By Allyn Freeman
Fifty years ago this month, I moved into a top floor studio in an elevator building at 51 Seventh Avenue South near Bleecker Street. At that time, the “West Village” did not exist, just the term “Greenwich Village”—a historic, cultural, and romantic designation that invoked la vie bohème.
The fifth floor apartment was rent controlled and the monthly payment totaled $55.78. The building was constructed on a wedge-shaped lot (Bleecker, Morton, and Seventh Avenue South) and the odd shape of my one room featured a sharp triangle atop a rectangle.
I purchased a pullout sofa instead of a bed to create a comfy living room ambiance. The couch was made of hard wood, heavy, reinforced steel, and came with an extra firm, queen-sized mattress. When I informed the furniture deliverymen that the trip to the top floor would be via elevator, rather than up five steep flights, they tipped me.
These were some of the memorable nearby businesses: Lafayette Pastry, Blaustein’s Hardware, the Pink Tea Cup, and New Park Delicatessen, where the countermen, Morris and Frank, served delicious turkey sandwiches sliced off a cooked bird. And not far away, there was Sutter’s Bakery at Greenwich Avenue and West 10th Street, where uptown friends came for weekend brunch and a walking tour. All these places are gone today, and exist only in memory.
As that first summer approached, I visited Macy’s to buy the smallest air conditioner advertised on sale at $39.99. On a note pad, the experienced salesman sketched my apartment setting, just under the thick tar roof facing due west. He drew a gigantic sun in the western sky, and streamed vectors of solar rays pounding heat into my tiny, top floor room. At the end of his energetic sales pitch for an upgrade, both of us were perspiring. I paid $99.99 for the store’s largest unit that put out enough BTUs to make ice cubes in my small space and chill Trio Bakery next door.
Three years later in 1969, I moved uptown to a one-bedroom apartment on West 86th Street near Central Park West. I lived there for seven years until I moved to Los Angeles. I returned to the Greenwich Village experience when I moved back, in 1985, to West 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue, above La Marionetta restaurant. In 1988, the final Village stop would be an apartment in an 1840 house on Charles Street between Hudson and Greenwich Street. (N.B. Rooms in both of these apartments were also cut on the bias.)
And here on Charles Street is where the twist of the 1966 story continues. Our locksmith for the building was the efficient Greenwich Locksmiths. When the repairman came to install a new lock, I noticed that the shop’s address on the invoice was 56 Seventh Avenue South.
I mentioned that many years ago I had lived across the street at 51 Seventh Avenue South. He told me that the locksmith’s owner, Phil, also lived in that building. The next day, I visited Phil, who said that he occupied my original apartment on the fifth floor! The rent after fifty years had increased to $1,250 per month.
I also noticed that the 51 Seventh Avenue South building installed window air conditioners but I never returned to ask Phil how many BTUs.