By Joy Bergmann
The question has nagged me for years. What is up with those decrepit – seemingly abandoned – row houses at 231-233 West 74th Street, just behind Fairway?
A few weeks ago, I decided to find out.
My first Google yielded a chuckle. WSR contributor Maria Gorshin tried solving the same mystery back in December 2011, calling them “clumsy eyesores”, “toad-ugly” and “sad.”
In 2006, Christopher Gray, the late New York Times architectural detective, investigated the twin buildings. “They now look almost empty, with torn shades in the windows,” he wrote. “In the white-water rapids of Upper West Side real estate, this forlorn pair is a cool, shady little eddy, a shipwreck of time.”
Now plywood covers many of the windows. Rubbish collects in exterior stairwells. Department of Buildings records show three open “failure to maintain; building in state of disrepair” violations from the past two years. The vibe has progressed from forlorn to despairing.
Who is responsible for these properties?
Gray identified The Beekman Estate, a corporation, as the owner, but the firm denied ownership when Gorshin made her attempt.
Today, The Beekman Estate’s website lists two other corporations as the property owners: 231 West 74th Street Corp. and 233 West 74th Street Corp., with Mt. Pleasant Management Corp. as the managing agent.
Property records — including the most recent deeds from 1995 — show multiple “street address” corporations being involved. All of the entities share the same Lexington Avenue address and CEO, according to New York Secretary of State records.
The Vice President of 231 and 233 W. 74th Street Corps agreed to answer WSR’s questions about the properties, but asked not to be named. The VP said he did not own the corporations and was only a “representative of the owner.”
The following email Q&A with the VP has been edited for clarity and supplemented with contextual information.
Q: What were the plans for 231-233 West 74th Street back in 1995, when the owners bought it?
A: The owners are not developers, but have a history of renovating, repositioning and renting older properties and holding them for the long term. Those were – and are – the plans for 231-233 West 74th Street.
Q: In the intervening 26+ years, the property received landmark designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission [LPC] as part of the West End-Collegiate Historic District Extension.
In its 2013 report, LPC noted the Queen Anne-style structures — built in 1886 by the Ansonia’s developer W.E.D. Stokes and designed by architect William J. Merritt — appeared to be vacant and were covered with netting.
Given that LPC must approve all work plans to the property (with few exceptions), what are your immediate next steps to improve the structures?
A: Short term, we have submitted filings for a “reconstruction of a façade.” When the building is fully vacant, our plan is to renovate and rent the brownstones. We are looking forward to doing the work; it’s always great to bring back a building.
[An LPC spokesperson confirmed the facade work application has been in process since September 2021; the VP said his team is procuring an engineering report LPC requested before LPC may proceed with their final review and decision.]
Q: The 2006 NYT story mentioned the owners were waiting for “the last of the tenants to leave.” Multiple sources tell me someone is still living in a basement unit, 15+ years later. I tried to reach him myself. HPD records show the property has a history of having regulated units. What’s going on?
A: The tenant of record moved to Cascais, Portugal, some time ago. We believe he has since passed away. There is a legal case pending with the occupants which is contested but on hold due to a negotiation. The idea is to minimize the litigation and possibly relocate the tenant to another apartment under a legal lease. The possible relocation apartment is completed and awaiting the building’s Certificate of Occupancy, which we hope to obtain shortly.
Q: Was a buyout offer made?
A: As far as a “buyout,” the owners are long-term rental owners – not developers/builders, so there is no “pot of gold” to offer. The end result will hopefully be a nice restoration to rental apartments. There is no planned sale to developers or a condo offering, which are the usual driver of buyout offers.
Q: How has that remaining tenancy altered your plans for the property?
A: The plan was to renovate the building 10 years ago. Certificates of No Harassment were obtained and renovation plans were filed in May 2012, but the plans were held up due to the remaining occupant. We actually obtained permits for 233 West 74th Street, but we were unable to obtain a renovation permit for 231 West 74th Street because of the single, occupied apartment.
The buildings and facades of 231 and 233 were built at the same time and are essentially part of the same structure; they share a party wall (the structural wall between the two buildings) and a very heavy stoop. As a result, we were advised it would not be possible to work on 233 until we could work on 231 and 233 simultaneously (the contractor and architect both felt they could safely work on the pair at the same time, but it was not logical or safe to work on only one). Essentially fixing one side would endanger the other.
Q: Another Beekman Estate-involved property at 228-230 West 75th Street [also Merritt-designed-Stokes-developed-and-landmarked row houses] has undergone a recent renovation. Is it a good model of what you hope for on 74th Street?
A: The properties have different owners; they are very different buildings. But yes, that is the general idea.
Q: Best-case scenario, what does the future of the 74th St. property look like, and in what timeframe?
A: Ideally, the buildings would be fully renovated/rebuilt and rented as apartments, perhaps with 3 to 4 apartments in each building. My hope is that something can be done in 2 to 3 years, but that might be optimistic.
Q: That’s not going to please the neighbors. “Heinous”, “derelict,” “rat heaven” and “crumbling” are among the adjectives they use when describing 231-233 W. 74th. How do you respond to their concerns?
A: We have been looking forward to renovating the property. I am sure the neighbors are not happy, but we try very hard to keep the buildings as best we can given the delayed renovation plans.
Our super clears the sidewalk and stoop daily, we have regular exterminator visits and we have lights and a security camera. We occasionally have the same homeless issues that West Side Rag has reported on. Unfortunately, we also have a number of people who use the setback area as a bathroom.
We don’t see rodents in the buildings. With only one occupied apartment, we have minimal trash going out. That occupied apartment is at the basement level and they have not reported any rodents in the building.
Q: Is the property structurally sound?
A: Obviously, the intent of the work is to ensure that the buildings are structurally sound and engineers are part of the current review. We would have preferred to have been allowed to do this work years ago when it was first filed.
Not exactly reassuring. WSR turned to the Department of Buildings.
“During our most recent inspection of the two properties, we did not see any evidence that the buildings were structurally unstable or were posing an imminent danger to the neighbors,” a DOB spokesperson said via email.
The Landmarks Law also requires properties be maintained in a condition of good repair, and the LPC has an enforcement department to ensure they are, an LPC spokesperson wrote to WSR.
“But our focus is on protecting landmarks and not penalizing owners,” she said. With regards to the 231-233 W. 74th Street properties, “LPC has not taken any enforcement action as the owner is already taking steps to make repairs.”
Some readers may have heard of Fairway being involved in the properties at one time. Mortgage documents appear to show some leasehold interests back in the early 2000s.
But, according to a brief conversation with Dan Glickberg, the great-grandson of Fairway’s founder, the family and its business partners “have nothing to do with” the properties these days. Fairway was acquired by Wakefern Food Corp. in 2020. A spokesperson for Wakefern did not respond to WSR’s emails.
And so, after sleuthing through dozens of documents and consulting local experts, do I know for sure who owns these buildings? No.
But whoever they are, they now know the community is watching and will hold them accountable for improving the situation. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 10 years.
Thank you to GB, BT and SK for their research assistance.
Wow, fascinating. You would think a buyout of the remaining occupant would be more cost effective than waiting for years?
Great story. The inner workings of real estate/development/city bureaucracy are absolutely fascinating.
Interesting read, Joy
Wow ! Great detective work! Talking about one stumbling block after another to get some type of answer! It’s sad it will still take time to rehab those buildings ! Thank you for your investigation!
Excellent work. There are loads of decrepit and what appear to be under-occupied residential buildings all over the UWS. As well as perpetual scaffolding. This would be a great column as you discover more history. May help explain what is always described as the low income housing shortage around here. Maybe if apartments were actually rentable, rented, and maintained properly things would improve for everyone? I also think it would help if residents understood how rent control works and why this leads to some of this.
Dry nice price of reporting. We’ll done, WSR!
The agent/ owner‘s rep is trying to paint a very beneficent picture here but you will excuse me if I don’t believe it. What we are seeing here, in my opinion, is demolition by neglect. When they go to “renovate” we will hear that it is so damaged that it cannot be saved and a plea to the LPC to allow it to be demolish which will probably be approved because the LPC is no longer in the business of preservation.
It has landmark status. They cannot demolish it. But they are clearly too cheap to buy out the rental tenant.
Thank you! I walk by this building almost every day. I’m actually surprised it isn’t worse. Seems like mostly a place for people to smoke cigarettes and pot. Sometimes it smells bleached. What a nightmare trying to bring new apartments online. Housing crisis stymied by fossilized regulators.
Here’s why we need local press. Thank you for a useful, professional job of investigative reporting. Hope that the attention you’ve brought to the situation will move things along.
This article underscores the dysfunctionality of NYC’s housing market.
These are a couple of old and decrepit buildings. The owner has no cash flow – and no economic incentive – to properly maintain them because the apartments are all rent controlled/stabilized.
So now the residents have to walk by rat infested and ugly buildings. Pathetic.
I used to live right by that building and my friends and I had our own plans to buy the building and restore it. We even knocked on the doors several times and called the numbers for the super that was posted on the door. And we would often see a light in the basement of the apartment. This was in 2005-2008. I would think the owners should have bought out the tenant back then and provided a relocation apt back then. I feel for the developers and owners, actually. The property has a lot of potential. I would like more info on the lone tenant. Was that tenant paying rent? If I were the tenant, I would have been willing to move out if I were paid for the expense and had a guarantee to move back into the apartment once it was renovated. Now if the tenant was not paying rent, the owners would not want them in the apartment. Please, if you can find out more information about the tenant, that would help shed more light on the situation. It sounds like with the relocation apt available, the tenant should be moving out soon. Could you follow up please and update us? Thank you!
Nice job, thanks! Real local news.
Great piece. More like this, please!
Interesting article. I’d be curious to know how much property taxes the owners have been paying since 1995. I see so many abandoned/empty buildings in the city and know that someone is paying sky high taxes and wonder what their incentive is in doing so.
Thank you! I pulled the current Dept. of Finance “Notice of Property Value” statements. They show a combined “estimated” property tax of about $53,000 for the 2022-3 tax year; $10,824 for 231 W. 74th and $42,581 for 233 W. 74th.
This is a terrific public service. You guys are a gift to our neighborhood. Keep up the fine work!
Good article. I was assigned these buildings for the census and I had a hell of a time trying to figure out what they were. I didn’t get as far as you.
Q: Why does it take 10+ years to move an off-lease occupant to a new apartment at no cost or rent increase to them?
A: Because the tenant protection laws in NYS/NYC are insane.
Currently by law, anybody who stays more than 30 days somewhere has the right to stay there forever. Regardless of who owns the property. I am simplifying but you get the point. It is insane.
Ah, thank you for explaining! I was going to comment that this has to be someone squatting in the apartment since there appear to be no windows (or doors??) nor rat complaints from the actual tenant.
Great reporting. I’m fascinated with New York’s historical buildings.
I’m sure many of us here have heard these types of stories before.
Rent controlled/stabilized apt that has a tenant who is paying dirty cheap rent and refuses to move even with a buyout offer or relocation package with a payout. This happens all of the time. For low rent payer there is no incentive to move out when you can stay paying dirt cheap rent for decades.
As much as there is said in this city regarding the rich and their fair share there are plenty of protections for everyone else who isn’t part of the 1%.
There they go again.The anti rent stabilization lobby smells blood in the water and pounces. There is no mention in this excellent story about refused buyouts, or any prior offers of relocation. Please stop making up facts that dont exist to bolster your political agenda
The occupant has no lease. They are just living there. Even the most ardent fan of Rent Stabilization needs to draw the line somewhere.
Not that I’m a big fan of landlords, but… we really need a decent and legal checklist where (numbers made up) a tenant paying that mythical $250/month for an apartment is offered a similar rent (plus moving costs, etc.) to a comparable, or even newer and better apt in a nearby building.
Currently if that new place’s nominal rent would be $2,500, there’s no easy way to offer it for $250.
excellent reporting! thank you!
Someone suggested that this would make a good column, similar to openings/closings. I have an abandoned building on my block (112th between Riverside and Broadway). There are open windows with nothing keeping out the elemnents, or birds, etc. Scaffolding was put up about a year ago, then taken down, and new scaffolding put up. Now there is sign on the new scaffolding that says “Columbia facilities.” There were stories that Columbia tried to buy the building years ago, but the owner wanted too much for it. Let’s hope this time it’s true.
There has been a construction sidewalk bridge in place for several years making it a popular place for drug activity. As a neighbor and a parent this has been troubling for some time.
try property shark to find the real owners.
Impressive reporting, Joy. Thanks!
Years ago I read that those buildings were owned by the family who owned Fairway. Anyway,just stand there and look at those buildings. They are actually falling down. That authorities haven’t ordered them demolished is amazing to me. Fixing them is a five year job at least. The renovation on 69th has been going on for at least four years now and they have a long way to go, years more. The building on Riverside just north of 72nd has been renovating for years as well. Enough steel has been dragged into that building to build a bridge. The buildings on 74th are in much worse condition. Don’t be surprised if they get demolished after all. Landmark shmandmark. They can build a new building in less than two years.
I’m late to read this, but want to echo the appreciation for the great reporting! Love everything about this!
Strongly suspect I ( and othe commenters) are just a few among dozens of readers who ate up every word of this, enjoyed chewing over details, mulling questions, comments – and finding our appetites only whetted for more of your ace detective work! So appreciated.
It is VERY clear that the remaining unit is occupied by a vampire — as soon as I saw basement apartment!