Three-Story 1890 House

Location Greenpoint
Price $270,000 (2000)
Square feet 2000
Occupants Peter Zaremba (vocals, harmonica, organ, the Fleshtones; writer); Marilla Palmer (artist); Sergei (five years old)

Here we are, stuck in traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge. I hope we get to see your house in Greenpoint and meet Peter. [Marilla] Make sure everybody knows the traffic is never this bad. Sergei goes to school on Houston, NEST+m—New Explorations in Science, Technology, and Math. To get in, the parents have to be really motivated. Peter and I met at CBGB around '79. We lived on Avenue A and 5th for 15 years. We felt we had to get Sergei out before he knew what people were doing. The bags of crack. I already knew so many people in Williamsburg, the art world, Pierogi Gallery. It was getting Sergei a community that was hard in our Greenpoint neighborhood. There are not a lot of artists' kids. We live on one of those blocks where there were probably 20 giant American flags after September 11. The neighborhood is 95 percent Polish. One group came over in the early 1900s, like Peter's family. Peter's from Maspeth, Queens. Another group came post-'85. They barely speak to each other. It's like snobbishness from both sides. One day, everyone was hanging out on the stoop, talking about how they wanted a block party. They said, "You should be chairman. You speak to everybody." One of the first questions they asked us was, "Are you going to put up Christmas decorations?" They hate when houses are dark. "It's so cheap." Most of the men are construction workers. Almost all the women are cleaning ladies.

Oh, this traffic! The steel girders, the cars, closing in on us. You said before that you want your friends to buy houses on your street? How will everybody be able to afford $270,000?We bought in February 2000. Now it's more expensive. Which we're happy about. The house three doors down from us is on market for half a million. Which would mean that's what our house is worth now. Yes, it's more money than most people we know have. Look, a Mercedes overheated. That's horrible. We rent out the top floor of our house and live on the other two. When this became available, we jumped at it. We'd gone to every single real estate agent around. We got very aggressive, looked in North Williamsburg. You have to be really diligent. As soon as we turned the corner, I fell in love with the block. Even though the house had plastic siding, I was imagining the floor plans. Then we get in three days later, after designing the house in our heads. It was so frightening. Every surface was wallpapered. The walls underneath were soaked like wet sponges. The wallpaper was put on so recently the glue hadn't even dried. That should have been a clue, for smarter people, that something was wrong. Roof leaks had soaked through every single wall. We did the main renovation in five weeks. We hired a great team of Malaysian contractors, really good, really cheap. Our contractor thought we were crazy. He said, "When I see a house like this, I don't buy." I'd say we spent $60,000 on renovation. Half of it went into making the kitchen wall. I've never seen traffic this bad.

Peter Zaremba, Marilla Palmer, and their son Sergei in Greenpoint
photo: Staci Schwartz
Peter Zaremba, Marilla Palmer, and their son Sergei in Greenpoint

We're trapped! The oppression of the steel girders!Just a couple of weeks ago we took off the siding, flesh-colored faux Bavarian. Most people I know who get houses get them with family money. My sister got a house free 20 years ago. My family gave it to her, no down payment. I said to my mother, "I want you to do for me what you did for my sister." I could see that wasn't going very far. Then I said, "Do for me what you did for my brother." My brother got a house a couple of years ago. So we got the same deal. I'm from Brooklyn Heights. My father was a lawyer. We've been sitting on this bridge 45 minutes. So what else can I tell you?

 
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