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Chelsea Battles
Edited by Carl Swanson

Railroad Ties
West Chelsea is the city's hippest 'hood. But will its factory vibe survive being colonized by developers?

"The greatness of New York is based on industry," declares brawny author Sebastian Junger from his literary watering hole, the Half King. He opened it in a formerly brawny, industrial area, West Chelsea, which up until a few years ago was populated by truckers and rats. Now its crumbling relics make it a trendy place to live -- Deborah Harry, Sandra Bernhard, and Susan Sontag have moved in -- and the new colonists are as determined to preserve its gritty ambience as Carnegie Hill residents are their Gilded Age streetscape.

The biggest Chelsea battle is over the High Line, a rusty El that once served local factories. As the area's popularity has made the land under the Line valuable for construction, keeping it from being torn down has become a celeb cause célèbre. Alexandre von Furstenburg co-hosted a cocktail party for it; Glenn Close and Annie Leibovitz are supposed to be at the next benefit, in July at the Mary Boone Gallery.

Repair would cost $100 million to $200 million, estimates Doug Sarini of Edison Properties, which owns land underneath the tracks. "I'm tired of spending money on maintenance," he says, referring to costs that include metal netting for falling concrete chunks.

The danger hasn't stopped families from moving nearby, attracted by Chelsea Piers and the new park. "If you were to create a block that would have a neighborhood association," says Daniel Cohen of the Hudson Companies, which is building apartments on West 23rd, "this would be it."

Area residents have already teamed up with developers to foil the Japanese pop group Dreams Come True's dream of opening a club on 23rd. "Three developers have spent over $300 million to provide homes for over 1,400 people on that block," says Herb Streng, development manager of Orda, which is, with Related, building a rental tower there. The State Liquor Authority turned down the liquor-license application last month. The street is mostly garages and warehouses now, but three apartment projects are planned for the next two years.

And then how much of the manufacturing atmosphere will remain? "The industrial feel is what makes Chelsea different," says Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line. "And that's vanishing."

The Sweetest Thing
Posey Finds House of Yes

Indie starlet Parker Posey has moved near her fans in the East Village, where she's found a 1,000-square-foot floor-through apartment in a red-brick townhouse off Second Avenue. "It was the second place I saw, and I just fell in love with it," says Posey, who's starring in The Anniversary Party with Gwyneth Paltrow. "It has really nice light and an office and a lot of character." She snagged the place without its officially going on the market and moved in two weeks ago. "I got a couch from the Salvation Army, and I found a great sort of lady's La-Z-Boy-type chair at the flea market that rocks." It's all very East Village, which she says "feels like Amsterdam -- there are happy students around, great food, and the Mud Truck is really friendly. I'm almost looking forward to getting a cold in the fall for the 2nd Avenue Deli's matzo-ball soup." Maybe she can go with neighbor Molly Ringwald.

Big Deals

Upper East Side
875 Park Avenue
3-bed, 3-bath, 2,700-square-foot co-op. Ask: $3.15 million. Sell: $3.25 million. Maintenance: $2,915. Two weeks on market.

"They wanted to live downtown," says Halstead's Robin Horowitz of the former tech bigwig and his wife whom Horowitz and her sister, Nancy, repped. But after three weeks of sifting through twenty Flatiron and SoHo lofts, they decided to go Upper East. The buyers already had fancy houses in Atlanta and Dallas. "Every home they've ever purchased has been featured in a major magazine," Robin says. But before they're ready for Architectural Digest, they have to restore this place and make sure they scrape off the remnants of its peach-hued eighties décor.

West Village
111 Barrow Street
2-bed, 2-bath, 1,500-square-foot co-op. Ask: $889,000. Sell: $889,000. Maintenance: $1,640. Five months on market.

For the record, the lawyer couple who bought this place didn't sweat when the board -- which had already turned someone down -- took months to accept them. "It was a long process, don't ask me why," says Richard Mortimer, who, with fellow Douglas Elliman broker Leigh Williams, sold it. Seems residents are extra-protective of this 72-year-old former factory. When the verdict finally came down, the pair were sentenced to twelve-foot-high ceilings, a wood-burning fireplace, and wall-to-wall windows.

Previous Stories: Gotham Real Estate Archive
From the May 21, 2001 issue of New York Magazine.
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