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June 23rd, 2008

PURE GOLD: REAL ESTATE RASHOMON.

by Ed Gold


Battery Park City.

Rashomon is a story about a terrible crime seen by people through different eyes and different perspectives, leading to sharply different conclusions. The term can apply at times to debates before Community Boards. And it certainly applied when two longtime Villagers moved to Battery Park City.

These were no slouches. Both were intelligent community activists, but you wouldn’t know they were talking about the same place.

One had been Chair of the local school board, the other a former County leader of the Democratic Party, each with long histories in Greenwich Village.

Ron Schneider, the educator, suffered through two years in Battery Park City before fleeing, while Miriam Bockman, the pol, was enjoying herself after more than a decade; however, she had been a 9/11 victim who had been evacuated from her Battery Park home.

Schneider, along with his wife Barbara, had lived for 40 years in the Village. They had a huge layout in a 100-year-old building which eventually was converted into a co-op. They had what amounted to about eight rooms including a kitchen and dining room larger than most one-bedroom apartments. They had bought it for a song–under $15,000–and decided to sell in a very hot market for $1.6 million. The kids were grown up and they didn’t need that much space.

They sublet a two-bedroom with a “million-dollar view” of Lady Liberty, paying $4000 a month.

In retrospect, Schneider decided they had made a major mistake “after one week.” He felt he was no longer living in New York City.

“It seemed like suburbia,” he recalls. “I was bothered by the high rises. I thought it was too desolate and the streets too clean at night.”

The final blow, according to Schneider, occurred when he decided to throw an open house for Scott Stringer, then running for Borough President. “I invited everyone I could think of and only one person showed up.” So he and his wife began looking.

Meanwhile, Bockman, an early member of Village Independent Democrats and later District Leader, had to make a move from the Village because of a health problem in her family. She needed a full-service building–without steps to walk up. Village rentals were impossible so she opted for Battery Park City.

When she heard about Schneider’s disdain, she responded with some unladylike language, adding: “Of course he wouldn’t get along here. He was running back to have lunch in the Village almost every day in the week.”

She noted that she was “not the most outgoing person, but I found this community very welcoming. I now have lots of friends here but it didn’t happen overnight.”

She discovered that the local neighborhood association offered a wide range of activities for seniors as well as other groups, bringing people together at lunches and leading to formation of a book club. She applauded the local conservancy which also had extensive programming, including sponsorship of fishing trips.

She liked the conspicuous amount of public space including the esplanade along the Hudson River. She contended: “You could be sitting on a bench and make friends. There’s a feeling of cohesion down here. There are lots of couples, lots of singles and we draw lots of tourists.”

Bockman also discussed her 9/11 experience: “My apartment at that time overlooked Ground Zero. I was forced to evacuate. I spent six weeks in New Jersey with family and six weeks in Manhattan with friends before the city let me come home.” She couldn’t bear looking out of her window so she was moved to another apartment in the same complex; her windows now facing a garden.

“Most of the people who had to evacuate came back. It says something about our community.”

The Schneiders meanwhile went apartment hunting, looking at about 75 to 100 apartments on the Upper West Side, Gramercy Park and the Village.

Schneider argues that he gets “a nosebleed when he goes above 14th St,” so they eventually focused on the Village and settled for a one-bedroom at Fifth and 12th–a half-block from where they used to live in the Village! They bought a co-op for about $740,000-the market had remained strong-and settled for a kitchen about a third of the size of the one they had in their previous Village existence.

But Schneider was back home. He could walk down 12th Street and see at least one friendly face almost every day.

So he’s happy in the Village and Bockman is happy in Battery Park City, boasting about her new friendships, a delightful atmosphere and lots of enticing activities.

Two sharply different views. Rashomon lives!

Filed Under: Articles | Commentary | Community | New York

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