Fotios Tsarouhis
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Fotios Tsarouhis in "Profit is sweet, even if it comes from deception." - Sophocles,

Week-End at the Wò ēr duō fū - ā sī tuō lǐ yǎ jiǔdiàn: Chinese company to purchase Waldorf Astoria

New York’s iconic Waldorf Astoria has long been one of America’s most celebrated and historic hotels. And now, one of China’s.

When the Waldorf-Astoria (as it was then styled, a punctuation epitomized in the lyrical expression, “Meet me at the hyphen”) opened the doors of its current location in 1931, President Herbert Hoover praised the hotel in a broadcast from the White House.

"The opening of the new Waldorf Astoria is an event in the advancement of hotels, even in New York City. It carries great tradition in national hospitality… [and] marks the measure of [our] nation's growth in power, in comfort and in artistry."

Nearing a century later, the fate of the Waldorf Astoria (the hyphen is so last century, just meet me at the *hit spacebar*) continues to be both product and symbol of changing economic times. In our new globalized economy, the Waldorf will be Chinese-owned. Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc., the world’s largest publicly traded hotel operator and owner of the Waldorf since they purchased the landmark in 1972, has reached an agreement to sell its premier luxury hotel to Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group Co. for a sum of 1.95 billion dollars. Hilton will continue to manage the hotel for a century if the contract with Anbang is adhered to, guaranteeing American control, at least for the foreseeable future, over what will now be a Chinese-owned property.

Hilton Worldwide (HLT), which is back on the New York Stock Exchange this year after six years of private ownership, saw an upturn at the opening bell, but dipped in the late morning. At press time the stock was hovering around $24.25, slightly below Friday afternoon’s closing.

The Waldorf is a staple of American history and popular culture. The former home of Miss Marilyn Monroe, the Park Avenue hotel was the world’s largest at the time of its debut onto the Manhattan social scene. It has hosted every President since Hoover, who applauded it as “an exhibition of courage and confidence to the whole nation” in the early years of the depression. A young Senator Jack Kennedy and his bride, a Rhode Island reporter and socialite named Jacqueline Bouvier, spent the first night of their honeymoon there.  John F. Kennedy would later return to glamorous estate as President to address the issue of press freedoms and national security (some concerns are forever).

Homages paid to the hotel over the years include the name of a Muppet and the inspiration for a Tom and Jerry episode. Al Pacino danced a famed tango in the Vanderbilt Room in Scent of a Woman, Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem took up residence at the hotel in Coming to America, and in 1945 the property was the setting for Ginger Rogers’ and Lana Turner’s hit film, Week-End at the Waldorf. In the phonetic Mandarin pronunciation that would be… "Week-End at the Wò ēr duō fū - ā sī tuō lǐ yǎ jiǔdiàn"… rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

While the announcement made the headlines Monday morning it remains to be seen what kind of an impact it’ll have on Hilton’s stock. The assurances that the Art Deco masterpiece awaits a century of American management and will retain its classical integrity seem designed to assuage any concerns about this particular piece of Americana falling into foreign ownership that would mirror the public ire of New Yorkers when Rockefeller Center was temporarily bought by a Japanese company in 1989. Of course, today’s economy is considerably more international as well and overseas buy-ups are likely to prove more palatable to new generation of still-patriotic, but universal-thinking Americans.

Like the obelisk of the Empire State Building, which arose on the foundation of the original Waldorf Astoria, perhaps the Park Avenue palace, which teems with culture and historic charm and shone bright enough with opportunity to reach the China Seas, will become emblematic as well -- not only as a monument to American ingenuity and the American immigrant experience highlighted by the Astors, but to the export of these ideals in the name of peaceful world trade.