Ever since the Waldorf Astoria opened on October 1st, 1931, visitors to the iconic hotel have been greeted by a sleek, soaring statue perched above the entrance on Park Avenue. If you’ve passed by the hotel since renovations started, however, you may notice that the Waldorf Astoria statue is missing. When the hotel went under construction in 2017, the statue and other treasures, including the famous lobby clock, were removed from the historic landmark for restoration and safekeeping. In our upcoming virtual tour of the newly renovated Waldorf Astoria, you can learn about the extensive renovation projects going on inside and get a sneak peek of the new luxurious spaces!
Ahead of the opening of the new Waldorf Astoria in 1931, the hotel’s maître d’ Oscar Tschirky hosted a contest for a sculpture that would adorn the main entrance. The new Waldorf Astoria, built after the original was sold and demolished in 1928 to make way for the Empire State Building, was the tallest building in the world at the time. The hotel wanted the entryway statue to represent the ideals of innovation, progress, and ambition, ideals the new Art Deco hotel building itself embodied.
Out of 400 entries, the winning design was created by Icelandic sculptor Nina Saemundsson. Born in 1892, Saemundsson was the first Icelandic woman to work professionally as a sculptor, according to Iceland Magazine. She studied art in Copenhagen and spent her career traveling around the world from Italy and Spain to America and North Africa. She came to America in 1926 and spent the next thirty years there, mostly in Los Angeles. The California gallery that now represents her estate notes that Saemundsson’s work was highly sought after by both collectors and celebrities of the mid-20th-century. She created personal portrait busts and small figures, like her famous bust of actress Hedy Lamar, as well as large-scale public works such as the nine-foot concrete statue Prometheus Bringing Fire to the Earth, a Federal Public Works of Art Project in MacArthur Park.
Saemundsson’s winning sculpture for the Waldorf Astoria is a svelte figure of a woman with pointed wings raised above her head as if she is about to take flight. Standing on top of a globe-shaped base, the nickel and bronze sculpture reaches a height of ten feet tall. The upward movement and transcendence of the statue’s imagery along with its modern, Art Deco design made it a perfect fit for the new hotel. It was titled The Spirit of Achievement.
The Spirit of Achievement stood over the Park Avenue entrance of the hotel for more than 80 years. In 2017, it was moved inside to the residential gallery of The Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, where it stands today, waiting to return to its place of prominence when the hotel reopens in 2023.
Next, check out The Top 15 Secrets of the Waldorf Astoria