WEEKEND COLUMN: A HOMELESS MAN WHO HELPED RESTORE A UWS LANDMARK

bobby and raymond
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.

ruxton2In 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.

“Why not?”

“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.

COLUMNS, HISTORY | 23 comments | permalink
    1. AC says:

      What a beautiful story, especially on a week of thanks. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Bill says:

      Wonderful. People need a “hand up” so thanks for being there. Everyone wins.

    3. jezbel says:

      Thank you for sharing this story with us. It’s not just a great Thanksgiving story or a story of faith and generosity but it’s a great New York story. Because it’s about two entities which were down on their luck, a man and a building. And with a little faith and vision both were raised up and have prospered.

    4. Lindsay says:

      We just moved out of Ruxton Towers this past weekend. We loved our time there, especially the wonderful staff. We hugged Raymond on our way out – he is great and we didn’t even know how far he had come. Amazing story.

    5. Barbara KravitZ says:

      A perfect weekend for this inspirational story. Thanks for playing such a key part in helping these men.

    6. wil says:

      Good for you Mr. Tannenhauser and your wife. The world is a better place because of folks like you.

    7. DB says:

      There is a sense of belonging to and being a part of something truly special when living in the Ruxton — and this article does an excellent job of shedding some light on what that magic is all about. Bravo to the West Side Rag for publishing this story!

    8. Roseann Milano says:

      …. with a union pension.
      Those words are the most amazing gift any retiree has. Take a poll here and find out how many readers have pensions waiting for them when they retire. I would be interested.

      • Mark says:

        And when police officers abuse their authority and choke unarmed men to death over cigarettes they should have the settlements taken out of their pensions. Broken Windows = Broken Lives.

    9. ACW says:

      What a wonderful article about a truly special building and it’s inhabitants. Please continue sharing these uplifting stories, Carol!

    10. CPG says:

      I have lived in the Ruxton three separate times, from a new college grad to a now family of four. I fall under the category of Carol’s “children’s friends” and feel like family, as many of us who reside in The Ruxton do. I’ve seen first hand the work that Bobby has done to the building over the past 15 years, and am lucky to call it home.
      I simply cannot say enough about Bobby, Carol, their amazing kids, and the wonderful people who work here. We love Ray, who always has a smile on his face and a warm hello for all of us. Thanks so much Ray for all your hard work.

    11. JMS says:

      I feel honored to call The Ruxton home! If more business owners gave a chance to wonderful people like Ray our community would be stronger. Good people deserve second chances and the opportunity to make something of themselves! Hats off to Bobby and his family for making that possible.

    12. ACG says:

      Both my children were born in the Ruxton and we lived there for over 15 years. It has become a staple in the fabric of the Upper West Side. From ownership to the staff to the tenants, it truly feels like home. Happy 15th anniversary Raymond and thank you Mr. Mrs Tannenhauser for making us all see the benefit of helping and caring for others.

    13. Mitch Jacobs says:

      A very nice story. Really good. I think the picture could have used some more info. Who is who?

    14. ruby says:

      I too live in The Ruxton and all the above comments are true. The building would not be the same without Raymond. He is a hard worker who always does his job–and ususally does it while singing. I’ve caught him separating the recyclables while singing along to 70’s and 80’s music that he has playing on the radio–occasionally I’ve even harmonized with him. He always shows up for work even in the snow, rain, and during hurricanes. Selfishly I an glad he decided to turn his life around, because he always is there to brighten my day.
      As for Bobby and Carol, well, what can I say? They are two very special people who continue to believe in and give to people from all walks of life without ever expecting or wanting anything in return. We are lucky to have them on the UWS

    15. Alice says:

      I not only love this story but the people behind it. Carol and Bobby give back to the community like few others and almost always without any fanfare. Excellent!

    16. Margaret says:

      Such a great story. Thank you for highlighting the Doe Fund!

    17. cj berk says:

      I love the DOE fund. It inspires me with hope for the men who want to be fine. If I had big bucks, this would be one of my charity choices.

    18. Joey says:

      Thank you Carol for sharing such an uplifting and inspiring story. I have lived in the Ruxton for almost 16 years, and it truly is one big family. Ray is such a hard worker and always has a smile on his face. I never knew his history, but it just shows what a wonderful person Ray is and what a wonderful program The Doe Fund is. The Doe Fund is a help up, not a hand out, which instills pride and a promising future in its men in blue. Ray is an inspirational success story and Bobby and Carol are pioneers for humanity in our community. Thank you Bobby & Carol and congratulations Ray!

    19. Carol Belitz (Mutschnik) says:

      I don’t know if you are the same Bobby who graduated Forest Hills High School, but kudos to you anyway. You made a dream into reality. You should be very proud of yourself and for those you have helped.

    20. CB says:

      When you walk into the Ruxton you feel a sense of community and warmth. Most people smile, they say hello or they hold the elevator. Ray, Bobby and Carol are all amazing people, thank you for sharing this story. This is just one example of why the Ruxton is such a wonderful place to live.

    21. Corey says:

      I lived in the Ruxton for 10 years. Everyone who worked there felt like family, especially Raymond. What a great guy. This story just makes me love him more. And I really enjoyed getting the history of the building. Never knew that story either. Very cool. Memories of this building will last a lifetime.