After Many Fateful Journeys, An Upper West Sider Prepares for the Next One With Hope and Sorrow

Eva Yachnes’ adventures began at the age of six. Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1932, Jewish by birth, she was placed on a Kindertransport in 1938 by her grandmother to escape the growing threat of the Nazis. The Brits had begun, 80 years ago this month, transporting Jewish children from German-occupied countries to safety in England. Eva’s mother and father had already escaped. Her father had slipped across the Swiss border and on to France. Her mother had gotten a visa to be a cook in England and met Eva there, finding her because she had sewn her own name and address inside Eva’s coat!

Eva is one of only about 500 Kindertransport survivors left in the United States, according to NPR.

At 86, Eva is an adventurer still. She lives, for now, in The Williams Senior Residence, on West End Avenue and 95th Street. The building was sold by the Salvation Army to a luxury developer, with the provision that it be delivered empty. Eva must move. She has chosen to go to the new senior facility that the Salvation Army is building on 125th Street and Third Avenue, as soon as it is ready, which was supposed to be in December 2017; then, Spring, 2019; now, August or September. In its waning days, with the population down from about 300 in its heyday to about 80 today, Eva says The Williams is “like a ghost town.”

Living in limbo, pondering her future — with a different eye since falling in her apartment this year and breaking her right arm — Eva wrote the following essay, expressing her mixed feelings about leaving The Williams and the Upper West Side.

On Balance…

By Eva Yachnes

It happens every time I take a shower. As I climb over the bathtub rim, holding on to the grab bar on the back wall of the tub, I find myself wishing that I were already in the new Williams Residence for Seniors going up on East 125th Street. That building was designed with older people in mind. The apartments will have walk-in showers; the showers will have grab bars and fold-down benches so that we can sit down to wash our feet. I feel it even more when I get out of the shower because there is nothing in front of me stronger than a towel bar to hold on to.

But when I leave the building and walk up to Broadway, I wish that I would never have to leave this neighborhood. There’s Symphony Space with all its many attractions which range from the bar that has live entertainment some evenings, to the small theater that shows movies, to the larger theater that shows both live performances and films.

There are so many stores of every kind within a short walk on Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue, and Columbus Avenue. Every kind of food, in every price range from Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s is within a short distance from us, which is handy because we get only two meals a day unless we pay extra for the third meal. We have all the chain drugstores as well as some independent drug stores in the area.

There’s a Barnes and Noble bookstore as well as several independent book shops. Everything you might need from a clothing or hardware store can be had in the neighborhood. The new location offers far less availability and choice.

All we can see out of the ground-floor dining room windows here are the heads and torsos of passers-by, who occasionally stare in at us. In the new building, the dining room will be at the top of the building, so that there will be a view of rooftops and sky. It may not be the most exalted panorama, but it will beat our present outlook.

Here in the old building the apartments vary greatly in size. There are walk-in closets in luxury buildings that seem to be about the same size as our smallest studio apartments. In the new Williams there will be just three sizes of apartments: studio, large studio, and one bedroom. In this building not every apartment has any kind of cooking facility, but in the new one they all will.

Here we have a solarium full of plants, but that won’t be part of the new place. Here we have Riverside Park, which is a wonderful place for a leisurely stroll in the warm weather, but there are no parks near 125th Street; the closest one is Central Park at 110th Street.

This building is old and solidly built. Even when all the apartments were occupied I rarely heard any sounds from the other apartments. I’m sure that the Salvation Army won’t build as well as the older builders did—nobody does now.

However, in the new Williams we will have individual temperature controls in each apartment. If you’ve stayed in a hotel in the last few years you will know how that works. I look forward to not having an air-conditioning unit in my window blocking my view. Hopefully, with central air-conditioning, there won’t be a surcharge in the summer months for each AC unit as there is now.

On balance, I don’t know whether I want the new building to be ready quickly or not. I love the Upper West Side, but it will be fun to explore a new area. There may be delights in East Harlem that I now know nothing about. For me, the ideal situation would have been to have the new building in the old neighborhood. That isn’t what’s happening, so the only thing I can do is to go with reality and hope for the best.

    1. AC says:

      Eva , , , good luck with your relocation to the UES, but don’t forget. Once an Upper West Sider, ALWAYS, an Upper West Sider! God Bless

    2. EricaC says:

      I hope the new building, and neighborhood, prove to be wonderful for you – and I hope our neighborhood becomes more welcoming of housing for the elderly.

      And, I promise you, there are definitely interesting things in your new neighborhood. I have been surprised and delighted to get to know that area. It is different, to be sure, but good neighbors to meet and some shops and other things that I hope you will enjoy.

    3. Elisabeth Anderson says:

      So sad that at her age, she is being uprooted.
      To move them to the other side of town is a little bit crazy to me. Follow the money trail!

    4. Anthony says:

      I’m sure the new place will be great! That neighborhood around the Triborough Bridge is quickly changing for the better these days, and your arrival will play a part in the process. And though it’s not quite Riverside or Central Park, you should be sure to check out Marcus Garvey/Mt. Morris Park, at Madison and 124th.

    5. Zeneida Disla says:

      Welcome to Harlem, Eva, when you get here!

    6. Bella says:

      Where can a senior apply for an apartment like this

    7. H S says:

      This is a wonderful profile on a thoughtful member of the UWS community. Thanks WSR!, and I hope this is a terrific new chapter for Eva!

    8. Rachel Dahill-Fuchel says:

      Dear Eva, you write so beautifully and profoundly about your experience. I would be delighted to visit you either In your current home, or the new one, and together we can explore just how quickly NYC changes, and yet retains its sense of solidarity and uniqueness. It was a pleasure for me to become reacquainted with you at the Kindertransport meeting downtown as it commemorates its 80th anniversary. I told you then that I remember you fondly from my Dad, Kurt Fuchel. Wishing you a good new year… and new experience!

    9. thomas peter says:

      um gottes willn — ein kindertransportee! as a toddler i survived/escaped nazi vienna after my much older sister [who died recently, a decade older than eva] had been sent out to the usa. this sweet lady’s story unfortunately evokes the horrors of the untold lurking backstorys of our familys lives there.

    10. Eva says:

      Thank you all for your good wishes. I know that it may be harder for me to move because I was uprooted so dramatically when I was a child, but I try to be upbeat. And I do look forward to exploring my new neighborhood with the friends I have made living here.

    11. jean mensing says:

      I wish you the best of luck in the new venture….if and when it ever happens. I’m sure there will be great happenings on the East side. Maybe you will be near Red Rooster….yummy

    12. Hilary Stillman says:

      Please tell Eva there is a park at 124th Street and Madison Avenue, Marcus Garvey Park. And there is a Whole Foods at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue.

    13. Janice says:

      Dear Eva,

      I hope the new building will be wonderful for you and wish you the best of luck with your move.

      Wishing you a great New Year.

    14. David says:

      Wishing Eva well in her new locations. She’s put a positive foot forward to her new neighborhood, while reminiscing our shared community.
      Wondering if there is a volunteer program set up to perhaps escort residents to outings in the new neighborhood. Perhaps volunteers from the UWS, would be interested in taking some of the old neighborhood across town to visit? A neighbor to formerly neighbor program. Eva has such a positive view and frame of mind. Good luck Eva. You and your spirit will be missed. Wishing you all the best.

    15. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      While i have never met Eva in person, I had the good fortune to be in contact with her by phone and email several times during the fight to save the Williams as affordable housing and allow the seniors to stay in their homes.

      She is sharp as a tack and was a strong leader of the seniors, who put up a fierce fight, including leafletting on Broadway and mobilizing many elected officials to offer support.

      In the end, the community was not able to save the Williams, but the seniors were able to negotiate a deal to let them stay in their current homes until the new facility was ready.

      the Williams was sold by the Salvation army and bought by the well-known and controversial — to say the least — developer, Brack Capital. Brack will no doubt turn the building into more luxury condos.

      When we lost the Williams, we lost 300 irreplaceable units of affordable senior housing in the community. this was a loss not only to the seniors living there, but to the UWS and NYC as a whole. As Eva said in an earlier WSR article covering this, “When we moved here, we thought we would be spending the rest of our lives here.”

      Some of the usual YIMBY types on WSR actually supported the developer throwing out the seniors! I’ll never forget one bozo urging people to call Helen Rosenthal’s office to lobby IN FAVOR of the Salvation Army selling it.

      In hindsight, I’m wondering if Eric Schneiderman, who was a key official supporting the seniors, really “gave his all” to stop the sale.

      I hope very much that Eva and the other seniors who are moving to the new residence find it a comfortable and enjoyable place to live.

    16. Anna says:

      Trust me, there are no delights on 125th and 3rd, unless you consider methadone clinics a delight…brace yourself, Eva.

    17. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      let’s just recall that approx. 300 seniors were (ongoing) thrown out of their homes by a rich developer (Brack Capital). the developer will create far fewer units of ultra-expensive housing.

      of course it was cruel and oppressive to the seniors. the fact that Eva is resilient doesn’t make what happened any better.

      and… every time an ultra-high ultra-expensive building goes up, we hear cheers from the YIMBY side. They say “this will help lower prices.” of course, when the developers build ultra-expensive units, the effect is basically zero at the affordable end… or even a negative (price-raising) effect, due to the proximity to other ultra-expensive units.

      but here we have approx 3x as many units — affordable units, for seniors — REMOVED from the market as will exist in some of these large super-expensive buildings. You would think those people who believe that expansion of housing is the key to affordability would have protested. and yet… not a word. some even publicly supported the Williams conversion.

      it seems like the YIMBYs are only interested in housing expansion at the rich, rich, rich end. Do the rest of us matter? apparently not.

      • ccziv says:

        Bruce, I appreciate your ability to see this problem clearly. It’s not only happening on the UWS, not only in Manhattan, but all over the country there’s a creep>push>wave>tidal wave that is pushing middle class, fixed income (seniors and disabled), and poor people out of their own communities, often communities that *they* have built and sustained. This is based on the same discriminatory logic as gated communities, but with invisible gates. And it’s only more civilized than physically removing people from their homes and communities in terms of decorum. Invisible Gates are just as real as iron gates. If this doesn’t make you think of Trump’s wall, you aren’t paying attention.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          thank you, CCziv, well said. i couldn’t agree with you more.

          i hope you keep posting here to help counter the too-many and too-blind voices of displacement and “YIMBYs”. they seem to want an “economically pure” community of just rich people.

    18. Bob Bumcrot says:

      What a touching, life-affirming article by my fellow Ethical Culture Community Circle friend!

      • Ilse Melamid says:

        Eva – here you go again, taking life in your stride. I was glad to note that your spirits and hopes are positive on the long-forthcoming move.

        I am planning to organize some small Kinder get-togethers, and will be in touch.

    19. ccziv says:

      Dear Eva, I’m so sorry that you’re being forced to leave your home, again. You deserve better. May you find happiness in your new home, with good health and long life to enjoy it.