One of the last vestiges of New York City’s dormitory-style women’s housing, the century-old Webster Apartments, has packed its bags and sold for $52.5 million.

Webster Exterior
The Webster on W34th Street between 9/10th Avenue is leaving its century-long post. Photo: Naty Caez

The sale of the historic Webster building was first floated in May of last year, with residents given notice to vacate by December 31, 2022. The purchase by new owner 419 WEST 34TH STREET DII LLC, which appears to be controlled by a Brooklyn-based not-for-profit housing organization, completed earlier this month. The Webster team posted on their Instagram account that they did not believe the building would be torn down by its new owners and added: “We are excited to share that another nonprofit is purchasing our building but do not have any further details to share at this time.” 

The LLC named in the purchase was confirmed by The Real Deal to be Educational Housing Services, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1987 that helps students and interns find housing in New York and which already has nearby housing at The New Yorker at W34th Street and 8th Avenue.

The Webster team confirmed that their organization has moved across town to the FOUND Study Midtown East at 569 Lexington Ave (bw E50/51st Street), a New York branch of a national organization providing student and intern housing. It is unclear if The Webster will maintain its previous pricing structure — where tenants pay rent on a sliding salary scale — or adopt the FOUND building’s current room rates.

Before the sale, the building originally opened at 419 W34th Street in 1923, providing a century’s worth of young women moving to New York with the option of living at the Webster — with the rare offering of significantly below-market rent and two hot meals a day in a convenient Midtown location. A roof deck terrace, a library and a screening room were later paired with modern amenities like in-building laundry and free WiFi. 

The building’s W34th Street address wasn’t a coincidence either — as it was a Macy’s Department Store executive, Charles Webster, and his brother Josiah (cousins of Macy’s founder RH Macy), who contributed the funds needed to build the 13-story, 370 unit residence hall. The retail store — the largest of its kind in the late 19th and early 20th century — employed thousands of young, unmarried women who needed affordable housing. Charles, who died in 1916 after a financially prosperous career as a senior partner at Macy’s, elected to bequeath most of his fortune toward the building of a residence hall “for occupancy by unmarried working women regardless of their religious belief or nationality and wherein they find comfortable and attractive homes,” per the Webster’s mission statement.

“I request the directors…to purchase…a plot of ground in the vicinity of the large retail stores in the Borough of Manhattan,” read his will. “I direct that the said apartments shall not be conducted for profit, but solely for the purpose of providing unmarried working women with homes and wholesome food at a small cost to them.” Seven years after Charles’s death, the Webster Apartments were completed and his brother Josiah served as the organization’s first president, eventually leaving his fortune to the residence upon his passing in 1942.

The Webster’s first tenants were Macy’s sales clerks, but by 1935, as many as 84 shopgirls from department stores around the city had taken up residence at the building, where rent could be as low as $8.50 a week for a lower floor and $12 for an upper floor. Women living at the Webster apartments had free rein to use the building’s sewing machines and had access to an in-house infirmary, as well as a wide range of “books selected by a trained librarian.” 

While the Webster’s population didn’t reach the Hollywood heights of other women-only residences like the Upper East Side’s Barbizon Hotel — known for housing everyone from actresses Liza Minelli, Phylicia Rashad, Cybill Shepherd and actress-turned-future-First-Lady Nancy Reagan to prominent writers like Joan Didion and Sylvia Plath (who wrote a fictionalized version of  The Barbizon into The Bell Jar) — the dormitory did see the likes of Uta Hagen, the German-American actress and theatrical pioneer known for originating the role of Martha in the Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, founding the HB acting studio and writing the seminal book Respect for Acting. Years later, the Webster took up the “revival” of The Rehearsal Club, an audition-based women’s housing organization previously located on W53rd Street and known for sheltering the likes of Carol Burnett and Blythe Danner. 

living room at Webster
The living room and library at The Webster, which was also used by The Rehearsal Club. Photo: The Webster Apartments

There were also famous visitors —  like billionaire Warren Buffet, who in the fall of 1950 was just a student living in the YMCA housing at 356 W34th Street. Buffet cold-called The Webster to ask out his college classmate Vanita Mae Brown, though the organization’s history notes that the relationship didn’t work out. “Dating Vanita was like walking a leopard on a leash to see if it would make a good pet,” read one biography of the businessman. 

One key barrier to dating a Webster resident was its firm rule against hosting male visitors — while guests were permitted in “beau lounges” (now primarily used as co-working spaces), men were strictly prohibited from entering guest rooms throughout The Webster’s 100-year tenure. A 2009 New York Times article describes a male visitor being kicked out of a resident’s room, the author musing: “This is not a tale from the 1950s. It is straight out of 21st century New York City. With an amused smile but an earnest tone, Ms Lienhard (who warned the embarrassed tenant that she would get “no second chances”) recalled the incident the other day as just one small drama from a slice of life that many people assume vanished from the city decades ago.”

The antiquated policy never stopped residents from clamoring to live at the Webster, rules and all. Another New York Times article from 1974 declared: “Residences for young women. Aren’t they passe, or just too, too quaint? Who wants that kind of shelter in the city these days? A great many girls and young women, that’s who. What’s more, only a few of them want their dormitory-like existence to be co-ed.” 

“Going to the Webster felt like going back to a very prim-and-proper time,” said former resident Liz Lane, an Alabama-based artist who lived at The Webster during a college summer internship with Ellen Tracy Dresses in 2010. She fondly recalled the old-fashioned pink and green wallpaper as well as the dormitory’s infamous “no-men” rule — which didn’t just apply to suitors. “Men were not allowed anywhere but the first floor, including when my dad came to visit!” Despite the somewhat archaic visitor policy, Liz told W42ST that she had a great summer staying at the Webster. “Getting to meet other young young women at The Webster and really getting to know the city was one of the best parts of that summer internship,” she said. “It was a such a unique, quirky place, but it facilitated a lot of good conversations.”

And while at one point it seemed that The Webster Apartments might remain as one of the last “women’s residences” in Manhattan  — as others like Chelsea’s Jeanne d’Arc Residence have since shuttered and the Centro Maria Residence in Midtown West has moved to the Bronx — the organization is definitely going “co-ed” at their new digs, leaving behind the long legacy of a now nearly bygone era.

Former residents, now composed of mostly students or young professionals, reminisced on a post about the Webster’s upcoming move, crediting their time at the complex as “some of the best memories of my life,” said one previous tenant. “I still have close friends from my time staying with you,” as another added: “Thank you for bringing me amazing friends. Thank you for your location! Don’t get me wrong. That first month was very tough being so close to the Lincoln Tunnel entrance. Thank you for being so close to Broadway. Thank you for being in a location that was SUPER helpful for a new New Yorker. Thank you for letting me experience Manhattan snowy days. Thank you for that beautiful rooftop and the incredible views of the Empire State Building. Thank you for the meals and thank you for being my first NYC home.”

Join the Conversation


  1. What does this historic non-profit’s plan to do with the proceeds? Are they disbanding completely? A look at their tax return shows very high compensation for the top tier management.

    1. Had a comfortably enjoyable stay reuniting with talented former residents of the Rehearsal Club.
      Maria Maggi Mallman,RC Historian

  2. I stopped into the Webster Apartments today to see how much it had changed. I was there in the late 80’s. I found out it had a new owner and the historic run was over. It was a wonderful place to live, strict but safe. Through the years i have suggested to a number of young women to go there. It has always been a positive experience for them.

  3. I lived on the 8th Floor for one summer (8 weeks, possibly Room 801?) during 1979 while attending Katharine Gibbs secretarial school (which was housed in the Pan Am Building, right above Grand Central Station). I walked every day to the classes at Katharine Gibbs after having breakfast at the Webster, followed by returning during the late afternoon for dinner in their Dining Room. I met a few really nice women while attending Gibbs School and I remember (during the late Winter of 1979), I visited NYC for one week while also scheduled for an in-person “interview” at both Gibbs as well as at the Webster so that I would be approved to be housed at this residence. No air-conditioning, but I had a room which faced “north” (I could see and hear the traffic from Lincoln Tunnel every night, but it wasn’t too noisy), and there was also a small ventilating fan on the upper wall of my room which would help to circulate the air to help cool-down the temperature at night. My hopes were to get a job in NYC after finishing the course at Gibbs, but instead I returned back home to get a full-time administrative-secretarial position, which is what I did for over 10 years before and after my marriage. I enjoyed walking every morning (about 30 minutes each way) to Gibbs’ classes at the Pan Am Building from the Webster, and being part of the hubbub of NYC. I also appreciated how safe and secure I felt while staying at the Webster during the Summer of 1979 while attending classes at Katharine Gibbs School. At that time (1979), I think that my weekly cost for the room/board at the Webster was about $ 45.00 (including the 2 meals per day plus the privacy of an individual room itself & fresh bed linens/towels each week).
    Thanks, to the Webster for providing me with wonderful memories when life seemed a lot simpler (before we had internet, cell-phones, Facebook, computers, etc; instead we needed to use the pay-phones in the Lobby to call home, as well as needing to hire/rent a typewriter for the 8 weeks of homework being completed in my room during my tenure as a student at Katherine Gibbs. I came to NYC with only one suitcase (flying into La Guardia Airport, then taking the subway to the stop nearest to the Webster Building instead of taking a cab; I was on a student-budget!). Life was so much simpler then in 1979 !

  4. Loved Melinda Callahan’s reminiscences about her time at the Webster Apartments. I stayed there for about a year from fall 1968 and clearly remember the small blue-painted rooms, lack of A/C, fans and loud outside noise, especially at night, for rooms like mine which fronted 34th Street, which was the route for USPS trucks from the main post office near the old Penn Station to the Lincoln Tunnel. Still, I loved my time there and made many friends, young women like myself from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and, of course, the US. Favorite memory – going with a group to see “HAIR” when it opened just up the street on Broadway! So glad I got to experience the Webster!

  5. It’s tragedy the Webster’s abandoned their mission for working women, and they’re not only focusing on students in interns. The head of the webster made $225,000 in 2018 and only fundraised $500. It’s my firm belief that the sale was due to miss management and the organization could’ve continued like it had for the last 90 years with better management. I was a resident there from 2019 to 2020.

  6. I came to the Webster apartments in 1962 after coming from my native Cuba, after living with relatives after a friend mentioned The Western apartments it was the best decision I made as a 22 year old working a few blocks on 8th Avenue at the Garment Center, best location, good food and nice friends. My fiance then, my husband now of 59 years was going to Pratt, on Sundays he would visit and had the only hot meal of the week. Thank you The Webster Apartment, I have great memories of my 9 month stay with you and miss you still.

  7. The Webster Apartments enabled me to live in Manhattan at an affordable price. I made lifelong friends here. I’m so grateful that I had the privilege of living at Webster Apartments. We had a backyard with gardens and tables for dining in the warmer months. There was a rooftop, a piano practice room, a library, a cozy living room, a fantastic downstairs dining room, a television lounge area, and much more. Location was great and so was the safety factor. I often walked to work and back from the Webster Apartments. What a fantastic place to have lived. I’m left with fond memories of the iconic and unique “Webster Apartments.”

  8. I lived at the Webster Apartments when I first emigrated to the USA around Labor Day 1972. I was employed as a legal secretary at Berger, Kramer & Levinson on Canal Street/Broadway. I absolutely loved my accommodation and the friends that I made at the Webster Apartments. I was far away from home but I felt safe and secure.

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