9 Second Avenue
On a number of occasions during my time in NYC I passed by this five-story tenement at 9 Second Avenue and was curious about it's persistant rugged character in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. After leaving the city, I discovered that my instinct about the building was correct and that it and its neighbor did indeed have an interesting story dating from the area's more desolate times in the 1970s.
In the deindustrialization and economic restructuring of the city after WW-II, the area was left barren and in 1970 the buildings on the block were purchased by the city as part of an urban renewal project. In 1976, Ellen Stewart, the proprietor of La MaMa around the corner on East 4th, rented the upper floors of 11 Second Avenue and sublet them to artists associated with her growing artistic community. In the 1980s, Frank Allen and a group of friends moved into the abandoned 9 Second Avenue and opened a martial arts studio, investing a significant amount of sweat equity to make the building marginally livable. Up through the end of the century, the simultaneously anarchic and artsy character of the neighborhood made it one of the city's most unique and colorful.
In 2002 9 Second Avenue was purchased by the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, but the residents did not have the money to fulfill plans for renovating the building. Also in 2002, 11 Second Avenue was sold to BFC Partners, and when the neighborhood was rezoned in 2008, BFC bought 9 Second Avenue with the consent of the residents with plans to demolish both buildings and construct a mixed-income structure - with guaranteed apartments for the old residents at a nominal fee.
In writing an obituary for the buildings in the NY Times on 7/17/2011, Cara Buckley noted that, "With the building dies another piece of an older, messier New York, one made remarkable by the fact that it has existed for so long."