By Clare Smith Marash
The brownstone at 120 West 74th Street has seen better days.
Walter Tillow sold the building in November 2010 to an entity known as the 553 West 174th St. LLC. The company went bankrupt a year later without renovating or reopening the building. It has remained essentially untouched, except for the addition of some artwork that speaks to a growing problem: 120 West 74th Street appears to be housing the neighborhood’s rat colony.
“The rats migrate every night,” one block resident named Wendy explained. “I live on the ground floor and I hear them.” She describes it as “chatter,” a cluster of rats communicating and munching on her building’s trash before returning to their home at 120 West 74th. Some neighbors believe that construction on another building this past year displaced the rat community, causing a flurry of sightings and ensuing damage. Large black rat traps (below) sit outside the front steps of most buildings on the block, and many landlords have cemented over front garden areas to prevent burrowing.
In addition to the landlords’ actions, tenants have been complaining to 311. In the last year, there have been 13 public 311 reports filed on this block of West 74th St because of rat sightings or vermin, three of which specifically site a “condition attracting rats.” For comparison, the same block of West 80th Street had seven vermin or rat sighting reports and one report for “condition attracting rats” during the same period. West 74th Street also had three reports of mouse sightings, compared to one on West 80th.
In addition to the usual squeamishness they cause, rats can carry diseases, making their presence all the more concerning.
But not everyone on the block seems concerned about “The Rat House.”. Another resident of W 74th St claimed he had never seen rats or mice, nor heard any complaints about the area.
Regardless of the level of vermin invasion, the appearance of the brownstone leaves something to be desired. Neighbors have seen piles of trash and beer bottles along the steps. Karen, who lives across the street from “The Rat House,” stated, “You can see just from the nature of the trash that’s by the steps that there’s no one managing it. It’s the same trash that’s been there for months.” Wendy said she has called 311 about rats lying dead on the steps of 120 as well, claiming, “They said, ‘Unless it’s on the sidewalk, we’re not going to pick it up.’” Even “The Rat House” moniker is painted over a distinctive brown slab of paint that is haphazardly covering previous graffiti.
The building owner’s lawyer did not return requests for comment.
While perhaps the things that have made it noteworthy are less than enviable, “The Rat House,” has established itself as a neighborhood highlight. As Karen explained, “I have seen several people taking pictures of the graffiti (it is really very well done) and have even been stopped in the street by foreign tourists who ask me to explain it!”
Those who are aware of “The Rat House” hope there will be changes soon. Until then, the small protest art by the door of 120 W 74th Street makes it difficult to ignore.