Barbizon Upper EastSide

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:

Exterior from Central Park between trees. Image via Museum of the City of New York 

Through arcade with brick vaultsImage via Museum of the City of New York 

View South through Loggia Arch of Barbizon Hotel. Image via Museum of the City of New York  

Street with several automobiles and storefrontsImage via Museum of the City of New York  

Vintage photos curated by Diksha B, who writes for our Vintage Photography column.

 Barbizon Hotel, hotels, upper east side, vintage photos

8 Responses
  1. Lauren C. Reply

    I lived at the Barbizon back in 1971, when I was working as a salesgirl at Saks Fifth Avenue. It was perfect. I’d move back in a New-York-minute and retire there [if only I could afford the condo’s].

  2. John fortys Reply

    U worked in the golden yulip barbizon from 1985 to 1989 really beatifull place to work. Great people and wonderfull coworkers that i still miss to this present day.

  3. Caryl Shaul Reply

    I met a woman in 1971 while away for a weekend in a motel in Bear Mountain, Montgomery NY. She introduced herself as Mrs. Keebick who lived at the Barbizon Hotel. She stayed in the cabin next to ours. We spent a lot of time talking and then she left. Knowing the owner of the cabins and the log she keeps, I had an occasion to mention Mrs. Keebick from the previous year and she informed me that cabin was empty when I was there and, more so, showed me the log book that she never rented to someone with that name. So, I would like to know if there are any records dating back to those years showing a resident by that name. Thank you.

  4. Sally Ryskamp Birch Reply

    I stayed at the Barbizon Hotel in 1955 while attending John Robert Powers finishing school. It was a wonderful place for a young 18 year old to stay. It was my first time away from home. The employees there became my family. The rooms were very small. My favorite place was on the 19th floor where there were places to sit in the open air with buildings all around. I spent many hours up there writing letters and also at night to see the city in lights. I especially remember the doorman who was always there to greet me and asked about my day. It was a great experience.

  5. As a young teen, living in South Orange, N.J., in about 1960 my mother sent me to The Barbizon every Saturday morning, to learn the correct way to walk, to dress and stand properly. I probably went to classes for about 6 months or 1 year. I traveled alone by bus from Irvington, New Jersey.
    I’d love to hear and share experiences, with any one else who went to The Barbizon for modeling purposes around that time period. thanks, Marilyn Raff

    • Although I didn’t take any classes there, my girlfriend, Loraine and I would take the train down in 1964 and stay overnight. We were 18 and loved the city and there was no safer place to be than The Barbizon.

  6. Lenny DOwhie Reply

    Years ago-in the 1990’s, I stayed at the Barbizon when I was in town for a board meeting for the American Crafts Council. I got to the hotel late, as we had meetings and dinner, and when I got to my assigned room, there were multiple strips of police tape across the door and a police lock. I went to the hall phone and called the manage and they put me on hold-Apologizing, he came back on and asked if the “Penthouse” would be an acceptable substitute. Of course I said yes and stayed in a wonderful room that had been created out of part of the old exterior-thus the room had architectural elements, windows that gave great views, and all the wonderful aspects of such a hotel.

    Loved every minute.

    Oh yeah, the other room? The guy staying/living in it committed suicide and they all forgot. Happy Holidays all.

  7. Gabrielle Tuttle Reply

    My mother lived here, Tamara nee Behrens. I would love more pictures of this hotel from the 50’s when she was a secretary at NBC.

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