Waldorf Astoria collects stolen hotel property

Amnesty program reaps rewards for hotel

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NEW YORK — Three small, silver spoons elegantly engraved with the words “Waldorf Astoria” have come full circle: Stolen eight decades ago by an employee of the famed hotel, they passed through two Brooklyn homes and another three in New Jersey.

Then, earlier this month, Brigid Brown packed them up, took them back through the chandeliered foyer of the hotel and plunked them down on a table — as part of a Waldorf amnesty program that seeks the return of pilfered property, no questions asked.

“At first, I thought, ‘Was my husband’s grandfather a thief? How could he do this?’” she asked.

The spoons joined dozens of other items that are back in their rightful place, including teapots, coffee pots, creamers, coasters and dishes for nuts.

Just don’t call them stolen items.

Enlarge Photo

Brigid Brown returned three of the four teaspoons taken from New York’s ... more >

Each was “secretly checked out,” the hotel says on its Facebook page. And “we’re giving you the chance to give it back.”

The Waldorf’s fancy whatnots are trickling back with stories of human lives, loves and losses going as far back as the early 20th century. They trace the history of the 129-year-old hotel that fills a whole city block on Manhattan’s East Side. It has hosted every U.S. president — including Barack Obama this month — and been home to celebrities from Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter to Paris Hilton.

But the program that started July 1 offers glimpses into more ordinary lives of people who came to the Waldorf for something special, such as a wedding night, an anniversary, an award or special vacation.

Some items are of no particular value, except emotional, such as a “Do Not Disturb” sign from a couple’s wedding night that an archivist pulls out of a cardboard box along with postcards written by the blissful guests.

The new collection will be displayed in glass cases in the lobby with other objects and photos from the hotel’s celebrity-studded past.

Beyond historic nostalgia, the project has a new-age business purpose: To raise the profile of an old, iconic institution in today’s social-media marketing world.

Matt Zolbe, the Waldorf’s director of sales and marketing, said he hopes images of interesting returned property on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest will be retweeted or reposted “to attract a new generation to the Waldorf,” where room rates start at about $400 a night.

Christine Hayner, 25, a Waldorf sales manager, said she has never helped herself to anything at the hotel. But her grandmother did, on her wedding night in 1949.

This summer, while at the family beach house on the New Jersey shore, a silver Waldorf fork suddenly appeared in her grandmother’s hand.

“She said, ‘I have something from your hotel, and I want you to have it — it’s important to me,’” Ms. Hayner said.

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