Rent $1800/mo. (market)
Square feet 900
Occupants Bruce Pearson (artist); Monica de la Torre (poet; Ph.D. student, Columbia University)
I thought you’d be sleeping next to a boiler or something, since you’ve been a Williamsburger since ’81. But this apartment with the dining room looks like a grown-up place on the Upper West Side.
[Bruce] It’s a little embarrassing. Would you like some mescal? I’m having some. This is a renovated apartment. We moved here two years ago. [Monica] We’d decided to move in together. Bruce was then living and working in a space in Greenpoint. [Bruce] I’d lost my Williamsburg loft of 17 years, $500 for 3000 square feet, and I’d just gotten into a show at MOMA and I got this eviction notice, a horrifying story. [Monica] I’m a writer. Bruce’s work is really toxic. [Bruce] No it isn’t. [Monica] Yes it is. He’s cutting Styrofoam. We either wanted to find a place to live with a separate work space or split things up. [Bruce] I prefer both in the same space. [Monica] We’re invited to an engagement party in Williamsburg. We show up, no one is there. We had these friends nearby, Jim and Jane, who are artists and who bought this building. They said, The party’s next week. They show us the apartment they’re renovating. They have no idea what to charge. They ask, $1500? I’d been paying $1250 for crooked floors in the Village. I say, Are you crazy, people would pay $2000. Jim and Jane said, That’s too much, maybe $1800. [Bruce] We ended up being the ones to rent from them.
So you could have gotten it for less?
Yes, sigh. The previous couple had been here 40 years. I’m not sure what they did besides drink and smoke. They were getting old and agreed to leave. When I’d visit the building, I’d hear them yell, I hate you. Get the fuck out of my sight. When I came from San Francisco in ’81, I moved to Williamsburg’s south side. There were maybe 30 artists then, separate from the north cluster. They really didn’t mingle. Many south siders were dropouts or people who didn’t have the money to move into the East Village. The south side was then the third most dangerous neighborhood in New York. The first five years, I hardly knew a soul. I remember it being dusk and this huge Great Dane was running down Broadway, completely desolate. In those days, I’d be at a party in Manhattan, I used to have to choke on the word “Brooklyn” when I told people where I lived. [Monica] I’m from Mexico City, the Pedregal district, a ’50s sort of utopic community. The streets were named Cloud, Lava. First we lived on Flame, then we moved to Fire. Then my father sold our house to a union leader who paid in cash.
How do you feel about the reverse of the bridge and tunnel crowd here, kids drinking on Bedford like it’s the University of Williamsburg and the formerly one-room Planet Thailand looking like an early-’60s steak house? Tonight it was packed with office workers, purple birthday balloons, and a long table of fat adolescent boys and their father looking over his stomach at the spring rolls.
[Bruce] I’m not sure how I feel.
I was just at Film Club, a Williamsburger favorite, and my friend was having trouble hearing a film announced, and I suddenly thought of her with a hearing horn, which brought to mind what the Williamsburg Home for Seniors would be, the pit bulls old and enfeebled. It made me wonder, are art neighborhoods only about youth? Not just because the rich inevitably move in like vampire bats to feed off the style, raise the prices, and force the artists out before they can grow old, and not just because cultural enclaves, like great passions, often peak and move on, but mostly because people in their eighties cannot run around and put up Sheetrock and install showers.
I know. But I’m hoping we can stay, buy something. After 20 years, it really has become a community. I just love the fact that there are a lot of people I know walking down the street.