By Megan Zerez
When The Salvation Army converted the old Marcy Hotel to the Williams Residence Senior Home on 95th Street and West End Avenue in 1969, it was refitted to house 352 residents. Late last month, the last seven residents prepared to move out.
The move has been a long time coming. In 2014, The Salvation Army sparked protests and a lawsuit when it filed to sell the building. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called the sale of the residence “a disgrace.” The organization said that the building needed extensive renovations and a sale to luxury developer Brack Capital Real Estate would provide funds to break ground on a replacement facility on 125th Street in East Harlem. The sale was postponed until October 2015. In 2016, a judge ruled that residents would be allowed to stay at The Williams until the new facility was completed.
Five years later, that facility, EastView, is now more or less complete.
Celia Pearson moved in last Tuesday. Pearson is one of the 65 Williams residents who ultimately decided to make the move to East Harlem.
“When you’ve lived somewhere for 14 years, you have no idea how you collect so much stuff,” Pearson said. “I think I’ve got five big boxes I need to whittle down.”
Pearson said the move was hectic, but she’s starting to slowly settle in.
Retired Salvation Army Col. Nestor Nuesch also recently moved in from The Williams. He’s been living and working on-site at The Williams – and now EastView – to help ease the transition.
“For a while [residents] were afraid,” Nuesch said. “They didn’t understand why [The Williams was sold.] But to keep that old building, we would have to put in $40 million in renovations. It is a 90-year-old building and we were having problems constantly.”
Dutch developer Brack Capital Real Estate purchased the building for $108 million in 2015 to convert it to luxury condominiums, according to city property records. To comply with the settlement, The Salvation Army had been leasing the building from BCRE since the sale.
According to a presentation made before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on October 16 2018, BCRE’s renovation plans include adding a penthouse level and replacing a adjoined parking garage on 95th street with an eight-story addition.
BCRE project manager Doron Resheff did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The Williams isn’t the only building that has changed during the transition. To make way for EastView and a new adjoined community center, The Salvation Army razed its East Harlem Community Center on 3rd Avenue.
“[That building] had a special place in my heart,” Nuesch said.
Nuesch worked at the old community center back in his 20s, when he first came to the US. But Nuesch said the new building will be special too. He helped design it.
Before moving back to New York, Nuesch lived in a similar independent senior community in Florida. These communities are age-restricted, but they aren’t nursing homes. While they provide amenities like meals and activities, there are no nursing staff and residents must be able to care for themselves.
Nuesch said his experience in Florida influenced the design of EastView, right down to the weights in the fitness center.
“Somebody said, ‘What are you doing having weights up to 60 pounds, that’s ridiculous.’ But the other place where I was, yeah, there were people that were in their 60s or 70s and they were using the heavy weights,” Nuesch said.
Nuesch wouldn’t say if he used those weights himself, but he said he does enjoy using the fitness equipment every morning.
In addition to the fitness center, Nuesch said that EastView will also have an on-site physical therapist’s office and a hair salon. These services, along with foodservice, will be provided by outside contractors, not The Salvation Army.
While foodservice provider Sodexo will continue to provide much of the staffing for the new building, The Salvation Army will employ concierge staff, social workers and an activity coordinator.
One long-time employee at The Williams said that employees were not guaranteed jobs at EastView, but declined to speak further, citing a non-disclosure agreement.
Nuesch said the new facility had different staffing needs compared to the Williams, which is why some old employees were not offered positions at EastView.
Archives of online job posts show that The Salvation Army began recruiting externally for some new positions at EastView about a month ago.
Eva Yachnes, another resident, said one of the hardest parts of moving was watching The Williams slowly empty after The Salvation Army announced the sale.
“It used to be that that huge dining room was crammed with people,” Yachnes said. “When the moving started, there were three of us on this huge floor. And then as of last week, I was the only one on that floor. It was really eerie.”
After the announcement, occupancy at The Williams slowly dwindled from 213 to 65 over the course of five years.
“My closest friend moved out two years ago under pressure from her daughter who didn’t want her in this neighborhood,” Yachnes said. “She totally regrets it and she’s going to come and live here, but it’ll cost the outsider price.”
The “outsider price” starts at $2,800 for a small studio or $4,000 for a one-bedroom, according to EastView literature.
As part of the settlement, residents were promised similarly sized apartments in EastView, at the same price they paid at The Williams. Rent will remain the same for three years, then increase yearly based on inflation, Nuesch said.
Yachnes said she’s still not settled in yet, but the new building is an improvement overall.
“[The Williams] was a former hotel,” Yachnes said. “In 1969, [The Salvation Army] bought it, and they chopped it up into all these apartments. And they were done every old which way. In contrast, [EastView] I think they’re going to keep, so they’ve really done a nice, nice job.”
The city’s Department of Buildings issued EastView a temporary certificate of occupancy on October 25, but Nuesch said it still needs a few touch-ups.
Yachnes said that she appreciates the sound proofing and the central heating system, but agrees there are some details that aren’t quite perfect yet. She said that workers fixed a leaking pipe Thursday night, but not before it left a wet patch in a 4th floor corridor.
“They moved before the building was really done,” Yachnes said. “I imagine that it’s because the new owner said ‘enough is enough, I want to get into my building’ or something like that.”
Yachnes, who came to the US after fleeing Nazi occupied Vienna, said she has never liked change.
“Even as a child I found it hard to move from one school to another,” Yachnes said. “If they had a fire drill and you had to leave the school building from a different way, I’d panic [and worry] that I was lost and wouldn’t be able to find my way home.”
But Yachnes said that since then, she’s found ways to cope.
“Moving here was traumatic,” Yachnes said. “I think it’s traumatic for all of us in different ways. But the good thing is that I have friends here. We all help each other.”