Though apartment buildings designed for professional women—think the Barbizon Hotel on the Upper East Side, or the Martha Washington Hotel on Park Avenue—are largely a thing of the past, some of these women-only enclaves still exist in Manhattan. One of these is the Webster Apartments on West 34th Street, and the New York Times is ON IT.
Specifically, they recently ran a profile of a 24-year-old resident of the building who ticks basically all the boxes you’d expect from someone who lives in what is basically a glorified dorm. She’s a recent New York City transplant (check) who works in fashion (check) and doesn’t mind the living situation because she lived in sorority houses in college (check). Her room, which measures just 13 feet by 8 feet, is decorated with twinkly lights (check), a copy of The Devil Wears Prada (check check), and a poster of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (checkcheckcheck). “I had to live in Manhattan,” she told the Times. “I was so excited when I went to get my license and it said New York, New York.” (Oh, honey.)
But what’s really interesting to us, as professional real estate gawkers, are the specifics of this particular living arrangement, which isn’t so different from the ones offered at trendy “co-living” situations like WeLive or Common—but without the cool start-up factor, and with far more stringent rules.
Residents at the Webster Apartments get their own rooms, but have shared bathrooms—five or six to a floor, to accommodate 25 to 30 women (each room also has its own private sink). According to the Times, rents in the building go from $1,000 to $1,800, and are determined by a sliding scale “pegged to the resident’s income.” Residents must also be employed, “at least 35 hours a week or have an internship or fellowship of at least 28 hours a week,” with a yearly between $30,000 to $85,000.
What do you get for that price? Actually, quite a lot: Housekeeping, two meals a day, plenty of common spaces (including a TV room and a library), and per the Times, “social events, most with an educational or professional bent”—resume workshops, mixers, and the like. (The resident they profiled mentions a painting workshop, but there are also yoga classes and movie nights, among other things.)
When you compare the cost of living there to something like WeLive—where a studio will soon cost $3,050 (albeit with a private bathroom)—it may seem like a pretty decent deal, particularly if you’re new to the city or not inclined to live with strangers. There is still a rule that men aren’t allowed into rooms—and given that these sorts of boardinghouses came from a general fear of women’s well-being in early-20th-century New York City, it’s not surprising that it exists, though that doesn’t make it any less weird in modern-day New York City. (Though the building apparently has “beau rooms” that are “uniquely decorated recalling ‘Legends and Lotharios.’” where you can take a, well, beaus.)
But the Webster’s website notes that it’s been filled to capacity since it opened in 1923, so clearly there’s a demand for this sort of housing—even if the audience for it is limited. And the resident the Times spoke with, at least, is happy with her situation—especially considering it’s temporary, since the Webster has a five-year limit for residents. “Even when my mom came to visit me last month and stayed on a cot in my room, she was like, ‘I don’t want to go back home!’” Isn’t that sweet.