CRAWFORD JOURNAL | Staying at the Waldorf Astoria - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD JOURNAL | Staying at the Waldorf Astoria

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My room at the Waldorf Astoria (Eric Crawford photo) My room at the Waldorf Astoria (Eric Crawford photo)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The main reason I went to New York earlier this month was to interview two of Muhammad Ali's daughters. They were doing interviews for a press junket, and I was going to get to see the new documentary about Ali in New York, so what wasn't to like?

But I have to admit, my real interest in the trip was in the lodging. The interviews took place in the Waldorf Towers. And I was to stay one night in the Waldorf Astoria.

In this job, you stay in lots of hotels. Many of us in the sports world get locked into a hotel company rewards program and cling to it like grim death. Raise your hands, fellow sports scribes, if you've driven 20 minutes out of your way to stay in a Marriott property.

But when they tell you that there's a room for you at the Waldorf Astoria, well, the answer is yes. After all, it's where President Obama stays when he's in the city (though its recent sale to a Chinese insurance giant might change that).

How many hotels have a salad named after them? (Yes, the Waldorf Salad.) How many of them invented room service? (Going just to pay homage to the very idea of room service was reason enough.) How many of them were home -- home, mind you -- to Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly or post-presidential Herbert Hoover.

Luxury is one thing. History is even better.

One of my favorite New York hotels was The Mansfield. I stayed there several times when in New York with my old employer, which had a discount rate there. The Mansfield was notable for being home for some time to a painter named John Butler Yeats, whose son, William, went on to some renown as a poet. It also was home to a man named Max von Gurach, believed to be the model for Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous novel. A couple of doors down was the original New Yorker building, and I could imagine E.B. White and the rest walking down the sidewalk to work.

A couple of years back, Steve Andress and I stayed in the Hotel Edison before the Big East Tournament. It was a popular Broadway hangout and musicians would pour into its bar after hours and start banging away on the piano. I was awakened every morning we were there by a violinist across the hall practicing in the morning.

It's down the hallway at the Hotel Edison in the movie, "The Godfather" that Luca Brasi walked, stopped, adjusted his jacket, then continued walking, before going into a bar where he was eventually killed. "Now he sleeps with the fishes." The bar wasn't in the Edison, but the hallway sure is.

Steve and I grabbed a little history when he snipped down the nets in the empty Garden. U of L's basketball team had left them hanging after winning the Big East Tournament on their way to an NCAA championship. What I didn't know then but only learned in research for a book later was that U of L's basketball team stayed in the Hotel Edison during its 1956 NIT championship run.

I've stayed in some less-swanky digs in Manhattan, too. The Hotel Pennsylvania tops this list. Columnist Jerry Brewer and I checked into this place some years back and just shook our heads. But if William Faulkner stayed there to write a novel, it surely would work for me. All I had to write was a game story. It had seen better days -- but what days they were. In 1944, Doris Day, accompanied by Les Brown and his Band of Renown, debuted the song "Sentimental Journey" in its Cafe Rouge, the same place where Glen Miller and his orchestra performed live for NBC Radio. Of course, the hotel had one of the most famous phone numbers of its day -- Pennsylvania 6-5000. The number is still in use to this day. Dial up 212-736-5000 and you'll get the hotel.

And I stayed in the Hotel New Yorker, just on the other side of Madison Square Garden from The Pennsylvania. I stayed there because it was cheap, but even it now has gotten too rich for my blood, having been renovated by The Wyndham Co. Fidel Castro once stayed there. Inventor Nikola Tesla, whose work invented, discovered or gave us knowledge of alternating electrical currents, fluorescent lights, X-rays, radio, remote controls, electric motors, robotics, lasers and wireless communications, among countless others, lived for 10 years in near-seclusion in the New Yorker. A plaque on the building honors him. After losing to Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in March of 1971, Muhammad Ali recuperated for a month in the hotel. During baseball seasons, Joe DiMaggio called the place his home. It's also the first New York hotel that Frank McCourt stayed in after coming to the U.S. from Ireland.

The Waldorf Astoria, however, is a different kind of place altogether. Its luxurious lobby, with its iconic 9-foot-tall clock in the middle, topped by a gold Statue of Liberty, is a symbol of New York opulence. The Park Avenue Entrance. The Lexington Avenue entrance. The gold door that leads to a "secret" platform to Track 61, which was used to get Franklin D. Roosevelt into and out of the hotel without being seen. In 1965, with the platform largely forgotten, Andy Warhol held his "Underground Party" there. The public can't see it, but you know it's there.

When it came time for my interviews with the Ali daughters, I went to the elevators in the Waldorf Towers very much mindful of an assistant football coach from the U.S. Military Academy who, after every game, would dutifully drive into town and walk into the Towers with reels of the game film under his arm. He'd push the elevator button, step in and head up to the suite of an old soldier, then the two would watch the game together. I've always wished I could've heard those conversations. The Army assistant coach was Vince Lombardi. The old soldier was Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I referenced their football meetings in Rick Pitino's book "The One-Day Contract," (due out in paperback next week, as a matter of fact).

Unlike Europe, which has hundreds of years of history around every corner, in this country we're not always aware of the history around us. In New York, it's easier to feel it. John Lewis and I were walking to dinner at P.J. Clarke's in July (don't get me started on P.J. Clarke's, where Jackie Kennedy brought John Jr. and Caroline for lunch on Saturday's, where Buddy Holly proposed to his girlfriend Maria Elena, where Dan Jenkins hung out and Nat King Cole called their cheeseburger "the Cadillac of cheeseburgers" and you'd better believe it), when we passed the Cooper Union, where I mentioned Abraham Lincoln's famous speech there before I realized we better get on to the Upper East Side while we could still get a table.

All of which is to say that I can now mark the Waldorf Astoria off my list. With great satisfaction.

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