From Escaping The Nazis To Running One Of The Most Famous Hotels In The World At 95

via Bruce Stanbery / Youtube

Rita Paul’s life has been a remarkable journey filled with art, adventure, and the hotel business. At 95 years old, she continues to make her mark on one of New York City’s longest independently run hotels, the Washington Square Hotel. Her story is a testament to resilience and creativity, from escaping the Nazis to running one of the most famous hotels in the world.

In 1980, Rita Paul and her husband, Daniel, made a unique decision—to move into the Hotel Earle, which they had owned since 1973

. Located at the corner of Waverly and MacDougal Streets in Greenwich Village, the hotel had a rich history. It had evolved from a basic residential hotel into a haven for an eclectic crowd of artists, musicians, and writers. Rita’s retreat was four connecting chambers on the fourth floor, where she surrounded herself with art supplies, a baby grand piano, and a kiln.

For 12 years, the Pauls were full-time residents of the Earle, embracing its eccentric atmosphere. They separated in 1992 but continued working as hoteliers. Their enduring bond led to a reconciliation in 1996. Tragically, Daniel Paul passed away in 2014 at the age of 92.

“The hotel at 103 Waverly Place — which started as a private home, became the Earle and is now the Washington Square Hotel — has a unique place in the annals of downtown bohemia.”

The Hotel Earle, later renamed the Washington Square Hotel, holds a unique place in downtown Bohemia’s history.

Over the years, it attracted luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, P.G. Wodehouse, Dylan Thomas, and even the Rolling Stones during their first world tour in 1964.

As the hotel approaches its 120th anniversary, it remains one of New York City’s few independently run family-owned hotels. According to hotel consultant Sean F. Hennessey, there are few establishments quite like it. Rita Paul’s hands-on approach and dedication to every detail make her a true standout in the industry.

The Washington Square Hotel has weathered numerous storms throughout its history, from the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 to two world wars, economic crises, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic posed significant challenges, the hotel persevered, thanks in part to pandemic loans and a gradual return of guests.

“The place has seen its share of tumult. It survived the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, two world wars, the Great Depression, the economic crises of the 1970s and 2008 and, most recently, the Covid pandemic.”

At 95, Rita Paul remains actively involved in the hotel’s operations as the “artistic director.”

Her attention to detail is evident in every aspect, from hand-painted lobby walls to room designs and restaurant murals. She believes in finding the perfect fit for every space, a skill she has honed over the years.

Rita Paul’s journey began in Berlin in 1927. In 1933, her family moved to Paris, but the looming Nazi threat forced them to flee. They sailed from Le Havre to New York City, a journey that felt like sheer luxury compared to the uncertainty they left behind. Her father had arrived in America earlier, and the family reunited in Brooklyn.

“Though the day-to-day operations fall to her daughter and son-in-law, Marc Garrett, Ms. Paul, whose proper title is ‘artistic director,’ has put her accent on every detail, from the hand-painted tiles in the lobby walls to the room designs to the murals in the restaurant.”

“My strongest point is finding the right thing for the right place,” she said. “Sometimes it’s kind of difficult to figure out what that is.”

“She was born Rita Puchalski in Berlin in 1927 and moved with her family to Paris in 1933, where they lived until early 1940. Then, as it became apparent that the Nazis would soon arrive, she, her mother and brother sailed from Le Havre on the S.S. De Grasse, with one trunk among them.”

Despite her family’s background in construction, Rita pursued a different path.

She studied art at Hunter College, graduating in 1947, and became a fashion illustrator. Her life took a turn when she met Daniel Paul and moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he worked in his father’s jewelry store. However, Rita yearned for New York City, and her father secured her husband a job there, changing the course of their lives.

In 1967, Rita’s family ventured into the hotel business, buying their first Manhattan hotel, the Rio on West 47th Street. Subsequently, they acquired the Clinton in 1970 and the Earle in 1973. The Earle, named after its original homeowner, had transformed from opulence to a flophouse in the 1960s. Rita embraced its eclectic history, maintaining a connection with iconic figures like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, who lived in Room 305.

In the late ’70s, Rita and her family converted the Earle into an affordable boutique hotel while preserving its eccentric past. Rita’s love for Art Deco inspired her to create hand-painted tiles and artwork displayed throughout the hotel and restaurant.

“Construction was the family business. Rita’s grandfather spent three years in the late 1800s working on the Williamsburg Bridge before returning to Poland. But for Rita, a different kind of life beckoned.”

“She studied art at Hunter College, graduated in 1947, and became a fashion illustrator. She met Daniel Paul through a cousin; they married in 1949, and she went to live with her new husband in New Haven, Conn., where he worked in his father’s jewelry store. But she hated New Haven and begged her father to find her husband work in New York.”

“He hired Mr. Paul to help develop the 260-room Manhattan Beach Hotel.”

Today, at 95, Rita Paul continues to contribute to the hotel’s creative vision from her art-filled apartment.

She remains active, designing new elements like outdoor dining sheds and signs for the hotel. Despite offers to sell the building, the Pauls are committed to preserving their legacy.

In the evenings, you’ll find Rita dining in the hotel’s restaurant or gazing out from her apartment overlooking Washington Square Park, savoring a glass of wine and the vibrant neighborhood she holds dear. Rita Paul’s journey is a testament to a life filled with passion, creativity, and an enduring love for New York City.