As told to Laura E. Kelly by Jaye

In the 1970s, I was living in Harvard Square with my boyfriend Arnie, who was so cool: he was the conga player for Richie Havens and a graphic artist. At that point I was head chef of The Orson Welles Restaurant, a famous eatery in Cambridge—hosting after-hours food feasts with friends. But I was getting tired of that lifestyle and looking for something more creatively fulfilling. Arnie introduced me to the world of design and illustration, which has been my passion ever since. Even back then, I knew New York was the place to be for a career in design.

I headed directly to Chelsea because an old friend had settled there years before. I found an apartment on 22nd Street over near 8th Avenue. The only thing in that area at that time was … nothing. No restaurants, no culture (the Joyce Theater came in later) and very dark at night. My apartment was in an old broken-down 5-story building—can’t even call it a brownstone. Of course, my apartment was on the fifth floor of the FloorPeeperbuilding, no elevator. It was the classic dreadful NYC rental apartment—a bathroom so tiny that its sink was in the kitchen—and so was the bathtub! It did have a bedroom though, but no closet, no room for a dresser, and the mattress on the floor took up all the space.

The apartment was so rundown that the floorboards had spread apart and you could clearly see into the apartment below through the wide cracks. They could literally see up my skirt when I walked around above them. Homeless people slept in my vestibule and there was no room to get around them, so I had to step over them. As I said, the classic 1970s rental.

EmpireWindow2The saving grace of this place—and the reason I stayed there for 3 years and loved it—was the main room, a combination living and dining room. It had a mantel and fireplace (non-working of course), but most importantly it had 2 front windows… that looked directly out at the Empire State Building—no tall buildings obstructing my glorious view—spectacularly lit up every night. Boyfriends came and went, but my real romance was with my view of Empire State Building. To be in NYC the first time ever and to have that view…. well, I felt like I was living in that movie “Manhattan,” which was a huge hit at the time. I had my apartment with the spectacular view, a great job, and a growing circle of friends. I was totally loving it.

After three years, though, my brother (who also was living in NYC) was moving in with his girlfriend—later his wife—and they wanted me to take over her rent-stabilized apartment on West 69th St, off Broadway.

Jimmy said, “You’ve GOT to get rid of that rathole where you can see through the floorboards. That’s no way to live. Take her apartment; it’s great!”

I didn’t want it. I’d never been to the Upper West Side, and I loved the character and ruggedness of Chelsea. Uptown sounded stuffy and staid. He badgered me, and I finally took the apartment.

So that’s why I left my first NYC apartment. They made me—and thank God!!! That West 69th St. apartment was the best, and no one was below me looking up my skirt!

Jaye Medalia is a designer and illustrator who has lived happily for decades now in a rent-stabilized apartment in the West 90s, with her husband Mark (read his first apartment essay here), two college-age children, and their cat, Luna.

 

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