Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Schwartz On Second

Back in December I reported that a longtime funeral home on 2nd Avenue in the East Village had closed. I wrote, somewhat facetiously, “Maybe now it will become something really meaningful, like another Duane Reade.” Turns out, that prediction may be coming true. A Duane Reade has been proposed to go right next to the Chase branch that replaced the Second Avenue Deli.

Andy Schwartz, great-grandson of founder Sigmund, was kind enough to share vintage photos and give me a tour of the funeral home. We visited the Sanctuary, where Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were memorialized after their execution, and the viewing parlor where Lou Reed and other mourners bid farewell to poet Delmore Schwartz (no relation).


1936: 2nd ave. building replaced by schwartz

The funeral home opened in the 1920s on East Fifth Street. In 1938, the building in the photo above (which housed The Daily Worker) was demolished and Sigmund built a new building for his business. His son Harry carried it on until retiring in the late 1960s, when he sold it, and it was later resold to a large funeral corporation. It was this company that finally closed the location in 2007.


1940: schwartz building, click to see details

Since then, it has sat empty, though a few Schwartzes, Andy included, still live in the apartments upstairs. A funereal smell permeates the softly carpeted rooms, vaguely waxen and dustily floral. The floors creak when you walk on them. In the Sanctuary, under 30-foot arched ceilings, the acoustics amplify a whisper and not a sound can be heard from the traffic of Second Avenue. You might even say there’s a pall.

I asked Andy about Duane Reade, especially for a block already saturated with chains, in a neighborhood where many people have become resentful of chain occupation. Andy was diplomatic and clearly conflicted. The process has not been simple. The building is owned by the many Schwartz descendants, a large family of "shareholders," most of them elderly. They talked with many interested businesses, but the odd configuration of the space, along with other factors, including those financial, meant that the space could go to the fifth-largest retail chain in New York City.



Andy has been involved in the Lower East Side scene since the late 1970s when he became the publisher of the influential New York Rocker magazine, which helped make stars of Bowery luminaries like Patti Smith, Blondie, and The Ramones.

Standing on Second Avenue, Andy recalled, “When the box office opened at the Fillmore East, my grandmother would walk down and get us tickets.” He was there on its opening night in 1968 with Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and for many other shows.

I asked him how he felt about the changes in the neighborhood. He told me, “I can’t say I disagree with those who say the primacy of real estate values is leeching the character out of this neighborhood and much of New York City,” then he went on to point out places from the past: Starbucks used to be the famous Orchidia pizzeria, Max Brenner was a five-and-dime, Tasti-D-Lite was a comic book shop.

Now, someday soon, we may be saying, “That Duane Reade used to be a funeral parlor.”



If anyone would like to preserve a piece of this history, the original 1938 pews from the Sanctuary will be for sale. You can contact Andy directly at Gramercy7(at)yahoo(dot)com.

20 comments:

lvv said...

This is bloody ridiculous. The destruction of the neighborhood is taking on farcical proportions. We'll be 95% banks, Duane Reades and fro-yos by next summer.

EV Grieve said...

I'm just....stunned.

sheilafollower said...

No surprise here. Yunnies worship only themselves, money and drugs.

david said...

He sold out. Plain and simple.

Carol Gardens said...

Thanks for pointing out the connection to THE NEW YORK ROCKER, a great newspaper. I had no idea! This makes me sad, but I gotta give props for Andy for his past life as a publisher.

Anonymous said...

Wow! And to think that the staff at Duane Reade usually are so corpse like anyways. So Kismet.

I already see people wondering what are the names on the stones where 2nd Ave. Deli was.

People think it has something to do with the bank. Oh Vey!

john said...

death by a thousand chains...

ive worked in more than a few, and chain store jobs are living death. you hate the job, hate the customers. flourescent bulb sterile misery.

Karate Boogaloo said...

Great post Jeremiah...Andy is a friend of mine, and an amazing source of history - both musical and NYC-wise.

For you knuckleheads who jump to conclusions and call him a sell out, and only interested in money, you obviously haven't read the story closely. Or know Andy. You are incorrect, full stop.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks karate. andy is very cool--and clearly has many great stories to tell.

doing this story made me realize how, sometimes, we don't have the easy target of a greedy landlord villain. in this case, we've got a long-time LES family, with several members, many of them elderly. maybe they need the money.

what's upsetting is that, one of the few ways available to get financial support is to rent to the duane reades of the world.

Krikri said...

I feel like such an old-timer reading about everything that's happening to this block (and I only lived there from 2003-2005!). From my bedroom window across the street I saw the 2nd Ave Deli close, and then my roommates & I were priced out as well (30% rent increase, anyone?). I really fell in love with the East Village during my short stint there and stuff like this just makes me sad.

david said...

Karate - Am I missing something? Whether he was the editor of NY Rocker, or is a "cool guy" or not, his neighborhood and city are under siege and instead of being part of the solution he decided to be part of the problem. Full stop.

Karate Boogaloo said...

I didn't say anything about NY Rocker or even him being cool. Although he is.

What the story says is that there were many factors in the decision they finally had to make regarding the property. Speaking for myself, I can't begin to imagine all of the factors that must come into play when having to deal with a property like this in a city like this.

And I would venture that this is probably the only property the family owns in NY so its not like they're evil landowning money hogs selling out the neighborhood, and grabbing every buck they can - neighborhood (the East Village or anywhere) be damned.

Comments like calling him a sellout or a Yunnie are just simplistic or childish at best.

That said, I wonder what the market value of the monthly rent is on the space? I doubt there are many neighborhood mom & pop businesses that could afford it these days. But I'm just guessing.

Believe me, I'd like to see something else going on than what is currently happening. But when you break it down to an individual, or a family making a choice (perhaps for its own survival), I can understand their decision. And I won't hold the high rises on Ludlow Street or the Bowery against them.

L'Emmerdeur said...

Yeah, right, like those who are branding him a sell-out wouldn't have done exactly the same thing if they were in his shoes.

Regardless, we should all be hoping the chain store infection spreads further and faster, because it needs to reach that moment of catalysis after which New York will finally cease being cool, and the pendulum can finally start swinging the other way...

... although the economic groundwork for this reversal is already in place.

david said...

"That said, I wonder what the market value of the monthly rent is on the space? I doubt there are many neighborhood mom & pop businesses that could afford it these days. But I'm just guessing."

Well, that would be up to the landlord right? Meaning it would be up to Andy. The only "factors" mentioned really are the odd configuration of the space. It's just kind of funny that there is so much rage directed towards the landlords,the chains,etc on this blog but it's supposed to a different story in this case because...why? He could have rented it out to a mom and pop for less money but chose not to. Isn't that exactly what we rail against here? People taking the buck vs. doing the right thing by their city and community? You can say that individuals should not be blamed and that it is a bigger problem. But the reality is that the choices that each individual makes, matter. One by one is how it happens. Andy & his family decided what they decided.

Karate Boogaloo said...

I'm not going to get into an argument here but the landlord certainly doesn't make up the "market value" for the rent on a space. Its what the market will bear - the average going rate per square foot in a given neighborhood. Please read more closely.

As for this fear of chain stores - there have always been chain stores in NY. Its all of the so called luxury high rises, and their marketing, that get to me. This frathouse takeover of the EV just kills me.

NY ceased being cool years ago. I agree with L'Emmerdeur that their might be a reversal in place already economically.

BaHa said...

Jeremiah, my heart stopped when I saw your post on Curbed about the Essex Card Shop. Usually, when you run a story about a place like that it's to chronicle its final days. Three cheers! I've been going there for 26 years; am so glad that they're expanding, not closing.

Jeremiah Moss said...

david, i'm angry about the duane reade, too. and i don't disagree with you.

for me, the added complication here is that it's not the simple situation of a wealthy landlord with many properties evicting people and pushing out businesses. could the schwartz family have found a tenant that would be better for the neighborhood? maybe. i don't know. i know i don't envy andy's position.

maybe we're all trapped by market forces, one way or another.

Karate Boogaloo said...

Nicely put!

david said...

Yeah, sorry I still feel like a long time NYer and supporter of EV culture selling out to the corporate monolith hurts even more than some scumbag absentee landlord or something like that. I think then fact that you guys know and like this guy are letting it cloud your judgement on this. Oh and also Karate I realize that the market determines "market value", but ultimately the landlord determines what his rent will be. I thought my point was pretty obvious on that one.

Anonymous said...

This is too much. Even if my own father's memorial service hadn't been held here (it was). Just seems sooo sacreligious. Like condos in former houses of worship. Seems like their should be a city ordinance forbidding such conversions. Or say, a CONSCIENCE of those involved.