Subway no, trees yes
By David Crohn
If there are many blocks like this one in Alphabet City, I might be inclined to choose the neighborhood as Best Manhattan Suburb of the Year. To its residents this might come as a bittersweet, though painfully obvious, observation.
Bitter, because getting to East 7th Street between Avenues C and D is not easy. It takes time, no matter where you are coming from. It’s not as far as Yonkers, but at least Yonkers is included in the network of public transit. OK, that’s not fair: the 14D bus stops at 7th and D. But with the 2nd Avenue Subway little more than an urban legend for now, the block is worlds away from just about everything else—midtown, certainly, and even Union Square, it seems.
Which may, in fact, contribute to the accompanying sweetness—and diversity, its grit the color and shape of pollen. How else to describe a block with trees, two gardens, a house of worship facing a former one from a different religion, and a profanity-laden sign from an angry citizen? All in a neighborhood once known mostly for its crack and smack. (The block also has a public bike rack. When was the last time you saw one of those in the City?)
The question is, when some civic-minded vandal—assuming it was the same one—spray-painted “Dope sucks” and “Crack kills,” was he in the vanguard of expression, heralding the area’s nascent renaissance while trying to school his fellows? Or was he closing the door on the issue, reaffirming what many in the neighborhood had already come to know? Yes, crack is whack and so is smack, and there are beautiful gardens here, the community has rebuilt itself and there is a luxury condo in the way. All thanks to the graffiti, perhaps.
That sign, by the way: “Stop dumping your shit—asshole!” Not clean enough for some, apparently.
What Happened Here
Any tour around the East Village/Lower East Side/Alphabet City wouldn’t be complete without a good look at the old synagogues in the area, relics from when Jewish immigrants made up most of the area. Few are still in use. The former Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Anshe Ungran, artfully emblazoned with Hebrew lettering, has been an apartment building since its conversion in 1986, according to the “AIA Guide to New York City.” Now known as the Stone House, it once served a Hungarian Congregation (the name means Great House of Study of the People of Hungary).
I called up a few of the major real estate brokers knowing that I probably wouldn’t find any listings. In these kinds of neighborhoods (you know, real “neighborhoody”), when there are apartments to rent you’ll usually see a sign on one of the buildings to that effect, and I saw none. The few brokers I was able to get on the phone first corrected me in saying it was the East Village, then said no, nothing on that block specifically. How about a charming duplex on 2nd and A? One block down, however, CraigsList says there is a $3,700-a-month, two-bedroom apartment available immediately with “Elevator/Dishwasher/Microwave/Air-Conditioning/Fitness Room/Valet Laundry.”
And now, the bad news: The secret is out. Well, it has been for quite a while, truth be told. Even neighborhoods this far from the subway and just about everything else are not immune to the luxury condominium infestation epidemic. It is my duty to say that the so-called Flowerbox building, an eight-unit condominium, is going up at 259. The sound of drills and smell of dust are anomalous on this otherwise placid block. But if you come to the block and fall in love and your nest egg is flush with cash, consider instead buildings like 254 East 7th Street. This pre-war building has a one-bedroom for sale with a renovated kitchen and bathroom. It’s small but bright and inviting, with an asking price of $459,000.
With very little traffic—foot or otherwise—there are few amenities. Or is it vice versa? At any rate, there is a pharmacy on the northeast corner, a bodega on the southeast corner and another a few doors east of that, with a shuttered nail salon in between. That’s about it. Avenue C, aka Loisada Avenue, is a vivacious commercial strip, with the Alphabet Lounge on one side and a laundromat on the other.