Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Martha Washington Hotel

Martha Washington Hotel
Martha Washington Hotel

Location: 29 East 29th Street, New York, New York USA

Founded: March 2, 1903

Closed: October 1, 1998, now operating as a "mixed" hotel called Hotel Thirty Thirty

The Martha Washington Hotel is credited as the first hotel exclusively for women, at least in New York City. Famous residents over the years include the poet Sarah Teasdale and the actress Veronica Lake. Another notable resident was the actress Louise Brooks who, in 1924, after an "humiliating eviction" from the Algonquin Hotel, moved to the Martha Washington, "a respectable woman's hotel on East Twenty-ninth Street" (quoting Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood, 1974). "The atmosphere of the Martha Washington Hotel was institutional. The women wore short hair, suits, and sensible shoes, and worked, I assumed, in offices." Louise was "assigned a cell under the roof," but she did not stay long: "I was asked to leave the Martha Washington, because people in a building overlooking the hotel had been shocked to see me on the roof, exercising in 'flimsy pajamas.'"

Claims of "discrimination" closed the hotel as a woman-only space in 1998, but this appeared to be nothing but a cynical move to gain control of the real estate. According to the Village Voice:

Claiming that it is illegal to bar tenants based on gender, the Hotel Martha Washington on East 30th Street is open to men for the first time in its 95-year history. But tenants at the single-room ­occupancy hotel— including women who are elderly, disabled, and seeking respite from abuse— say the move is simply a real estate ploy designed to frighten them away and enhance profits.

"What they want to do is promote the tourist industry, but by doing that they're denying affordable housing for New York City residents," says Arlene Edwards, who is in her thirties and has lived in the Martha Washington for five years. "They want to do a gut renovation and charge outrageous prices for overnight stays."

In mid September, management sent women residents a memo saying they would be sharing the hotel, where most tenants use common bathrooms, with "suitable males" beginning October 1.

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