Former Cold Water Flat Now Surrounded by Hot Property | chelseanow.com

Former Cold Water Flat Now Surrounded by Hot Property

The five-story building on W. 29th St. is right next to the High Line and a block away from Hudson Yards. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Hookers from “corner to corner.” Red Trojans strewn on the street “like a ticker-tape parade.” A “no-man’s land.”

These images are no longer synonymous with a patch of West Chelsea nestled between Hudson Yards and the High Line, and newly attractive to developers, residents, and tourists alike. 

Longtime tenants of a 29-unit, five-story building on W. 29th St. between 10th and 11th Avenues — a stone’s throw away from where Hudson Yards begins on W. 30th St. — talked to this publication last week about the good and the bad that comes with a neighborhood in flux. 

“It was like 42nd before [Rudy] Giuliani cleaned it up,” James A. Aquino said about the block in the 1980s and 1990s. Aquino has lived in the building for 55 years. 

“This was the Wild West when I moved in,” Brenda Barr recalled on Fri., June 23, at her railroad-style apartment. After a quick stint in the East Village following her move from Chicago, Barr has lived in the building since 1993.

Brenda Barr has lived in her railroad-style apartment in West Chelsea since 1993. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

“When I moved here 25 years ago, it was nothing but prostitutes out front,” Michael Bosket said. “Heavily prostitution. Scattered with nightclubs.”

He continued, “We had to literally put the bedroom in the back of the apartment because there was so much noise in the street that you couldn’t sleep at night.”

All three fondly remembered the ladies of the night that had names like “Baby,” “Candy,” and “Tiffany.” Barr said both the gals and guys on the street watched out for her when she came home late from working. “Everyone was fine,” she said. “We took care of each other, which I miss a lot. It was a community. We all knew each other.”

Bosket said they were very nice and he used to give them free condoms. “One of them picked my pocket one night, and then handed my wallet back to me and told me I better be more careful,” he recalled.

Longtime W. 29th St. resident Brenda Barr took this condom “still life,” harking back to a different era for the block when it saw quite a bit of prostitution during the 1990s.

Aquino and his family have a long history in the area and he said, “I can tell you a phone book about this building.” His mother, Theresa, was born next door at 514 in 1930, and moved to the building in 1954, he said. The building was originally two — one side was 508 and the other 510 — and was a cold water flat until 1936 when it got heat and hot water, according to Aquino.

The building, which was built in 1900 or 1901, has changed hands about four times in the last 80 years, he said, noting that there are now four rent-controlled units left.

Bosket said the building’s age should have been taken in consideration when construction began on nearby buildings at the same time. “The excavation for all three of those happened concurrently,” he said. “It caused tremendous damage to this building.” He and his partner had to move out for three days while the damage was repaired.

Aquino said, “My bathroom’s all cracked. It has to be done over.”

All three noted the noise of the evacuation and construction — and there are more years of it to come. “I call[ed] it ‘digging for oil’ when they were doing the shafts into the ground — the whole place [shook],” Barr said, adding that due to all the new buildings she no longer gets light. 

There are currently five active construction sites on W. 29th St. alone, Bosket said, which does not count the one behind the building or Hudson Yards. “I just think there should have been better coordination, consideration, and input from community members,” he said.

Across the street, at what used to be a sheet metal place, according to Aquino, is now the Abington House at 505 W. 29th St. Past rentals ranged from $2,820 to $15,995, according to StreetEasy. The Abington House advertises itself on its website as being “on the High Line.”

People used to say that the trestle next to the building made it look slummy, Aquino said. “Our TV used to jump, you know, with the rabbit ears, years ago from the interference with the trains,” he recalled.

The High Line gave the neighborhood “a shot in arm,” he said. “It was like a dumping ground up there with front ends of cars, old mattresses, and weeds. Now look at it.” (Barr said she used to go to the roof and take photos: “It was wild. It was great.”)

Looking out of longtime tenant Michael Bosket’s window, the High Line, construction, and new buildings comes into focus. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Indeed, the High Line is now a selling point. Another development rising on 29th St. is called the Soori High Line. The 31-unit, 11-story building at 522 W. 29th St. has a range of units selling (or have been sold) from $3.7 to $22.5 million, according to StreetEasy, which also notes the Soori will have private swimming pools in 16 of its apartments.

“I sort of miss the days when the streets were a little less crowded, and, you know, it wasn’t nothing but gazillionaires,” Bosket said.

He said he has mixed feelings about how the area is changing. It’s nice that the there will be more services — dry cleaners, restaurants, things like that — but how affordable will they be, he said.

Barr remembers when there were only a few establishments in the area, and tipped her hat to Michael Tzezailidis, owner of the restaurant Death Ave at 315 10th Ave. (btw. W. 28th & 29th Sts.), for trying to cater to locals as well.

Bosket said, “It’s been interesting to see the neighborhood develop from like a no-man’s land — no one crossed Ninth Avenue or 10th Avenue. When I used to tell people I lived — I was almost ashamed to tell them I lived over here.” Now, he noted, that former “no-go” zone is “one of the most sought-after, highest-priced real estate areas in New York City.”

A building boom in West Chelsea coupled with the High Line and the construction of Hudson Yards has led to a busy corner at W. 29th St. and 10th Ave. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.