Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hotel Irvin for Women

Former Hotel Irvin (2002)
Hotel Irvin for Women

Location: 308 West 30th Street (near 8th Avenue), New York, New York, USA

Opened: 1925

Closed: Apparently ceased to be women-only in the early 1940s

A short description of the Hotel Irvin for Women can be found here:

The Hotel Irvin for Women was named for Mary M. Irvin (Mrs. Richard Irvin), president of the organization that worked for many years to create this residence. As early as 1916 the group planned a hotel "where self-supporting girls and women with small incomes could be accommodated comfortably and well at little cost." (Quoting New York Times Feb. 21,1916, p.11.)

Mary M. Irvin (1870-1918)
But it was not until 1924 that the group managed to acquire the land and begin construction here at 308 W 30th St. By that time the corporation consisted of Asher Mayer, president, and Charles H. Strong, treasurer. The hotel opened in 1925, "for exclusive occupancy by business women," with apartments "arranged in small flexible units with facilities for self-housekeeping" and rents "adjusted on a basis to meet the big demand that exists for this type of housing." (Quoting here the New York Times July 4, 1924, p. 20.)

In the early 1940s the Irvin seems to have dropped the women-only policy. They went out of business in the mid-1950s.

An article in the New York Times dated May 12, 1916 tells us more about the Irvin Hotel as it was originally envisioned. The costs for room and board were projected at $4 to $8 a week. And while there was no place for "charity" cases, there was none of the "surveillance" or restrictions so common to women's hotels either: "Each guest will be as independent as any guest of a hotel anywhere." Specifically, that meant that the women guests would be able to "go and return as they please at any hour of the night, and there will be no question of propriety as to the hour." 

In keeping with the new heteronormative definition of freedom for the New Woman, there was also an emphasis on "beau rooms" or "beau parlors" where the women would be able to "receive [male] company" with some degree of privacy. This was presumably a safer alternative to such "evils" as "frequenting cafes or walking the streets." 

In addition, the hotel was to include a "dance and assembly room," a roof garden, a "chafing dish room for little parties," a "big restaurant," a gymnasium, what was described as a "hospital" (infirmary?), and many other very nice-sounding amenities. 

The staff was to mostly women too: "The hotel clerks will be women, and the only men will be the porters and furnace men."

Obviously this over-arching vision was curtailed considerably by the time the hotel finally opened in 1924--by which time the project had apparently been taken over by men. It appears that World War I and the 1918 death of Mary M. Irvin had something to do with this. And even the limited vision that survived--the Hotel as a place "for exclusive occupancy for business women" rather than as a home for "women with small incomes"--would scarcely last a generation before the hotel went coed. 

Mary Irvin's obituary, which was published in the New York Times on June 17, 1918, gives us a sense of her broad commitments to women and children:

Mrs. Irvin had been interested in charities for forty years. At the time of her death she was President of the Samaritan Home for the Aged, one of the founders and President of the Loomis Sanitarium at Liberty, N.Y.; President of St. Mary's Free Hospital for Children, the Association of Day Nurseries, the Virginia Day Nursery, the Irene Working Girls' Club and the Virginia Working Girls' Club. Work of building the Hotel Irvin for Working Girls, of which Mrs. Irvin was President, had been held up by the war.

She was a Vice President of the Working Girls' Vacation Society, the Association of Woman Workers, the Trinity Seaside Home at Islip, L.I.; a member of the Loomis Guild, St. Christopher's Guild of St, Mary's Free Hospital for Children, the Cathedral Nursery Committee, the Manhattan Trade School Committee and the Consumers' League. She was a Governor of the Colony Club and a member of the Diocesan Auxiliary of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Fresh Air Home of the Cathedral.

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