Three-Room Apartment in 1950s Seward Park Housing


Location Lower East Side

Rent $1750 (sublease)

Square feet 950

Occupants Rock Shum (information risk management consultant, KPMG; writer); Karin Chao (student, Stern School of Business, NYU)

You are right near the Bialystoker Home for the Aged. Your lobby mural has a man with big forearms, a pert young woman holding a tree trunk—she’s looking down at the roots—then FDR’s in the middle and next to him are two young girls jumping rope, and there’s a dove. [Rock] I didn’t notice.

The murals are from when there was hope and people in pictures held shovels. Very WPA. There was a big fight about the murals. The board wanted to get rid of them after the co-op went market in ’96—it was originally union financed, limited equity—and this one woman had her nose in the air and told a newspaper, “These are market co-ops . . . like any other luxury building . . . not like a public housing project!” But then all these tenants mounted a resistance—it lasted two years—and they won, though it was close. And another time the underground garage roof collapsed and made a 150-foot-wide crater. Though now everything’s OK. This is my first apartment, I’m only 21. I found it in May through a pay Web site called I used my friend’s account, though, and I didn’t have to pay. But we had to give the broker $3125. [Karin] When we came to see the apartment, this actress, who lives in the building, was there and convinced us to rent it. She said she was looking at the apartment for her friend or something. [Rock] We wondered if she was teamed up with the broker and it was really a setup. [Karin] Like maybe they were pretending they didn’t know each other but they were on the same team. [Rock] I went to see her show at Arlene Grocery. [Karin] Did you say hi to her? [Rock] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Any people your age in the building? They’re either 14 or 90. The lady across the hall is probably 80. [Karin] The woman who lives next door is young. [Rock] They passed a recent thing about the elevators. [Karin] OK, this is what happened. You know how if you’re Jewish, you can’t use electricity during the weekend. [Rock] During the Sabbath. [Karin] Like Saturday, whatever. [Rock] Saturday’s their day. [Karin] They’re not supposed to use the elevator. People who are really old can’t take the stairs. So they make the elevator stop on every single floor.

Electricity falls under the rule of not making a fire on the Sabbath. For observant Jews . . . They can’t carry keys either. I was an RA at NYU. They’d have to turn their keys in before Saturday, and if they accidentally locked their door, I had to let them in. [Rock] When I got in the elevators the first time, all the buttons were pushed. I thought, oh, some crazy kids.

Usually a building has just one Sabbath elevator. Both elevators had all the buttons pressed, unless it was Sabbath on one side and crazy kids on the other. The laundry room is really nice. [Karin] They have baskets on rollers. [Rock] There’s a gym here. [Karin] It’s not like a real gym. [Rock] Like a ladies’ gym, not many weights. [Karin] I’ve seen yuppie guys in there. They have, like, surveillance cameras everywhere. The doorman’s really nice. Even the people who interviewed us were nice. [Rock] The co-op board, they were all old guys. They were eating hot dogs from Second Avenue Deli. [Karin] They asked us some questions. [Rock] They thought I was a doctor. [Karin] The guy got confused. They didn’t really ask us that much. [Rock] I think we asked them more questions. [Karin] They weren’t stuffy about stuff. [Rock] I found out about the apartment when I was, like, at graduation in Washington Square Park. The broker called my cell. Everyone had their cell at graduation. It was so boring. [Karin] Like, my friends are sitting in this row, passing a joint around.