The secrets of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Jackie Carter, left, and Jackie Collens of the Waldorf Astoria.

Jackie Carter, left, and Jackie Collens of the Waldorf Astoria.  (Jonathan Stas)

Jackie Collens and Jackie Carter, better known as "The Jackies," are the luxury suite specialists at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, one of New York City's toniest addresses. The hotel encompasses an entire Midtown Manhattan block, spanning 49th to 50th Street from Park to Lexington Avenues. Of the 1,413 rooms, 181 are located in The Towers, occupying floors 27 through 42. And of those special rooms, 121 are historical suites. "It's an unheard of number," Collens says. "Most hotels have maybe 10 suites. And every single one of ours is different. The Towers is really a hotel within a hotel."

Because there are so many suites, the Jackies' dual positions were created so they could dish out advice while also meeting guests' wants and needs regarding accommodations. The Jackies took time out of their busy schedule to talk hotel history, the Waldorf's celebrity clientele, and some of its coolest secrets.

What's the most requested suite at the Waldorf?

Carter: The Presidential Suite—it's where every President has stayed. When a president stays there, we have customized bulletproof glass installed.

Collens: Herbert Hoover did the inaugural address when the hotel first opened in 1931. Since then, every president has stayed with us.

What other interesting presidential trivia can you share?

Carter: There's an underground railroad that runs from Grand Central Terminal to the fourth floor of our basement. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the sitting president, that's how they would bring him in because many people didn't know he was in a wheelchair. Though it's not used often, it could be a very quick exit strategy.

What about the largest suite?

Collens: 33A: The Cole Porter. It's a five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath configuration suite that's about 4,300 square feet, which we typically rent out on a monthly basis. Prices start at $150,000. Porter lived there for 25 years and wrote a number of famous songs [in the room]; one of his biggest was "You're the Top" from Kiss Me Kate. His piano is still in the suite, one more reason the room is so popular.

Have any other famous people stayed in that particular room?

Collens: After Porter's death in 1964, Frank Sinatra took over the lease, and he and his wife Barbara lived there until 1988. Rumor states that they etched their initials into the bathroom door but the door was apparently removed during renovations, and its whereabouts are unknown.

What other famous folks lived at the Waldorf?

Carter: President Herbert Hoover was here from 1932­–1964, and President Dwight Eisenhower stayed from 1967–1969. He and his wife lived in suite 700R because his wife had a fear of heights. To accommodate them, we had the elevator specially designed to open on the 7th floor. And General Douglas MacArthur lived with us from 1952–1964, which is when he passed away. His wife continued to live here until her death in 2000.

What are the best things about your most popular suites?

Collens: The Elizabeth Taylor has the largest and most exquisite bathtub, and can easily accommodate three people. The pillows in the master bedroom of the Royal Suite were created to resemble the Duchess of Windsor's pugs. Douglas MacArthur's master bathroom was designed with a constellation on the ceiling.

What's the weirdest request a guest has had?

Collens: We had a VIP guest insist we raise the toilet height by one-centimeter, which we did.

The Waldorf is known for a number of innovative ideas and for being the first to introduce hospitality programs, like room service. What are other firsts?

Carter: The hotel was the first to use red velvet ropes (outside the Palm Room restaurant) as a way to create order among the people crowding the entrance. Access was granted only with a reservation, another first; the fact that it created a sense of stature and separation was secondary. They also created rooftop happy hours.

Read more about the Waldorf Astoria secrets.

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