Architecture decor

One noted challenge of the Waldorf’s redesign is the iconic Goldsmiths clock that has stood in its lobby since 1902:

A rendering of SOM and Pierre-Yves Rochon's plans for the Waldorf Astoria lobby, featuring its iconic clock.

A rendering of SOM and Pierre-Yves Rochon's plans for the Waldorf Astoria lobby, featuring its iconic clock.

A rendering of SOM and Pierre-Yves Rochon's plans for the Waldorf Astoria lobby, featuring its iconic clock.

"New Yorkers have an immense nostalgia and fondness for the Waldorf," says Allison Rozwat, from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, of the iconic Waldorf Astoria Hotel, which is currently undergoing an extensive renovation by SOM and Pierre-Yves Rochon. Indeed, this particular project is one of those that might bear an undue amount of pressure due to the deep historical legacy and widespread cultural references of its subject. Of course, Rozwat's firm is not new to this type of complex project; just in New York, SOM completed the new One World Trade Center tower and is currently working on the Penn Station renovation. One particular challenge of the Waldorf, though? The iconic, nine-foot Goldsmiths Company of London clock that has stood in its lobby for decades.

Determining how best to remove the clock’s Statue of Liberty figurine.

The timepiece has a history as rich as its surface is ornate: Commissioned by Queen Victoria for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, it was purchased by John Jacob Astor IV, who intended to display it in the original Waldorf. When that property was demolished in 1929 to make way for the Empire State Building, the piece ended up in the current hotel, where it chimed every half hour until last month, when Waldorf owner Anbang International was faced with the task of removing it for the duration of the hotel's renovation.

Handlers dust off the statue.

On one Tuesday in late August in an eerily empty Waldorf lobby, a team of experts on ladders painstakingly disassembled the timepiece, removing first the decorative Statue of Liberty figurine on top of it—a gift to Astor from France, added in 1902— then each part from the clock's four faces, which show the time in New York, Madrid, Paris, and Greenwich (London), and, finally the ornamental base, which comprises a bas-relief scene depicting Columbus's arrival in America and portraits of Queen Victoria, Benjamin Franklin, and several American presidents.

Moving the central part of the clock on a pallet.

Each piece was carefully labeled, wrapped, and tucked into a series of boxes, which will be transported to a secure storage facility for the remainder of the renovation. When renovations are complete, the timepiece will be cleaned and then placed—again, piece by piece—back in its original location and resume its role as the centerpiece of the lobby, where Rozwat hopes that its newfound glory will reflect the restored hotel as a whole.

"The Waldorf Astoria has been renovated so many times over the years and by so many hands, it has lost its original luster," Rozwat says. "Restoration of the original architecture is the clearest, most holistic architectural language with which to tie the project together. Of course, the building requires many modifications and upgrades to accommodate the new program; our strategy is to integrate these changes in a language sympathetic with the original architecture and combine them with a major restoration program that will make the building look as great as the day it opened."

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