Raymond Melendez and Robert Tannenhauser in front of the Ruxton.
By Carol Tannenhauser
In 1998, Raymond Melendez was an alcoholic and a crack addict, working as a “bouncer in a whore house.” Forty three years old, he had drunk and drugged his way through most of his life, living for long stretches in Central Park, eating at soup kitchens. One day, “drunk out of my mind, driving my boss’s car without a license, I almost killed a kid in an intersection,” he revealed. “I felt so bad and it really scared me.” Ray checked into a detox center; got clean and sober; and, in 1999, moved to a homeless shelter run by The Doe Fund, a nonprofit that offers motivated homeless men transitional paid work and training and help finding permanent jobs. Ray became one of those guys in blue uniforms you see pushing big blue buckets along streets and avenues on both sides of the city, sweeping up and bagging trash. For nearly a year, he cleaned Broadway, from 59th Street to 106th street. In September 2000, he entered the “job search” phase of the program.
In 2000, the “Ruxton Towers,” known as “The Ruxton,” at 50 West 72nd Street, was a “shipwreck,” said Marc Donnenfeld, the designer who later helped salvage it. It had been rescued from foreclosure in 1994 by Robert Tannenhauser, a lawyer, businessman, and my husband. Bobby was determined to restore the 200-apartment Ruxton — built in 1926 as a residential hotel — to its original, if not splendor (The Ruxton was never The Plaza), at least, to a condition befitting its historical landmark status.
“We had to get approval for everything we did,” Bobby recalled. He also had to raise the money to do it. The Ruxton had been badly neglected. Inside and out, it was dark, dirty, ugly, and broken. Bobby had seen beyond the problems to the beauty of the building and its proximity to Central Park.
Over time, we grew to love The Ruxton. It housed our friends, relatives, children, children’s friends, friends’ children, colleagues. One recently said, “Nobody lives in New York without passing through The Ruxton.” Today, it is completely renovated: bright, beautiful, and clean. One of those responsible for keeping it that way is the night porter, Raymond Melendez.
In 2000, I was working at The Doe Fund, readying homeless men for job interviews, so they could rejoin the mainstream workforce and put homelessness behind them for good. We did everything from finding employers who would hire them, to getting them suits, to writing their resumes. The last was no easy task. Let’s just say, there were gaps.
“What was your last job,” my colleague asked Ray. “I was a bouncer in a whore house,” he smiled, sheepishly. Without missing a beat, my colleague said, “A concierge in a social club,” and that’s what Bobby read when Ray came into his office at The Ruxton to apply for a job as the night porter.
“Did you have any hesitation about hiring a homeless man?” I asked Bobby, recently.
“No.” he said.
“You wouldn’t let me.”
Turns out I was right. Ray had his 15th anniversary at The Ruxton this past October. He said, “I love it here. They treat me like family. I’ll stay until it’s time to go.” When he retires, it will be with a union pension. Over the years, Bobby has hired several other Doe Fund guys – some worked out, some didn’t, as is the case with all employees. In fact, there is a man in a blue uniform sweeping right in front of The Ruxton right now who recently submitted his resume.