Two-Bedroom Condo in Columbia Terrace

Location Carroll Gardens West
Price $95,000 ($188/mo. maintenance)
Square feet 800
Occupants Liz Bradford (graphic production manager, Kozmo.com); Michael Bradford (painter; media coordinator, Mount Sinai)

Your turtles are so big, almost like from the Galapagos.
[Michael] I had a neighbor years ago. She said, Would you hold these for me? She never came back. That's when we lived on the Lower East Side, early '90s. The building changed hands, rent strikes, court cases, everyone got thrown out. [Liz] The new landlady was a 300-pound tyrant dressed like the tooth fairy. [Michael] A real nightmare. [Liz] We had the worst time finding an apartment. We went to a realtor and she said, Your old building is on our database. It's tied up in a court case. She thought we caused trouble. [Michael] She didn't want to find us a place. [Liz] It was like blacklisting. But then we found a real understanding realtor. She called the tooth-fairy landlady. She said, I can't believe that woman. Everything you said was right. Anyway, we got a one-bedroom for $975 in Carroll Gardens. Then we decided we wanted to buy. Every realtor laughed in our faces when we asked for two-bedrooms for under $100,000. We went back to the nice realtor and she said, Did you ever walk down Union Street and keep going and going? When it gets really bleak, you're there. We didn't think it was bleak at all. It was really sweet with all these brick houses.

Yours was built by one of the best builders in the city—Nick Lembo. He's the one who also built all the '90s moderate-income row houses in East New York. As for your neighborhood, so much has happened here. More than 50 years ago, people came from Puerto Rico and docked right at the waterfront. There were longshoremen who worked the piers and a large Irish and Italian community. Then things became unhappy. Robert Moses built the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and severed the neighborhood and you could hear it cry like a child. A massive sewer project felled buildings on the highway's west side, more screams. Merchants fled. In 1979, it was declared an urban renewal zone. Here's the most exciting thing. These condos were built on an ancient burial ground—the old headquarters of mobster Joey Gallo, who is said to have helped shoot Anastasia in a barber chair. I'm surprised you don't get snow on your TV screen like in Poltergeist.
[Michael] Sometimes it cuts out. [Liz] The man across the street was digging in his garden in his front yard and he found a whole front of a Cadillac.

Another reason you bought this condo is because Liz joined the navy.
I wanted to be a photographer. They pay for your schooling. The Veteran's Administration Home Loan was a consideration. This condo, by the way, is one of the few that meets the VA code.

So in the navy did you have to wear bell-bottoms?
[Liz] Yes. You only have to shoot a gun once. After school, they could send you to Guam or an aircraft carrier. You take your chances. I just lucked out and went to D.C. and got to work in the old building where '40s movie stars made training films. The screening room had wavy wood walls. [Michael] She was never on a ship.

You're right near water now.
[Liz] We snuck over to the shipyard once. [Michael] The fence was loose. We crawled under. [Liz] Everything is so giant—that Star Warsthing with the lights on it that moves the containers. We saw a guy on the deck of a ship with a gun, doing his watch. You see a lot of lost foreign souls—sailors looking to buy a phone card. Though our development is all families, lots of kids, black, white. [Michael] In fact, we're adopting a little girl in six months, an inner-city kid who needs a home. We've got a spare room for her.

 
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