Rent $1900 (market)
Square feet 1600
Occupants Ocean Lee MacAdams (managing editor, MTV News), Suzanna Petren-Moritz (consultant, Bain & Co.)
(This column was going to press when the September 11 tragedy happened. Later, the interviewer wondered if the issues were still relevant. Though the issues of class, gentrification, and fashion are not erased forever, they have been obscured temporarily by the crisis. We don’t know what will happen economically, but it was concluded that the topics would hold, especially the first.)
You say you feel like yuppie scum. [Ocean] Considering the way I got my apartment. I was living in Harlem in a renovated brownstone and I was very happy. But when I decided to move in with my girlfriend, Suzanna—now my wife—she wanted to try a different neighborhood. This was four years ago. I really wanted to move to DUMBO. I grew up in California. I’m 30. When I first saw DUMBO, that was the image I always had of living in New York. It looks like a tracking shot from an old ’70s cop show, like Kojak. Here’s where the yuppie scum part comes in. My friend was living in this apartment first. He’s an artist. The owner of the building renovated, raised the rent. My friend, the artist, could no longer afford to live in an artist’s neighborhood so Suzanna and I, the young professionals, moved in. I think my friend ended up getting a place in Red Hook.
Red Hook looks like it’s in a cop show. Yeah, but it takes forever to get there. Both my parents are poets. My father is Lewis MacAdams, one of the people who helped found the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church.
All the more reason you shouldn’t do yuppie things. I grew up in a hippie town, Bolinas, California, with a few hundred people. My parents moved there in the ’70s. They wanted to live in an idyllic place full of poets, writers. Suzanna grew up there, too. Her father was a mason.
Did you have child yoga lessons? No, but shop class in school was fabulous. You also made a lot of pots for your parents. When I was 12, I moved to L.A. with my mom. Suzanna and I didn’t see each other for 13 years. We met again in New York. Some of our friends moved here—like Strawberry, she’s a writer. DUMBO didn’t really develop until about a year ago. It was after the opening of the Clock Tower Building. That’s where they shot Year of the Dragon.
Clock Tower is Jerry Walentas’s condominium building. He owns most of DUMBO. Your landlord, Charles Cara, said he’s building two 20-story towers with 157 luxury condominiums behind your building. DUMBO, a former manufacturing neighborhood, is only about 12 blocks big, but it’s going wild. In just nine months, there’s a Dumbopets; Peas & Pickles, DUMBO’s first grocery; and another Rice, like the restaurant on Mott Street. Then, Joe Chan at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce said, “Have you heard about Jacques?” which sounds like a French film, but he was talking about Jacques Torres, former Le Cirque pastry chef, who opened a DUMBO chocolate factory and café. We’re happy because Superfine, the restaurant down the block, is moving to our building. But as businesses open, they do more roadwork, and they don’t replace the cobblestones.
Joe Chan said the city just committed $12 million to restoring most of DUMBO’s street grid. I was thinking about the word cool and your father’s book, Birth of the Cool, with all the photographs of smoky nights and jazz players. There are all these definitions of cool and how cool is about approval and kinship. Then your father writes about cool’s quicksilver nature and how “as soon as anything is cool, its cool starts to vaporize.” I asked Joe Chan, Would DUMBO still be cool after all this? He said, “Of course! Now, I don’t know if DUMBO’s going to look like a cop show, but DUMBO’s going to have the genuine progressive feel that Soho had 15 years ago.” You know, a young Swiss intern once asked me, “Did you ever hear of a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Thumper?”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 9, 2001