NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The word "grand" matched few hotels in the world better than New York City's Waldorf Astoria. But the bastion of gilded splendor is now closing for two to three years for a transformative makeover.
The last guests were to check out by noon Wednesday after enjoying the rich Art Deco style of the old Waldorf one last time.
When the building reopens it will still have a hotel, but hundreds of its 1,400 guest rooms will have been converted into privately owned condominiums, according to a spokesman for the Anbang Insurance Group, the Chinese company that bought the storied hotel for nearly $2 billion in 2015.
The exterior is protected by law as a New York City landmark, but some fans are still nervous about the future.
"I've been watching New York disappear in front of my eyes,'' lamented Shade Rupe, 48, an author and actor who visited the hotel's lobby this week for one last look around. "There's so little of what we've known as iconic New York left.''
Other guests were also sad to see the iconic hotel close.
"I just think it's tragic, really it is," said guest Marilyn Diliginti.
"I thought they would be open forever," another woman said.
"It's one of the last great, classic hotels," another guest told 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck. "One by one, they're disappearing."
"Hate to see it go," said another guest. "I like to preserve some of the dignity and tradition of things, but -- progress."
The Waldorf Astoria's history dates to 1893, but its original home was torn down to make way for the Empire State Building. The "new'' Waldorf Astoria's more than 40 stories opened on Park Avenue in 1931, built at a cost topping $40 million ($639 million in today's dollars) making it one of the world's largest and most expensive hotels at the time.
It has welcomed well-heeled guests including every American president, in the Presidential Suite, of course, behind bulletproof glass windows.
Among the hotel's secrets is a tunnel and train track deep beneath the lobby. It was used to transport President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his vehicle from Grand Central Terminal to the hotel on trips to the city.
Those who slept in luxury at the Waldorf over the years have included celebrities from Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly to Cole Porter, who left his Steinway ivories behind.
It was a regular stop for foreign heads of state, royalty and corporate kings. Long-term residents have included former presidents Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower and U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The hotel also lent its name to the Waldorf salad, a mix of dressed apples, celery, grapes and walnuts that's become an American standard.
Plans for the renovation are still not finalized, but some in the hotel industry said the new Waldorf will mirror the concept of New York's Plaza hotel, which was renovated a decade ago into a mix of private apartments and a smaller hotel. Anbang bought the Waldorf in 2015 from Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., which continues to operate it.
About 1,500 hotel employees are being laid off due to the closure.
As renovation work starts, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission must vote on whether to officially preserve certain interior details of the building including the "wheel of life'' created from 140,000 marble tiles above the Park Avenue entrance, the grand ballroom and the Art Deco lobby with its huge, chiseled tower supporting a diminutive Statue of Liberty.
The exterior already is landmarked.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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