Refinery Hotel is the opulent reincarnation of the Colony Arcade Building. Constructed in 1912, its ornate, neo-gothic façade became the vision that welcomed the workday of the generation's milliners. The decorative early skyscraper model was designed by the prolific New York architect Frederick C. Zobol. Zobol created an inspired variant of the 19th-century "base-shaft-capital" design—in English, that means it had the proportions and aesthetics of a classical Greek column.
From day one, the Colony Arcade Building became ground zero for the era’s rich millinery trade. Frederick C. and his brother Robert P. had chosen their location wisely: the neighborhood was exploding with business and visitors as couture houses and garment factories were setting up shop. It was the beginning of the garment district that we know today—Paris had become exorbitant and redundant for American designers and manufacturers. Simultaneously, the shopping mecca of Ladies’ Mile, located from 14th to 23rd Streets since the turn of the century was moving upwards to Midtown. It started with Lord & Taylor unveiling its glam window displays on 5th Avenue.
In 1912 and beyond, millinery artisans and workers staked their claim in the new garment ‘hood and established a thriving niche. Things at 63 West 38th Street got really exciting when, less than a year after its unveiling, one local entrepreneur, Winifred T. McDonald knocked on the Zobols’ door. Miss McDonald also had a vision: she signed a lease to the 20,000-foot space on the Colony Arcade’s ground floor and very soon was serving tea (wink, wink) to well-dressed women weary from days shopping and hot meals to the milliners on break from their hard work upstairs.
These were the days of the “tea house,” when women were not welcome in the city’s clubs and bars but could establish camaraderie in the women-run salons and expect a “would you like gin or whiskey in that Russian tea?"
The spirit of the undoubtedly dapper and hat-wearing Winifred T. McDonald lives on. Refinery Hotel has carefully stripped, redefined and preserved the building's culture and industrial innards. Gothic arched entries and windows surrounded by sculptural quatrefoils, shields and eagles still greet the hustling neighborhood and the hotel's esteemed guests. Materials from original water tanks and inner fixtures have been reworked into ceilings and furniture and interiors are detailed with tools of the millinery.
Beyond its grand walls, the Fashion District is more concentrated in its output—there are great efforts to save the productivity of the neighborhood. For not, the area is as urban and vital as ever. Couture houses and the showrooms of emerging designers coexist with eco sweatshops and stalwart fabric and jewelry wholesalers. Every year, the world flocks to the city's Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, giving Paris and Milan a stiletto-clad run for their couture. In 2008, the area achieved heritage status when the U.S. National Park Service added the "Garment Center Historic District" to its National Register of Historic Places.
Refinery Hotel has tailored its overhaul with the drama and sophistication of today's creative class and the decadent industriousness and rich work ethos of the building's many eras. Inspired by local artists and the nuanced aesthetics running through New York's varied neighborhoods, Refinery Hotel has achieved an intersection of classic modern chic and the reworked vintage tone of today's zeitgeist.