Book Review - The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
Ever since moving to Chicago, I've been really into learning about architecture. My husband and I became members of the Chicago Architecture Foundation shortly after moving to the city, and we've been on countless tours (they are most well-known for their architecture river cruise which was featured on My Best Friend's Wedding with Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney.) But our favorite event is the Open House Chicago which takes place every October - for two days buildings normally closed off to the general public open their doors and educate visitors on the architecture and history of the building. My interest in architecture (and of course my insatiable interest in history) is what drew me to The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis.
The Dollhouse is a fictional account of the historic Barbizon Hotel for Women. The Barbizon (sometimes referred to as The Dollhouse) was built in in 1927 by architects Palmer H. Ogden and Everett F. Mergatroyd. For most of its existence, the building served as a hotel for women only. Some of the notable women who lived here include Sylvia Plath (who wrote the semi-autobiography, The Bell Jar, about her time at the Barbizon), Lauren Bacall, Joan Crawford, Candace Bergen, Grace Kelly, Ali MacGraw, and more.
This novel focuses on two women: Darby moved to the Barbizon in 1952 while she attended Katharine Gibbs to learn to be a secretary. (PS - Katharine Gibbs was a real person and her school existed until 2008, read this article from the NY Times about what it was like in 2002.) Rose, a journalist, moved to a renovated condo in the Barbizon with her boyfriend in 2016. She heard that there were still a few "holdouts" from the old Barbizon living on the 4th floor (this is all true - the Barbizon was converted to luxury condos in 2006 but there were still 14 residents living in rent-controlled apartments...read this NY Times article to learn more about the renovation and history) and pitched the story to her boss. She began interviewing the women for an article, including Darby.
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