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Private Lives in the Big City

Constance Rosenblum

Publication Year: 2013

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.  Habitats offers 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 introduces 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.
Constance Rosenblum, most recently the author of the Habitats column published in the Real Estate section of The New York Times, is the longtime editor of the paper’s City section and a former editor of the Times’s Arts and Leisure section. She is the author of Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope Along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-11

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p. xi-xi

Because all journalistic endeavors are collaborative, there are lots of people to thank.
The New York Times was kind enough to allow expanded versions of articles that originally appeared in the paper to be published in book form, along with the accompanying photographs. Alex Ward, the paper’s ...

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pp. 1-13

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 ...

Starting Out

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1 His Hacienda in the Sky: BORIS FISHMAN ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE (June 21, 2009)

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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 ...

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2 A Single Man Buys a Home for Someday: STEVE CHUNG IN CARROLL GARDENS, BROOKLYN (July 4, 2010)

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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 ...

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3 Very Bushwick and Very Fabulous: BEN SHAPIRO AND HIS FRIENDS IN BUSHWICK, BROOKLYN (July 18, 2010)

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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 ...

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4 Southern Shimmer: DANIEL AND DASHA FAIRES ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE (November 29, 2010)

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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...

Starting Over

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5 The House of Open Arms: FILIPP AND RAYA KATZ IN BATH BEACH, BROOKLYN (February 7, 2010)

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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. ...

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6 Her Cottage by the Sea: AMY GOTTLIEB AND HER FAMILY ON CITY ISLAND (February 28, 2010)

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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, ...

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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 ...

Living with Ghosts

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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 ...

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9 And for Compensation, the View: PAUL MOAKLEY ON STATEN ISLAND (December 27, 2009)

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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 ...

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10 The Domestication of a Dive: JOEL HINMAN AND HIS FAMILY IN NOHO (February 14, 2010)

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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 ...

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11 A Man and His Miscellany: JOHN FOXELL ON STATEN ISLAND (March 19, 2010)

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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 ...

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12 A Beach Bungalow with a Magnetic Pull: SUSAN ANDERSON IN FAR ROCKAWAY, QUEENS (October 24, 2010)

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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 ...

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13 The Almost Landless Gardener: CATHY FITZSIMONS IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS (February 25, 2011)

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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 withf ...

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14 Lair and Sanctuary in the South Bronx: CAROL ZAKALUK AND JOHN KNOERR IN MOTT HAVEN, THE BRONX (March 18, 2011)

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pp. 83-87

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 ...

Creative Types

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15 The Traveling Circus Stops Here: SETH BLOOM AND CHRISTINA GELSONE IN WEST HARLEM (July 5, 2009)

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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 ...

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16 For a Writer, a Home with a Hideout: ROXANA ROBINSON AND HER HUSBAND ON THE UPPER EAST SIDE (July 12, 2009)

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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 ...

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17 Where Wit Pays the Rent: CAROLITA JOHNSON AND MICHAEL CRAWFORD IN INWOOD (November 22, 2009)

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pp. 100-103

Carolita Johnson, a 44-year-old illustrator, model, and New Yorker cartoonist, has lived in some appalling places. During a 15-year sojourn in Paris, she occupied garrets with no toilet, no heat, no ...

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18 The Art of Sparkle: ELIZABETH LEWIS IN MURRAY HILL (December 9, 2009)

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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, ...

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19 Her Second Home, the One without Wheels: KIM IMA IN THE WEST VILLAGE (February 21, 2010)

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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, ...

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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, ...

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21 Caretakers of a Culture: LULU LOLO AND DAN EVANS IN EAST HARLEM (August 22, 2010)

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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 ...

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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 ...

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23 Trim Jim Creates a Masterpiece: ANNE LANDSMAN, JAMES WAGMAN, AND THEIR CHILDREN ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE (December 27, 2009)

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pp. 129-133

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 ...

Old Stomping Grounds

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24 Ensconced in the Bronx: JOSÉ DIAZ-OYOLA ON THE GRAND CONCOURSE IN THE BRONX (July 19, 2009)

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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 ...

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25 Over the Family Store, Staff Quarters: MARY GANNETT AND HER SONS IN COBBLE HILL, BROOKLYN (July 26, 2009)

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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 ...

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26 With Sky and the Weather for Neighbors: BARBARA McCALL AND HER FAMILY IN SOUNDVIEW, THE BRONX (August 30, 2009)

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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 ...

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27 A Hand-Me-Down Home: KIM STOLZ ON THE UPPER EAST SIDE (October 11, 2009)

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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 ...

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28 The Leader of the Cheers: RENEE FLOWERS AND HER SON IN BOERUM HILL, BROOKLYN (January 10, 2010)

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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.. ...

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29 A Moment of Remarkable Optimism: NICK AND SALLY WEBSTER ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE (June 20, 2010)

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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 ...

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30 Elastic Elegance: ALISON WEST IN KIPS BAY (July 11, 2010)

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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...

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31 Elephants for Luck: BHARATI KEMRAJ AND HER FAMILY IN SOUNDVIEW, THE BRONX (August 15, 2010)

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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- ..

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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 ...

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33 The Rebel Girl of Borough Park: MARY SANSONE IN BOROUGH PARK, BROOKLYN (January 30, 2011)

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pp. 179-183

In 1956, the year Dwight Eisenhower was reelected to the presidency, Elvis Presley was burning up the airways, My Fair Lady was packing them in on Broadway, and Clairol was posing the eternal question, “Does she or doesn’t she?” an Italian-American couple named ...

Palaces and Jewel Boxes

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34 For a Family, Elaborate Elbow Room: TED BROWN AND HIS FAMILY ON STATEN ISLAND (June 28, 2009)

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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 ...

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35 Enter, Hammering: STURGIS WARNER IN THE EAST VILLAGE (November 8, 2009)

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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...

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36 Pocket-Sized on West 47th Street: JONATHAN CERULLO IN HELL’S KITCHEN (April 25, 2010)

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pp. 196-200

Some of the multitudes who saw an early touring production of Cats in 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 ...

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37 Ardent Admirer, Devoted Steward: GEORGE BURKE ON STATEN ISLAND (December 19, 2010)

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pp. 201-205

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 ...


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38 Kitten Heaven: TAMMY CROSS AND HER KITTENS ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE (September 13, 2009)

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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 ...

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pp. 213-216

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 ...

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40 Threading the Needle on West 12th Street: NANCY SMITH, JOHN CASEY, AND THEIR DAUGHTERS IN THE WEST VILLAGE (April 18, 2010)

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pp. 217-221

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-...

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About the Author

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p. 223-223

Constance Rosenblum, who wrote the Habitats column published in the Real Estate section of The New York Times, is the longtime editor of the paper’s City section and a former editor of ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814771556
E-ISBN-10: 0814771548
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814771549
Print-ISBN-10: 0814771548

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013