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Barbizon Hotel

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The Barbizon Hotel was a residence hotel for women that opened in 1927, and remained strictly for women until 1981. The Barbizon is an important example of the women’s residence hotel, a housing typology that enabled single women to live independently and pursue careers. Such accommodations enabled single women to find housing at an affordable rate in an expensive city, at a time when pursuing a career was new for women. The Barbizon was converted into condominiums in 2005, however a few residents continue to reside in the hotel under their old leases. 
 
Space
         
The Barbizon offered single, working women a place to live that was considered proper and respectable. The building provided a wide array of facilities for the women’s use - lounges, large and small reception rooms, Irish Art Gallery, Irish Theatre, Rehearsal Rooms, library, music practice rooms, painting/sculpture studio, dining room, coffee shop, solarium, swimming pool, gym, massage rooms, and a squash court. It also reserved space for the Wellesley Club of New York, the Cornell Club, the Barnard and Mt. Holyoke clubs, and the Alumnae Committee of Seven Colleges. 
 
Practice/Activism
       
The Barbizon’s spaces reflect the prevailing social, cultural and political expectations for women in 1920s. They were also the spatial framework against and through which these women could shape their impressions of themselves. Many of the communal spaces at the Barbizon reflect women’s involvement in the arts, and noteworthy are the spaces for what might today be called “networking” or “career development.” By 1920, approximately 25 percent of all women worked outside of the home. As more colleges began accepting women, the spaces that the Barbizon provided for colleges alumna would have been important for forming networks between this new group of female professionals. 
 
Physical Details
 
The Barbizon Hotel on East 63rd was built in 1927-1928, around the same time as the construction of a number of other hotels/residences that catered to single women looking to pursue a career in NYC. The 23-story Barbizon was designed by Palmer H. Ogden and Everett F. Murgatroyd. Who also designed the Evangeline Hotel for Women for the Salvation Army on Gramercy Park, as well as residence hotels for the Allerton House Corporation. Because the Barbizon was specifically intended for women pursuing careers in the arts, the management provided studios, soundproofed rooms, and other facilities for the women who lived there. The Barbizon (and other residential hotels designed specifically for women) are interesting examples of spaces that allowed women a new degree of independence and in some way liberated them from the cult of domesticity. Rather than simply enabling a woman to rent an apartment on her own, the hotel freed women from the domestic duties that would be associated with a home.
 
 
Site and Context 
 
The Barbizon Hotel is located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side on Lexington Avenue. The area began to develop the 1870s, after the northward extension of Lexington Avenue in 1868. By 1900, the area had become a “fashionable residential address for wealthy New Yorkers.” Post-WWI, a housing shortage and other economic factors caused developers to construct apartment buildings and hotels, many of which replaced single-family homes. The opening of several IRT stations in the area in 1918 made it an even more desirable area to live, and it was considered a “choice apartment house thoroughfare.”[1]
 
The women’s residential hotel typology was common in the early 20th century. Catering solely to women, these residences allowed young, middle-class women to come to New York and other cities to begin careers without having to be married or find a permanent apartment on their own. The Barbizon was one example of this typology, and catered towards an artistic/actress clientele. The women at the Barbizon (and other residence hotels) were mostly of a certain social class. “[The residence hotels] served as the sheltered entry point into society, business and the arts in New York for several generations of proper young women.”[2] The Barbizon, in particular, “stood at the top of the mid-price residence club scale,” and the women who lived there enjoyed amenities such as a swimming pool, a gym, and a library.[3]
 
Form and Use 
 
The Barbizon’s massing is one of the early examples of a building that reflects the 1916 Zoning Resolution, which required setbacks on the upper stories. The Barbizon, and other buildings from the 1920s, were some of the first buildings to reflect these new requirements.
 
The interior space in some way reflects a rethinking of domestic functions, with regard to communal services and individual rooms for the women in residence. The Barbizon offered independence for it’s female residents while still fulfilling the functions of a “combined charm school and dormitory, one where fretting parents could be confident their girls would be kept safe – and chaste.”[4]
 
 
 Materials and Methods of Construction

The Barbizon is a 23-story, steel framed building, clad in brick. Ogden and Murgatroyd used an eclectic mix of Italian Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles, with brick and stone as the primary façade materials. The brickwork is used as decoration along parts of the façade, to create details such as small recesses and arches above windows. The balconies and courts at the top of the building also contain wrought iron and terra-cotta details.
 
 
Plans or threats  
The exterior of the Barbizon was landmarked as of 2011, and the interior was recently renovated. In 2005, the Barbizon was converted into luxury condo apartments.
 
Prior to the most recent renovation, the Barbizon was renovated in 1980. The hotel was to be converted into a standard apartment building or office building. The remaining residents fought against eviction, succeeded, and were moved to a designated area of the hotel, while the rest of the building was converted into standard hotel rooms.
 
 
[1] Barbizon Hotel for Women, Landmarks Preservation Commission, April 17, 2012
[2]“A New Chapter for the Barbizon”, New York Times, March 19, 2006
[3] The Barbizon: New York’s Smartest Residence for Young Women
[4] “Sorority on E. 63rd St.”, Michael Callahan. Vanity Fair. April 2010