Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Irvin Hotel for Women - 308 West 30th Street


Following the death of her husband, banker Richard Irvin, in 1896, Mary Morris Irwin focused greatly on philanthropic work.  By the outbreak of World War I, she was president of the Samaritan Home for the Aged, the Leomis Sanatorium, St. Mary's Free Hospital for Children, the Virginia Day Nursery, and the Association of Day Nurseries.  She was also concerned about the plight of working girls.

Until the last decades of the 19th century, only a few jobs were available to women--teachers, nurses, and clothing factory workers among them.  But suddenly, there was a wave of independent women in the workplace, filling positions such as "typewriters" and stenographers, and shop girls.  Unmarried women who came to the city needed friendship and protection.  Mary Morris Irwin recognized the problem.

She was already president of the Irene Club for Working Girls in 1914 when she organized the Hotel Irving, Inc. to erect a safe, affordable place for working women to live.  On April 4, 1914 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the corporation had purchased the three houses at 308 through 312 West 30th Street, just west of Eighth Avenue.  The article said, "A twelve-story hotel will be erected which will provide moderate-priced homes for working girls.  The project is philanthropic."

William M. Baldwin, chairman of the building committee, began receiving architectural sketches within the month.  The winning design was by Jackson, Rosencrans & Waterbury.  Their 12-story structure, which would cost $250,000, included a large assembly hall.  The Record & Guide said it "will have many features of a modern Y. W. C. A. structure," and "will be designed for women guests exclusively."  On July 25, The Evening World gave details of the building, including a roof garden, adding that Mary Irvin "for years has taken an active interest in the welfare of working girls in New York."  

But something slowed progress.  Two years later ground had still not been broken when, on February 17, 1916, the New York Herald announced, "There is cheering news for working girls of New York in the announcement that a co-operative hotel especially for them is to be built at No. 308 West thirtieth street through the efforts of Mrs. Richard Irvin, and other well known women and men interested in bettering the condition of young women toilers."

The founders described the anticipated hotel as "A comfortable, cheerful home to make the working girl independent of the cheerless, unwholesome boarding house." Room rent would be "less than thirty cents a day for dormitory quarters and from fifty-five to seventy-one cents a day for those able to pay that much for single rooms."

And yet, still construction did not commence.  Mary Morris Irvin died on June 5, 1918.  In reporting her death The Sun commented, "It had been her desire to see completed the Irvin Home for Working Girls."

Finally, in August 1924, more than a decade after the property was purchased, construction began.  The long delay had caused a change in architects.  The plans were filed by Sugarman & Berger.  Their neo-Georgian design included swans' neck pediments above the entrances and delicate Adams-like decorations in the first floor panels and second story frieze.  Rather than a cornice, the architects capped the design with a brick parapet with stone balustrades, one above each column of windows.

The long awaited construction was interrupted by a catastrophe on January 9, 1925.  Eight stories had been partially completed.  That day workers were pouring the concrete of the eighth floor when suddenly that floor collapsed, crashing through all the lower stories to the basement and carrying workmen with the debris.  Amazingly, only two men were fatally injured--one of them disfigured beyond recognition.

Despite the setback, construction was completed before the end of the year.  On February 7, 1930, the New York Evening Post reported that the building "houses 190 business women.  Dozens of occupations are represented in its list of tenants."  There was one kitchen for every three-room unit, and the tenants shared in the cooking.  Others made a slight profit by working from home.

The parapet balustrades were intact when this photograph was taken in 1956.  308 West 30th Street real estate brochure.

"Women who have jobs that are done at home, such as writers, artists, research workers and dress designers, often cook pies, cakes, chowder, puddings and desserts in quantities for their friends.  Several of the girls have founded quite a flourishing business in cooking for other tenants in the house," said the New York Evening Post.

In 1956 the former Irvin Hotel was converted to apartments, six per floor and two on the penthouse level.  The real estate brochure touted wall-to-wall carpeting, "self-service elevator," a doorman, "interphone service" and "adequate wiring for electric appliances."  

floorplan from 1956 real estate brochure for 308 West 30th Street

The kitchens were a special feature, and included the "latest type stoves and refrigerators with freezer units, custom made kitchen cabinets, kitchen floors finished in Kentile."  A laundry room was located in the basement.

Among the tenants in 1957 were two members of the staff of the Philippines Mission to the United Nations.  Lourdes Yepes, who was a clerk-stenographer, and Faustino Remolador y Campos, an assistant, lived here.  Faustino remained in his apartment at late as 1962.

The former Irvin Hotel for Woman is still a rental building.  Its handsome 1924 design is little appreciated, tucked away on the narrow side street.

 photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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