During a seething summer evening in 1953, Lexington Avenue on the corner of 63rd Street received a sprinkling of clothing–an entire wardrobe really–thrown from the rooftop of the Barbizon Hotel. The intoxicated young woman, demonstrating her unhappiness during her last night in the city, was Sylvia Plath. Her summer stay at the Barbizon Hotel would later figure prominently in her famous novel,The Bell Jar.
The Barbizon hotel’s story begins in 1926 when it was built as a “Club Residence for Professional Women.” It wasn’t until the 1940s that its reputation blossomed as the hotel for young single and gorgeous women. There were other hotels in New York City specifically for women, but the Barbizon stood apart, namely due to its exclusivity. A woman had to have three letters of recommendation along with impeccable manners and dress in order to be allowed a room at this dormitory style hotel.
Between 1940-1960, Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Cybill Shepherd, Candice Bergen, Joan Didion, and Betsey Johnson made the Barbizon their home. Eileen Ford, who ran the Ford Modeling Agency, regularly rented rooms at the Barbizon for many of her models. In the April 2010 issue of Vanity Fair, the author Michael Callahan describes it well, “If the Barbizon had a face, it was that of Grace Kelly…The Barbizon wanted its poster girl to be Lisa Fremont, Jimmy Stewart’s sophisticated girlfriend in Rear Window, who had all of Kitty Foyle’s snap and guile, but was also swathed in filmy negligées, A-line dresses, opera gloves, and smart pillbox hats with netting.”
With so many beautiful and talented women in one building, it was no wonder men were always trying to find a way to sneak in. Security would not allow them above the first floor, but with enough motivation, some would try posing as a doctor or father to gain entry. The hotel officially started to admit men in 1981 as times were changing and all-women’s hotels were a thing of the past.
Nowadays, this former hotel is known as “Barbizon 63” after its conversion to condos in 2006. The insides have been gutted and refurbished and one would need a pretty penny in order to own an apartment there. Nonetheless, it will always be a city icon, symbolizing a safe retreat for career women during most of its existence. The recent landmark status it gained this past April will keep its beautiful coral brick façade from changing and its memory from becoming a pretty thing of the past.
Check out some of these vintage photos of the Barbizon: