If you’re wandering around New York City looking for The Zonderling Hotel for Working Girls, I’m sorry to say that it’s not a real place. Neither is SoDeDyFa or the Altruistic Army (don’t tell The General). But it is true that there were loads of real residential hotels for women throughout the 20th century, and a handful are still in business. I lived in two different residential hotels for women when I moved to NYC!
During the fall of 2015 I checked out some former hotels and a copy of The Zonderling came along for the ride. I originally posted the following photos and history on my Facebook & Instagram in 2015 just before publication of The Zonderling. I decided to organize the information here in case you want to do your own walking tour of New York’s former residential hotels.
BARBIZON HOTEL | Upper East Side | Lexington at E. 63rd St
Arguably the most famous hotel for women in New York City. Former residents include Grace Kelly, Candice Bergen, Liza Minnelli, and Cloris Leachman. The Barbizon opened in 1927 and was converted into luxury condos in 2006.
The Martha Washington Hotel was the very first hotel for women in New York City. It was the headquarters for the Interurban Women’s Suffrage Council and home to silent-film legend Louise Brooks. During the early 1960s, a reporter discovered faded film star Veronica Lake working as a hotel barmaid. The Martha Washington was exclusively for women from 1903-1998. It was refurbished and reopened in 2014 as a boutique hotel with the same name. As for the trendy new hotel bar? It's called Veronica’s.
This is the Swiss Town House aka Swiss Home for Self-Supporting Women. In 1924 the Swiss Benevolent Society of New York transitioned their home for the elderly into a boardinghouse exclusively for working girls. The building is decorated with heraldic shields representing the twenty-two canons of Switzerland. Swiss Town House closed in 1991 and the building is now part of Macaulay Honors College at CUNY.
Constructed in 1910, the name changed to the Simmons House for Women in 1948. It was transformed into a tourist hotel in 1994 but now the building is a student residence hall for the New York Institute of Technology. Fun fact: it’s across the street from the building used as the exterior for Liz Lemon's apartment in “30 Rock,” and it is next door to the building used as the exterior for Will & Grace’s apartment.
The Ladies Christian Union opened this West Village boardinghouse in 1910 and expanded it in 1931 to accommodate 100 women. The Ladies Christian Union also operated five other boardinghouses in Manhattan, each providing two meals a day. And no boys allowed outside of the beau parlor! Katharine House closed in 2000 and the building is now a residence hall for The New School.
The Salvation Army opened the Parkside Evangeline Residence for Young Women in 1963 to provide room and board for 300 residents. The three-tower building is located across from Gramercy Park (the only private park in Manhattan) and next to The Players Club and the National Arts Club. Former residents include actress Sean Young. The Salvation Army sold the 17-story Parkside to developers in 2007 and it reopened several years later as 16 massive, luxury apartments for gazillionaires—for real, each apartment sold for around $15 million.
Multiple Allerton hotels for women were built in early 20th century New York City. The 57th Street location opened in 1923 and white-gloved elevator maids made sure no men traveled up to the rooms. Former residents include prominent New Jersey suffragette Mary Stewart Cutting Jr (yes, she was a lady Jr!), who died at the hotel in 1928. And in 1941, the Allerton built an air-raid shelter for its residents, the very first air-raid shelter constructed in a New York hotel. Allerton House closed around 2000 and is now a tourist hotel.
There’s a fascinating history of this West Village boardinghouse. The Trowmart Inn for Working Girls opened in 1906, but the War Department took over the building in 1918 to house nurses during World War I. Two years later, John D. Rockefeller Jr. made a large donation to the YWCA in memory of his mom, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, and the YWCA turned the building back into a residence for women called Laura Spelman Hall. In the late 1950s, the residential hotel became the Village Nursing Home for 200 seniors. First Lady Rosalynn Carter visited Village Nursing Home in 1977. Carter had lunch with several residents, including Marion Tanner who was well known as the inspiration for the title character of Auntie Mame in her nephew’s best-selling book (and subsequent Broadway musical and movie). In 2012 the Village Nursing Home was sold to developers and turned into luxury condos. The seven-story building now has just 10 units for gazillionaires…the penthouse sold for over $22 million.
This building on east 39th Street was originally an Allerton House (1918) for young men, but the Salvation Army took over in 1954 and turned it into a boardinghouse exclusively for women. The Ten Eyck-Troughton Memorial Residence for Women had 350 rooms and a roof garden. The Salvation Army closed the sixteen-story boardinghouse and sold it to developers in 2007. It is now a hotel with a roof bar.
To learn more, I recommend my primary source The New York Times archives. Other sources I researched include New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission reports, LANDMARK WEST! reports, and Museum of the City of New York archives.