Habitats

Habitats: Private Lives in the Big City

CONSTANCE ROSENBLUM
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt155jk56
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  • Book Info
    Habitats
    Book Description:

    There may be eight million stories in the Naked City, but there are also nearly three million dwelling places, ranging from Park Avenue palaces to Dickensian garrets and encompassing much in between. The doorways to these residences are tantalizing portals opening onto largely invisible lives.Habitatsoffers 40 vivid and intimate stories about how New Yorkers really live in their brownstones, their apartments, their mansions, their lofts, and as a whole presents a rich, multi-textured portrait of what it means to make a home in the world's most varied and powerful city.

    These essays, expanded versions of a selection of the Habitats column published in the Real Estate section of The New York Times, take readers to both familiar and remote sections of the city-to history-rich townhouses, to low-income housing projects, to out-of-the-way places far from the beaten track, to every corner of the five boroughs-and introduce them to a wide variety of families and individuals who call New York home. These pieces reveal a great deal about the city's past and its rich store of historic dwellings. Along with exploring the deep and even mystical connections people feel to the place where they live, these pieces, taken as a whole, offer a mosaic of domestic life in one of the world's most fascinating cities and a vivid portrait of the true meaning of home in the 21st-century metropolis.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7155-6
    Subjects: American Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    There’s an exquisite short story by the writer Laurie Colwin that perfectly captures the lure of living in other people’s houses. The story, which is called “The Lone Pilgrim,” is about a sensitive and rather lonely young book illustrator whose greatest pleasure is being the ideal houseguest and observing firsthand what she describes as “the closed graceful shapes of other people’s lives.”

    She spends an October night when the moon is full in an old house in a college town, a sleeping dog by the stove, an apple pie in the oven, and atop a window ledge a jar of...

  5. Starting Out
    • 1 His Hacienda in the Sky BORIS FISHMAN ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE (June 21, 2009)
      (pp. 17-21)

      In 2003, with the most loving intentions, a Russian immigrant couple named Yakov Fishman and Anna Oder helped their only child buy a $180,000 studio apartment on the Upper East Side.

      The father, a skilled craftsman possessed of what his son, Boris Fishman, then 24, described as “hands of gold,” insisted on painting the walls gray, beige, and off-white—meek colors reflecting roots in a country where risk-taking could be perilous, especially for Jewish families such as this one. The setting that resulted was irreproachably tasteful and serious and, in the eyes of its occupant, as confining as a coffin,...

    • 2 A Single Man Buys a Home for Someday STEVE CHUNG IN CARROLL GARDENS, BROOKLYN (July 4, 2010)
      (pp. 22-25)

      In 2006, when Steve Chung began shopping for a new apartment, he wasn’t seeking what you might expect from a single, 30-something lawyer ensconced in the heart of the East Village. At the time, Mr. Chung was living in a one-bedroom opposite the Beauty Bar, a boisterous hipster outpost on East 14th Street, and he had neither wife nor child, nor even a serious girlfriend. Nevertheless, his goal was finding a place that was in a family-friendly neighborhood and was large enough to accommodate a wife and children.

      “When I was looking, prices were skyrocketing, and I feared there was...

    • 3 Very Bushwick and Very Fabulous BEN SHAPIRO AND HIS FRIENDS IN BUSHWICK, BROOKLYN (July 18, 2010)
      (pp. 26-30)

      A century ago, when the Bushwick section of Brooklyn reigned as a center of the American brewing industry, a beer baron likely lived in the prim black-and-white mansion topped with a steeple on Bushwick Avenue; at least that’s what local historians believe. But even in his wildest dreams, this Victorian captain of industry would never have envisioned how much the stately old place would rock a hundred years later.

      He would never have imagined that nine artistically inclined 20-somethings— “Renaissance men and women,” as they were once described—would use the premises to create hipper-than-thou music and art. He would...

    • 4 Southern Shimmer DANIEL AND DASHA FAIRES ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE (November 29, 2010)
      (pp. 31-34)

      To reach the apartment where Daniel and Dasha Faires live, you pass through the vestibule of a small brick building on Ludlow Street and head down a dingy hallway edged with grimy blue and white tile. There’s little evidence that anyone lives on this floor, or even that much has happened since this building was erected a century earlier. But hang a left at the end of the passageway near the trash can, and you’ll find something amazing.

      This is the Lilliputian home where the Faireses, newlyweds from Arkansas in their mid-20s, have lived for the past year. Both work...

  6. Starting Over
    • 5 The House of Open Arms FILIPP AND RAYA KATZ IN BATH BEACH, BROOKLYN (February 7, 2010)
      (pp. 37-40)

      The journey that brought Filipp and Raya Katz to the red-brick and beige-stone house that Ms. Katz calls “my little palace” began more than half a century ago in the Ukrainian city of Mukachevo, near the Hungarian border. The Katzes grew up on the same street, not far from the river that runs through the city, and they knew each other as children. A sorrowful bond was the fact that all four of their parents had been Holocaust survivors.

      Their story resumed two decades later in Israel. Mr. Katz, who by then had immigrated to the United States, paid a...

    • 6 Her Cottage by the Sea AMY GOTTLIEB AND HER FAMILY ON CITY ISLAND (February 28, 2010)
      (pp. 41-45)

      When the towers fell, Amy Gottlieb was in the kitchen of her family’s Battery Park City apartment, serving breakfast to her twin daughters, not yet a year old. Ms. Gottlieb, a special education teacher, and her husband, Terry McElroy, an artist, had rented the apartment only three months earlier, attracted by the complex’s child-friendly vibes. Just the previous morning, Ms. Gottlieb had begun sharing a babysitter with a mother of twins who lived nearby.

      By 12:30 on that brilliant blue-sky day, Ms. Gottlieb had packed up her daughters in the double stroller, scooped up Mishka, her chow chow, along with...

    • 7 Here I Am. And Here We Are. ROBBIN BROSTERMAN AND BENNO SCHOBERTH IN LENOX HILL (July 25, 2010)
      (pp. 46-50)

      Decades before Carrie Bradshaw settled into her apartment in an East Side brownstone, the neighborhood was a mecca for young single women seeking a taste of the big city. And among the legions drawn to the area over the years was a 21-year-old design-school graduate named Robbin Brosterman, who in 1980 moved to a one-bedroom apartment on East 57th Street. “A teacher of mine at Fashion Institute of Technology used to say that you never really knew the city until you lived in Manhattan,” explains Ms. Brosterman, who had grown up in Marine Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood where the subway...

  7. Living with Ghosts
    • 8 The House That Saved His Life PETER MARCHETTE AND HIS FAMILY IN LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS (August 9, 2009)
      (pp. 53-56)

      Peter Marchette and Julia Walsh of Long Island City, Queens, were the ultimate childhood sweethearts. They met in 1958, when he was 7 and she was 5, in a neighborhood whose mostly working-class residents were bound by family ties and often by roots that went back to the same Italian town or Irish village.

      “We met right here in this yard,” Mr. Marchette says, sitting in the backyard of the three-story apartment house on 47th Road where he grew up. By 1965, the two were going steady, and in 1971, when he was 20 and she was 18, they were...

    • 9 And for Compensation, the View PAUL MOAKLEY ON STATEN ISLAND (December 27, 2009)
      (pp. 57-61)

      Truth be told, life at the Alice Austen House on Staten Island was livelier back in the day, the day being the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the building’s namesake ruled the roost.

      Austen, a product of the late-19th-century boom in serious amateur photography, was Staten Island’s best-known practitioner of the art form, not to mention a rare woman in a field that in her era and beyond was almost entirely male. A familiar local figure, she lived in this Gothic Revival – style cottage, which faces a broad front lawn and commands a breathtaking view of Upper New...

    • 10 The Domestication of a Dive JOEL HINMAN AND HIS FAMILY IN NOHO (February 14, 2010)
      (pp. 62-66)

      The 1970s and ’80s are on thrilling and sometimes terrifying display in the fifth-floor apartment at 640 Broadway where Joel Hinman has lived for the past 35 years.

      One of the two Beaux-Arts windows in the living room—eight-foot-wide half moons that stare like giant empty eyes onto the intersection of Broadway and Bleecker Street—is pocked with a semicircle of bullet holes. Mr. Hinman suspects that they date from the years the law commune that served the Black Panthers had its headquarters on this floor.

      The dramas unspooled into the ’90s. Long after Mr. Hinman’s arrival as a raw...

    • 11 A Man and His Miscellany JOHN FOXELL ON STATEN ISLAND (March 19, 2010)
      (pp. 67-71)

      Passers-by invariably slow down in front of the 19th-century saltbox-style house on Cottage Place where John Foxell has lived for a quarter of a century, and for good reason. The pumpkin clapboard edged with jet-black trim is a tip of the hat to the days when Cottage Place, near the north shore of Staten Island, was known as Halloween Street. Two signs outside pay tribute to the legendary social activist Dorothy Day, whom Mr. Foxell came to know in the’ 60s during his days as a young conscientious objector.

      The cottage is also framed by two quirky wood-frame buildings. The...

    • 12 A Beach Bungalow with a Magnetic Pull SUSAN ANDERSON IN FAR ROCKAWAY, QUEENS (October 24, 2010
      (pp. 72-77)

      If ever an image captured the rhythms of summer for generations of working-class New Yorkers, it was the humble Rockaway bungalow.

      By the early’ 30s, more than 7,000 of these Hansel-and-Gretel-like cottages lined the 11-mile-long Queens peninsula, their very silhouettes evoking nostalgia-soaked memories. In these little houses with their peaked roofs and diminutive proportions, generations of New Yorkers, many from immigrant backgrounds, celebrated the season. The buildings themselves functioned almost as madeleines, evoking memories of white uniformed ice cream salesmen trolling the sands, sweaty encounters under the boardwalk, and the jangly sounds of honky-tonk amusements. Even allowing for the softening...

    • 13 The Almost Landless Gardener CATHY FITZSIMONS IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS (February 25, 2011)
      (pp. 78-82)

      The cobblestone blocks of Joralemon Street are one of the loveliest parts of Brooklyn Heights. Come spring, and into the fall, the front gardens of the multimillion-dollar brownstones that line this stretch will be lush with greenery, and their window boxes will explode with flowers. But even on this beautiful strip, the low-slung red-brick building just off Hicks Street stands out.

      Catherine Fitzsimons, who has lived here for three decades, is a landscape designer who specializes in what she diplomatically calls “citysized” gardens, and throughout much of the year, her narrow front yard is filled with small trees and pots...

    • 14 Lair and Sanctuary in the South Bronx CAROL ZAKALUK AND JOHN KNOERR IN MOTT HAVEN, THE BRONX (March 18, 2011)
      (pp. 83-88)

      Carol Zakaluk lives on what’s known as the Bertine block in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, a stretch of ruddy brick and stone row houses built in the 1890s. The strip takes its name from the local developer, George Bertine, but the buildings themselves were the work of a single gifted architect named George Keister. The house at 422 East 136th Street, which Ms. Zakaluk occupies with her husband, John Knoerr, has been in her family for 90 years. And by stepping outside her front door, she can retrace the geography of her childhood.

      The building next...

  8. Creative Types
    • 15 The Traveling Circus Stops Here SETH BLOOM AND CHRISTINA GELSONE IN WEST HARLEM (July 5, 2009)
      (pp. 91-94)

      Christina Gelsone, a slender 36-year-old with delicate features and hair the color of a ripe eggplant, lies on her back on the bare parquet floor of her West Harlem apartment, an expectant look on her heart-shaped face. Her 34-year-old husband, whose dark hair shimmers with electric-blue highlights, stands over her, their palms touching. Then he swoops down until his body is balanced above hers, almost as if he is floating in the air. The couple hold the pose silently, the only sound on this quiet weekday afternoon the bird song outside their kitchen window and the rustle of leaves from...

    • 16 For a Writer, a Home with a Hideout ROXANA ROBINSON AND HER HUSBAND ON THE UPPER EAST SIDE (July 12, 2009)
      (pp. 95-99)

      The novelist Roxana Robinson, who lives in a Classic 8 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, can reel off many of the unusual ways that writers have found quiet and solitude in which to practice their craft. Ernest Hemingway holed up in a cheap apartment without electricity above a sawmill in Paris. The short-story writer Raymond Carver wrote in the front seat of his car, a pad balanced on his lap. When the essayist Annie Dillard, writing in the library in Hollins College, became overly fond of watching the comings and goings in the parking lot outside her window,...

    • 17 Where Wit Pays the Rent CAROLITA JOHNSON AND MICHAEL CRAWFORD IN INWOOD (November 22, 2009)
      (pp. 100-103)

      Carolita Johnson, a 44-year-old illustrator, model, andNew Yorkercartoonist, has lived in some appalling places. During a 15-year sojourn in Paris, she occupied garrets with no toilet, no heat, no hot water, and no shower (she used the municipal baths). In New York, she lived in a $ 500-a-month closet in Dumbo, followed by an apartment in Harlem beset by security problems, heating problems, and what Ms. Johnson diplomatically calls critters. The buildings on her street were such a mess, the director John Cassavetes had used one of them to filmGloria, his gritty tale of mobsters and other...

    • 18 The Art of Sparkle ELIZABETH LEWIS IN MURRAY HILL (December 9, 2009)
      (pp. 104-108)

      With carved stonework, trailing ivy, and imitation gaslight lanterns, the brownstones of East 35th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues seem frozen in another era. Suspend disbelief for a moment, and you wouldn’t be the least surprised if a couple out of Edith Wharton rounded the corner, she in a flowing dress, he in a cutaway coat, and the two of them discussing 13-course dinners featuring terrapin ducks. It’s understandable that the novelist chose this neighborhood for a pivotal setting inThe Age of Innocence: the town house that Newland Archer’s father-in-law purchased for Archer and his bride, May Welland,...

    • 19 Her Second Home, the One without Wheels KIM IMA IN THE WEST VILLAGE (February 21, 2010)
      (pp. 109-113)

      Back in the 1970s, one of the staples of New York starter apartments was a poster advertising rye bread, an image that featured a member of a decidedly non-Jewish ethnic group—Asian, American Indian, African-American—along with the tagline “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” But if there’s any place where the poster is an appropriate item of décor, it’s the West Village apartment of Kim Ima, a half-Japanese (on her father’s side), half-Jewish (on her mother’s side) transplant from California who has given New York the Treats Truck, one of the most beloved purveyors of street...

    • 20 Magic Moments RORY FELDMAN AND HIS MOTHER IN HOMECREST, BROOKLYN (June 27, 2010)
      (pp. 114-118)

      “Pick a card, any card,” Rory Feldman instructs a visitor as he stands in the living room of his Brooklyn apartment and extends a well-thumbed deck. When the visitor chooses the three of clubs, Mr. Feldman tears off one corner, marks the back of the card with an X and the visitor’s initials, folds the card into a tiny square, and clenches it in his fist. Seconds later, the marked card reappears on a nearby shelf, tucked inside a worn brown leather wallet with the name Howard Thurston embossed in gold.

      The spirit of Thurston, a turn-of-the-last-century illusionist who wasn’t...

    • 21 Caretakers of a Culture LULU LOLO AND DAN EVANS IN EAST HARLEM (August 22, 2010)
      (pp. 119-123)

      For decades, the signs along East 116th Street have touted cheap airfare to San Juan and Mexico City. Restaurants and bodegas hawk cuchifritos and tacos. Salsa is the music of the streets. Except for culinary landmarks like Rao’s and Patsy’s, along with venerable institutions like Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, the great stone church on East 115th Street, little survives from the days East Harlem reigned as the city’s largest and most vibrant Italian-American neighborhood.

      The Italian immigrants who began flooding the area in the late 19th century are largely gone, along with most of their descendants. A newspaper...

    • 22 Paradise Found JOAN SNYDER AND MAGGIE CAMMER IN PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN (May 16, 2010)
      (pp. 124-128)

      The artist Joan Snyder has lived in many places in her 70 years. Her childhood home was a two-family house in Highland Park, New Jersey, where she grew up the unhappy and anxious daughter of lower-middle-class parents. “My father sold toys to candy stores, and my mother worked for children’s clothing stores,” Ms. Snyder, the middle of three children, once told an interviewer. “Our parents paid no attention to our emotional life. From the age of 2, I was always looking for another mother.”

      The list of her subsequent residences includes a farm in Pennsylvania, where she lived with her...

    • 23 Trim Jim Creates a Masterpiece ANNE LANDSMAN, JAMES WAGMAN, AND THEIR CHILDREN ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE (December 27, 2009)
      (pp. 129-134)

      In Anne Landsman’s latest novel,The Rowing Lesson, the writer brings alive her native South Africa in all its glory and despair. She helps the reader picture the Touw River, “folding itself between the ancient stinkwoods and yellowwoods dripping with moss,” and describes with quick, vivid strokes the creatures of this remote and exotic world, “the monkeys screaming above your heads” and “the rarest bird of all, the Knysna loerie, with its brilliant blue body and green head.”

      The Upper West Side of Manhattan, with its stolid apartment houses and cheek-by-jowl brownstones, couldn’t seem more distant from this lush landscape,...

  9. Old Stomping Grounds
    • 24 Ensconced in the Bronx JOSÉ DIAZ-OYOLA ON THE GRAND CONCOURSE IN THE BRONX (July 19, 2009)
      (pp. 137-141)

      On a frigid January day in 1975, two years before the sportscaster Howard Cosell used the occasion of a World Series game at Yankee Stadium to inform the nation that the Bronx was burning, a 29-year-old nurse named José Diaz-Oyola moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the Grand Concourse.

      Mr. Diaz-Oyola had been born in Puerto Rico, one of 13 children. His father came to the United States to work in the Ohio steel mills, and his mother followed a few years later. By 1966, Mr. Diaz-Oyola had made his way to New York, where he lived for a time...

    • 25 Over the Family Store, Staff Quarters MARY GANNETT AND HER SONS IN COBBLE HILL, BROOKLYN (July 26, 2009)
      (pp. 142-146)

      The story of the family that lives above BookCourt, a much-loved independent bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, begins in 1979 in the venerable WordsWorth Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The staff included a pair of part-timers in their early 20s named Henry Zook and Mary Gannett, and in a “maybe someday” kind of way, they thought about opening a bookstore of their own. A photograph posted decades later on Facebook captures them as they looked in those years—he with a mop of fuzzy hair, she an angelic blonde, and both seeming incredibly young.

      By 1980, the two were married, working...

    • 26 With Sky and the Weather for Neighbors BARBARA McCALL AND HER FAMILY IN SOUNDVIEW, THE BRONX (August 30, 2009)
      (pp. 147-150)

      From Barbara McCall’s 22nd-floor apartment in the Soundview section of the Bronx, she can see the world.

      From her living room window, she can take in the entire sweep of the Manhattan skyline, including the Empire State Building, where her daughter, Scherrie, works as a dental assistant. She can see three bridges—the George Washington, the Throgs Neck, and the Whitestone—along with the East River, Long Island Sound, and the Jersey Palisades. From her daughter’s bedroom, she can watch as planes land and take off from Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and sometimes circle endlessly, up to half a dozen...

    • 27 A Hand-Me-Down Home KIM STOLZ ON THE UPPER EAST SIDE (October 11, 2009)
      (pp. 151-154)

      Kim stolz lives in an apartment that embodies the geography of her childhood. It was in this two-bedroom aerie on East 84th Street—her father’s bachelor pad turned family home—that Ms. Stolz used to slide across the parquet floor in her socks when she was 5. It was in this living room that she gazed into the angled mirrors on the walls and saw her reflection repeated as far as the eye could see, a disconcerting experience for an only child. And it was at the age of 16, standing by the living room couch, that Ms. Stolz informed...

    • 28 The Leader of the Cheers RENEE FLOWERS AND HER SON IN BOERUM HILL, BROOKLYN (January 10, 2010)
      (pp. 155-159)

      Gowanus Houses, a complex of 14 red-brick buildings in South Brooklyn that sits not far from its namesake canal, opened on a June day in 1949, flush with the optimism that wreathed new housing developments for low-income New Yorkers during the postwar years. Among the 1,100-plus original families was a young couple named Leslie and Victoria Baskett Flowers, married just two years earlier and recently up from the South as part of the Great Migration.

      Mr. Flowers worked in a printing firm, and his wife was a welder. Their first apartment had two bedrooms, but they moved into a three...

    • 29 A Moment of Remarkable Optimism NICK AND SALLY WEBSTER ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE (June 20, 2010)
      (pp. 160-164)

      Half a century on, it’s hard to remember the starry-eyed idealism that marked the birth of the West Side Urban Renewal Area, the widely praised effort to replace 20 blocks of festering slums with housing for a broad mix of social and economic groups. But Albert and Sara Webster remember.

      The Websters—Nick and Sally to everyone who knows them—are 72. But in the early’ 60s, when the urban renewal plans were being hatched, the couple were recently married 20-somethings from suburban New Jersey drawn together partly by a shared desire to live in New York. In 1963, they...

    • 30 Elastic Elegance ALISON WEST IN KIPS BAY (July 11, 2010)
      (pp. 165-169)

      The rambling apartment on the Left Bank of Paris where the writer Mary McCarthy settled in the 1960s was by all accounts an alluring place. The apartment is remembered not only for the dinner parties at which celebrated artists and literary figures gathered to savor Ms. Mc-Carthy’s cooking and drink copious quantities of wine but also for the décor. Even today, long-ago visitors wax rhapsodic about the William Morris wallpaper, the Meissen demitasse cups. They recall a front balcony edged with an ironwork railing that overlooked the Rue de Rennes and back windows that faced a convent garden. In Diane...

    • 31 Elephants for Luck BHARATI KEMRAJ AND HER FAMILY IN SOUNDVIEW, THE BRONX (August 15, 2010)
      (pp. 170-173)

      Bharati sukul kemraj, a 27-year-old reporter and producer for the Bronx’s public-access television channel, lives with her parents and three of her five siblings in a brick and stucco house near Sound View Park in the Bronx. Her two older sisters, who have their own families, live nearby. And especially with five grandchildren coming and going, the premises bustle with noisy meals and youngsters underfoot. But even when Ms. Kemraj is here by herself, she’s hardly alone. She’s surrounded by dozens of Hindu gods and goddesses, tabletop deities who are made of plastic, porcelain, copper, and even marble, outfitted to...

    • 32 A Young Life ELIZABETH WEATHERFORD AND MURRAY REICH IN SOHO (September 26, 2010)
      (pp. 174-178)

      In front of a SoHo boutique called Sabon, a young woman with a punk haircut hawks freshly cut soap. In a shop around the corner, sequin-trimmed dresses wink in the window. Tourists lugging oversized shopping bags and chattering in every language known to man mob the streets. But in a quiet fourth-floor loft on Spring Street near Greene Street, in a cast-iron building where until 40 years ago workers cut fabric for hospital scrubs, a fragment of old SoHo is preserved as if in amber.

      The loft’s residents are Murray Reich, a 78-year-old painter and longtime Bard College professor who...

    • 33 The Rebel Girl of Borough Park MARY SANSONE IN BOROUGH PARK, BROOKLYN (January 30, 2011)
      (pp. 179-184)

      In 1956, the year Dwight Eisenhower was reelected to the presidency, Elvis Presley was burning up the airways,My Fair Ladywas packing them in on Broadway, and Clairol was posing the eternal question, “Does she or doesn’t she?” an Italian-American couple named Zachary and Mary Sansone bought a two-story brick house in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

      Mr. Sansone worked on the docks, his wife was a social worker, and the couple had two small children. Since their marriage seven years earlier, they had lived mostly with Mrs. Sansone’s mother in the amorphous area then known as South Brooklyn, in a...

  10. Palaces and Jewel Boxes
    • 34 For a Family, Elaborate Elbow Room TED BROWN AND HIS FAMILY ON STATEN ISLAND (June 28, 2009)
      (pp. 187-190)

      In 1888, a German-born beer baron named George Bechtel who was said to be the wealthiest man on Staten Island gave his 21-year-old daughter Annie an extraordinary wedding present. Annie was betrothed to a German-American glass manufacturer named Leonard Weiderer, and the gift was a three-story, 24-room Victorian mansion in the Queen Anne style. The 4,500-square-foot showpiece, located on the charmingly named Mud Lane, contained eight bedrooms, two kitchens, and six fireplaces, each of a different design.

      Annie’s bridal home was adorned with every detail beloved by Victorian domestic architects—hipped roofs, gables, fish-scale shingles, chimneys, bay windows, dormer windows,...

    • 35 Enter, Hammering STURGIS WARNER IN THE EAST VILLAGE (November 8, 2009)
      (pp. 191-195)

      Sturgis Warner’s fifth-floor walk-up opposite the Public Theater in the East Village is filled with amazing things. A bookcase made from a door hangs from the rafters. A washing machine tucked under the bed rolls over to the kitchen and plugs into the sink. But few contraptions are more ingenious than the bathroom that converts—cue the applause!—into a fully equipped darkroom where Mr. Warner, a longtime actor and theater director, used to process the pictures he took of his own productions. Blackout curtains unfurl as if by magic, a wooden table with a sink for washing prints lowers...

    • 36 Pocket-Sized on West 47th Street JONATHAN CERULLO IN HELL’S KITCHEN (April 25, 2010)
      (pp. 196-200)

      Some of the multitudes who saw an early touring production ofCatsin the mid-1980s might remember an exuberant orange tabby named Skimbleshanks. The character, aka the Railway Cat, was played by Jonathan Cerullo, a 20-something dancer who grinned out from behind hand-painted makeup, his body swathed from ears to tail in yak hair as he belted out Skimbleshanks’s jaunty theme song.

      In 1985, the year before stepping into Skimbleshanks’s ratty-looking fur, Mr. Cerullo had moved into a 348-square-foot apartment in a century-old tenement on West 47th Street in Hell’s Kitchen. The initial rent was about $300 a month, an...

    • 37 Ardent Admirer, Devoted Steward GEORGE BURKE ON STATEN ISLAND (December 19, 2010)
      (pp. 201-206)

      When George Burke was growing up on Staten Island in the 1930s and’ 40s, he used to ride horses with a pair of local sisters named Elizabeth and Belle Seguine. The Seguine girls, as they were called, lived in the island’s Prince’s Bay section in a Greek Revival mansion, a 16-room house that an ancestor named Joseph Seguine had built in 1838 on property Joseph’s grandfather, James Seguine, had purchased half a century earlier. The colonnaded portico faced formal gardens, and a broad sloping lawn offered an expansive view of Raritan Bay. Seen for the first time, the house and...

  11. Nesting
    • 38 Kitten Heaven TAMMY CROSS AND HER KITTENS ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE (September 13, 2009)
      (pp. 209-212)

      If you love cats, kitten heaven is the old-fashioned bathroom in Tammy Cross’s apartment in a Beaux-Arts building on the Upper West Side, where five balls of fluff, none bigger than a fist and some just two days old, are napping, reclining, or rolling about in various states of adorableness. “This is the nursery,” explains Ms. Cross, who has been saving needy animals ever since she was a child growing up in Florida and Connecticut and retrieved baby squirrels that had fallen out of their nests. “This is where they stay when they’re on the bottle.”

      As many of the...

    • 39 With Family Built In JENNIFER ACOSTA AND HER FAMILY IN WOODHAVEN, QUEENS (April 11, 2010)
      (pp. 213-216)
      Jennifer Acosta

      If by some miracle you could slice off the front of Jennifer Acosta’s red-and cream-colored house in Woodhaven, Queens, as if it were one of those dollhouses that open to reveal what lies within, you would find most of the people she feels closest to in the world.

      Ms. Acosta, who’s divorced and works in Manhattan as a personal assistant, shares the ground-floor unit with her son Derek, who is 12, and his 5-year-old brother, JanPaul. The second floor is home to her older sister, Jacqueline Andrade, who works as a nanny; Jacqueline’s husband, Diego, who installs hardwood floors; and...

    • 40 Threading the Needle on West 12th Street NANCY SMITH, JOHN CASEY, AND THEIR DAUGHTERS IN THE WEST VILLAGE (April 18, 2010)
      (pp. 217-222)
      Nancy Smith and John Casey

      Back in the mid-1990s, when John Casey and Nancy Smith were about 30 and looking for an affordable place to live in the West Village, Mr. Casey chose an unusual approach to house hunting. Both he and his wife held midlevel jobs in publishing, and only by finding a distressed property that could generate income did they have a prayer of being able to afford what they wanted. So day after day, Mr. Casey prowled the narrow, tree-lined streets in search of rundown buildings. Then he pored over records at the offices of various city agencies, hoping to locate an...

  12. About the Author
    (pp. 223-223)