Waldorf Overhaul Rumbles On as Church Van Carts Off Antiques
(Bloomberg) -- Embattled Anbang Insurance Group Co.’s plan to convert much of Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria hotel into luxury condos has been the subject of speculation from Wall Street earnings calls to the pages of the New York Post.
Now, evidence that the project is going forward is emerging from an unlikely source: a moving van owned by a little-known religious group.
Anbang bought the famed Art Deco hotel in February 2015 for $1.95 billion, a record sum for a single U.S. hotel that raised questions over how the opaque, closely held Chinese insurer would capitalize on its investment. Last week, the Chinese government took temporary control of Anbang, saying it would consider “all or partial” sales of the company’s assets.
That led representatives of Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., which has a long-term contract to manage the hotel, and construction firm AECOM Tishman to issue statements saying work on the conversion was in fact ongoing.
A visit to the site on Friday evening backed up the assertion: A front-end loader dumped debris into trucks parked on the north side of the building, which takes up an entire city block. Meanwhile, a van bearing the logo of a Scranton, Pennsylvania-based architectural-salvage company waited nearby.
The company, Olde Good Things, already is selling pieces from the hotel’s interior on its website. Items for sale include light fixtures fashioned from Venetian glass and French crystal, along with more than 40 marble mantels carved in a variety of styles, including a Louis XV rococo piece listed for $14,000. More affordable items include steak knives ($25 each), silver-plated doorbells ($45) and towel racks ($250).
New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted in March 2017 to protect a number of the Waldorf’s lavish public spaces, including the grand ballroom, an entry hall decorated with a large floor mosaic by the French artist Louis Rigal and the main lobby, which features black marble pillars and ceiling reliefs.
Shortly after the building received interior landmark designation, Olde Good Things’ trucks started showing up to haul off pieces of the guest rooms, said Meghan Weatherby, executive director of the Art Deco Society, a nonprofit that has been tracking the project.
The name Olde Good Things might ring a bell. The company has turned up to rescue treasures from other New York City landmarks, including the Plaza Hotel, John F. Kennedy International Airport and the former headquarters of the New York Times. It’s also known for being owned by the Church of Bible Understanding, which was founded by a former vacuum-cleaner repairman who has claimed to be the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah, according to the Times-Tribune of Scranton.
The group, which says it uses profits from the salvage business to fund an orphanage in Haiti, also ran a now-defunct carpet-cleaning business that inspired a “Seinfeld” plot. (In the episode, first aired in 1996, a cleaning company that doubled as a cult opted against enlisting self-involved George Costanza.)
As for the Waldorf, speculation about its future has run rampant. Hilton Chief Executive Officer Christopher Nassetta, during an earnings call this month, sought to quash speculation the hotel might be put up for sale and said his company would manage its hotel portion no matter who the owner is. New York tabloid readers have encountered repeated stories about the pace of construction and potential buyers should Anbang sell.
Kevin Browne, a manager at the salvage company, said he wasn’t authorized to speak about the Waldorf work, and declined to comment on his company. Olde Good Things had almost $14 million of assets, according to the Church of Bible Understanding’s Internal Revenue Service filings for the 2015 tax year, the latest for which documents are available online.
That amount may soon increase, should a buyer be found for the priciest Waldorf item currently on the Olde Good Things website: A four-foot-wide Barovier & Toso hand-blown-glass fixture once mounted in a hotel conference room can be yours for just $28,000.
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