Yom haatzmaut | Opulent Waldorf Astoria opens near Jerusalems Old City

As the Israeli capital’s newest hotel — the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem — opens its doors near the Old City, the artists and jewelers whose small shops line the cobbled street leading to the hotel’s grand entrance look on in a mixture of relief and bemusement.

“What a gorgeous building,” Nissim Mizrahi remarks of the restored nine-story hotel on Harav David Shimon Street, just down the street from the U.S. Consulate. “We’re all really glad the long years of construction are over,” he adds as he wipes construction dust from the display window of his sculpture and jewelry studio, where he has worked since the 1970s.

The new Waldorf Astoria preserves the face of a hotel constructed in 1929 by the Mufti of Jerusalem. photo/judy lash balint

In the days before Passover, workers scrambled to put the finishing touches on the grand building that was originally built by the notorious Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, in 1929 as the Palace Hotel.

In its 2014 Waldorf Astoria incarnation, the outer shell of the building, with its ornate Turkish designed masonry, has been preserved and restored, while the inside of the hotel has been completely rebuilt.

“It’s the longest restoration project in Israel’s history,” explains general manager Guy Klaiman as he leads visitors through the shiny lobby, replete with exquisite Italian furniture and tasteful oversized flower arrangements.

The design team included Israeli architect Yehuda Feigin and renowned Turkish interior designer Sinan Kafadar, whose previous projects include the Ritz Hotel and the Four Seasons Istanbul. “The goal was to bring the beauty of the outside of the building in,” Klaiman adds.

One feature of Waldorf Astoria hotels worldwide is a clock in the lobby designed to reflect the local culture. In the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, the clock features four faces, with Arabic, Hebrew, Roman and European numerals.

It’s all part of the branding that Klaiman hopes will help distinguish the Waldorf Astoria from the other luxury hotels located a few blocks away, along King David Street.

One distinguishing feature of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is the size of the rooms. According to Klaiman, the largest rooms in other Jerusalem hotels are around 98 square feet, whereas the smallest of the Waldorf Astoria’s rooms is 121 square feet.

Klaiman emphasizes that all 197 rooms and 29 suites in the hotel contain the same luxury features — including 500-thread-count bed linens, double-glazed windows, TV in the bathroom, chandeliers and an iPad.

The iPad is for guests to order any services from their personal concierge who is assigned when a reservation is made. Check-in and checkout services are completed by the concierge in the hotel room, not at the front desk.

Two restaurants on the ground floor are available for hotel guests and visitors. The Palace Restaurant is a French meat brasserie for lunch and dinner as well as the place where guests eat breakfast. The decor is art deco.

The King’s Court is a dairy Italian gourmet restaurant that also functions as a tea lounge and cocktail bar from lunch until late evening, with rich Mediterranean style furnishings and a variety of seating groupings. The hotel is certified kosher by the Jerusalem Rabbinate.

On the lower floors of the hotel are 12 meeting rooms, all equipped with the latest in presentation and business technology; a lounge area with espresso machines lit by Czech-made lighting fixtures; and the largest ballroom in central Jerusalem, which can accommodate 900 people in conference-style eating or 600 for dinner. Fifteen weddings are already on the schedule.

The centerpiece of the ballroom is a massive chandelier with 15,000 pieces of Czech crystal that took three weeks to assemble. The cost of all the chandeliers in the new hotel totaled $2 million, according to Klaiman.

The hotel employs 300 people, chosen from among 10,000 applicants. Employ-ees are Jews, Arabs, Bedouin, Armenians and immigrants, says Klaiman. They were chosen for their friendliness, not for their experience, he emphasizes.

Many of the art and Judaica shops located close to the new hotel are looking forward to an upswing in business. But Mizrahi, a longtime sculptor and jewelry designer, isn’t getting too excited.

Mizrahi shrugs and tells visitors he’s happy the old building has come back to life, as he glances with a smile at the Waldorf Astoria doorman dressed in top hat and tails, holding open the arched glass door to the hotel.