Out and About: The more things change. . .

Under the. . . High Line

When I arrived in Manhattan more decades ago than I care to remember, the word on Chelsea was that the neighborhood was on the cusp of change.

One of the more celebrated residents at the time was Anthony Perkins, if memory serves, plus short and long-term occupants of the Hotel Chelsea, including the late composer Virgil Thomson.

Decade after decade, the mantra about the neighborhood was this: It’s going to change.  Finally, like a broken clock, Chelsea did undergo its transition from seedy to select. The blocks bounded roughly by 14th and 29th streets, the Hudson  River and Broadway have enjoyed a remarkable renaissance.  Eventually, the prediction had to be right.

Revitalized as gay people moved up from Greenwich Village, broken down properties underwent transformation into stylish homes.  It didn’t hurt that art galleries bloomed in the western reaches and loft space caught the eye of developers, with trend-setters in hot pursuit of those units.

For the most part, as drug dealers slunk from disappearing shadows into the limelight of thriving clubs such as the Tunnel and Roxy, Chelsea naturally evolved from a locale of society’s detritus to an aspirational subculture and then to its obsessively stylish.

Restaurants new and old thrived, retailers overhauled the grand buildings along Ladies Mile, creating a consumer’s paradise on Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas for the sadly uninitiated), chic restaurants, boutiques and galleries multiplied, and Chelsea became a destination.

Then arrived the High Line and the rising popularity of living near it in the dramatically designed buildings as far west as the river and as ill-served by subways as the Statue of Liberty. Repurposed from train tracks to a refreshing elevated park, that structure may well symbolize better than anything the enormous changes that Chelsea has enjoyed.

Money flowed like cappuccino into those vibrant blocks, and more money followed money. 

Popularity has exacted a price — that is, the extravagant cost of those lofts, unrecognizably glitzy from their pioneering forerunners in SoHo during the 70s.  (In truth, few lofts in SoHo are left that have retained their original grit, embracing the patina of Poggenpohl kitchens, designer baths and sleek finishes.)

Since cyclical change in a neighborhood is as predictable as a hangover after a night of binge drinking — or so I have only heard (really) — it would be tempting to speculate that Chelsea is overdue for a slow return to its former condition, especially as much of its gay population began migrating north to Hell’s Kitchen.  Or should I say “Clinton,” now that gentrification has progressed, inevitably, there.

But the High Line has postponed Chelsea’s decline, likely for more decades to come.  The more Chelsea has changed, the more it keeps changing.  It is kind of a microcosm of the whole city, no?

I’ve checked out Chelsea properties over the years, and an invitation to a brokers’ tour of lofts recently prompted another visit.  Off I went, unsurprised at how expensive it remains to live in an area that still exudes vitality.

Below you’ll find my critiques of unspecified spaces, primarily between Sixth and Seventh avenues and 16th and 20th streets.  As always in Out and About, the properties are listed by various brokers:

  •  A co-op in a 1901 dog-loving five-story building that lacks amenities or an elevator and has been tortured into apartments off impossibly narrow hallways.  Renovated in 2009, the duplex is long on charm and short on practicality.  The converted railroad flats have nicely improved baths as their best feature, a spiral staircase that dominates each floor, wood-burning fireplace, washer/dryer and views of courtyards or airshafts from the rear half of the open-plan apartment.  Price: $1.199 million with monthly maintenance of $2,007, a heady sum indeed.
  • With three bedrooms, three and a half baths and 5,447-sf terrace inside the post-war building’s courtyard, a duplex condo in a full-service post-war building.  Aside from the terrace, the lofty unit’s expansive, high-end kitchen with a large island may be the biggest justification for its asking price (reduced by $125,000 last month) of $2.75 million with common charges of $2,875 and real estate taxes of $1,817 a month.  The rest of the apartment is well above average and far from breathtaking, but the apartment’s chief flaw is its exposures, which are mostly blocked. 
  • A two-bedroom condo erroneously marketed at a “convertible” three-bedroom.  But that so-called third bedroom is a windowless room, large and perhaps best used as a 150-sf walk-in closet or dungeon.  Behind the wall that accommodate the sink, in the higher-end open kitchen with island, this so-called “den” is far removed from the sort of L-shaped windowed space normally used for dining and adjacent to a kitchen a dining room.  That said, the 1,990-sf unit has well-proportioned rooms, two standard upscale baths and southern exposures facing a building, as well as 70 square feet of deeded storage space.  The asking price of $2.15 million with monthly charges totaling $3,017 is within the ballpark, explaining why the place went under contract two weeks ago.
  • With engaging upper-floor northern and eastern views of sculptured Ladies Mile buildings and beyond through expansive windows, an airy three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath condo that has 10’4″ ceilings, exceptional design, expensive finishes, wood-burning fireplace, washer/dryer, very nice open kitchen, immaculate condition and not one, but two, terraces that amount to 210 square feet.  In a 2008 boutique building lacking a doorman, this exceptional 2,263-sf loft is priced with room for negotiation at $3.65 million.  Combined common charges and abated real estate taxes are only $2,823 per month.
  • A well-designed 1,250-sf apartment that has two smallish bedrooms, mahogany flooring, washer/dryer, unaccountably lowered ceilings and a walk-in closet that no claustrophobe might consider using as an office.  The partially open kitchen boasts Maramba granite and Arros quartz countertops, Viking appliances and glass-fronted cabinets.  In a 2006 full-service building with amenities that include a fitness center, this condo has partially obstructed  southern exposures and is offered at close to the right price for $1.56 million with common charges and abated real estate taxes totaling $1,746 after a $35,000 cut a month ago.
  • In a mid-block 2008 doorman building with “tranquility garden” and media room, an oddly designed 1,385-sf condo.  Entry from the door to the living room is through a sleek kitchen.  There are two terraces, two stylish baths, washer/dryer, four exposures and ceilings nearly nine-feet high, but room placement and size don’t make a lot of sense.  Something called an office/library really should function as a dining area because of its position off the other side of the kitchen, from which are the only really good views (northeast).  At a $1.95 million with abated monthly taxes and common charges coming to a hefty $3,953, this unit needs more sunlight and a bigger reduction than the $45,000 it swallowed a month ago.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

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