An Apartment Building That’s 100% Female

July 17, 2019


Back in the day, buildings such as this were called “girls’ residences” and there were dozens of them – now there are only nine left. Seeing an article on this subject titled, “Maiden Manhattan” by writer Jessica Dailey that appeared in the New York Post on Thursday, March 14, 2019 definitely brought back memories.

When I first arrived in New York City I had a short stay at a girls’ residence and it was a very nice experience. The subhead to this article says it all: “The city’s few remaining women-only residences offer female renters affordability, security and camaraderie.” The facility that is described in the Post is a 376-unit called the Webster Apartments that is located at 419 West 34th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.

Where I stayed was quite different. It was in a very classy brownstone on East 49th Street between Third and Second Avenues. And yes, four-time Academy Award winner Katharine Hepburn lived roughly four houses down. I remember one December we were invited to an evening of “carol singing” that was organized by a famous interior designer named James Amster who lived across the street. We were told to “wear something red,” and to appear at a specific time to go caroling.

Naturally, we were very excited about this invite that turned out to be even more glam than we imagined. It included a visit to the Turtle Bay Gardens – a park-like garden that ran behind all the private residences – including Hepburn’s – on the block (it did not include our brownstone) with no borders or fences: just green grass, stately trees, brick walkways and beautiful flower beds. We were stunned when we saw it. Then, as a final touch, the whole group (about 25 of us who lived on the block) gathered to have Xmas punch at Amster Yard where James lived. All I remember about that was we were served punch from an over-sized, very beautiful silver bowl by an elegantly attired manservant. It was an eye-opening evening.

Our girls’ residence was like living in a private home. We had the use of a living room on the main floor and a nicely designed kitchen down below where we could prepare whatever we wanted. The Webster offers a landscaped rooftop terrace, a chef who provides two meals per day (leg of lamb with ratatouille casserole at a recent dinner) and a housekeeper who changes the sheets once a week.

The dining room at the Webster Apartments

The Webster houses between 800 and 1,000 working women per year. An aspiring resident must be a full-time intern or working a minimum of 35 hours per week. All rooms are private and rent – from $560 to $949, calculated on a sliding scale based on salary, every two weeks (said differently: rents at the Webster start at $1,120 per month) – this includes the two meals (residents rave about the food) as well as laundry and Wi-Fi. There is a theatre room and a library, plus two lounges and a hallway of “beau parlors” or miniature living rooms where male guests are allowed.

An apartment at the Webster and two of the residents – photo courtesy of the New York Post of 3/14/19

Where I stayed there was a two-year limit and the same applies to the Webster. “We’re meant to be a stepping stone for women, not a permanent residence,” says Tara Scott, the Webster’s director of marketing and business development. “When someone leaves and gets their own apartment, we take that as a success story,” says executive director Siobhan McManus. “They’re getting to the next level.”

Sounds like a terrific idea to me.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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