By Brooklyn Reader

October 14, 2014, 11:17 am

 

The following is the 4th in a series on “Landlords, Eviction and Gentrification:” Making a Killing in Clinton Hill

By Guest blogger Karen Malpede

Walter Rappelyea Davies -- 280 Washington's second owner; the house was originally built by a Pfizer, of the drug company

Walter Rappelyea Davies — 280 Washington’s second owner; the house was originally built by a Pfizer, of the drug company

There’s a saying in Show Biz that “One can make a killing but not a living in the theater.” 

The same is true in our ever-gentrifying neighborhood, where if you’ve got money to invest you can make a whole lot more but if you’ve got a paycheck, you can no longer afford the rent.

Across the street from the house from which I am currently being evicted after nearly 24 years (so that its banker-owner can sell it for big bucks) are two twin five storey brownstones. Empty for years, they have in the past five been renovated from top to bottom: new copper roofs, new brownstone carvings, and on one the new addition of a large glass domed kitchen.

Both are occupied by single families. 280 Washington Ave, occupied by a husband and wife team who wish to remain anonymous, is being run as a high-end business. It is a “legal” AirBnB, says its owner, who is free to rent its rooms to European visitors who wish to have the real Brooklyn experience (the “G” train, among others). Cabs stop almost daily discharging and picking up the tourists with their suitcases.

280 Washington has also become the location of so many television and film shoots that neighbors have recently rebelled. According to an email from its anonymous-remaining owner, “S

The first still from Walk Among the Tombstones with Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens. One of the films shot in the house

The first still from Walk Among the Tombstones with Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens. One of the films shot in the house

ome neighbors have successfully had the block put on the mayor’s ‘Hot Spot’ list which means that film crews cannot get the necessary parking permits to shoot.”

This comes after a slew of shoots for commercials, with fake snow, and films this fall at the house, and it comes in time to block the scheduled remaining shoot of a show in progress. Unable to park for blocks in a neighborhood where parking is at a premium and some people’s lives revolve around alternate side day and time restrictions, neighbors began to feel inconvenienced—as in having to park 13 blocks away and haul your groceries and tired children home at night.

It’s not just the parking (I no longer have a car after been rammed from behind by a double-decker tour bus last July); it’s rage at having one’s now unaffordable, beloved neighborhood turned into a film industry, with huge trailers blasting fumes from the air-conditioning and the humming motors, and gangs of techies obstructing the streets, for the benefit of one wealthy family.

The twin mansions; the one on the right with the copper roof is 280

The twin mansions; the one on the right with the copper roof is 280

Soon, 280, retrofitted in a mix of faux-Victorian and modern, with the requisite crystal chandeliers in the three connecting downstairs parlors, will be such a familiar fixture on screens across the nation, that the location scouts may tire of the place.

On the ad for the AirBnB, and 280 has a five star rating and evidently serves splendid breakfasts, in case your friends from Europe need a nice place to call home away from home ($220-$700 a day with no discount for extended stays) is also this note: “ALL ROOMS are available for film or print shoots. Rate $4,500 – $15,000 a day. We are also open to trading for fine art.”

When I first moved to Clinton Hill in 1991, there were rumors that the Graham Home for Old Ladies, then empty, now a fancy condo, had just recently been a notorious whore house for Brooklyn pols. So, I suppose we are no strangers to industry here. But, still, this relentless marketing of a single location for the profit of a single family in a neighborhood that was once affordable and friendly, rubs a lot of long-time residents the wrong way.

During the first part of the now on-hold film shoot, I stopped to speak with Jamaican man who was paid by the film company to guard the empty streets: “A lot of people are complaining,” he said. “In ten years, they’ll get tired of this neighborhood and go away.”

The traffic guard whom I greet each morning on the way to Fort Green Park said, “They give nothing back to the neighborhood. Not even a bagel or books for the kids.”

I am being ungrateful, of course, as my theater is (or was) about to receive a check (we’ve been told) for $500, part of a give-away brokered by the film company and the anonymous 280 owners, to worthy neighborhood not-for-profits. When I mentioned that sum to two other of the men employed to guard the streets so that no one who lives here can park there, they replied, “that’s not real money.”

“It’s a lot of money to us,” the location scout told me by phone when I called to complain about the shoot and mentioned I wasn’t to be bought off by $500. To quote Langston Hughes, I suppose we worthy neighborhood non-profits (I’ve asked for the entire list of beneficiaries but it has not as of yet been forthcoming) should offer our humble thanks for these “crumbs from the table of joy.”

However, I just heard, “if the shoot is canceled, we won’t be able to give the grants we had promised.” Not even a crumb.


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About The Author

19 Responses

  1. JMPW

    I am shocked. Karen is my neighbor across the street I first met her when a piece of mail was mistakenly delivered to us. I found her address and emailed her. I invited her to my house that day and learned about her theater company. With enthusiasm I offered to host a fundraiser. I then invited her and her partner to a special dinner as my guest. I had opened the house to a local chef, providing free space so that he could make more money with 26 seats than the typical 8 in his apartment. Two weeks ago, Karen and George were at my house for a screening of a documentary film about a community in Africa that practices gender equality. She drank wine, ate food and smiled. Karen knows that we host artists and dancers free of charge. She knows that we host fundraisers and allow emerging artists and chefs to work in our home for free. I had a long email exchange with Karen last week after telling her that we wanted to make a donation to her company, Theater Three Collaborative. She urged me not to be an anonymous donor, which I have always been. I told her that the story is about the organizations and not about me. We were thrilled this week to make tens of thousands of dollars of donations to the organizations below in our first round of giving. She is right that we also negotiated for the film studio to make neighborhood donations. I wonder if she still plans to accept our gift.

    http://goodneighborsproject.org
    http://theaterthreecollaborative.org
    http://www.ps20.org
    http://www.movingmountainsnyc.org
    https://www.facebook.com/Halloween313Theatrical

    Reply
    • nige

      It’s 9.00pm. The light from the movie shoot is shining into my 4 year old’s bedroom. It’s so bright, that my little girl is still up because of it. Their business is robbing my daughter’s sleep. I wish they were considerate neighbors.

      Reply
    • JMPW

      Karen wrote to me this morning and closed with:

      “It is totally up to you if you wish to send your tax-deductible donation of $500. If you send it, we will cash it.”

      She has graciously accepted our donation of $1000 (our plan all along) and $500 from the film studio. I would be thrilled to turn this around.

      Filming is not a black and white issue. It can be inconvenient, annoying, and fun and exciting. It employs hundreds of people and helps New York to continue to be perceived around the world as a cool place and a cultural center. In addition, there are countless other pros and cons. We recognize that it is not always the positives.

      Reply
      • JMPW

        By thrilled to turn this around, I mean to come to some sort of peaceful place with Karen.

  2. gus david

    So much anger. Such an unhealthy way to go through life. I hope you find some peace somewhere.

    Reply
  3. Janna

    I think it’s sad that the neighborhood would complain about a couple who are so generous with their home and their time. I’ve known these folks for quite sometime, and I know them to be honest and giving people. I’m really sorry to hear such negativity coming from people in Clinton Hill. This is a large community of artists, theatre people, production people, and great neighbors.
    I hope the neighbors who are so upset do find a way to let this go.

    Reply
  4. BRYLYN

    Wow! A lot of anger directed towards someone who has absolutely nothing to do with your being evicted.
    Perhaps you should start to blame karma.
    It sounds to me like your neighbour is quite the savvy businessperson and you, sound like a HATER.
    May peace be with you and may the wine that you drank at your neighbour’s table continue to warm your belly.
    Good luck sweetheart!

    Reply
  5. JMPW

    The house was not built by Pfizer. It was built by Charles Erhart his cousin and partner.

    The house wasn’t empty for any of the years that Karen lived across the street and to my knowledge was never empty.

    I asked to be anonymous if mentioning donations not as the resident of the house.

    The majority of Airbnb guests are Americans.

    Cabs do not stop daily. The average stay is four days.

    We have had five film contracts in seven years. The current shoot is several days spread out over two months.

    We do not have faux or real Victorian furniture.

    We have one crystal chandelier on the parlor floor. It’s in the front room.

    We do give many discounts (although not advertised). We also provide free short-term housing to artists as well as an unadvertised discount to educators (my parents were both teachers so I have a soft spot). We also trade on occasion. We are fans of the barter economy. We had a couple from California who stayed for a month on a trade. We also opened our house to hurricane victims (of course, we did not charge them).

    The traffic guard is wrong. We give a lot to the community. We host cultural events, invite artists and chefs to use the space for free, donate weekend stays to fundraising auctions, hold fundraisers, provide free short-term housing and so much more. I happen to think that talking about it takes away the purity of the gesture but maybe Karen was right when she told me by email that people need to know.

    Karen’s theater was going to receive much more than $500 (which was only the amount that we arranged for her to receive from the film studio). We will still give her what we had planned.

    The donations had been considered long before filming had started.

    Reply
  6. Neighbor

    Wasn’t it Karen Malpede who for months used to turn the wrap around porch and yard of her house into a weekend store of hand-knotted rugs that sold for thousands of dollars?

    Reply
  7. Jodie

    Karen should be ashamed of herself! She sounds like a cranky bitter person who see’s life as a glass half empty kinda gal! I have been one of “those luggage toting tourists” and I can tell you that thanks to the couple at 280, I fell in love with the neighbourhood. I spent my tourist $ around Dekalb and Myrtle Ave. So don’t say they don’t give anything back. because without people like them I wouldn’t have appreciated Brooklyn for what it was.

    You Karen need to realise that YES.. Rent increases and suburbs change with the times and if you can’t adapt then you get left behind. Life’s not fair but don’t blame it on someone you’re jealous of and start swirling around rumours with the locals. It only makes you look worse!

    Reply
  8. deanne

    I think her anger at losing her car and her home is spilling out of her head at her neighbors. Sounds to me like jealousy more than anything. We all have a right to make a living and if we can use our homes for movie sets – more power to them! If we can have a bed and breakfast and share our homes with people – GREAT! You should have thought about that yourself Karen. I don’t know you but I can tell your issues are your own. Quit blaming others for your misery and don’t knock other’s success because you have apparently failed.

    Reply
  9. Lisa Paul Barr

    It is so sad to read this. Jessica Warren and her family is the most generous people that you can ever come across in your whole entire life. They open there home to help so many people like my family and so many others they donated to numerous organize. Jessica and her family are very loving and wonderful peoples and you have some real big balls to actually come into their house drink there wine eat there food and have the nerve to post what you post about these people you are so wrong .

    Reply
  10. CLN

    Oh, my goodness. A lot of vitriol here directed against someone who seems to be giving back to the area, and the arts community, in so many ways. It’s very sad to me that Karen Malpede chooses to attack a family that is doing such positive things, as if they had something to do with all of her problems. Maybe a little introspection is in order. She sounds like a very angry person, lashing out at people who’ve welcomed her into their home, and tried to help. Shameful.

    Reply
  11. Rob

    Although I have a lot of sympathy for the general thrust of your post — the many daily frustrations of living in NYC, getting rear-ended and losing your car, the indignity of eviction and watching the regular folks you grew with in your neighborhood being forced out due to rising rents, etc. — I can’t help but feel in reading your post that you are actually a part of the problem. And full disclosure here — the 280 owners are old friends, and I’m an artist.

    Not only are you basing your tirade on “this-one-guy-on-the-corner-said” innuendo, 180-degree fabrications, and half-truths tinged with third-rate pettiness, you’re needlessly, bafflingly, going on the attack and scapegoating the wrong people, all while moaning about the loss of the friendliness of your cozy ol’ neighborhood.

    Let me ask you this: is your blog post constructive or destructive? Is it adding positively to Clinton Hill? Are there other ways of addressing this problem than raging on a blog post? To me, it boils down to this: what kind of neighborhood do you want, how do you contribute, and when dealing with a conflict, how would the adults in your ideal neighborhood handle it?

    You didn’t mention going to the owners themselves and airing your grievances (like friendly neighbors). Did you? If you didn’t, why not? Are you suggesting that they aren’t approachable? You were a guest in their home (you tipped that when you haughtily described the furniture); were they approachable then, or did you only go there to judge their taste and tally your insults? What kind of neighbor do you want to be, and are you? What neighbor would you like to see — one who invites others to their home and gives of themselves without wanting the spotlight, or a woman who apparently took off 5th period to write a bitchy blog piece?

    NYC DOES have enormous problems with gentrification, with the slow painful exit of the artists and everyday people who really made this a great city, and they are problems that have to be addressed unless NYC wants to become little more than a museum/set piece. I personally know few people more aware of the inequities or more dedicated to making sure that the community benefits, and that artists and art are supported, than the owners of 280. I’ve seen performances there, known artists who are welcomed into their home, and have been genuinely heartened to know that not only is real philanthropy alive and active, but that sometimes people go well out of their way to do the right thing, even when getting nothing in return.

    From my (admittedly subjective) viewpoint, these are exactly the kind of neighbors you want in your neighborhood. But even if they weren’t, and were every cartoonishly selfish, ridiculous thing your post suggests, doesn’t it make more sense to approach them, invite them, gain their confidence, and build your community cooperatively? What exactly is won with your post, other than you venting your spleen? Are you serving a genuine collective purpose? They are, determinedly and selflessly. You want a better neighborhood? Start with yourself. And I’m genuinely sorry for the hell you’re going through; I’ve been there. It’s awful.

    Reply
  12. Andrew

    I am a 30-year resident of Ft. Greene and have witnessed quite a few changes in all the local neighborhoods in that time—some great, some not so much. I have no nostalgia for the days when folks were regularly mugged or beat up on the sidewalk in front of my house. I don’t remember with fondness when Myrtle Avenue was nicknamed “Murder Avenue.” The so-called gentrification has made this neighborhood a safer place, and one in which I feel more comfortable raising a family.

    But neither do I love the unfortunate flight of so many long-time residents, who either sold to the highest bidder or were forced out when they were unable to afford high rents. I don’t see the benefit that the Barclay’s Center has brought. I don’t appreciate the lack of parking because of regular film shoots or the influx of “tourists” to the hipster paradise that Ft. Greene seems to have become.

    Yet, I think Rob’s comment above is spot on. Change in a neighborhood is often inevitable and not always good. But it’s not about the change, it’s how you deal with it. And, as he says quite eloquently, it’s all about what kind of neighbor you want to be. I don’t know the residents of 280 Washington, and I don’t live on that block, but it sounds to me like they truly are “exactly the kind of neighbors you want.”

    Perhaps it’s a good thing that the author is being forced out. Her misplaced anger and willful distortion of the facts make her not the kind of neighbor I would want in my neighborhood.

    Reply
  13. WW

    Karen, if you want to write gossipy, ignorant posts about you’re neighbors I think you are better suited for park slope.

    Reply
  14. Janae

    AirBnB should be illegal in NYC, starting with this property.
    Filming in residential neighborhoods should also be reined in. It ruins quality of life for the neighbors. Sometimes hate isn’t jealousy, it’s just hate, plain and simple.

    Reply
    • local

      It’s certainly your right to believe something should be illegal, but you don’t provide much insight into your rationale for Airbnb to be outlawed, much less why this property should be the starting point for that process. Furthermore, filming in our neighborhoods provides good jobs for our neighbors. I’d rather make sure that people are employed than worry about additional time spent finding a parking space. In addition, in this instance, both the residents and the film company have donated money to local community organizations and schools, which should provide benefits to the community that outweigh whatever negatives you are shortsightedly perceiving.

      Reply

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