|The Barbizon Hotel for Women in 1927 -- photo Library of Congress|
But there were dangers in the big city as well--dangers called “wolves;” the smooth-talking decadent men who searched out naïve young girls.
Girls needed protection and they found it at the Barbizon Hotel for Women. It was a sanctuary where stringent codes of conduct and dress were enforced. Girls applying for residence were required to submit three letters of reference. There were no men allowed above the lobby level and chaperones were available at parents’ requests.
|Multicolored, intricate brickwork patterned the ground floor -- photo by Alice Lum|
In 1926, as the hotel rose, The Chicago Tribune said “The building is especially designed for business and professional women with such unique features as gymnasium, swimming pool, studios and other conveniences usually found only in men’s clubs.” Indeed, the owners, United Club Residences Corp. under the presidency of William H. Silk, referred to it as a “club residence for professional women.”
|The lobby as shown in an early brochure -- http://sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html|
|photo by Alice Lum|
“It has been said that in their clubs women have more liberty than men,” said article. “They really do, in this respect at least—that they are permitted to invite members of the opposite sex to many of their social affairs and to pay calls in the public rooms set aside for the purpose. For a woman’s club is here home, while a man’s club is more or less his refuge.”
|The New York skyline from the Barbizon in 1932 -- photo Library of Congress|
The newspaper commented with a hint of humor on the restrictions on the girls. “it is not an uncommon sight to see a mother with her young daughter barely out of her teens at the desk asking for accommodations. ‘She is going to be here for the Winter,’ says the parent, making more of an effort at boldness than her child. ‘Yes, she is taking her first job. Will she be well chaperoned?’ While it is asked a bit anxiously, the youngster looks bored and silently expresses an aversion to the idea that she needs chaperonage.”
|photo by Alice Lum|
The Barbizon became the most exclusive and glamorous address in New York for young women. Most of the 700 rooms were dorm-sized quarters intended for girls on a budget. But the tenant list would include an array of soon-to-become-famous names; among them budding actresses Cloris Leachman, Joan Crawford, Candice Bergan, Ali McGraw, and Grace Kelly.
Writer Sylvia Plath lived here, later setting part of The Bell Jar at a residence hotel based on the Barbizon. Liza Minelli, Cybill Shepherd, Candice Bergen, Dorothy McGuire, Peggy Cass and Barbara Bel Geddes called the Barbizon home, along with a seemingly endless list of others.
|Sylvia Plath's room above, like the others, was small but tastefully decorated and furnished -- http://sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html|
On October 26, 1932 the 65-year old Molly Brown died in her room at the Barbizon of a brain tumor.
|Brick tracery, romantic arcades, balconies and soaring Gothic windows create a fantastic melding of styles -- photo by Alice Lum|
Among the glamorous models who “couldn’t get out” were Delores Hawkins, Gloria Barnes and Jean Patchett.
Following suit, the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School used the Barbizon for the safe-keeping of its Gal Fridays-to-be.
The Barbizon Hotel for Women was not all about young actresses who became movie stars and professional girls who met and married millionaires. There was tragedy at the Barbizon for those girls who did not quite succeed.
Judith Ann Palmer was brought to the hotel by her wealthy mother, Mrs. Philip O. Palmer of Chicago on January 22, 1939. On July 8 the 22-year old placed $30 in a dresser drawer and wrote a note saying the money should cover her funeral expenses. She then wrote and note to her mother; then, dressed in her negligee, she shot a bullet into her right temple.
In 1957 Gael Greene, writer for the New York Post, wrote a series of articles exposing the heart-breaking existence of the girls whose lives fell short of glamor and instead were filled with loneliness and fear.
By the 1960s the reason for the existence of the Barbizon Hotel for Women was essentially gone. After several owners, it became the Melrose Hotel in 2002 following a $40 million renovation. The 700 small rooms were no more, now about half that many.
|photo by Alice Lum|
While little of the original interiors are left, the exterior of the Barbizon is essentially intact--a wonderful example of 1920s eclectic architecture and a most interesting page of women’s social history.
Great read! I don't recall ever hearing the Molly Brown connection. Before the the Barbizon was built the corner was the home of Architect A. Stewart Walker of Walker & Gillette - http://halfpuddinghalfsauce.blogspot.com/2012/01/residence-of-alexander-stewart-walker.htmlReplyDelete
What a lovely building. It's too bad NYC or other metropolitan cities don't have places like this anymore. Fascinating read! I wonder if anyone has written a book on the history of the Barbizon...off to google!ReplyDelete
I take care of a soon to be 97 year old women (this year 2016) who's best friend lived in that hotel and she use to go down to the NY City every weekend to visit with her. She was in her 20's then. So I put together a memory report to bring to work with me tomorrow to show her and have her tell me all about her adventures....:)Delete
I had the pleasure of living there 1949 -1950 while in graduate school at NYU. A wonderful experience! Encountered childhood friends who were living there at the same time as I. The staff was terrific. Grace Kelly was living there at the same time. I left to get married.ReplyDelete
How lucky you are to have experienced that great hotel during a great period of its history. Thanks for sharing your story.Delete
Actress Agnes Moorehead was a resident of the Barbizon Hotel in 1928 while attending the American academy of Dramatic Arts.ReplyDelete
The only way my dad would let me move to NYC in the mid-60's to pursue my dreams of being a department store buyer (which I finally realized in the 80's) was to live at "The Barbizon Hotel for Women." The picture of the room that is here looked just like my room. A college friend from Centenary College for Women had the room next to me and we shared a bath. So, I worked at B.Altman and Company and lived at The Barbizon. A dream come true. Came back to the Philadelphia suburbs and became a buyer for a billion dollar corporation after raising a family. It's not been a life lots of challenges but NYC and the Barbizon was a really good part of it.ReplyDelete
I grew up down the block. I remember going to the Barbizon Coffee Shop, with its booths and its amazing (to my childish eyes) pop art posters on the walls. This would have been in the early 70s -- anyone else remember the place?ReplyDelete
Very intersting article. I believe that the Barbizon was also the women's hotel that was spoofed in the 1968 comedy film "Thoroughly Modern Millie" starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing. The hotel in the film is called The Priscilla and seems to look very similar to the Barbizon. Inbeknownst to anyone, Mrs. Meers the house mother was also involved in human trafficking aka white slavery and whenever an orphan would seek to reside at the Priscilla, she would always say "SAD to be all alone in the world!" and then of course the orphan almost always disappeared after a few short weeks until the main characters figured out something was wrong and they cracked the case sending Mrs Meers and her henchmen to prison lol.ReplyDelete
I never made that connection before! thanks!Delete
Thanks for the great post. I lived there in 1968 hoping to find a job at the Met Museum with my BA in art but wound up as a "sales girl" at Lord & Taylor before moving on to other things. I'm originally from the Midwest and living at the Barbizon was a kick---and very cheap. I especially remember sitting at the counter at the café/diner downstairs and ordering its terrific rice pudding every single day.ReplyDelete
My father worked at the Barbizon for forty years. I worked for Dave the dry cleaner in my youth. Many great stories.ReplyDelete
Hi, I'm just finishing up my book on the Barbizon and as I was going through all my research tying up loose ends, I was reminded of this link. If indeed your father worked at the Barbizon for forty years, I would absolutely love to hear from you. Please email me at email@example.com Thanks!Delete
Enjoyed living at the Barbizon while attending modeling school at John Robert PowersReplyDelete
I remember my stay on the Katy Gibbs floor with much fondness. Was it alw on Friday that we had tea on an upper floor lounge with great onion sandwiches. The gal in the room next to me was in NYC looking to be a model. 50 years later I ran into her when she was society writer for a Syracuse newspaper and what a great time we had reminiscing about the Barbizon.ReplyDelete
I am the former academic dean at the Boston school and have written the history of KGS. It must not be forgotten! There are some pictures of the Barbizon on my web site (check out the Bermuda scrapbook from the 1930s) and also in the book.
Rose A. Doherty
Katharine Gibbs: Beyond White Gloves
I Went to the NY School in the PanAm building 1966-1968 and lived at the Barbizon Hotel.Delete
They were changing times; however, the education and experience served me well.
What year were you living at the Barbizon? My mother, Theo Lyons, was there in 1946-47-48 and a model for Saks and I'm looking for someone who may have known her.
I, too am looking for anyone who might have known a family member who was there in the 1940s. Her name was Helen Parker?Delete
I'm also looking for someone who went there in the late 1940's. Her name was Johnnie Gates or Johnnie Owens. She just disappeared one day....Delete
I lived there in the 1970s. It was the beginning of my long love affair with NYC. Thank you Barbizon!ReplyDelete
Nancy....I remember staying there just for 4 or 5 nights with my friend while visiting New York. At that time, I am guessingDelete
you could rent a room, like a hotel....Is that correct?...Also, I am trying to remember how much we paid. My friend and I shared a room.
As I recall, it was really inexpensive, which is why I rented there. Don't remember much, but do remember the lobby...a very small room
and not much of a view, if any.
I lived at the Barbizon in the late 50's. I went to New York city (from Montreal) to study singing and I loved being in Manhatten. It was a long time ago but I remember it a..ReplyDelete