Ah, the rooftop – staple of the Manhattan summer. Just add sunshine, views across the skyline, and bottomless mimosas …
But this is no ordinary rooftop. Part of The Webster Apartments, the building is the legacy of Charles Webster, one-time senior partner of Macy’s department store, who wished to establish a safe, secure home for unmarried working shop girls.
In 1923, seven years after Charles’ death, his wish was finally fulfilled, and a property at 419 W34th St welcomed its first tenants, between 30 and 40 Macy’s sales clerks. By 1935, that number had risen to 84 women, not just from Macy’s but from stores all over the city. For $8.50 a week they received a room plus two meals a day. They also had access to sewing machines, an infirmary, a library, and that roof garden.
The Webster stays true to its benefactor’s vision today. It remains “for occupancy by unmarried working women regardless of their religious belief or nationality and wherein they find comfortable and attractive homes.”
Many of the original details remain, including the mailboxes in the lobby, and steel laundry drying racks in the old seamstresses’ room, which has been converted to a community room where with vending machines have replaced sewing machines.
These days, however, the rent is slightly higher, and the view has changed a little – not least with the addition of the Empire State Building.
But such delights also come with some compromises. Residents share bathrooms, they cannot cook for themselves (a bonus for some!) … and no men are allowed to stay over.
This story was originally published in Issue 19 of W42ST magazine in August 2016.