Writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron, who died on Tuesday, was an Upper West Sider to her core. She was born here, and although she grew up mostly in California, she returned to the neighborhood and became one of its keenest observers. Ephron moved into the Apthorp on 79th Street and Broadway in 1980 when she was about 40 years old.
When she left a couple of decades later, she wrote a famous piece for the New Yorker called “A Rent-Stabilized Love Story” about her time there. It’s one of the greatest depictions of the lengths people go to to stay in an apartment, and the people you meet in a city (at the time Ephron lived there, her sister Delia did too, as did Rosie O’Donnell). It’s also funny as hell, like everything she wrote. She met her husband Nick there and married him in the apartment. “Since the day we moved in, we had never locked the door.”
When Ephron left the Apthorp and moved to the Upper East Side she said of her new apartment: “It’s not love. It’s just where I live.” Read it now while it’s temporarily free on the New Yorker site. If it’s no longer free, here’s an abstract.
Her movie You’ve Got Mail was a kind of love-letter to the neighborhood, and a warning about what it was becoming. The Upper West Side is featured prominently in the movie, from Riverside Park’s 91st Street Garden in the final scene, to H&H Bagels, to Maya Schaper’s old Cheese and Antiques shop, which served as the facade of the fictional Shop Around the Corner in the movie (now it’s a laundromat). Just before the movie came out, the Upper West Side began losing its independent bookstores like Shakespeare & Co. and Eeyore’s. That clearly served as an inspiration for the movie. The movie even has an old website with a commentary on the Upper West Side. Columbus Avenue, even back in 1998, had “become gentrified beyond recognition.”
In an interview with Jewish Woman magazine in 2006, Ephron talked about what she loved so much about the neighborhood.
“When my landlord raised my rent to $12,000 a month and I came to the sad realization I was involved in an unrequited love affair, the hardest thing was trying to find a place that had at least some of the things I’d loved about my old apartment. One of them was a neighborhood that was alive 24 hours a day. Another was good food shopping. Another was proximity to a subway, as I am a lover of public transportation. But the hardest part, probably was a failure of imagination on my part — I really didn’t understand that once I moved, I’d be home, and that home wasn’t where I lived.”
Photo by jvdalton.