When I stepped into the historic room I was immediately transported to another time and place. The Starlight Roof at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City was an institution; a legend; the site of celebrities and debutantes, where romance oozed from the corners and love at first sight started from the moment the retractable roof opened to the stars.
The Starlight Roof Ballroom opened in 1931 on the 19th floor of the iconic New York hotel. With unprecedented views of New York City stretching all the way to the Hudson River in the early 1900s, the Starlight Roof was the grande dame of the city. Today, the Starlight Roof still sits on the top floor of the hotel, which now overlooks Park Avenue. The hotel’s ballroom, the largest ballroom in the city, is four stories high with several adjoining smaller ballrooms and endless reminders of what once was, including chandeliers, gold-plated grates and of course, the views of New York City. While the view has changed slightly thanks to new buildings that arose over the years, the Starlight Roof maintains its passionate decadence as the Pièce de résistance of the hotel.
The Waldorf Astoria was the world’s first skyscraper hotel and today still exudes the glamour and grandeur of a luxury hotel. When the hotel first opened in 1893 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street it captured the hearts of not only New Yorkers, but travelers from around the world. People flocked to walk the marble hallways, feel the gold-plated banisters and marvel at the crystal chandeliers that decorated the various rooms in the hotel.
In 1929, the hotel was torn down to make way for the next New York landmark—The Empire State Building. In true Waldorf fashion, however, plans were drawn for an even bigger, better Waldorf-Astoria at its present location on Park Avenue. Over the years, the Waldorf Astoria has become a fixture of New York attractions and stands as a landmark building on the famous Park Avenue. While the hotel has been renovated, updated and rejuvenated over the decades, it remains a constant companion to those who call it home during their travels.
The current Waldorf Astoria is combination of history and modern design. From the Clock Tower (which was originally part of the Chicago World’s Fair) to the prominent displays of Art Deco style paintings, sculptures and decor, the hotel is a masterpiece of elegance at every turn. But the 19th floor holds the gem of this hotel.
When you step out of the elevators you’re immediately welcomed by photos of the past. Walk the halls and gaze at the black-and-white pictures that tell the story of ‘the good old days’ as you walk toward the grand Starlight Roof ballroom.
The Starlight Roof was the first supper club to have a retractable roof. It welcomed everyone from diplomats to presidents, sheiks to princes, and celebrities of all generations. From 1931, when the hotel opened, until well into the 1950s, the 6,000-square-foot Art Deco Starlight Roof had been the talk of the town.
In its prime, the Starlight Roof reigned as the nightclub where the see-and-be-seen spent their evenings, where high-society dined, drank and partied to the music of the era including Glenn Miller, Eddie Duchin, Guy Lombardo, Lester Lanin, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Xavier Cugat. The hotel’s policy of utter discretion and privacy was what made it so popular among the city’s elite. If you listen closely you can still see Gene Kelly dance across the ballroom floor or hear Lena Horne croon a sultry song for the guests who are mingling among the star-lit roof. It’s hard not to imagine Ginger Rogers in a ball gown walking the room or Lana Turner sipping martinis at the bar.
The Starlight Roof ballroom still speaks to the glamour and prestige that it’s always adorned, but today serves as a more modern venue for the masses who want to dine, dance and see the city in style. Somewhere inside the walls of this great room are love stories and romances that long to be remembered, and within one step into the room and one glance up at the roof, it’s hard to believe in the magic of the Starlight Roof.
[Photos courtesy of Waldorf Astoria archives]
Read more from my article in Destinations Travel Magazine, November 2011 issue