By George Capsis
Part Two continues to chart a lifetime’s worth of apartments. If you missed Part One, you can find it at http://westviewnews.org/2015/04/a-life-of-apartments-part-one
After leaving the apartment near the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, we moved to 105 Hamilton Place—a very narrow eighteen-foot wide brownstone that my father bought for $13,000 dollars. We lived on the first two floors and rented rooms by the month. I can remember Babs Costello, a waitress, who was having an affair with the young, handsome and married barber across the street, Mr. Sigara.
We then moved to 145th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, and then to my last family apartment on Tiemann Place and Riverside Drive. Us boys (we were three) thought we had gotten rich because it had an elevator with an always-disgruntled elevator man. We lived on the 5th floor with a look out to the river and historic Claremont Inn (they tore it down) and the Palisades Amusement Park—we watched as the roller coaster burned one day and that was the end of the park.
Spring was the time people moved, and I can remember walking with my German mother looking for a new apartment. We walked until we saw a five story tenement that looked a touch better than the next one and then regarded the shield hanging from the fire escape “Apartments for Let” which contained slots indicating how many bedrooms the several apartments available had—one or two or even three. My mother would ask me to ring the highly polished super’s bell just left of the entrance doorway and instantly, dangling a ring of keys, the super would emerge from the basement.
She would ask if he had any apartments on the 5th floor (they were cheaper) and then added she needed a “three bedroom” and if they had two available would we like to see them both?
We climbed the five flights, which had windows on the airshaft that separated the buildings, and breathed in the smells and noises of our neighbors-to-be until we got to the 5th floor. The super would open the prospective apartment door releasing the smell of fresh paint. The newly varnished hallway would have a paper liner, and we walked in silent inspection not tipping our hand before rent negotiations
“How much is the rent?” my mother would at last offer, and the super who was getting a small commission would reply back with something like $52.50 and then my mother quickly added “How many months concession’? That is, how many months of no rent would we get—she never took an apartment unless she got at least one month free).
In the last family apartment on Tiemann place my mother was pleased to discover that the landlord was a very distinguished looking elderly German Jew who had fled Hitler, evidently with some money. She took great delight in their conversations over coffee conducted in high German discussing why my father had not paid the rent in two months.
Part Three will conclude with a discussion of the impetus for this walk down memory lane—a lack of affordable housing that is sending young folks out to Brooklyn and beyond.