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Manhattan Loft Guy

Jun. 29, 2013 - a large diversion: 9 million people in the naked city by 2030, or 2040

not new news, but hasn’t happened, yet
This news about projected population growth for New York City made the news across the inter-toobz a few weeks ago, with a Columbia University study differing with the City’s projected population numbers as to when the city will hit 9,000,000 residents (Columbia says by 2040; the city, by 2030). The Wall Street Journal article about it (June 10,
here) focused on housing.


I just want to focus on that number: nine million people. Or, as the lottery guy might say: NINE MILLLLLLLLLLL - YON PEOPLE.


Among the nuggets from the New York City website about the current (estimated) population of 8,336,697:

  • New York City has more people than 39 of the 50 U.S. states

  • About 1 in every 38 people living in the United States resides in New York City

  • New York City has grown by over 1 million people since 1990

On that last factoid,
The Wiki has the city population by decade beginning in 1900 (after the consolidated city of 1898), with the percent change from the prior decade:







































Obviously, that’s explosive growth until 1950, then a 3 decade plateau, then a resumption of (more moderate) growth. Whether it takes until 2030 or until 2040 to hit 9,000,000, that will still be a lower rate of growth than the first half of the last century.


© Sandy Mattingly 2013


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Jun. 22, 2013 - diversion: not in "New York City" any longer

looking back at what you can no longer see
This one hit the inter-toobz a while ago, but the subject matter lends itself to a look-back whenever …. I saw it in a link from The Real Deal, but it was probably elsewhere, as well. The Business insider collected 50 Manhattan buildings that are no longer there; I am guessing that this is not a local publication because the title,
50 New York City Buildings That No Longer Exist, is overbroad: all 50 buildings were in Manhattan. Worth a few minutes of browsing, though the caption descriptions are maddeningly vague about location. (In most cases, there is more information in the links that accompany each image.)

Not surprisingly, many of the buildings were torn down in the 1950s and 1960s, including (of course) Penn Station, whose demolition (eventually) led to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. A couple of comments:

  • the Singer Building (1908-1968) is survived by its smaller sibling, the coop at 561 Broadway, which is one of the most beautiful residential loft buildings in an area full of beautiful residential lofts; I recently read somewhere that this was the tallest building ever demolished


  • the on-site successor to the Equitable Life Building (built 1870, destroyed by fire 1912) led to the first zoning laws in the US when it was built curb-to-curb to 38 stories; as The Wiki puts it, it “cast a 7 acre (28,000 m²) shadow on the surrounding streets, casting a permanent shadow on the Singer Building up to its 27th floor, the City Investing Building up to its 24th floor, and completely cutting off sunshine to at least three other buildings shorter than 21 stories”


  • the New York Herald Building at 34th and Broadway was remarkably small for a major newspaper headquarters; it reminds me of the Gilsey House (former hotel, now coop, 5 blocks south); of course, it gave its name to Herald Square



© Sandy Mattingly 2013

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Apr. 13, 2013 - diversion about real estate (any discussion of Gentrification is tangentially about Manhattan loft neighborhoods)


though the focus recently is on Brooklyn

A perennial never-get-to on my Don’t Do list is a thought piece on how neighborhoods change, including my personal history as a residential pioneer in the then newly-minted Tribeca (truly TriBeCa in those days) in 1981. It is hard to write much about residential loft neighborhoods without being confronted with issues of change, including gentrification, as by definition classic loft neighborhoods involve the residential repurposing of formerly commercial or industrial space.


Which is a long introduction to a short post collecting two recent pieces for my further review and consideration:


Food for thought, even food for a future Manhattan Loft Guy post....


© Sandy Mattingly 2013


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Mar. 23, 2013 - OYAToMLG downtown artist loses views of her muse, is sad but not angry


grace, personified

A quick (last!) one from New Orleans, kinda sorta like a diversion, but certainly Manhattan real estate related. One Year Ago Today on Manhattan Loft Guy I posted about an artist featured in a New York Times City Room piece (March 23, 2012, longtime Seaport photographer/resident losing her Brooklyn Bridge views). The piece was mostly about her art, and the impending loss of her view of her muse, the Brooklyn Bridge. read it for the art, and her story, but here’s the real estate angle from my perspective:


In broad strokes, through my narrow focus, this is a quintessential Manhattan loft story:


      • young woman needs place for inexpensive art + life, moves from Soho to a nearby but very remote area

      • maturing artist embeds in the local life around her to an unusual degree, producing compelling art

      • (time passes)

      • local area changes dramatically as the dominant industry (noxious to many potential residents with more choices) moves away

      • new development nearby includes a $20,000/mo rental (and cuts out much of her view)

A fascinating story, well told, or outlined.


Heading home via JFK in a few ….


© Sandy Mattingly 2013


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Mar. 9, 2013 - weekend diversion: photo spread of New York from days past [UPDATED]

caution: time suck ahead
Thanks to Curbed for pointing out yesterday its new favorite tumblr, which is now my new favorite tumblr. (Now added to the Favorite Links on the right, in fact.)  NYC Past has a great story behind it, which Curbed gets to in an interview, and great photos on it, some going back to the early 1900s 1880, some as recent as 1980s.

I am going to spend some time figuring out where on Washington Street that bottom picture on the first page is from. And I particularly like the bottom photo on page 8, with the hotel in 1905 that became The Grand Madison condo in 2006, on the right. To get a sense of how massive that hotel was at that time, now look (again) at the very first photo in this collection, at the top of the first page. That is taken in the same year, with the hotel just out of frame on the right, looking up 5th Avenue from across the street from the hotel.

Unless you start clicking through the photos when you have nothing to do for a while, be sure to set an alarm.

[UPDATE 4:18 I just finished clicking through the whole collection (as of now). WOW. Part of the fun is serendipity, as there is no evident rhyme or reason to the sequencing, and you eventually figure out to scroll down just above the caption, to give ourself a chance to guess. Tons of photos of the Flatiron Building, many of Grand Central, the (old) Waldorf Astoria, (old) Madison Square Garden. There's one way back in the set that will break your heart (old Penn Station, 1915) if you come upon it not expecting it (spoiled that, I guess). A bunch from Central Park, including one of the Sheep Meadow with ... (wait for it) ... sheep. Gotta get out my old New York books to have a better shot at identifying some of the old buildings, and locations more specific than the captioned "Downtown". A wonderful time suck, indeed.]

© Sandy Mattingly 2013


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Mar. 2, 2013 - diversion / when Manhattan skyscrapers and sky were further apart, circa 1900

Manhattan skyline and skyscrapers from 100 years ago

This will take some clicking around, but there is a reward. If, that is, you'd like to see what "skyscrapers" looked like in Manhattan back when such things were being born.

This discussion thread on Wired New York is a very rich resource. h/t Curbed, then Gothamist

(Countdown … 10 … 9 … 8 … 7 … 6 … 5 ...)

© Sandy Mattingly 2013


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Jun. 6, 2012 - a Manhattan loft pioneer (of a different sort) remembers, records

a mutual admiration society is revealed
If you are a fan of Manhattan lofts (that’s everybody, right?), you are familiar with the work of architect Joseph Pell Lombardi. He worked on the conversion or construction of the Mohawk Atelier at 161 Duane Street, the Atalanta at 25 N.Moore Street, the (other) Ice House at 27 N. Moore Street, the Juilliard at 18 Leonard Street, the United State Sugar Warehouse at 79 Laight Street, Pearline Soap at 414 Washington Street, the Grabler at 44 Laight Street, and that is just (some of) his projects in Tribeca. All told, he claims more than 150 (present and former) commercial buildings and 10 new buildings in lower Manhattan in his long career. I mentioned this because I was startled thrilled to see an email from him this morning, linking to his firm’s website.

Thrilled because, in addition to pointing me to his list of loft projects, he pointed me to a monograph with his very personal and very comprehensive review of the history of Manhattan loft development since the 1950s (pdf, here [6:30AM 6.7.12 fixed link]). I read it immediately, then saved it on my iPad to digest further in small bites, repeatedly. At 11 pages of detailed history, it is an extremely rich narrative, from one of the pioneering architects who has worked in Manhattan loft conversions and developments since before the flood. (If there is another one with as long a history, I apologize for not remembering who that is.)

Whatever your interest in Manhattan residential real estate, or New York City commercial history, or Soho, or Tribeca, or or or … you will learn something you did not know from this essay. My exposure to Manhattan loft neighborhoods did not begin until the mid-1970s, but I can relate to many of the stories and perspectives that Lombardi shares.

how brown is my nose?
As if sending me the links were not enough, he also said in his email that he is a daily reader of Manhattan Loft Guy, which he finds “first rate” (as people who have gotten emails from me today already know). Be still, my heart!

Not to go all sycophant on ya, but I am just a real estate agent with a blogging habit, putting stuff out there (pretty much) day after day because I love lofts and look at listing and transaction data every day. It is great to get clients from this effort, of course, but it is rather humbling to think that someone who has done as much as Lombardi has in creating and preserving Manhattan residential lofts is a fan. (Blushing)

Today is a good day.

© Sandy Mattingly 2012


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Mar. 23, 2012 - longtime Seaport photographer/resident losing her Brooklyn Bridge views

doesn’t scream about it

There is a great deal to like about the New York Times CityRoom blog post this week about a longtime South Street area resident (Barbara Mensch) who is losing views that have been her muse, and a lot to like about the photographer and her work. There is so much to like that I spent some time on the intertubes clicking about the artist, and will do more; and will check out the writer (David W. Dunlap’s) other Building Blocks posts.

First off, I was taken by the groundedness and, yes, humility expressed by writer and photographer, with my emphasis added:

a new apartment building at 254 Front Street is just high enough and wide enough to blot out the Brooklyn anchorage and part of the Brooklyn skyline. Josh Barbanel has reported in The Wall Street Journal that the penthouse apartment obscuring her view is listed to rent for $20,000 a month. This is the Manhattan real estate market in play. It is an event, not a tragedy; a small event at that. But it is a moment worth noting. Something important has been diminished.

I feel very grateful that I had all these years here to nurture my work, because it was presented to me on a platter,” Ms. Mensch said on the rooftop the other day. A visitor could not help but notice that she was using the past tense.

In broad strokes, through my narrow focus, this is a quintessential Manhattan loft story:

  • young woman needs place for inexpensive art + life, moves from Soho to a nearby but very remote area
  • maturing artist embeds in the local life around her to an unusual degree, producing compelling art
  • (time passes)
  • local area changes dramatically as the dominant industry (noxious to many potential residents with more choices) moves away
  • new development nearby includes a $20,000/mo rental (and cuts out much of her view)

A fascinating story, well told, or outlined.

I learned some more on those intertubes. I can’t tell when this interview of Ms. Mensch was done, except that it was apparently in connection with her book, “South Street”, published in 2007. The question that spurred this answer could, instead, have been “why do visual artists in Manhattan locate to lofts in unfashionable neighborhoods?”

Q: When did you first come to South Street?

Barbara Mensch: In 1979. I knew that the downtown area below the Brooklyn Bridge would be affordable. Back then, the waterfront was still remote and out of the way. This neighborhood was SO AMAZING! The quality of light that came from living in a place so close to the river, where there were no skyscrapers to block the sun, was unique. It was a challenge to walk around the neighborhood and capture on film those dramatic shadows on the cobblestone streets or the way the light gently fell on the peeling storefront facades. Also, I was very inspired by living so close to the Brooklyn Bridge. To this day, I never get bored taking pictures of this remarkable structure. But most of all, I was very moved by meeting all these weird neighborhood characters.

(Except, for some, that last sentence.)

These notes to an exhibition of South Street photos “credits” Soho rents with her move to South Street:

I was a young women, all alone, in my early 30's when I entered this world. I'd moved into the district after getting driven out of Soho by loft rent increases.

Her website has stunning images. A gallery of some her work; another gallery. The New York Times did a short profile with some Brooklyn Bridge images on January 9, 2009.

Finally, based on a comment she made on another blog, I “may want to also mention that you can purchase [her] images through the Bonni Benrubi Gallery, 41 East 57th Street”. Consider it done, and thank YOU, Ms. Mensch. (And Mr. Dunlap.)

© Sandy Mattingly 2012

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Feb. 18, 2012 - audio books owe a debt to Manhattan lofts / WPA edition of a weekend diversion

I loves me some ‘net
In linking today to this Maggie Gram piece on n+1 (and excerpting a paragraph) I am sure that Andrew Sullivan meant only to tie the modern fascination with audio books to efforts to respond to World War I veterans blinded in gas warfare. But when Manhattan Loft Guy, being easily distracted by all manner of bright shiny objects on the inter-tubes, came across the “project operated out of a converted loft on Manhattan’s Tenth Avenue” in the origin story, well, I got distracted.

I read the Gram confession first, which I liked except for the fact that she didn’t think it important to focus on Manhattan lofts in her own damn personal narrative. It’s worthwhile; read it. Later ;-)

Because The Google is my friend it did not take long to find The Unseen Minority: a social history of blindness in the United States (2004, by Frances A. Koestler), which identified the Manhattan loft building on Tenth Avenue as 475 Tenth, at the corner of 36th Street, where workers who had been assembling “Talking Book machines” at a foundation for the blind began the WPA project (page 163). Over 7 years beginning in 1935, over 23,000 Talking Book machines were produced here for $1,181,000.

To a loft snob like me, going through Manhattan loft neighborhoods and being able to identify specific buildings that did specific things that are interesting is … cool. (Such as knowing that 15 Union Square West was the original Tiffany's cast-iron flagship; see my July 7, 2006, dynamic city / time runs out on a stripped Tiffany's.) Next time I go up Tenth Avenue I will look at the northwest corner of 36th Street and think of the origin of audiobooks and the WPA, as well as the fancy pants there now (below).

Manhattan lofts: where the past meets the present, and sometimes the future!

I’d love to know other things about the history of this circa 1915 building, but I will share what I quickly discovered (but lingered over, in parsing, sigh; so distractable).

Community Walk tells me that it was built for a publishing company, Hill Publishing Company, and was the first McGraw-Hill Building, so that’s a good start. (I wonder if the McGraw-Hill people donated space to the Talking Book machine project; or, would capitalists not have supported a WPA project like that in the 1930s?) The Property Shark photos show a 13-story building with walls that are mostly windows and the high ceilings that would bring light well into the interior (if the spaces are open); in other words, classic industrial loft space.  

Community Walk pegs architect I M. Pei as a past tenant.  Google Maps tells me that current tenants include a roster of creatives / media types, including:

  • Gwathmey Siegel, well-known architects
  • 1100 Architects (less well-known, to Manhattan Loft Guy, at least)
  • Richard Meier & Partners, (d’oh) well-known architects
  • designer Isaac Mizrahi
  • headquarters for the Morgans Hotel Group
  • gallery Exit Art
  • Laird+Partners (of whom I have not heard, but you can not get closer to the “creatives” than with “a leading New York-based creative agency specializing in fashion, lifestyle, and luxury branding and communications … offer[ing] a range of capabilities ranging from traditional advertising to digital services”)
  • Studio Instrument Rentals (you’ve seen their red SIR trucks on the streets, and in the PShark photo; how analog!)

The Observer chimed in (in 2011) that designer Mark Ecko,

whose hipness has lately gone the way of rip-off track pants, recently anointed fallen child star Lindsay Lohan as his half-nude “digital muse.” In a move scarcely less edgy, he’s taken 18,500 square feet at up-and-coming 475 10th Avenue for two years.

“Up-and-coming”! A “move scarcely less edgy”!! The O adds 2 more to the tenant roster:

Fellow strivers in the turn-of-the-last-century building include Isaac Mizrahi, Richard Meier Architects, Time Out New York and Donna Karan Home Collection.

(“Fellow strivers” is a nice bit of snark.) As a den of fashionistas, the building hosted 3 fashion week shows on February 8. (And probably more, later in Fashion Week, which really interested people can easily track through that same link.)

LivePerson (“a world of experts”) seems to be on an edge of new media; it is headquartered on the 5th floor of 475 Tenth Avenue. The “14th” floor houses a philanthropic foundation started with wealth from what is now the Sara Lee Corporation (over $400,000,000 in assets in 2009). There is an inspiring quote on the cover of the foundation’s 2001 annual report:

Nothing will ever be

accomplished if all

possible objections

must first be overcome.

But I digress...

One last datum (I promise!) on the creative front in the building: you missed the 2010 exhibit Corpur Esurit, or we all deserve a break today, which involved feeding ants nothing but McDonald’s happy meals for 30 days. (Don’t tell Sen McCain.) In between the 1930s and the creatives, the neighborhood went to hell (the kitchen, at least), with hookers and busses and whatever. I wonder what the tenant roster was like in the challenging 1970s and 1980s... 

You want more related to 475 Tenth Avenue? You play with The Google; see if it is your friend, too.

what the well-read blind person in the 1930s was to be offered aurally
The heavy hand of Big Government picked the winners (and ignored the losers) on America’s bookshelf. The early Library of Congress project dictated the sequence in which public domain materials would be recorded (note that we were a different country then), at Koestler, page 155:

  • first, the 4 Gospels, then Psalms, and only after that dose of religion,
  • “selected patriotic documents”, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, selected Washington and Lincoln materials,
  • then poetry (unspecified)
  • then Shakespeare (As You Like It, Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, sonnets)
  • then 6 works of fiction, only one of which I have even heard of
I love it when the inter-tubes bring me interesting stuff. And Manhattan lofts. At the same time. Especially when I am in need of a weekend diversion.

© Sandy Mattingly 2012
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Feb. 4, 2012 - a super weekend diversion / getting lost in Manhattan maps

hours of fun! (this should come with a warning)
Note to self: collect links to cool Manhattan stuff like old maps. Let’s begin!

I tweeted a week ago a link to a source for an 1807 map of Manhattan that you could zoom in on. The link was to the Big Map Blog, and the h/t probably should go to either Curbed or The Real Deal (it is just too hard to give hat tips in 140 characters). (That’s @ManhattnLoftGuy if you do that sort of thing, but note the condensed spelling to keep within their character limits for twit names.) That is the kind of thing to click on only when you have some time to get distracted.

Other sources for diversion (distraction!) are the New York Public Library and Channel 13 sites. Somebody (Curbed? TRD? Beuhler?) linked to this Channel 13 piece about a digitization project by NYPL.  Channel 13 started with maps from 1846, 1857, or 1916 and overlaid current images from Google Earth. (Note to self … learn Google Earth.) But that is a small slice of what will be possible.

But here is the full goodness coming down the road:

The New York Public Library is nearly finished digitizing its collection of more than 10,000 historical maps, which illuminate the shifting character of the city over time. Some maps highlight the long defunct shops and factories that once dotted the landscape, while others show how the street patterns of entire neighborhoods were reconfigured. The coolest part? These maps can be loaded into Google Earth, allowing you to view the old map atop a modern view of the same area.

The New York Public Library might be the coolest, most forward-thinking library in the world. But then I am a New Yorker, and somewhat (!) snobbish.

© Sandy Mattingly 2012

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Oct. 23, 2011 - Sunday diversion / one man + camera + helicopter

staying away from baseball today (way up, up, up and away)
How many times have you heard “New York as you’ve never seen it”? Maybe it is true in all cases; maybe not. Unless you are in the habit of hanging out of helicopters over Manhattan canyons, at night, this set of photos that have been making the rounds of the Twitterverse should qualify.

Note: show at Tachi Gallery starting October 27
My Twitter h/t @Corcoran_Group

[UPDATE Oct 25: more photos, with (stirring?) music, are on the home page of the gallery (play the video), but probably only until the show ends in January]

© Sandy Mattingly 2011

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Sep. 10, 2011 - I cannot deal with the media orgy today

not sure why, after ten years
As of about a week ago, I thought this year would be different. That I would be able to read stories and look at video and images from ten years ago, and even to (finally) write something about my own experience of That Day (on That Day, and since).

But I am not, and this year turns out to be no different, except that it is much worse, with the saturation of stories and images on all media all the time. Exponentially more ‘coverage’; exponentially more heads talking.

So I offer two new links and five old ones, without further commentary. The first new one is a refreshing (!) New York Times article from yesterday about other Conscientious Objectors from the hoopla; the second is about the only memorial / exhibition / display / whatever that I am likely to seek out [fixed the link 9.13], as I expect to be in the neighborhood later today and will hope it is still there.

My five past links from this date are below; I see I had a similar reaction to a much smaller media barrage at the five-year anniversary.

2010: same day, another year (from a mother who lost a daughter and a not-yet grand-daughter) [fixed the link 9.13]

2009: 8 years, still fresh  (one of my least favorite people channels one of my most favorite)

September 11, again (New York names, as of 2008)

2007: (see 2005)

September 11 / 343 firefighters (“How many cities in this country even have 343 firefighters??”)

and 2006:
September 11 / read the names (all the names, as of 2006; “It turns out that I am most definitely not able to post much of anything today, and still unable to read (let alone watch) what passes for media coverage of the fifth anniversary.” and “As this is a blog about Manhattan real estate, please reflect as you read the names on the many places around the globe these New Yorkers came from (or their families came from in an earlier generation). A terribly sad, terribly potent cross-section of the global village that is Manhattan.”)

2005: (how did I not write that day? probably as in my first 2006 post, above)

Peace out.

© Sandy Mattingly 2011


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Jul. 12, 2011 - a Tuesday diversion / vintage Manhattan photos 1941, 1942

driving me crazy, and you?
Don't click here if you don't have a few minutes, because you will be late to your next appointment or call.

It is a collection of 63 color photographs taken by a visiting businessman, nearly all of lower Manhattan and most from 1941 and 1942. Pure catnip, for those so inclined. Personaly, I will try to figure out exactly where Peter Minuit Square was (it can't still be there, with a different name, can it?), though I truly despair of figuring out the one photo blog-appropriate to Manhattan Loft Guy.

If anyone can clue me in on Photo #41 ("a corner on west Canal St. [1942]") I will be in your debt. If it really is west Canal, it is either of Soho (looking north) or Tribeca (looking south), but I have played around a bit with Google Street View, looking (especially) for that 5-story red-brick buidling on the left, without success (other than to make the time pass). I was thinking Mercer Street, looking to Howard, but the buildings don't fit. Or way west, looking south into Tribeca, but the current buildings are too tall (and similarly old).

You'd think that that building would still be there, 70 years later, but I can't find it.

Note to self: walk Canal Street! (on a cooler day)

The hat tip goes to The Miller on Twitter (@jonathanmiller).

© Sandy Mattingly 2011

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Jun. 5, 2011 - Sunday diversion / Manhattan has a (quick) pulse

a famously quicker pulse
Are you tired of time-lapsing Manhattan yet? Me neither!

A fellow named MindRelic did this a couple of months ago, hitting 11 hotels (and miscellaneous sidewalks) in 6 weeks. It was well worth 4 minutes of my time. h/t to Andrew Sullivan.

[UPDATE June 6: The New Yorker blog was on this, with some back story, last Thursday; another Sulivan hat tip].

© Sandy Mattingly 2011

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Apr. 20, 2011 - OYAToMLG / 31 West 21 Street movie loft edition (Hollywood also loves Manhattan lofts!)

One Year Ago Today on Manhattan Loft Guy
I wrote a year ago about a Manhattan loft about to be featured in a Big Time Movie: Shia LaBeouf doesn't really live at 31 West 21 Street.

That post contains what I hope is the only time Charlie Sheen makes an appearance on Manhattan Loft Guy, in a riff on prior business uses in this old building:

I can't help but wonder what floor "Evening of the Unusual" was on at 31 West 21 Street in 1984, and if the current owner would want to know what had gone on there. Maybe Charlie Sheen stopped by in the original Wall Street??

This started innocently (I swear), with a NY Times piece (and pix) of a spectacular loft. That led to beavers and farm implements, then to swinger's clubs in the dawn of the age of AIDS, because this building, like many true Manhattan loft buildings, has a long history. How's that for a Manhattan loft diversion?

The penthouse loft had a long on-and-off history, with prices from $16.5mm to $13.7mm in 2008 and 2009, then 3 recent months at $1.5mm $15mm; I see no record that the ‘soft marketing’ I mentioned a year ago was ever formalized; it is no longer an active sale listing.


© Sandy Mattingly 2011

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Mar. 26, 2011 - weekend diversion / Manhattan maps ... we got 200+ years of maps

slicing and dicing a sliver of an island
There has been a lot in the blogosphere to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Manhattan street grid, but this compilation from the Wall Street Journal’s New York blog on March 22 is a comprehensive collection. The Inception-theme might be my current fave.

h/t NabeWise tweet

© Sandy Mattingly 2011

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Mar. 13, 2011 - the perils of real estate porn, in Brooklyn about houses or even in Manhattan about lofts

NY Times reader frustrated with (lack of) context for neighborhood change (‘improvement’)
There is a fascinating letter to the editor in Thursday’s Home & Garden section of the New York Times, responding to a Location feature in the prior week’s H&G by David Hay about a German architect who bought (on Craig’s List) and renovated a house in Red Hook, Brooklyn. If you don’t remember the original piece (what … you confine your reading to lofts in Manhattan??), you should scan it quickly now, and even review the slideshow.

The guy did some nice work fixing up and opening up the house (described as “cramped” and “uninhabitable” when he bought it), but that’s not what this post is about.

That remarkable letter to the editor was written by someone who was quite familiar with the house, someone who had recently been given a post-renovation tour by the German architect / new owner.

I lived in that house from 2002 to 2008 with three friends in their early 30s .... It was neither cramped nor uninhabitable. In fact, that carriage house was the most spacious, affordable and habitable New York home in which any of us had ever lived. … we put a lot of love into that house; we built a recording studio, a video-editing suite, created spaces to make art, grew vegetables, hosted bands, artists and travelers from around the world, and screened films in the backyard.

The letter is not merely a nostalgia play, but an explicit condemnation of the editorial thrust of that section of the Old Grey Lady, which glories in the aesthetic of a home but (and?) is divorced completely from any broader considerations. This critique is unfair in the sense that the article he prefers would have been in the Metro section of the Times, instead of in the Home & Garden section, but is a useful plea to sometimes take a broader focus on this kind of real estate porn (my bold):

I find myself frustrated with articles about supposedly blighted buildings or neighborhoods being renovated by quirky, “pioneering” individuals. Such writing decontextualizes a larger story that is about development, race, class, power and money. I understand that Mr. Hay’s article is simply a profile of an interesting home in what’s perceived as an “up and coming” area of Brooklyn. But I believe it would be more responsible, engaged and interesting storytelling to dig just a little deeper and consider this home in the context of a changing neighborhood’s past and future.

The house used to be home to 4 creative people, and to support all sorts of artistic and social activity. Now it is home for a single individual, who accepts paintings from an artist in exchange for the artist’s use of a studio in the building. Chances are, the immediate environment is still daunting:  “vacant lots on either side, the large expanse of overgrown land behind and the neighboring house that appeared to be collapsing”. Change happens. The letter writer is offended that this particular change was celebrated, while his tenure in the house was (literally) trashed (“It was neither cramped nor uninhabitable”).

Anyone can wish things were different, but the role of the Home & Garden section of the Times in the Manhattan Real Estate Industrial Complex is to glorify individual houses, apartments or lofts. If readers find themselves intrigued by the beauty, or envious of the taste and resources used to create that beauty, or even lusting after the lifestyle that might be lived in space like that … so much the better for engaging readers (and selling advertising).

Any article that provided broader context would be found in the News sections of the paper, or on a blog dedicated to Red Hook more generally (I have not looked, but in the Borough of Bloggers there must be one, or several). Of course, Manhattan Loft Guy often presents loft porn, sometimes divorced from broader social issues, occasionally with some historical context.

In fact, one of the things that I have always appreciated about Manhattan history generally and about (current) residential loft neighborhoods in particular is that Stuff Happens, things were not always as they are now. Hence my fascination with the past uses of buildings, blocks or areas, evidenced by digressions such as in my February 8, is loft market at 722 Broadway irrational?  3 very different prices can be explained, which included a report of a (literal) political brawl in front of that building associated with the election of Lincoln as President. Or my series of references to Tribeca in the pre-”TriBeCa” period and in the developing-Tribeca period (before and after about 1977), such as in yesterday’s OYAToMLG. Or in the post about the new loft law and neighborhoods like Bushwick in Brooklyn, my June 25 loft law extension / what's the big deal? UPDATED w maps.

I don’t expect the Times to change the narrow focus of feature sections such as On Location, Habitats or The Hunt, but I do appreciate being reminded once in a while that one man’s development might be another man’s displacement; in the case of this lovely house in Red Hook, the displacement of 4 people. If anything, this is a reminder that my occasional digressions can be excused as combatting the tendency of the Manhattan Real Estate Industrial Complex to "decontextualize[] a larger story that is about development, race, class, power and money"; you may have Todd C

handler to blame for future walkabouts.

You know, the real estate porn industry has social costs and context, just as the (other) porn industry does. And viewers. And enablers.

© Sandy Mattingly 2011


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Jan. 20, 2011 - sellers of awesome Riverdale mansion in yesterday's WSJ want a Manhattan loft!

real estate remains a spectator sport
I was out with a long-time friend last night, catching up on families, friends, lives (etc, etc, etc) and (even) real estate. He is a partner in a major Manhattan law firm, lives in Manhattan, and has no intentions of soon moving (and no intention of ever moving to The Bronx), but he talked about the Riverdale mansion that was yesterday’s House Of The Day in the Wall Street Journal with an impressed tone.

Dude, you read the WSJ for the real estate porn??

when 8,000 sq ft is too much
The most interesting part of this HOTD feature to me, as a Manhattan loft snob and general real estate voyeur, is that the owners of this magnificent mansion (8,000+ sq ft, 7 bedrooms, 6 baths, huge English garden) in the northwest Bronx see a Manhattan loft as the next stage for their not-quite-empty nest. As the kids say … kewl.

can anyone help these people find their way to Manhattan?
Let’s help these at-heart-loft-dwellers realize their dream … find someone to buy their darn house. Call their listing agent (the listing page is here), and put them one step closer to that Manhattan loft of their dreams.

Don’t you want to know what people with this kind of taste do to a loft?

© Sandy Mattingly 2011

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Nov. 29, 2010 - more on that $100,000 view in small loft at 150 Nassau Street, with a Landmarks bonus

different values to different buyers
I am not going to say that The Guy I profiled yesterday who traded one small loft at 150 Nassau Street for $876/ft for another small loft on the same floor at $1,020/ft kept me up all night, but I will say that I woke up (still) thinking about him this morning. There’s the sense in which he paid about $100,000 for a view that The Market had valued in 2003 at about $116,000 (as a much higher part of the total value) and that The Market in 2010 valued at (only) about $33,000. There’s the sense in which The Guy is the unique buyer for The View, as someone who had lived in a no-view unit on the 9th floor and so might over-pay for The View. There’s the sense in which values within the building may have shifted in the 7 years since the building was converted to a loft condominium.

The outline of the story is in that post yesterday, bass ackwards at 150 Nassau Street?? as lofts are sold low + bought high, with an agency twist, about The Guy who bought #9E at 150 Nassau Street on November 3 after selling #9A a week earlier. Functionally, the two units are the same: both small one bedrooms in the former office part of this lovely building built at the end of the 19th century (that one is 606 sq ft and the other 668 sq ft seems hardly material). In condition, they must be exactly the same, with the same kitchens and baths with which they were converted to residential in 2003.

The two units were exposed to The Market from May into July, for anyone to buy. The fact that the seller of one became the buyer of the other remains intriguing. I have (mostly) stopped wondering how the same agents were on three sides of these two sales (mostly), in favor of wondering about What Is The View Worth? if it cost one particular buyer $100,000 but anyone else could have gotten it for only $33,000. And I will try not to get distracted by the very rich history of the building revealed in the Landmarks Preservation Commission report on the building, at least until I am done with The View for today....

I probably should be more interested in the #9A buyer, and less interested in The Guy who sold #9A to buy #9E. After all, that #9A buyer (who paid $585,000 for No View on October 27) also had the chance to buy The View in #9E (which the #9A seller bought on November 3 for $618,000).

That #9A buyer preferred to spend $585,000 for No View rather than $618,000 for The View in #9E.

That #9A seller preferred to buy The View at a $33,000 premium over #9A and to incur another $65,000 or so in transaction costs in selling and buying to do so.

Maybe the #9A buyer is a resident at Beekman Downtown Hospital, just down the street, and simply plans to sleep whenever he is in the apartment. Whatever his motivation and means, he is my poster child for the poster captioned Different Buyers Value Different Amenities Differently.

In turn, the #9A seller sits in the Manhattan Loft Guy poster collection with the caption Some People Will Overpay For A View.

There is an interesting question of whether the market value spread between View and No View units is as small as these two 9th floor sales imply, or whether the sponsor was right back in 2003. I don’t know whether there is enough truly comparable sales data at 150 Nassau Street to figure that out, and I am not going to try today. Instead, let me go back to the Landmarks report. (Stop here unless you are a history buff.)

The Google is my friend (it introduced me to LPC)
In clicking around the inter-tubes yesterday about 150 Nassau Street, I was impressed by the detailed description of the building on City Realty … until I went deeper into the Google results and found that the apparent source for all that detail was the June 15, 1999 report of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

I am less interested in the architecture (though it is a handsome building, no doubt) than I am in the history of this part of Manhattan, but here is the nugget of the description:

It is one of the earliest, as well as one of the earliest extant, steel skeletal-frame skyscrapers in New York, partially of curtain-wall construction.  This was also one of the city's tallest and largest skyscrapers upon its completion.  Twenty full stories high (plus cellar, basement, and three-story tower) and clad in rusticated gray Westerly granite, gray Haverstraw Roman brick, and buff-colored terra cotta, the building was constructed with a U-shaped plan, having an exterior light court. Combining elements of the Romanesque and Renaissance Revival styles, the design, with two similar principal facades, has an overall tripartite vertical scheme, but is also arranged in six horizontal sections.  A three-story arcade, open at the top story and with winged caryatids at the upper corners, surmounts the western half of the building; a three-story hipped roof tower rises through the arcade, creating a picturesque feature in the skyline of lower Manhattan.

19th century real estate speculation, on a wing and a prayer
The residential condominium 150 Nassau Street was not given a catchy name when it was converted in 2003, but to the Landmarks Preservation Commission the building is the American Tract Society Building. (That’s “tract” as in pamphlets and other publications, as opposed to “tract” as in land.) The LPC report tells the story of how the American Tract Society, which had been on this site opposite City Hall in a four-story building since 1825, decided to build a speculative office building in the 1890s.

As quoted by LPC, the Society’s annual report for 1894 justified the project on two grounds: the lot was “too valuable to be used for manufacturing”, and the “centre of the city has moved far to the north”. The goal, according to the Society’s 1896 report was to borrow against the land, erect a modern building that would generate enough to pay for Society rent elsewhere plus amortize the mortgage plus “eventually” leave the Society with a fixed income. The LPC notes that the Society had been in precarious financial condition since the Panic of 1873. The new building was (supposed to be) a way out.

At this time, this area (Printing House Square) was still home to most of the city’s newspapers, though that was beginning to change. Again, from the LPC:

By 1836, ... Nassau Street was home to fourteen newspapers and "numerous bookstores, stationers, paper-warehouses, printers, [and] bookbinders," and several periodicals of a religious nature.


The shift of newspapers away from downtown began after the New York Herald moved to Herald Square in 1894 and the New York Times moved to Longacre Square in 1904, though the New York Evening Post constructed a new building in 1906-07 (Robert D. Kohn) at 20 Vesey Street (a designated New York City Landmark), and the majority of newspapers remained downtown through the 1920s.

The New York Sun was printed in the building from 1914-19, when the U-shaped light court was filled in up to the 5th floor to allow the space needed for printing.

bad luck with technology
When the building was built in 1894-95 passenger elevators were still relatively new. That technology failed here, with not one, but two, “free-fall” accidents in 1896 and 1897, one of which was fatal ("the most serious accident to a passenger elevator that has happened in New York City in many years"). Not surprisingly, the Society had difficulty attracting and keeping tenants here, so instead of moving elsewhere and living off the rental income, the Society soon had to move back to the building until 1914, when the building was surrendered to the New York Life Insurance Company and eventually lost in a foreclosure.

While the LPC does not mention this, the general national downturn known as The Panic of 1893 (caused by the collapse of a railroad speculation bubble) could not have helped. The Wiki entry for this episode includes a poster from a 1896 Broadway show The War Of Wealth based on the 1893 panic, which clearly features what is nowthe residential condo Downtown By Phillipe Starck. But I digress....

New York Life sold the building in 1919, but ended up re-taking it another foreclosure in 1936. The building was planned to have been torn down in favor of a much larger office building during the time that pace University owned the building (1967 - 1982), but that (obviously) never happened. Pace is still directly across the street to the north, and the newest Gehry towers over 150 Nassau Street from the east. There are interesting photos of 150 Nassau Street, including one with the looming Gehry, on WikiMedia.

a skyscraper built on sand
Careful readers of Manhattan Loft Guy will remember this September 3, no skyscrapers in Manhattan loft neighborhoods, but why not? post and realize why this description of the engineering challenges in building 150 Nassau Street stuck out for me:

Because the soil consisted of clay and sand, with bedrock located some one hundred feet below the surface, pneumatic caissons (used on other contemporary skyscrapers) could not be employed. … Engineering News noted that "parts of each of the two back walls, where column foundations could not be provided, are carried on [trussed] cantilevers."

In other words, this skyscraper was built here because of the nearby commercial environment, not because the bedrock made it a more suitable location; to the contrary, the sand and clay made it more difficult to build a skyscraper here.

Googling a penthouse
The building was built with that 3-story tower on top of the west side of the U. If you are wondering what it might be like to live in space like that, Curbed was there on May 25, with the tale of a Google Guy who traded in a Tribeca penthouse for this raw 6,400 sq ft space at about $6.5mm (old listing, with plans, here).

one last note (I promise)
There are names that float around modern Manhattan, ghosts of long ago. For example, I will always remember that when I lived on Broadway in Tribeca more than 20 years ago there was a painted wall advertisement for Matthew Brady’s photography studio. (I don’t remember exactly where, and I am pretty sure it is gone now, but glancing up at that sign always brought up mental images of his Abraham Lincoln portrait and Gettysburg carnage.)

Another such name is Currier & Ives. We’ve all seen enough reprints of Currier & Ives Olde New York that they all seem so trite now. (I had not realized until looking it up on Wiki just now that the firm called itself "the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints".) My point is that they are an almost pre-historic part of New York consciousness, but of course they were real people. The firm operated in New York from 1834 - 1907, and (according to the LPC) they took space in the old American Tract Society building (pre-1894) beginning in 1846.

© Sandy Mattingly 2010
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Oct. 17, 2010 - NoMad as new “it” micro-nabe? don’t hold your breath

from the Manhattan Loft Guy ‘to do’ list
I noted this article from the Wall Street Journal when it hit the inter-tubes on October 8 (North of Madison Square Is Starting to Gel), cogitating on it, as it is a non-residential-neighborhood dear to my heart (we lived there for 13 years). I have cogitated enough to have some Thoughts (perhaps) Worth Sharing.

The premise is that the small slice of Manhattan around Madison Square is getting ready for its close-up. In journo-speak, it is

experiencing a renaissance after years of being a no-man's land sandwiched between the Flatiron, Gramercy and Murray Hill districts.

In the style of self-interested business owner fans everywhere, the Journal quote one local restaurateur as dropping the “M word:

"Forget about a destination, NoMad is transforming into what will become the next Meatpacking District in 10 years."

loose boundaries
The article is not does not reflect anyone’s idea of the perfect model of editing, as the subject area is variously described as “the area North of Madison Square Park” (which would be 26th Street and above) and as “cover[ing] 23rd to 30th streets and Fifth to Lexington avenues”, with the main business that “came into the micro-neighborhood” and is extensively featured in the article being outside that grid (the Ace Hotel with coffee shop and tavern-style eatery, at 29th and Broadway), and the self-interested business owner quoted above dropping the “M” word owns two restaurants that are both also west of Fifth, one at 25th and Broadway, the other on 26th Street between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. But I quibble (a bad Manhattan Loft Guy habit, yes? note to self ....)

If I were labeling the Manhattan map I would include the Ace and the Hill Country establishments, and would describe this as “a no-man's land sandwiched between the Flatiron, Gramercy, Murray Hill and Chelsea districts”, to take into account the blocks from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue, as there are more than a few restaurants, clubs and music venues between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 24th and 30th Streets that would consider themselves part of a hip renaissance (not to mention, the Museum of Sex).

a sparsely lofted micro-nabe
As I mentioned, we lived within these boundaries in a small loft coop for 13 years, and witnessed the twinkle-in-Danny-Meyer’s-eye stage of development. Our block was, in fact, a microcosm for this micro-nabe: hardly residential (only three buildings had legal residences), a very mixed and very active commercial presence (UPS trucks were ubiquitous), creative entrepreneurs renting small lofts in commercial buildings (one building seemed to have dozens of music rehearsal spaces, another had dance studios), a slew of fly-by-night businesses knocking off name brands (and occasionally raided by the NYPD), a critical mass of new restaurants, and a dollop of Olde New York (a formerly residential building said to have housed Edith Wharton back in the day, and a scuzzy commercial building we were surprised to see shut down when the top floor brothel got raided). In other words, a heavily mixed-use block.

If we take the boundaries as 23rd to 30th and Sixth Av to Park, there are probably no more than a few legal residential loft buildings, but they appear on almost every block. (There’s nothing on the Journal’s map east of Park, and I think the blocks between Park and Lex are rather different in character than the rest of the ‘micro-nabe’, which permits me to exclude the Armory blocks and Curry Hill.)

will it pack like the Meat...?
Never say never about Manhattan real estate, of course, but I don’t see NoMad resembling the Meatpacking District any time soon, and I see that as definitely A Good Thing. The Mp District developed, in part because the businesses that give it its name -- because they dominated the area -- fled, opening up lots of interesting spaces for re-purposing in a fairly constricted time frame. That’s not happening in NoMad (even if the rug merchant population continues to thin along Fifth and Madison Avenues).

The Mp Dis has other significant geographic advantages over NoMad, in terms of attracting that tragically hip vibe: a funky street scene (literally: lots of angled intersections that open up vistas, plus cobblestones) and the current Main Advantage of proximity to the High Line. Much as I like Manhattan loft neighborhood grit (in abundance in NoMad), there’s no comparison between the double-parked UPS trucks + ‘novelty’ shops + cheap sunglasses + “sportswear’ emporia + office buildings and the boutiques of Mp Dis. Not to mention the ...  errrr ... active street sidewalk retail life up and down Broadway in NoMad.

analogies break down
Much as the restaurant owners in Greater NoMad might like to create The Next Mp Dis, that is not going to happen ... probably not at all, and certainly not any time soon. Teh area may well evolve into a different and funky collection of restaurants and boutiques that will attract tourists (whether from Italy, Iowa or NoLIta), but it will (always?) be anchored by the rental towers (and occasional hotel) along Sixth Avenue to teh west and the offie buildings along Madison and Park to the east, and will (for along time, at least) feature a lot of downscale retail shops, unless and until some landlords warehouse empty spaces when leases expire and create block-sized zones of newly upscale retail.

That’s the Manhattan Loft Guy vision for this micro-nabe. What’s yours?

© Sandy Mattingly 2010


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Sandy Mattingly is Manhattan Loft Guy; now with The Corcoran Group (http://corcoran.com/ ; but see the disclaimer at the bottom of the page), he can be reached most easily at Sandy@ManhattanLoftGuy.com or 917.902.2491, and followed on Twitter @ManhattnLoftGuy (note "mis-spelling"). After 7+ years, the blog has moved. Links here on RealTown will work for the foreseeable future, but new posts (and all the old content) has migrated to ManhattanLoftGuy.com.

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