Community affairs

Loft In Five-Story Commercial Building

Location:Tribeca
Rent:$733 (regulated by loft law)
Square Feet:2200
Occupants:Kate Horsfield (artist; director, Video Data Bank, Art Institute of Chicago); Ellen Spiro (filmmaker; professor, University of Texas, Austin); Lola (Jack Russell terrier)

You're so historical! You've been living for 23 years above the Beaten Path pub not far from the Fountain Pen Hospital in one of the city's more than 800 buildings protected by the 1982 loft law, which legalized people who began renting commercial spaces before 1980— all those artists who, in the early days, sacrificed heat and fire exits, and hoisted themselves up by ropes in elevator shafts and ate only berries so they could afford to have space to do their work. The loft law insured that no landlord could ever harm them, evict them, charge them too much money, yell at them. The landlords would have to bring the buildings into housing code compliance. The law is expiring, but as of this writing it's supposed to be extended by the legislature. If it isn't, everyone says there will be chaos— people screaming in the streets like in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. I see your loft is full of boxes and you are packing up decades of videotapes and projectors— are you moving because of this business with the loft law? I just talked to your lawyer, who said his full-time job is defending artists whose living spaces are in jeopardy, and that, according to the law, the landlord cannot make you leave and if you do, he has to reimburse you for the money you put in over the years. [Kate] We've been on a roller coaster here for years. I could stay, but everyone else in the building is gone. Basically, the landlord has made life unbearable for a number of reasons. Now he's selling the building for $1.6 million. They're advertising my loft, on the top floor, for over a million. The guys buying the building are bringing in these rich people from Wall Street, unbelievably wealthy men in $2000 suits. They look at you like you're some sort of gutter rat. They say, Oh, this is where the 20-foot atrium is going to be; over here there will be a grand stairway to the master bedroom. Well, you know this building backs up against Chambers Street. You wake up to the smell of bacon and garlic. It's gross. Now all these wealthy people will be here.

A Corcoran real estate report said the average price for your size loft in Tribeca went up 62 percent in the past 10 years. You moved here in 1976 with Lyn Blumenthal from Chicago. We were doing video documentaries of everybody in the Downtown scene for the video collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. We worked between the two cities. I filed taxes here and everything. Back then it was a community of people working in the arts— Yvonne Rainier, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson. We had huge parties, Thanksgiving for 50 people. Lyn made 50 quail. She thought you only had to cook them for a minute, but then everybody had to eat them raw. Her grandiosity was part of the time. Lyn died in '88— in this loft.

The walls are covered with maps and out-of-town license plates. At different times, different people lived here. Arlene Raven, Robert Storr, B. Ruby Rich, and— Ellen Spiro. [Ellen] There'd always be someone sleeping on the loft bed. Their first stop, like Ellis Island. I came to go to the Whitney program in '88. I'd never been to New York. I'm from Virginia. I'm a country girl.

Your father's a rabbi. Kate's from Amarillo. So, now where are you going to live? [Kate] We're looking at Greenpoint, Red Hook. I like the edginess of Red Hook.

Do you think you can re-create the community you had in Tribeca in the '70s? Is that only for the young, before people decide they don't want to eat dinner with 87 people every night? Of course we'll never be able to create the same community. Is it possible to have community when one gets older? That hits me as a very major life question. I don't know. I do know I will never stop wanting to be part of a radical art world.

 
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