A Famous Co-op on the Lower East Side


Location: Lower East Side

Rent: $1675/mo. (sublet)

Square Feet: 1200

Occupants: Susan Enochs (marketing manager, Library of America); David Blankenship (graphic designer, Eric Baker Design Associates)

You just moved into a apartment house with a mezuzah on every door and four urologists downstairs. This six-building complex is so mysterious— large rooms, huge courtyard with a fountain, so pastoral and deathly quiet for Manhattan. And so far east. The Williamsburg Bridge just looms up. You might as well still be across the river in Brooklyn, where you lived for one and a half years near Metropolitan and Havemeyer and the chicken slaughterhouse. [David]We’d never been to New York until two years ago. We moved out here from San Diego with no return tickets. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood we’re living in. We’re still surrounded by strangers.

Who are the strangers here? [Susan] Ninety per cent very old. Ten percent young. The woman upstairs bought her apartment in 1931. The few young people we’ve met are living in the apartments of their grandparents. They were as excited to see us as we them.

How does it feel living with mostly one age group? It’s rather sweet. We’ll see them holding hands walking to their apartments. One time I was going out. I was in a hurry. This old man told me not to run, as if I were a child. Another time I came home about 4 a.m. There was this lovely old couple standing in the courtyard. I wondered what they were doing up until 4 a.m.

That’s probably when they woke up. They want to be awake as much as possible while they’re still alive. I heard you got this apartment through your jazz critic friend who moved into the building a few months ago, after he and his girlfriend were trapped for two years between Penn Station and the Big Cup in a 400-square-foot studio. He looked for a new apartment for two years and sometimes he would be shaking from exhaustion, but then one sunny April afternoon after looking at a place on Pitt Street where a dead pigeonwas hanging upside down outside the window, he walked by a real estate office and there was an old Jewish man inside in a hat and the jazz critic started to cry and the man took him in his bronze Cadillac and brought him to this palace and now he hops up and down when he tells all his friends he looks out on a courtyard with a fountain though the F train is seven blocks away but you can’t have everything. We owe our friend our life for telling us about this apartment. We want to go wash his dishes for him.

Your decor is minimal— Navajo white walls, cantaloupe trim— well, David’s grandfather was a melon farmer— andTibor Kalman’s book on the coffee table. [David]The apartment was baby blue and baby pink high gloss when we moved in. [Susan] And two layers of linoleum from the ’60sand ’80s.

Are you sure you don’t know more about this building? I just have a feeling about it. Well, somebody told me it was one of the first co-ops or something on the Lower East Side of minor historic significance.

[Two days later. Telephone rings.] Minor significance. You are living in one of the most famous co-op buildings in all of New York! Even your jazz critic friend, Mr. Social Conscience, didn’t know that it was built by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union after they built the Amalagamated Homes in the Bronx. A state housing law was passed in 1926 that encouraged the building of low-cost housing through tax incentives. The union wanted to build happy, airy housing so people wouldn’t have to live in tenements. In the beginning, people— union and nonunion members, mostly Italian and Jewish— bought apartments for $500 per room and $12.50 monthlymaintenance. In 1936, TheNew York Times reported that the W.P.A. orchestra played every Friday night in the auditorium. L’chaim! Originally, the bylaws stipulated that shareholders who left could realize only a modest profit on their apartments. Three months ago, the building became privatized. Now they can sell for full profit like any co-op. Uh oh.