Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Allen Ginsberg's former 12th Street apartment now on the market

The Allen Ginsberg Project recently had the chance to see Ginsberg's longtime home at 437 E. 12th St. — up on the fourth floor. As Jill reported at Blah Blog Blah back in June, Ginsberg's apartment — where he lived from 1975 to 1996 — is being renovated. (He had three apartments in the building: this one in which he lived; one in which he worked; and one that he sublet to friends and students. As NYC Songlines notes, he lived here longer than any other home in New York.)

Jill's friend, whose apartment looked into Ginsberg's kitchen, shared some memories in June about her neighbor here between First Avenue and Avenue A. "We didn't bother with each other much, but he'd take photos of my shirtless carpenter boyfriend when he'd use the fire escape for an impromptu workshop. You never knew who'd be gathered around his kitchen table: a PBS film crew, a minion of men with black garb and payis chanting Sabbath prayers, etc. I never took photos of him, but Allen with his robe open illuminated by refrigerator light is burned into my retina, for better or worse! After he left, I found myself missing him."

Peter Orlovsky, the poet and longtime partner of Ginsberg, stayed in the apartment up until about a year ago, I was told. (Orlovsky died this past May of lung cancer at a respite care center in Williston, Vermont.) The apartment sat empty for nearly a year before the renovations started late in the spring.

Here's a photo that The Allen Ginsberg Project took a few weeks ago... along with one of Ginsberg's own shots...




The Ginsberg caption reads: "View out my kitchen window August 18 1984, familiar Manhattan back-yard, wet brick-walled Atlantis sea garden's Alianthus (stinkweed Tree of Heaven) boughs waiving in rainy breeze, Stuyvesant Town's roof two blocks north on 14th Street - I focused on the raindrops on the clothesline." [Allen Ginsberg Estate]

I figured this apartment was probably ready to hit the market. I contacted Dmitry (Daniel) Kramp, Kramp Residential Team, City Connection Realty Inc., who has been renting some of the other renovated apartments in the building.

I asked him when the apartment might be available for rent and if the listing will include a mention of its former occupant. Kramp responded, saying he wasn't sure if Ginsberg's name would be referenced since he already had a suitor lined up for the apartment.

Later, though, Kramp sent along the listing, which includes a line about Ginsberg, as well as photos of the renovated space. The apartment is going for $1,750.







Harry Smith stayed here for nine months in 1985 while he recovered from an accident. The small spare room he used (dubbed "Harry's Room") has been converted into a bathroom.



Through the years, this building has been host to an array of poets, musicians and artists.... some of whom are in the photo below...



Via: Edith Ginsberg, Cliff Fyman, Bob Rosenthal, Allen Ginsberg, John Godfey, Steven Taylor, Peter Orlovsky, Greg Masters, Michael Scholnick, in front of 437 E. 12th St., where all except Edith lived. Nov. 14, 1982. photo: c. Stephen Shames.

Among the many other notables.... Arthur Russell lived here for many years... ditto for Richard Hell.

Despite all this history, I'm not sure what kind of spirit, if any, can still exist in such an extensively renovated apartment, a place where Ginsberg, Orlovsky and assorted guests such as Herbert Huncke and William Burroughs held forth around a crowded kitchen table.

As Jill's neighbor wrote back in June: "Soon I'll look out at yet another set of white mini-blinds behind cheap replacement windows, illuminated by halogen floor lamp, with soundtrack by yet another long-past-teenage idiot amping-up to "Baba O'Reilly" as irony sails over his head and out into the beer-soaked night."

For further reading:
Howl (Blah Blog Blah)

The Allen Ginsberg Project



Via: Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Louis Cartwright, Herbert Huncke, William Burroughs, Allen & Peter's new apartment, 437 E. 12th St., New York City, December 1975. Photographer unknown.

29 comments:

Jeremiah Moss said...

nice job, Grieve. sad to see how everything, even this, gets gutted and washed away. will the new tenant even care about any of this?

Anonymous said...

The apartment is HOWL much now?

Melanie said...

Nice piece. The renovation is very nice. The vibes will always be there.

Anonymous said...

Pretty sure Rene Ricard also lived at 437.

EV Grieve said...

That's correct, anon. I should have mentioned Ricard as well...

Lisa said...

When I first moved here I used to see Ginsberg wandering around, it was always such a thrill. Several times he was accompanied by Richard Hell (who always had on a RH and the Voidoids t-shirt, maybe so if he forgot who he was all he had to do was look down). I cannot believe how all of his history was stripped away to make yet another soulless cookie-cutter box for some uncomprehending hipster who probably thinks "HOWL" is what the cretins bellowing "Wooo!" are doing. I think if Ginsberg had had any intentions of sticking around in some kind of manifestation, he took one look at this GUT-WRENCHING renovation and fled.

Anonymous said...

@Lisa - What exactly do you think should have been done with the place? Short of making it some museum, a gut renovation seems appropriate.

Erin Bradley said...

What about the Ginsberg residence on 2nd st? I used to live in that building.

Anonymous said...

Boy I would have loved to have met William Burroughs. I did meet Gregory Corso--what an asshole he was. I believe I had a nodding relationship with Ginsburg. HOWL!!!!

EV Grieve said...

Hi Erin,

I think the plaque is still up outside his former place on Second Street...I don't recall what years... He also lived on 7th between B and C...

Goggla said...

Interesting. I love how so much history can exist in one little place...a single apartment...and to think of how many apartments and histories there are.

As a teen, when I planned on being a writer, I kept a photo of Ginsberg's kitchen window on my desk. I loved the rattiness of the image, the cramped brick yard and collection of plants on the sill. It inspired me to grow my own herb garden.

EV Grieve said...

Thanks for sharing that, Goggla. He will continue to inspire.

Lisa said...

Anonymous 12:07 - I disagree. I never said anything about turning the space into a museum, but this apartment could easily have been re-done without taking it down to the studs. Ya know, before the current craze for these hospital-like interiors, with their stark white walls, high gloss polyurethane floors, recessed lighting, crappy chipboard cupboards, cheap fixtures and the like, apartments had personality. Note in Ginsberg's photos the inset shelving, interesting woodwork, interior glass transom. Would it have been a crime against humanity to leave it intact but cleaned up? Paint the walls, replace the fixtures if need be, strip and gloss the floors, but for God's sake, why must every last vestige of it be erased as if it never existed and replaced with utter sterility? Each time a little piece of New York history is demolished like this it diminishes the crazy quilt of time and events that have made up this city that so many of us love and call home. There are still people out there who look for original interiors; there is NO NEED for EVERYTHING to be swept away, especially when it is an apartment of note like this one was. What doomed this place was a paucity of imagination, and the building owners' sure knowledge that the people he would be marketing to would be as vacuous as this "BLAND (oh sorry, BRAND) NEW" interior.

Erin Bradley - A number of years ago (five, maybe?) there was an article in the NY Times Sunday Real Estate section about two young guys that had moved into Ginsberg's 2nd Street apartment; they had never heard of him. The apartment had been renovated, but not ravaged like the 12th Street one. Small favors, I guess, but who knows by now.

Anonymous said...

...all of his history was stripped away...

I wish NY had a culture of modest apartment museums for great writers and artists, like the Russians. St. Petersberg has dozens, maybe hundreds, of tiny apartment museums. (Yeah, real estate and pension are different there but still...)

I can see a couple of elderly friends of Allen's living in his place, amid his stuff, and charging $3 to visit. Nah, it might not preserve the place forever but it would be nice to keep the place intact until the all the ghosts that place must attract have settled down and gotten used to the idea of being ghosts and so on.

john penley said...

The artistic, anarchistic and radical creativity that happened in Ginsberg's and a host of other apts. in the neighborhood will never happen again as most people are landlord slaves and have no time or desire to drop out, tune in and turn on cultural commercial internet dead world in da hood $$$ follow link to Ginsberg photo.http://www.flickr.com/photos/tamiment/3983473625/in/set-72157620867253660/

Anonymous said...

You should also mention that he was a pedophilee and an incoherent poet, but why ruin the drooling party now.

Anonymous said...

wow, i remember that apartment. i sublet the apartment above his for a short time in the early 90's. my pipes leaked into his apartment and he left a note on my door. of course i had to go and apologize, i really just wanted to meet him. he was very nice about it. i still have the note somewhere, haha.

Joelle Morrison said...

Allen Ginsberg was living on East 10th Street between C and D when I moved to the Lower East Side in 1967. I used to see him passing by but the first time I saw him closely occurred when a woman was drunkenly zig-zagging on East 10th Street toward Avenue B. She zagged out into the street and went down on her knees. I went out and took her by one arm and started to pull her to her feet -- just as Ginsberg took her by the other arm. We got her up and properly zigged and she went on her way. Not a word between us, which felt right.

glamma said...

jeez did they really have to GUT it? and who is the moron above who said "nice renovation?" a complete and total tragedy. ginsberg had more to do with east village culture just just about any one person. these idiot real estate people probably could have charged MORE had they left it IN THE ICONIC STATUS THEY FOUND IT IN. BRAINDEAD SOULLESS ZOMBIE PARASITES (YES I'M TALKING TO YOU, DMITRY KRAMP)

Anonymous said...

i also had a run in with Ginsberg and Corso. Corso was drunk (in an unattractive quasi homeless way), drinking vodka out of a tropicana juice container with a spout so frayed that it looked like he was using it for at least more than a day.

Ginsberg was a bossy finger snapping jerk. The old adage about be careful about meeting your heroes definitely rings true.

I'll admit that I haven't read enough of his work to make an informed critical assessment but he definitely was a genius at cultivating the myth of the beats and the counter culture of the east village. Those myths though are really only ghosts at this point in the east village. The spirit of the beats are probably more alive in williamsburg, bushwick or portland, OR at this point.

Rosebud Pettet said...

I had the great joy and privilege of knowing Allen for 33 years. Lived with him and Peter on and off during that time-at 5th st., 10th st., and long time at 12th st. I2th street was always "home" to me.
Allen was always kind, generous, patient...he gave me the small (Peter's) apartment next door to live in with my son whenever we were in NYC, but mostly we lived in Allen's. Whoever called him a jerk, I wonder if they just passed him once in the street or something? They surely didn't know him!
Went back to see the place the day before it was completely gutted, and Peter Hale took some photos. It was so very hard to say goodbye to the place, all the memories...Burroughs, Dylan, the Bad Brains, all the amazing people who spent time there, esp. my "spiritual husband" Harry Smith...
Met my former husband Simon at Allen's, then we lived downstairs for years-Allen "best man" at our wedding.
Loved Allen like a father, was at his side when he died. Will always miss him and our little home on 12th street.

Tova said...

hey E.V.

Thanks for your post on Ginsberg.

You made one small error, however; the apt was not empty before renovations started, because I was squatting there with my friend, who had been there for two years. The apartment had been passed on to him by yet another artist (which we all are) who went off to school in California. I lived in Harry Smith's old room, until I had to go live somewhere else because of the black mold. My friend and I hosted events there frequently, including an art installation in which we lined the floor of the original bathroom in grass-covered sod. I can still remember how it felt to step on it after a shower (which was also jerry-rigged to not leak into the below apartment). The first time I set foot in the apt, my friend (whose name I don't want to divulge in case it gets him in trouble for squatting) was hosting a seance to try to communicate with Ginsberg's ghost (only partially in jest). WE regularly burned incense and candles in his honor. A whole host of artists and musicians passed through there. When we were finally evicted, my friend made a pyre out of the wood from one of our installations and walked through the streets of the east village on the last night with it covered with candles and flowers, in honor of the apartment and the spirit of ginsberg; we knew that place would never be the same.

Do you know if the apartment is still for rent, or has been rented?

EV Grieve said...

Thanks, Tova. I appreciate all this history. I'll check to see if it has rented or not....

glamma said...

Tova, I really enjoyed your post. That is so beyond awesome that you guys did that. People like you keep the spirit of the east village alive and well.

Rosebud Pettet said...

Hey Tova-what a great story! Great to hear that someone was keeping the spirit going there...

bill said...

I used to live upstairs for a while with the late Jim Brodey. I was a student and Brodey was, well, Brodey so we had no money and had the electricity cut off. Allen was kind enough to let us run and extension cord out our kitchen window and into his. A very generous man.

karenlee said...

wow-thanks for this. I used to live in that apt building on the second floor. In 1990-91.
i would find books in the hallways and think Alan Ginsberg threw them out and scoop them up. I also remember Richard Hell knocking on my door to say How much he liked the music i was playing.

Anonymous said...

A friend and I went to a party there once with the Bad Brains after a gig.
We had no idea who's apartment it was. It wasn't until after awhile that we started noticing things like stacks of mail addressed to Ginsberg and other personal effects. My friend who was a young poet at the time was so shook up I practically had to carry him out of there.

tlee said...

Arthur Russell and I lived on the 6th floor in this building for over 30 years. When I first moved in Arthur had an extension cord out the fire escape into Allen's apartment for his electricity. I remedied that situation but even 20 years later Allen would often gently knock on our apartment door in the evening, in his bathrobe, asking, "May I sit and meditate with Arthur?" Arthur, ill and with AIDS related dementia, and Allen, would sit quietly together while I went to the other room. This happened numerous times and I believe he comforted Arthur to his last days. He was at the hospital the night before Arthur died. In spite of stories and reputation I knew Allen to be a kind, caring and compassionate person and I will always be thankful that he was in our lives.