Studio in 1940s Co-Op Building


Location Hudson Heights

Price $99,000 in 2001 (maintenance, $301)

Square feet 550

Occupant Louisa Benton (development director, Ensemble Studio Theater)

Your 190th Street subway stop is one of the deepest in the city. The man working the elevator said, “Twenty-two stairways, 12 levels.” He was eating a sandwich. When you rise up out of the station, there are pale green gates, old stone tables, and benches. To the right is the park calling, “Come here, come to the heather, the Olympian fields. Come where it is soft, where the gray-blue river runs fierce.” It was so hard to resist, but your apartment was to the left. So I had to turn that way. I love it here. I had a couple of friends who moved up. There are a lot of actors, creative people. Getting to Lincoln Center is very easy. I like to run down underneath the George Washington Bridge. There’s a lighthouse. There’s also a really nice, really chic restaurant, New Leaf Café, that opened in Fort Tryon Park. I made friends with the manager.

In some neighborhoods, there’s a greater sense of others having lived there before. The sky is heavy with all these memories—other people’s memories. This pale blond brick building is like so many around here. A note on the entrance door read “Shivah for Anne . . . Sunday.” A menorah and a Christmas tree were blinking madly in the lobby. A tiny woman was standing down there, wearing a little American flag pin. She’s lived in the building since 1958. In the ’30s and ’40s, German Jews came from Europe to this northwest section of Washington Heights. A friend who lived around here in the early ’70s said every hallway smelled of chicken soup. I don’t really feel that sense of the past. I see people like myself, or young couples with babies, people very stylishly dressed—which makes me feel less remote, like people are moving up from downtown. The first day I moved in, in late August, I did feel at loose ends, disconnected. I’d been living in midtown for seven years, and I’d become very accustomed to the liveliness of the streets. It was a walkup in Hell’s Kitchen, but I was tired of it—people never disposing of their trash properly. I loved my little hovel, but I wanted someplace more adult, more welcoming.

What is this framed on the wall? There are photos of you laughing, surrounded with handsome people in a dark paneled room. The photos are placed around a menu. It reads “East 69th Bloody Marys, Chapin School Coffee, St. Paul’s Nuts, Bourne Cove Champagne.” That was my 21st birthday at Harvard, 1985. My father did these lunches for all of us in the family. I grew up on 69th Street. I went to Chapin, first through seventh. St. Paul’s was my prep school. Bourne Cove is where my family seat is, in Massachusetts. Six generations ago, my great-great-grandfather came there. I have a house in a trust with three sisters and three cousins. It’s like something from a storybook, built about 1780.

Your view here faces the backs of buildings. A river view would have been another $100,000. I bought the apartment from a young couple. Before them, an old woman had lived here alone. She kept her little bed in the kitchen.

Having grown up in such a rarefied world, what’s it like waking up in a place so far away? A lot of people who grow up on the Upper East Side never leave it. I did. After college I worked in Madrid, lived in nice and not-so-nice apartments. Then I went to Columbia, where I got a master’s in international affairs. I went to work in Caracas, where I lived in an icky apartment near the airport, then St. Petersburg, Florida. I moved to Phoenix for a relationship. I was working on an Indian reservation. In the last year, I’ve been in a long-distance relationship with someone who lives in Memphis.

I keep thinking of that woman who lived here alone and . . . This is not where I expect to live my life. It’s my starter apartment.

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