Volume 73, Number 5 | June 2 - 8, 2004

Notebook


A moving story about leaving home in the Village

By Ed Gold

Moving from a spacious and historically famous building in Greenwich Village where they had lived for more than three decades has been a traumatic experience for two of my closest friends, Ron and Barbara, not to mention their other friends, their children, their daughter’s friends, their son’s offspring and owners of the local coffee shop hangout.

Many asked: why would they do it, leaving the 100-year-old Ardea, with its distinctive sandstone-and-brick exterior and its socially enticing stoop, for a leased apartment in Battery Park City?

At the Ardea, on 12th St., built originally to house executives from the long-deceased Hearn’s Department Store, which had been located at 14th and Fifth, the couple had two bedrooms, a living room, a TV room, a full dining room that easily sat 20 people and a kitchen estimated by Ron at 150 sq. ft., where four could eat comfortably, as well as two full bathrooms.

The very size of the apartment invited continuous activity. Over the years it had been a conspicuous sleepover haven for relatives, their friends and out-of-town visitors. Annually, the apartment drew scores of friends, family and Village neighbors to high-calorie festivities on New Year’s Day and other holidays. Occasionally, famous friends like actor Judd Hirsch and writer Amy Tan would visit. It served as a site for my wife, Annalee’s, memorial service four years ago, attended by 125 people.

In the ’90s, the Ardea earned 15 minutes of additional fame when Hollywood deemed its exterior just right for “As Good as It Gets,” with both Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt walking off with Oscars.

Rationalizing the move, Ron said: “It will permit us to travel.” My feeling was that the sale would permit them to travel to the moon!

Actually, they have been able to travel for some time, having bought a house several years ago in Old Chatham, N.Y., about 2 1/2 hours out of the city, where they frequently go on weekends as well as on summer vacations that can run pretty long, since both have been veteran teachers in the public school system. Barbara retired last year; Ron will follow next month. It was time, they thought, to simplify their lives. And one could not ignore the fact that they had bought the Village apartment for a song back in the ’70s and recently sold it for a bundle.

In Battery Park, on South End Ave., they will have a two-bedroom penthouse apartment in a contemporary building with two modern elevators, much better security and staffing — at the Ardea there was only the superintendent — and a spectacular view of the bay, the river and Lady Liberty.

They made an abortive attempt more than five years ago to sell their Village apartment with the hope of staying in the Village. In fact, on one occasion my wife joined Barbara in looking at a one-bedroom co-op on a noisy Christopher St. One factor overlooked was that market prices in real estate apply to both seller and buyer.

After visiting the apartment, my wife whispered to me that you would have to be in the late stages of consumption to get into the kitchen. Asking price was $340,000. No thanks.

No one close to them wanted them to leave the Village. Walter, a dour 12th St. friend who liked to join Ron smoking cigars on the stoop steps, has still not accepted their departure and feels he has been abandoned.

Daughter Jen worries about where her army of friends will stay when they hit town. And then there are son David’s three young children whose grandparents often serve as babysitters.

Some of us who will miss them rib them about the move, suggesting they had gone to some distant place. I tell Ron that “we’ll see each other at least four times a year,” which gets under his skin.

The actual move had its traumatic moments. Barrels of paper hoarded for 30 years, including statements from the ’60s, had to be dumped. Clothing no longer in use — including “my bar mitzvah suit,” Ron said — went to several charities.

Talk about saving, the couple found in the apartment a total of $217 in pennies, which they converted into cash at the health food store on University Pl.

Then there were the movers, Moishe Movers System, a sturdy band of no-nonsense Israelis, heavy with muscle, speedy packing whizzes, and steeped almost entirely in Hebrew. Ron tried a few Yiddish words yenta and schlemiel — but got no response.

Barbara instructed the Moishe strongmen to pack everything in the kitchen and all the “small items” in the apartment. They took her literally. “I couldn’t find the grapefruits,” Ron recalls. “The grapefruits wound up in Chatham where we shipped some of the stuff.”

Also in Chatham were all the vacuum cleaner attachments, while the vacuum cleaner itself was sent to Battery Park City.

Withdrawal symptoms have been worse for Ron, since he worked a lot from his home. Barbara had the “no smoking” sign up in the apartment, so Ron did his puffing on the stoop. Over the years the Ardea stoop became a familiar gathering place for a wide range of discourse — on politics, family, neighborhood gossip and care of pets — since many dog owners stopped by.

I recall one memorable gathering of people in shock under very grim circumstances on an historically painful day — 9/11.

Barbara had her moment of stoop nostalgia. She recalled a game she and I used to play: who knew the most people walking past the building? She won much of the time but for a while she couldn’t understand why I prevailed every day around five o’clock. It was because I knew the crowd walking from Fairchild Publications, a block to the east, past the house to the train stations. I worked at Fairchild for 40 years.

Coincidentally, Ron and Barbara have moved into the same building where her brother lives. Her brother and his wife travel abroad a good deal of the time.

Barbara has agreed to water their plants on a regular basis.

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