New York hotel let women see the world differently

Le Barbizon: the hotel that frees women

Author: Paulina Bren

Simon and Schuster, 321 pages, $ 27

What could $ 10 buy you in New York in October 1927? On the one hand, a one-week stay at the brand new “Barbizon Club – Residence for women”, later simplified in Barbizon.

No men were allowed except downstairs, where they could make their appointment for the evening. Built in 1927, the small rooms were described as convents, a refuge from men and their lewd manners. Before the Barbizon, only a few pedestrian hotels were open to women only in New York or any city. Men could stay in hotel residences; women only had pensions.

Young women have come from all over the United States and beyond to stay at the luxurious Barbizon. The women were happy to have radios in their rooms. Pools were rare in hotels, and the one at the Barbizon was beautifully painted. He was known to be so sure that students at the prestigious Spence School in Manhattan were allowed to take swimming lessons safely there.

For women of this era, careers leaned almost exclusively towards nursing and teaching. Women who wanted something different were intrigued to find out what New York could offer them and were open to various career options. For example, the famous Katherine Gibbs secretarial school had three-story classes at the hotel for girls to learn not only typing and shorthand, but administrative skills as well. Girls attracted to modeling could stay at Barbizon and hope to become one of the famous Powers models.

The Barbizon, located at 140 East 63rd St., had 23 floors and 720 rooms, with lounges, laundry facilities, libraries, and plenty of rooms where residents could give concerts or put on plays. It has been designed in the modern style of a “grand Italian villa”. The mezzanine has been elegantly designed as an oversized Romeo and Juliet balcony.

The hotel was named after the 19th century French art movement and the village of Barbizon. One hundred rooms were specially reserved for aspiring artists, models, writers and musicians – who had soundproof rooms to practice – and actresses who all hoped to make a career in their chosen field. The author of the book offers many excerpts from Barbizon’s daughter life and writes about their hopes and ambitions in the pre-feminist era. The hotel has, in fact, freed the women.

The author has portrayed dozens of famous women of the time who stayed at the Barbizon, including “Unsinkable” Molly Brown (who survived the sinking of the Titanic), Meg Wolitzer, Cybill Shepherd, Phylicia Rashad, Grace Kelly, Gael Greene, Joan Didion, Liza Minnelli, Candace Bergen, Ali MacGraw, Sylvia Plath and many more.

It was Plath, a well-known poet who attended Wellesley College and wrote the famous story “The Bell Jar,” who described her summer at the hotel after winning the four weeks of guest writing, one of the rare Revue “Mademoiselle”. In 1953, the winners were given $ 500 for the four weeks, a lot of money at the time.

Plath married, had two children and suffered from depression for years, tragically committing suicide 10 years later in London by putting his head in the oven. Molly Brown was found dead at the hotel from a brain tumor. Not all residents have lived a golden life.

You can no longer stay at the Barbizon for $ 10 a week. In 2007, the building was transformed into condominiums that only millionaires can afford. However, there are a few long-time people who still stay there on a rent-controlled basis.

Women can stay in any hotel these days. Gone are the days when a young girl was too afraid to use the phone to call the front desk to say the room is too cold.

Mims Cushing lives in Ponte Vedra Beach and has written three books.

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