Tenement’s rich history is recalled at century mark
By Albert Amateau
The residents and staff of 137-149 W. 12th St. celebrated the 100th anniversary of their building last week with catered snacks, sparkling wine, flute music and much reminiscing.
The six-story building with three entrances across the street from the Nurses Residence of St. Vincent’s Hospital was built in 1910 and still has some of the original stained-glass stairway windows.
Now a co-op with elevators and 103 apartments managed by Buchbinder and Warren, it started out as a new-law tenement designed by Henry S. Lion with no elevators and only two apartments per floor, said Rosemary Paparo, who first moved into No. 137 thirty years ago.
“After World War II it was renovated and changed to six apartments on a floor,” Paparo recalled. “We recently completed a restoration of the lobbies and marble stairs.”
Ronnie Correa, the building superintendent, showed a visitor a 3-foot-long photo of the building in a lobby alcove picture gallery. The photo shows no trees on the street where the trees today are more than 20 feet tall.
“This is a picture of the building from around 1915,” said Correa. “A plumber who came to do some work in the building was an expert on fire hydrants. He recognized the hydrants in the picture as being from that era,” Correa explained.
Sheree West, who moved into the building in 1986, before Buchbinder and Warren sponsored the co-op conversion in 1988, printed out the 1930 census tract report on the block.
“There were two or three milliners and a hat designer in the building then,” said West, reading down the column of names and apartment numbers. “There’s a theater stagehand, nine nurses, five lawyers, an airplane pilot, a telegrapher. Here’s a sportswriter. He’s 28 and lives with his wife. There’s a dentist, two salesmen. And here’s an evangelist with the Bible Institute Arnold Fauré, from Switzerland. It says he spoke French,” said West, who works as a researcher for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
“I thought they would have been more working class in 1930, but they seem to be a lot like now,” said West, a former member of the co-op board.
Robert Lapides, a resident of the building since 1967, was president of the tenants association before the building became a co-op.
“It was the high point of community activity,” he recalled. “The Village was a more humane neighborhood when real estate values were not so high,” said Lapides, who teaches English at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Joseph Bondi, a resident in the building for 43 years, came to the anniversary party with his wife. He came to the Village from Red Hook in Brooklyn and worked for the telephone company for 36 years.
“This is a great neighborhood the best neighborhood in Manhattan,” he declared.
Newer residents also came to celebrate the centennial. Laura Tocchet, raised in California, worked in San Francisco before she emigrated to the Village two years ago. Replying to a visitor who wondered how she could have left the most beautiful city in America, Tocchet said, “New York is a pretty fabulous city too.”