an even grander scale than before. The Starlight Roof and its terraces were the ideal location for guests and city-goers attending the nightly supper club performances. From 1931 to 1950, the ceiling of the Starlight Roof retracted to allow guests to dance under the stars; the terraces (which are no longer in use) allowed guests to dine under the stars as well.
Due to the introduction of air conditioning the ceiling has long since been sealed yet we maintain a new and innovative rooftop garden that is as environmentally sound as it is interesting to visit. Our Culinary team, under the direction of Executive Chef David Garcelon, oversaw the creation of our rooftop bee hives and garden. Since its inception in 2011, our garden has helped pollinate the various vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices that are grown and used in all cuisines and cocktails served in the hotel; our rooftop honey is another sweet feature of this project as well which is used in our famous Guerlain Spa!
“There is something magical about a roof garden. Parks and backyard gardens are wondrous places, but when they are placed high above the earth on a rooftop, where they are not supposed to be, the experience becomes invigorating and unforgettable. In a roof garden, the air seems fresher, the grass appears greener, the city feels further away than it actually is.” – Heather Shimmin, Photographer, 2012.
For more information, please visit the archive website at http://www.waldorfarchive.org!
Erin Allsop, Archivist of The Waldorf Astoria New York
Erin is a graduate student in the Masters program of Library and Information Science at CUNY – Queens College, where she is focusing her studies on Archival Management and Preservation. You may contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any inquiries or questions you may have.