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Hotel Once Home to Famous Single Ladies Could Become Landmark

By Amy Zimmer | July 13, 2011 7:33am
The Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts is hoping the city will landmark the Barbizon Hotel at East 63rd Street.
The Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts is hoping the city will landmark the Barbizon Hotel at East 63rd Street.
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Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts

MANHATTAN — Before they were stars, Grace Kelly, Joan Crawford, Liza Minnelli, Candace Bergen and many others seeking fame in New York lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women.

The 23-story tower built in 1927 at 140 East 63rd St., at Lexington Avenue, was the most glamorous of Manhattan's residences for single women through the 1960s.

Men were forbidden from the lobby without strict supervision, and the building was seen as a safe haven for women looking for work in the big city, but still needing a place for afternoon tea.

Now, the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts wants the city to declare the Barbizon a landmark, encouraging the building's fans to speak in support of it at a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing on July 26. The building is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The architecture is significant of eclectic Renaissance and Gothic revival style apartment building," said Tara Kelly, executive director of the Friends of the Upper East Side.

"But more important than the architecture significance is how many women came through. It was a place to protect their reputation as they were alone and single."

A Vanity Fair article in 2010 characterized the Barbizon, with its 700 rooms, "as a combined charm school and dormitory, one where fretting parents could be confident their girls would be kept safe — and chaste."

The residence, which also housed Sylvia Plath, Ali MacGraw and Joan Didion — all of which stayed there while working as "guest editors" for Mademoiselle's annual College Issue — was selective.

"It opened in 1927, hoping to attract the single, stylish, and thoroughly modern Millies pouring into New York during the Jazz Age to chase their dreams: stardom, independence, a husband," according to Vanity Fair.

"Prospective tenants were required to bring three good references for admission, and were graded on criteria such as looks, dress and demeanor."

Edith Bouvier Beale, Jacqueline Kennedy's cousin who became a cult figure as “Little Edie” in "Grey Gardens," moved there in 1947 and stayed for five years, the article said. Eileen Ford began renting rooms for her charges after starting her modeling agency with her husband in 1947.

Her intention was to "keep a watchful eye" over guests.

The hotel later passed through several different owners until going condo after a 2005 renovation. The building, now known as Barbizon63, has 69 apartments, reportedly priced up to $17 million, with such residents a Selma Hayek and Ricky Gervais.

Kelly said that some of the women from the hotel were "grandfathered or, rather, 'grandmothered' in" under New York rent laws.

"It's a great-looking building," Kelly added. "When you approach it on Lexington, it ushers you into the Upper East Side."