New York City is brimming with stylish hotels, from boutique hangouts to luxury destinations, but few can boast the rich history of the Martha Washington, first opened in 1903 exclusively for women. According to a 2012 New York Times story, the hotel, in the now-dubbed NoMad area, became a refuge for single female professionals seeking a comfortable place to stay where they were not the subjects of sordid rumors suggesting improper deeds. The landmarked hotel, which later turned into “a center for suffrage events,” hosted notable women such as Jean H. Norris, the Tammany Hall official and first woman magistrate in New York, and actress Louise Brooks. More than a century later, Martha Washington has been given a much-needed face-lift. Selldorf Architects has revamped its public spaces, including the front entrance and Danny Meyer’s new Roman pizzeria, Marta.
After assuming several identities in recent years (Hotel Lola and King & Grove New York, among others), the Martha Washington has returned to its roots, first reestablishing its name, and now welcoming guests at the original main entrance. Selldorf re-located the front entry position from 30th Street to 29th Street, and then worked with a preservationist to restore the Renaissance Revival facade by replacing some of the brownstone. To further implant the hotel in the fabric of the city and engage with the street, the firm demolished the stoop and lowered the floor to ground level by three feet. “We had to convince Landmarks that we were doing something unique. It was a dramatic change in the existing building which hadn’t really been touched,” explained Selldorf partner, Sara Lopergolo. The window openings were then extended and turned into glass doors with mahogany trim.
Marta also benefited from lowering the floors, gaining 17-foot-high ceilings, thus letting more light into the 12,000-square-foot restaurant. A marble bar overlooks two impressive terracotta tile ovens, allowing patrons to watch the cooking in action. Quiet design components—including blue cement tiles, walnut millwork, and white fluted columns—endow the space with a crisp, contemporary aesthetic. A cluster of slender, lighting pendants suspended from the ceiling enlivens the muted interior.