A uniquely Manhattan story of the end of a rent-stabilized life at the Apthorp

The Apthorp is a well-known Upper West Side building where many extremely wealthy have lived for decades with rent-stabilized leases that have nothing to do with market value. The writer’s family takes a buy-out after her family living at the Apthorp for 56 years. This story could only happen in Manhattan. Read and marvel.

There are many comments to the story that mention how tone-deaf the writer is to what’s going on outside her door beyond the inconvenience it produces. This is true. One has to ignore that and look at the tale as a uniquely Manhattan-oriented piece.

A Buy-Out at The Apthorp: Leaving During Lockdown

A Buy-Out at The Apthorp: Leaving During Lockdown

Sara Lewin Lebwohl  April 10, 2020  Real Estate

On March 8th, Bibi Farber announced on Facebook to her friends and community that she would be moving out of her 2,400 square foot apartment at the Apthorp. Her family had lived there for 56 years! Full of memories and planning for her future, Bibi was ready to say goodbye … but not like this. Since life in the city has changed so drastically, it has not been the send off Bibi was hoping for. In her own words, she tells us about what life has been like trying to move in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.

It was already the most disruptive undertaking my family could possibly imagine – leaving our grand apartment in The Apthorp after 56 years.

The Apthorp is the gigantic fortress of a building that takes up the whole block between 78th and 79th Street and Broadway to West End Ave. Step into the courtyard and there are four different lobbies, leading to 154 unique, enormous luxury apartments.

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When my parents moved in in 1964 the rent on the sprawling UWS apartment was $365/month. They loved the 3 bedroom, 3 bath urban palace with 12 foot ceilings and a marble mosaic floor in the foyer.

I was a year old and my sister was on the way, so they moved in from a one bedroom across the street on West End Avenue. Easy as that!

My father, radio broadcaster Barry Farber, was 34 years old when he moved in.

On March 21st of 2020, a few weeks shy of 90, he was hustled quickly out into a car by masked doormen in the courtyard as we moved him and his wife in the middle of the unfolding coronavirus crisis.

We took a buy-out that had been in the works for more than a year. Meaning we surrender our rent-stabilized lease in exchange for a sum of money. As with many seniors who wish to remain independent, the escalating expenses require not one but several large pots of gold. Fortunately for us, we found them another place in the neighborhood.

There’s a House on the Roof of this Upper West Side Building

The paperwork was finalized in early March. Our contract has us out of here, broom swept by April 30th.

We got them out at the last minute. The building management hesitantly agreed, before what would become a complete lockdown, that we were allowed to hire movers, donning masks and gloves, to move out as quickly as possible.

We slapped neon post-its on furniture (which) the movers rushed into the truck. They were likely the last outside contractors allowed on the property.

The Apthorp then ushered in a complete lockdown. Most of our family stuff – and all of my personal stuff — didn’t make it.

So we both have to move and are not allowed to actually complete the move.

I had moved into my childhood home last year, to help with this herculean task. I wanted to salvage my father’s vast archives of work. There’s plenty of published writing – a weekly editorial column since the 1970s. Audio? I’m coming across literally every recording format known to man – from acetate discs (an early type of phonograph records) to two track reels to cassettes to DAT tapes, CDs to hard drives with mp3’s, mini cassettes, mini disks and more. Decades of letters, awards, boxes of photographs, hundreds of books, thousands of little pieces of paper he uses to trigger stories to tell, anecdotes, and of course language learning. Barry Farber is a student of 26 languages and has taught and published books on the subject.

Yesterday (April 9th), the building staff were outraged at me. I had someone – donning a mask and gloves – help me remove a chest of drawers. My first crime was that I didn’t know that even moving ONE item through the courtyard would potentially upset residents, as it is “exposure to risk”. My far larger crime was that I didn’t know that no one who was not a resident was allowed in The Apthorp. The guard came up to our door demanding my guest leave immediately. He stayed there, on a walkie-talkie with the super, very angry at me, until the man was gone.

It was as if I had let a monster into the castle.

“No one is allowed inside the building! I’m even turning away dog walkers!” the building manager told me.

Of course I want to comply. The LAST thing I want to do is incur more risk for anyone. The last thing I WANT to do is move right now.

When I explained that my father and his wife have already moved, but I have not, I was told to “Only take what is essential”. I’m thinking OK, blow up mattress, coffee maker, laptop, a pot and pan, my guitar and my pet rabbit Boxer, some clothes. Wait but… until when? June or beyond?

The Old Apthorp Mansion of the Upper West Side

I’m stuck here with A LOT of stuff. At first I was told that I can’t have ANYONE help me, not even friends or family members with masks and gloves. Even if I did get clearance for anyone to help me, I must foot the bill for a full decontamination spray treatment of the lobby. I was told they don’t want me to move out any furniture.

“But I’m paying rent as of April 1st in Astoria! And I need to meet the terms of our buy-out!” I plead.

Moving companies are allowed to operate as it is considered “essential” by New York City guidelines. But I’m not allowed to move.

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In this most glorious family headquarters, more than 50 years of life unfolded. We grew up riding bikes and playing softball in the courtyard. We trick-or-treated through all four wings. We’ve had a dozen cats, 2 hamsters, a dog, rabbits and goldfish from Woolworths back in the day. My sister Celia had her wedding reception here. Holiday parties for half a century, Thanksgiving feasts, graduations, and hundreds of birthday celebrations. My nephew and his friends took over our trick-or-treating route in the 1990s.Apthorp Courtyard 1987

College Graduation day, 1987: Bibi with her father in the courtyard.Halloween Apthorp 1960s

Halloween in the 1960s

Barry Farber has been married three times. I sit literally amongst fragments of all our family members, living and deceased. My mother’s ashes still sit in an urn on the bookshelf. Her household decorations, linens and Scandinavian touch grace our everyday lives even 20 years later. His second wife’s antique chandeliers hang in all the rooms, though they have been divorced since the 1980s. My American grand mother’s china and silver are in my impossibly large KEEP piles, and we have furniture from our great grandmother on the Swedish side.

The plan was to empty the apartment- broom swept – by April 30th.

I look out onto a desolate Broadway from the maid’s room, the room off of the kitchen. This was my room, where I used to blast The Who’s “Who’s Next” every morning before going to 6th grade in 1975.

Expensive Upper West Side Buildings with Naughty Celebrity Stories

I wonder as I try to pack up apartment 3A: will anyone ever live here again for 56 years? Will anyone ever move in between their first and second child and move out … at age 90?

When we moved in you could live here comfortably on a broadcaster’s salary. Whenever I get our stuff out, it will be slapped into shape and go on the market for over 4 million dollars.

As of this writing, the building has agreed to let me have one assistant to help get my stuff out. It has to be someone who already works for my father and his wife. So that would be either a radio producer or a home health aide. I’ll take what I can get.

We are now redefining “broom swept”. Because I can’t move out the rest of the family stuff, the new plan is to surrender the keys but leave everything, boxed up and organized, until some undetermined point in the future when the restrictions lift.

I’m alone in 2,400 square feet, when people all over the world are losing their minds in cramped homes with families that can’t get away from each other.

It’s absurd, surreal and heartbreaking. I have to move, but I’m not allowed to move.

The term Catch-22 could not be more apt. Joseph Heller and family lived right here, in our A wing, on the 7th floor, 4 stories up from us, where he wrote the book.

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Every day the staff sprays disinfectant on all the garbage dumpsters, and holds a cheering session at 7:00pm in the courtyard, waving the American flag at either end.

Leaving the Apthorp

I had envisioned grand farewell parties, full of live music, friends from near and far. Now I’m not even able to hug goodbye the neighbors I’ve known since the 1960s. I’ll just have to come back sometime in the future, when they let non-residents enter The Apthorp.

As of 5pm on Thursday, April 9th, Bibi was given clearance to move the following day. We wish her the best during this difficult time and are thankful to her for sharing her story.

Bibi Farber is a musician and songwriter who’s family has lived in the Apthorp since 1964. www.bibifarber.com

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