New York

Waldorf Astoria and Hotel Workers Union Reach $149 Million Deal for Severance Payouts

(The New York Times) When a Chinese insurance firm bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for $1.95 billion this year, it said it planned to convert part of the aging building into high-end condominiums, while maintaining a smaller five-star hotel.

Standing in its way were the hotel’s 1,221 union workers, whose jobs were protected by the Waldorf Astoria’s contract with the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, a union that represents hotel workers.

Now, the owners of the Waldorf, New York’s largest union hotel employer, have reached a record deal with the union in which the hotel could pay almost $149 million in severance packages to its employees over the next two years. The average payout will be more than $142,000, with a handful of employees eligible for more than $300,000. One longtime worker is walking away with $656,409.68.

And Some Background....

I was meeting with Peter Ward, the head of the powerful New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council on a book I am writing on the Plaza Hotel when he gave me this scoop. It led the local Metro Section in the paper, which is awesome. I'm still hoping to track down the employee who was awarded a $656,000 severance package!

On the List, and Not in a Good Way

(The New York Times) At New York City Housing Court, on the second floor of a dingy office building in Lower Manhattan, a woman sits quietly with a shawl pulled around her shoulders, looking up names on an old government computer and copying them into a sleek mini-laptop at her side. Behind her, tenants shift anxiously on their feet, clutching paperwork and waiting to speak with one of a handful of clerks sitting behind a glass partition.

The woman, who gives her name only as Carolyn out of fear of losing her job, sits at one of the three public-access computers in the room eight hours a day, five days a week. She is searching an online database for the names of tenants with cases before the court. The information she turns up will soon be compiled in a document and sold to landlords, who will use it as a kind of blacklist designed to prevent supposedly litigious or financially irresponsible tenants from renting apartments.

Room 225 at the New York State Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, where employees of tenant-screening companies compile information from publicly available case files for use by landlords. Credit Anthony Lanzilote for The New York Times

Impact of the story:

The New York City Council Member Ben Kallos submitted an "Anti Tenant Blacklist" bill in the City Council that would protect the identity of tenants who are involved in housing court cases against their landlords. The press release cites my story in the third paragraph. 

Bassoon Maker Is Leaving Lower East Side for Cheaper Rent in Maine

(The New York Times) There are not many places to sit amid the jumble of metal tools, piles of maple and boxwood boards, and bassoons crowding — and even hanging from the ceiling of — Leslie Ross’s studio on the Lower East Side.

This is only about half full,” Ms. Ross, 54, said recently while surveying the room, on the top floor of a small commercial building on Essex Street, where she has spent years building bassoons and inventing unusual instruments of her own.

Now, after nearly three decades in New York City, she is swapping her crammed studio for a sprawling former canning factory in the tiny coastal town of Penobscot, Me., population 1,263.

And some personal thoughts on the story...

I received an email from Christina Maile, an artist who lives at Westbeth who I had met while working on a story on the artist housing complex. She had been contacted by Zeke Finkelstein, a writer and professor at City College (who also works at Left Bank Books, an old-school West Village hold-out that has managed to stay put despite the neighborhood's soaring commercial rents). Zeke's girlfriend was leaving town after decades in New York, and moving to rural Maine. And he was desperate:

"Someone should 'cover' this," Zeke wrote in a pleading email. "Not so much Leslie's move itself, which should rather perhaps be noted in Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, or some other melancholy column of New York losses, but rather her decades of great, honest, beautiful maker's work and art in this studio and workshop where Leslie made not only her baroque bassoons, dulcians, bocals and related parts and instruments but also, of course, her outrageous, brilliant musical, mechanical, electrical inventions, pieces and contraptions, and where she designed her many sound installations."

I agreed. And voila! The day the story was published happened to be Leslie's last as an official New Yorker. 

Storm Damaged Their Art, and Now It May Take Their Studios

(The New York Times) Christina Maile has lived at Westbeth, a massive artists’ complex in the West Village, for more than 40 years. For about half that time, she worked out of the building’s sculpture studio, a yawning space with whitewashed brick walls and a soaring ceiling that sits just off a large interior courtyard. There, Ms. Maile and a dozen other sculptors used table saws to slice wood and pipe benders to manipulate metal, creating large-scale pieces for galleries and museums.

But the tools have been cleared away, and the only indications that this once was a working studio are a half-peeled sticker on the window and an iron winch hanging dejectedly from the ceiling.

And some personal thoughts on the story....

This is my first piece for the Metro section of the newspaper. There was so much in the story that I couldn't include. Westbeth is the poster child for gentrification in the city and its story is really one of disappearing New York. 

One person I interviewed who grew up there told me of life during the AIDS epidemic. When she was a child, she saw a man who had hung himself after receiving a diagnosis of HIV, and her friend called for help, managing to save his life. He still lives down the hall from her all these years later. 

Industry City, the SoHo of Sunset Park

(The New York TimesIn October, more than 200 artists combined forces in a former warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to create “Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1,” a sprawling exhibition of painting, sculpture and photography. Critics raved about the show, a mix of established names and relative unknowns that “verified that New York is as alive and brilliant as ever,” according to New York magazine, “with artists spread out into all the boroughs.”

But perhaps not at Industry City, the century-old industrial complex where the show was held. Beginning several months before the artists Chuck Close and Lola Schnabel posed for photos at the exhibition’s V.I.P. cocktail party, and continuing through the weeks when visitors flocked to the 36th Street train stop to see it, dozens of artists who had studios in Industry City were packing up their oil paints and brushes and leaving. Rents were rising, and many could not afford to stay.

A Diner Where Worlds Collide

(The New York Times) Beginning most days at 3 a.m. on a tiny stretch of Washington Street, men in bloodstained aprons muscle open the gates of their meatpacking storefronts and unload dripping carcasses onto waiting trucks. The routine is much the same as it has been for generations, although the meatpackers are now surrounded by designer boutiques and chic lounges.

Another spot, however, has remained as staunchly unchanged as they have: Hector’s Cafe & Diner, at the corner of Little West 12th Street and Washington.

A Spot to Start, or End, the Day: Hector’s Cafe & Diner has remained relatively unchanged since it opened in 1949. Credit: Bryan Thomas for The New York Times

Miles, Then Margaritas For New York Running Crews, Exercise Mixes With Partying

(The New York Times) There are runners who get up early every morning to get in their miles and who meet up for weekend events in city parks sponsored by the New York Road Runners club, or the like. The members of Orchard Street Runners are not those people.


He Left a Fortune, to No One

(The New York Times) When Roman Blum died last year at age 97, his body lingered in the Staten Island University Hospital morgue for four days, until a rabbi at the hospital was able to track down his lawyer.

Mr. Blum, a Holocaust survivor and real estate developer, left behind no heirs and no surviving family members — his former wife died in 1992 and the couple was childless. His funeral, held graveside at the New Montefiore Jewish Cemetery in West Babylon, N.Y., was attended by a small number of mourners, most of them elderly fellow survivors or children of survivors.

Roman Blum, shirtless, at a birthday party on Long Island in 1983. In 1949, he and his wife, Eva, moved to Forest Hills, Queens, where they joined a tightknit community of Holocaust survivors.

In Search of the Perfect Espresso Bean

(The New York Times) Curt Ellis, 33, is executive director and a founder of FoodCorps, a nonprofit organization started in 2010 to improve schoolchildren’s diets by placing volunteers in their communities for a year of service. He also was a maker of the documentary “King Corn,” which won a Peabody Award. Mr. Ellis lives with his wife, Caitlin Boyle, 31, the founder and president of film.sprout, a distributor of documentaries; and their 8-week-old son, Oliver, in a 390-square-foot fifth-floor walk-up in the East Village. Mr. Ellis, an Oregon native, likes to run on Sundays, visit a farmers’ market and cook.

Curt Ellis of FoodCorps