Webster and the Rich and Famous

We are often asked if anyone famous has ever lived at Webster.

I sometimes wonder if the question is related to the names associated with the glamorous Barbizon Hotel, a 23-story women’s residence at 140 East 63rd Street. Built in 1928, the Barbizon, like Webster, had a “no men above the first floor” policy. The Barbizon’s list of famous residents is impressive and includes Candice Bergen, Liza Minnelli, Ali McGraw, Betsy Johnson, Nancy Davis (later to marry Ronald Reagan and become First Lady), and Grace Kelly. It is where Sylvia Plath wrote The Bell Jar.

We wonder what our residents accomplish once they get their start in The Big Apple. We do know that Uta Hagen lived at Webster. Although her name may not be familiar, she was a German-born American actress. She originated the role of Martha in the 1962 Broadway premier of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and won two Tony Awards for Best Actress. Impressive resume! She later married Herbert Berghof who started HB Studios, a legendary acting school located on Bank Street in the West Village and taught with him there.

Here’s a fun story. In the fall of 1950, a young Warren Buffett (now the second richest person in America, topped only by Bill Gates) lived at the YMCA Sloan House at 356 West 34th Street. He paid a dollar a day for a room. At the same time a college classmate of his, Vanita Mae Brown, who happened to be Miss Nebraska 1949, was living just down the street at The Webster Apartments. Lucky her! When Warren read about her in a gossip column, the usually shy young man phoned her at Webster and asked her out. Warren seemed to be quite taken with Vanita, who was known to have been quite a handful. Alice Schroeder writes in The Snowball, her biography of Mr. Buffett, “Dating Vanita was like walking a leopard on a leash to see if it would make a good pet.” Eventually Vanita proved too much for Mr. Buffett to handle and he moved on.

The Barbizon moved on too. By the 1970’s it lost it sheen and in 1981 began accepting men to reside there. In 2005 it was closed and the building was converted to condos.

The Webster, on the other hand, celebrated its 90th Anniversary last November. How fortunate for all of us. We may not know their names, but we are confident that the success stories of our former residents would fill volumes.

More WebsterGram