Loft Labors Lost?
December's raid on an illegal DUMBO dwelling made Brooklyn's loft-living artists get off their Carhartt jeans and get organized. But is it too late?
Three months after city inspectors evicted 60 loft dwellers from 247 Water Street in DUMBO and the Fire Department identified 120 other Brooklyn loft buildings as fire hazards, the artists who illegally moved into derelict industrial spaces are still freaked. And they're organizing.
Late last month, State Assembly Housing Committee chair (and Brooklyn assemblyman) Vito Lopez convened a public hearing on revising the 1982 Loft Law, which retroactively made it legal to live in more than 800 Manhattan lofts but covered only 30 in Brooklyn. That law expires on March 31, when it can be renewed -- or, as Lopez hopes, expanded for more of his constituents.
At the nondescript Swinging 60's Singles Center in Williamsburg, about 200 artists jockeyed for room to hear 48 speakers air their grievances before Lopez. Eve Sussman, a 39-year-old video artist and co-founder of the Brooklyn LiveWork Coalition, testified to the "maverick ingenuity" required to rehabilitate factory zones: "This is urban renewal without state aid!" Another artist described how her under-maintained building was overtaken by toxic mold. "This is not the first time artists and other entrepreneurial people have revitalized derelict neighborhoods," declared Ellen Harvey, "and it won't be the last!"
It hasn't been easy to organize hip, archly apolitical Williamsburgers. Sussman later complained that "Brooklyn artists are the least politically savvy -- even naïve." You can't say that about Lopez. On February 27, he introduced two bills to protect Brooklyn loft tenants, and on March 13, a convoy of loft people will head to Albany for "Lobby Day." Whether that's going to have any impact on an assemblyman from the Finger Lakes is hard to say.
In the meantime, gentrification stalks Brooklyn. "I have moved so many times in my life as an artist, I hoped this was my last," said ceramist Lynn Evans, the sole remaining tenant of her DUMBO loft building. "But I don't see that happening."
On the Move
History of the House: Part 1
Mel Brooks is recycling lots of old material these days. Not only is he bringing a revamped production of The Producers to Broadway, he recently dropped $3 million on a fifties "teardown oceanfront dump" on Flying Point Road in Watermill (the seller was listed as "Mina Seeman," which sounds like a Brooks punch line). The "Hi-Ranch"-style four-bedroom is a far stretch from an ersatz-Stanford White Hamptons manse, but there's 100 feet of ocean frontage. "It's much easier to buy an older house that needs work rather than a vacant lot, because old setback rules are much less onerous," one broker observes. Brokers say Brooks has been after an oceanfront place for a while, having had to settle for a view of Shinnecock Bay from his renovated New England cottage on Meadow Lane in Southampton. He sold that last November for $1.55 million.
150 West 56th Street
2-bed, 21/2-bath, 1,600-square-foot condo. Ask: $1.7 million. Sell: $1.6 million. Charges and taxes: $1,041. Time on market: three months.
The buyers of this fifty-first-floor pad will enjoy wrap-around views from their new oval-shaped living room -- during their occasional visits from Greece. "What do they do?" asks the seller's broker, Douglas Elliman's Marie Bianco: "They're rich!" But they won't immediately be sharing an elevator with their CitySpire neighbors -- including Halle Berry and Deepak Chopra -- since the seller, a young lawyer from Hong Kong, is going to pay them rent for eight months. He must be a good negotiator. Further evidence: He doubled his money in five years.
Upper East Side
530 East 76th Street
2-bed, 2-bath, 1,400-square-foot condo. Ask: $950,000. Sell: $900,000. Charges and taxes: $2,134. Time on market: eleven days.
The Promenade is the name of this building, at the far-east side of town. So it's only appropriate that the purchaser is "steps away" from the restaurant he owns, according to his broker, Linda Baron of Peter Ashe. The restaurateur was in love with water views, so Baron persuaded him to come here, where every room has a wraparound vista. (William B. May represented the seller.) As he promenades to work, he can offer a meal to neighbors Luther Vandross and -- Is that hair in my soup? -- Fabio.