He also caught hell for his taste. When he started renovating the hallways and stairwells, he began with one floor, the twelfth, and the tenants hated the (admittedly rather middle-class) results so much they started a new petition to have the interior of the Ansonia landmarked. The Times’ Paul Goldberger wrote a column headlined RESCUING THE ANSONIA FROM ITS RESCUERS. “Its corridors look like bowling alleys from the wrong side of the tracks . . . with grotesque, modern chandeliers of the sort that would cheapen even a Ramada Inn,” he wrote. “There are two kinds of rust-colored carpeting and two kinds of wallpaper, which manage neither to be attractive in themselves nor to go at all well together.”
Asked about this fight, Krasnow responds with a folder of photos. “This is what the place looked like,” he says. The photographs evoke the hallways of a medieval mental ward. “The halls were yellow. Dreary. Discolored linoleum, fluorescent lights, bare bulbs, and old tiles.” He shows a close-up of the ripped, patchy floor. “When you came out of the elevator, this is what you saw.”
Even as he poured money into the Ansonia—the partnership eventually took out $21 million in mortgages, all toward repairs, improvement, and a reserve fund, Krasnow says—he continued to enrage the residents. In 1980, the Ansonia Residents Association declared a rent strike. ARA members began to pay their rents into an escrow account, and they used the interest from the account to hire a lawyer to sue Krasnow. When that group seemed close to negotiating a compromise, another, more radical splinter group formed, with its own escrow account and its own lawsuit. The Ansonia Hotel became the single most litigated residence in the history of New York City. A housing-court judge was assigned full-time to the case, and over the next ten years, Krasnow found himself cast in the role of one of the city’s most villainous landlords.
In the long run, Krasnow realized the best way to make the building functional again was to buy out the tenants who were unhappiest, and in 1990, the tenants accepted a condo plan allowing them either to continue renting or to buy their apartments at a 60 percent discount. A one-bedroom would cost $125,000—way beyond the means of most Ansonia tenants. (These days, it costs about $800,000.) Today, 29 percent of the building is rent-protected, subsidized by Krasnow, who claims that he’s put almost $100 million into the building.
And now it’s his office as well: In 2003, he moved his operations from midtown into the Ansonia itself. He enjoys mingling with the residents, most of whom don’t recognize him. “The newer tenants don’t care about me,” he says, “and the older ones still have a good deal.” Krasnow keeps a curio cabinet in his office filled with Babe Ruth memorabilia. He’s spent the past 25 years trying to track down which apartment was Ruth’s, but nobody knows for sure.
For all the big numbers the apartments are fetching, the Ansonia Hotel remains a bit funky. Though the dusty dried floral display that sat in the lobby for years has been removed, somehow the building never looks as chic as most other high-priced condominiums. But a little dowdy is probably the way the Ansonia should look. And though the building’s senior concierge and historian, Vincent Joyce, recently retired after 35 years behind the desk, he still lives upstairs. “Lots of new people here,” he laments in his beautiful brogue. “People with children and nannies. There’s a lot of that now.” And although he pretends not to, he realizes that he’s just as irreplaceable a piece of the Ansonia as anyone in the past 100 years.