Thursday, May 17, 2007

You Can Not Be Hopeful About Stuyvesant Town

Our Town downtown
October 23, 2006

In one of the last scenes in ‘Rudy’, the father (Ned Beatty), having finally entered Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in his life, to watch the unlikely event of his son playing in a game, looks out on the legendary field and sighs, ‘This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.’

If Mr. Ruettiger were to go to a game there today, he’d find a different place, one not quite so beautiful. The stadium has since been enlarged to accommodate 20,000 more fans with souvenir-buying money in their pockets. It’s too big now. But money rules, even on hallowed ground that you thought would never be tampered with.

Everywhere it seems the hallowed is giving way to the dollar. Homes, once thought of as stately mansions, are now bought and razed and replaced by over-sized, three-car-garaged, two-glass-backboards-in-the-driveway monstrosities. I recently read that the beach road in Fort Lauderdale where Spring-breakers trolled for years past T shirt shops and small Elmore Leonard motels now has an over-sized St.Regis hotel (no wet T shirt or limbo contests there) taking up most of a block.

Here on Astor Place, a tall curvy apartment building that looks like it jumped off the real estate ads in the Sunday Times Magazine for new South Florida condominiums, gleams like an alien spaceship, its ground floor wholly taken up not by an independent bookstore or a vegetarian restaurant but by a Chase bank branch. To many in the neighborhood, it sits obdurately, incongruously on hallowed ground.

Up the street from me the comfortable Gramercy Park Hotel used to offer reasonable rates on rooms. It had its traditions. It was a place to suggest to friends who were coming to visit. That’s all over now.

Which is all to say that despite the assurances that have been given by the new owners of Stuyvesant Town that traditions will be honored, you gotta’ wonder. Do you even have to wonder? There’s no stadium that isn’t being torn down or altered to squeeze in more luxury boxes. What’s the chance Stuyvesant town will stay the way it is. There’s no mountain resort that isn’t going against the cowboy tradition and luring in Ritz Carltons. The trends don’t bode well at all for Stuyvesant Town staying the way it is.

I’m not really intimate with the place, even though I walk by it daily. I’ve run through it occasionally on an exercise jaunt. A guy I taught high school with a few years ago lived there with his wife who was also a teacher. A young guy who went to Fordham with my nephew lives there with his wife who’s in law school. I read a book a few years ago, a memoir by a woman who grew up there. I go to a bar across First Avenue from there to watch sports on TV and eat great bar food and I’ve always assumed the people who come in there are mostly from Stuyvesant Town.

That may be why I like the place. I choose to go there over the many other Irish bars that are closer to my apartment. I tell my friends that it’s a ‘real’ neighborhood bar. By that I mean that the neighborhood uses it for food and drink and wedding anniversary meals. It’s named after a fireman who was killed on 9/11. It’s that kind of neighborhood. If the Ruettigers lived in Manhattan, they’d go into such a place. They’d likely live in Stuyvesant Town.

-- Bill Gunlocke

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