What is Laura Spelman Hall in New York City? You may or may not be surprised that it’s a building of condos for the super wealthy in the West Village, but it’s origins are far from that.
By David Stone
Assorted Ideas, Large & Small
Located where Bleecker Street’s chain of high-priced boutiques peters out, the building at 320 West 12th is a curiosity. It used to be 607 Hudson Street, and that’s a tip worth following.
Hudson is bland, not as chichi as West 12th Street, it seems, or maybe the owners wanted a complete break from a less elite past.
Apartment sale prices have exceeded $20 million. We don’t know if the name change spiked the price, but when you have that kind of dough, you get to play.
History of Abingdon Square: How Laura Spelman Hall came to New York City
320 West 12th Street, now officially called “The Abingdon,” got its name from the square it faces.
Both are on former farmland settled by European gentry in the early 18th Century, and they evolved in a sweeping economic curve.
In 1906, the present structure opened as the Trowmart Inn, a six-story, forward-looking home for working women without husbands.
It was the brainchild of William Martin, and he did “not care for any return upon the capital he has invested,” the New York Times reported at the time.
“Girls of gentleness and refinement do not care to be courted upon the open highway, nor in public parks,” Martin believed.
With the world filling up with spinsters, as he saw it, he built the Trowmart Inn as a solution. A proper place to entertain would result in “happy, excellent wives.”
That ideal lasted until 1920 when the YWCA took it over. That conversion came after John D. Rockefeller pitched in $400,000, after World War II, and had it renamed for his wife, Laura.
Enter Laura Spelman Rockefeller
Laura Spelman Rockefeller was an American philanthropist and the wife of John D. Rockefeller. Together, they established the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, which supported social reform and scientific research.
Laura also served as the first president of the General Education Board, which worked to improve education in the United States. She was a major force in her husband’s philanthropic work and helped to shape the direction of his giving.
Laura died in 1915, but her legacy continues through the many institutions that she helped to create.
Spelman College, to which she donated critical funds, is an historically African-American women’s college, but it has integrated in recent years. There is also a Hall dedicated to her on that campus.
Looking at Laura Spelman Hall, a city wonder I discovered while wandering Greenwich Village, you see living space more historic than its quiet neighborhood suggests.
Village Care operated it as a nursing home for decades between the YWCA and the condos.
From wealthy English landowners to working girls without husbands to extended healthcare to The Abingdon, a home for the super wealthy – again.
The former Laura Spelman Hall NYC is easy to find where Bleecker Street comes to an end. Abingdon Square interrupts the intersection.
Across the street is history worth knowing.
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