Lame Adventures 361: Air Raiding

Because a room with a view has always been preferable to one without, the price of air in New York City is becoming more expensive. Yes, the air is for sale, but not on sale.

Robin Finn, The New York Times, “The Great Air Race

This story is about real estate developers that build glass, steel and soulless monstrosities. They’re purchasing air rights. These rights, from surrounding low-rise properties, can cost the developers millions of dollars.  The sellers can make some serious change on these very lucrative deals. The downside for the sellers, as well as surrounding tenants, is living in the gaping shadow of a mile high blight.  Owning the area’s air rights basically guarantees that rich swells that buy into these flashy towers will have rooms with views and sun. So, yes, there is now an expensive price tag on the Big Apple’s air.

Even if I could somehow afford to live in a Blade Runner-style high rise, where I’d have to slather my chalky white pelt with SPF 110 rated sunscreen just to take a gander out the window at New Jersey, I’d take a pass.  I like small.  I like low.  I’m not into blinding sunlight, either. This is not to imply that I’d welcome living in a dark and dreary ground floor cell that faces a brick wall.  I do appreciate many of life’s modern amenities — running water, a working stove, a bed the size of Texas.

Overall, I prefer a dwelling with character.  I’m a fan of original moldings, high ceilings, exposed brick, carved staircase railings, pocket doors, bay windows, and if there’s a gargoyle or some museum-worthy sculpture jutting out of the stone façade, better yet.  Buildings built in the 19th and early 20th centuries are much more easier on my eye than any modern air-owning behemoth influenced by Jenga.

Houses on West End Avenue oozing character and probably high rent.

Houses on West End Avenue flaunting character.

Classic architecture strikes me as being built to last.  For example, if the ceiling caved in on me while I was visiting the Apthorp, Ansonia or Dakota, three coveted Upper West Side addresses, I imagine that I’d get killed instantly.

The Apthorp from behind.

The sturdy Apthorp from behind.

This is not exactly a comforting thought, but at least my suffering would end rapidly.

The Apthorp's rear entrance on West End Avenue.

The Apthorp’s rear entrance on West End Avenue.

In contrast, there is the ultra modern (circa 1975) Calhoun School, an architectural eyesore a few blocks north of where I live. On the plus side, it is a low rise.  On the negative, this building was intentionally designed to resemble a TV set.

If I stand in front of the Calhoun School long enough, will I get to see The Simpsons?

If I stand outside the Calhoun School long enough, will I get to watch Letterman?

If the Calhoun School’s ceiling were to fall on me, it does not strike me as a building made from the dense bedrock used in the more stately homes of my neighborhood.  Therefore, it is possible that if I was smacked with a chunk of the Calhoun School, I might survive that mishap, albeit paralyzed from the tongue down and left to suffer for decades. Another Calhoun School factoid: in 2004, four additional floors were added.  It now looks to me like an obsolete Seventies era TV with a pile of crap on top.

Even though a room with some view is nice, pictured below is the current view outside the window of my sanctum sanctorum.


My entertaining view of urban wildlife.

I cannot claim when I invite a guest to my lair, I’m inclined to suggest in a seductive tone:

Me: Hey babe, check out the pigeon sleeping on the air conditioner outside my window.

I’m more inclined to entertain my guests in infinitely more creative ways rather than relying on purchasing a view in the stratosphere that would easily cost my life savings, if a collection of commemorative quarters could serve as a down payment.  Who needs a view when my guest and I can take turns reciting poetry, painting (my bathroom for starters), or I could serenade her with a rendition of Ho Hey on spoons slapped against my naked thigh?

Check out my commemorative quarters collection!

Check out my commemorative quarters collection!

I cannot deny that nighttime views of the bright lights in this big city can be romantic.  But, if the owner/occupier of that view is a shallow bore, it would be comparable to watching a TV test pattern or the Calhoun School’s cafeteria wallpaper.  Therefore, if I were in the company of someone enticing, I’d feel privileged to snuggle in a brownstone’s fifth floor attic apartment facing a bustling avenue.  In that case, I would hardly mind if every molecule of the air outside were owned by the Fat Cats of Gotham City.

If we get bored inside we could always indulge our sense of vertigo on the roof.

Rooms without a view that look cool to me

59 responses to “Lame Adventures 361: Air Raiding

  1. Calhoun is fugly


  2. Our town has strict laws about how high a building can be on the beach. That held up until someone with deep pockets came around. Now we have 2 and 3 story buildings surrounding this obnoxious brown high rise. I figure it’s just a matter of time before that’s the whole beach and us regular folks will have to pay to see sand and surf.


  3. Thanks for another stroll through my favorite city and nourishing my love affair with architecture.

    Love it,



  4. Did you ever see “Hannah & Her Sisters”? Wait, of course you did. Duh.
    remember the scene where Architect David is showing April “Naturally, she went to Brandeis” and Holly “Stupid rollerskating joke” some of his fave buildings in NYC?

    Thank you for not using ‘organic quality’ because if you had, I woulda thrown my size 9.5s at your sweet ass.


    • Yes, I remember that scene, Jules! It’s why I tend to look up at buildings for that’s where you’ll see so much character in the design — as well as the sculptures and the gargoyles. We’re probably soon heading in the direction when we’ll look up at these modern glass and steel monsters and see ads for Pepsi.

      I eat organic, but I don’t write about it here. I don’t want my readership of 7 to get the true impression that my San Francisco roots still run deep.


  5. I have never seen a more ridiculous building than the Calhoun! We have view issues out here and there are height restrictions on houses and buildings. What would really suck is if you bought a place for the view and someone put a high rise right in front of it!
    Danny and I lived on the 35th floor of a hotel/apartment when we were first married. The elevator was great unless they had to evacuate the building. roundandaroundandaroundandaround Talk about dizzy!


  6. Oh and great post, hon. Always.


  7. Insightful commentary and a wonderful exposition on architecture.

    But, seriously, thanks a HELL OF A LOT for the image of spoons, your naked thighs, and some song I don’t even pretend to know.


  8. I must say that there is something in the skyscrapers that speaks to me *where architecturally relevant*, but taking into account their impact on the surrounding buildings, I’d gladly say no to them. Apart from a couple of locations, London is surprisingly low-rise for a capital city, but I’ve started appreciating that pretty quickly. Still doesn’t mean my view is spectacular, though 😉


    • Pixie, if the skyscraper’s the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building or, for a modern building, The New York Times’ new headquarters, I’m okay with skyscrapers. New York’s a thriving metropolis, so of course, they belong here, but I also feel very NIMBY about them (Not In My Back Yard). Give me the classic designs from the era when buildings could double as classical art, instead of soulless housing projects for the rich and trendy.


      • Oh I do love your response. Absolutely. There is a place for everything, I guess, like Canary Wharf here which looks straight from The Matrix, and it works there as it’s just an office space, no one lives there.

        I love the NIMBY expression 😉


  9. Calhoun School – What was that architect thinking?!!! That is truly the ugliest building I have ever seen. It looks like a giant robot that could come to life and eat everything in Manhattan. Hideous, I say, Hideous!
    Great post, V.


  10. This is why I chose to live in a Victorian home, though not of fantastical architecture like some Victorians and Queen Annes, in my small affordable town with historic brick sidewalks. The view from my side bay windows, granted, is of my neighbors watching TV in their living rooms, and some idiot removed the pocket doors, but from my attic windows I can see across town. If I had a cupola, like some of the homes here, I could see my ship coming in, only to get stuck and sink in the muck of the Delaware Bay marshes, as usual.

    Love your apt description of the Calhoun School architecture. Who sits there and thinks up that stuff, anyway?


    • ” If I had a cupola, like some of the homes here, I could see my ship coming in, only to get stuck and sink in the muck of the Delaware Bay marshes, as usual.”

      I have always enjoyed your unique brand of optimism, Samantha.

      Remember, when the Calhoun School was designed, it was the era of leisure suits and disco.


  11. I love it — construction inspired by Jenga — haha!


  12. That plan will certainly enhance the “Upstairs/Downstairs” vibe permeating our island paradise! Soon, no one will even be able to afford living “Downstairs” and then how will the “Upstairs” folk get on? Tragic!


    • If I ever lost my garret on our “island paradise” (ha, good one!), Margarita, I know that my love affair with affordable living in Manhattan would come to a screeching halt — with the screech provided courtesy of me as I pack my satchel for one of the other boroughs. Thanks for visiting Lame Adventures-land and commenting!


  13. I’ll take the low, old, atmospheric, any day. Thanks for the tour.


  14. I like buildings with character too. They don’t scream at me, they just politely state in a calm, quiet voice, “I’ve been here a long time. I was built to last by people who took pride in their work, with sturdy construction and an eye for beauty.”
    The Calhoon School reminds of Cogwell Cogs office where George Jetson worked.


  15. I’ve written about some of these luxury apartment homes , V but not with your wit. Selling air rights — that one really got me. There are some gorgeous buildings in Manhattan. I love the character as well but only if the heat and electricity work. I’ve seen multi-million dollar digs with a /c units. Your view is lovely. Surely there’s a need for spoon slapping in a play somewhere in New York.


  16. We don’t have a lot of very high rises here in Blighty, LA, but they do seem to be on the increase… most new buildings now have between three and five floors, with their views usually being of the other 3 – 5 floor new builds. I think bigger cities may now be reaching for the heights, and I’d be a bit miffed living in the shadow of one of those. I can’t say we have any buildings like the Calhoun, but there are bound to be other carbuncles and eyesores dotted around this green and pleasant land…


    • The Calhoun is definitely one of the Upper West Side’s more notorious carbuncles, Tom. In Columbus Circle we had a few of those, too, but one was demolished to make way for the Time Warner Center, a glass and steel colossus with a luxury shopping center that I seldom visit. The other underwent a massive renovation, and it’s now the Museum of Arts and Design. I’ve been in there once since it reopened. Meh. Right now, a building a block away from my humble abode is in the early stages of a serious transformation. I’m keeping a watchful on which direction that one goes. There could be a future LA in the making should it go in the direction of the Calhoun School. I wouldn’t be wild about seeing a church that looks like a giant cell phone.


  17. This reminds me of this dystopia YA novel called The Roar where the rich live at the top of this wall and the poor are left to scrounge around in the darkness and feast off mold.
    But forget all that, I totally dig your commemorative coin collection. That beats a chunk of air rights any day.


    • Are you sure that The Roar is really a YA novel? It sounds a lot like my memoir.

      Damn, S7, if we ever meet, I’ll make sure to bring my coin collection. I think I might even have a 1937 nickel somewhere in my digs, too.


  18. Having visited NYC but not having lived there, I was unaware, until now, of the Calhoun School. I am surprised that no enterprising architect has thought to add rabbit ears to the top of the building or to place a granite remote control across the street.


  19. Loved this post. The majority of the apartment buildings in Seoul (nay, Korea) are huge monoliths at least 30 stories tall with giant numbers on the side of them to differentiate them from row upon row of identical buildings. It was so depressing. As much as I loved it there, those structures made me miss the charming, thoughtful architecture in Chicago.


    • I’ve only visited Chicago once, Emily, but architecturally, I thought it blew New York away. Where does Seoul find their architectural influence — from the regime up north? Glad you liked the post!


  20. I love your pictures! We live in a converted school so I feel ya on the loving old architecture, however, I need to admit I am a reluctant, though avid fan, Richard Meier building on the edge of Prospect Park. I’m sure that the inhabitants must use daily sunscreen on their wood floors and 3M film usually only seen in museums on their windows.


    • Glad you liked the pictures Heidi. I imagine the converted schoolhouse you call home looks nothing like the Calhoun School! Your comment prompted me to Google that Richard Meier building. I wouldn’t be surprised if a wad was dropped on those air rights!


  21. With you on each and every count. The view from our room at the NYC Ace hotel looked out on some magnificent old building, perhaps a little down at the mouth but it had garret windows like the ones in your last photo. I want to live there! I was quite the peeping tom that weekend. And thank you for identifying the Apthorp. I have been fascinated by that courtyard for years.


    • I know that attic apartments are probably stuffy and the ceilings are much lower, but I’d give up some creature comfort to be able to point up at the top floor to declare, “My pad’s up there.” You just can’t do that with a glass and steel box of dull. Some major big wigs have called the Apthorp home through the years, including at one time, Nora Ephron. She wrote an essay that was published in The New Yorker in 2006 about living there.


  22. In our town, there’s a huge debate about whether to allow Netflix to build its new location due to its proposed 4-5 floors. Nothing is that tall in this area and the townspeople do not want it. Your post reminded me that I live in a bubble.


  23. Your thinly-veiled attack on Jenga (by way of comparing it unfavorably to architecture) is unconscionable and way out of line. Jenga is a fun, quick game that can be enjoyed sober, drunk or high (for people who like that kind of thing). What did Jenga ever do to you? That’s right–nothing but entertain you. Jenga exists only to make you happy, and asks nothing in return. And yet you repay this unconditional love with cruel and dismissive comparisons. Would you talk that way about Uno or Checkers? Of course not. And thanks to political correctness, nobody can say ANYTHING about marbles any more.

    My wife says I should see a doctor about that.

    I also like buildings with character, but mostly for looking at. I don’t care so much what I live in as long as it has, as you say, running water and a decent-sized bed. I only manage to burn myself on the stove.

    I also appreciate a good view, and while I have a decent view from the front window of my home, I’ve never lived anywhere where I’ve had a spectacular view. But I think that helps me appreciate a breathtaker when I see it. In fact, I designed my office/studio (actually, my wife designed it) to have no windows (there’s a tiny one on the door). My office is for work, and I am a creature too prone to distraction.

    I’ve only been to your fair megapolis on a couple of occasions, and once spent some time on the roof of a brownstone in Brooklyn with a wonderful nighttime view. Although I don’t care for it, Las Vegas is another beautiful city at night when seen from a distance.


    • Sounds like I struck a chord with your inner Jenga connaisseur, Smak! I’m glad that Mrs. Smak and I see eye to eye on that one. Overall, it sounds like you and I pretty are on the same page about most everything else. I’ve never lived anyplace that offered much a view, either. My view out the window at my homestead over here is very reminiscent of the courtyard in Rear Window. I’ve yet to notice any murderers living across the way from my crash pad. I’ve never been to Vegas, but with all that neon, I’m sure that it looks pretty impressive at night.


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