A curious reader recently inquired about the goings-on at 244 Elizabeth Street, a tired old tenement on the eastern edge of Nolita, noting that this one is "a building where the deadbeat tenants would sit around and BBQ and take over the street, but I noticed a roll down gate covering their front door, cinder blocks covering the ground floor windows and wood covering other windows in the building." Deadbeats? Harsh! We dug into our vast archives and found a tale stretching across the past century, with echoes of Scorsese and the Gangs of New York. Given what we discovered, the neighborhood's newly-arrived neighbors might want to brush up on their marinades, because it looks like the old-timers will soon be back.
244 Elizabeth, currently owned by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, went into foreclosure back in the mid-70's. Now the building is being rehabbed as part of the Tenant Interim Lease Program, a city-sponsored community development initiative that "assists organized tenant associations in City-owned buildings to develop economically self-sufficient low-income cooperatives where tenants purchase their apartments for $250." High-paying neighbors will want to know that the cinder blocks and plywood now filling the facade are merely the interim design elements; they will give way to new windows and a full renovation. And very possibly the return of sidewalk BBQs.
If any nabe newbies are complaining now, imagine what they would have said a hundred years ago when this block was a target of the infamous Black Hand gang. Two doors down at 240 Elizabeth sat Pasquale Pati's Italian Bank; late in the afternoon of January 23, 1908, a bomb was set off in the bank's doorway as a way to extort cash from the banker and terrorize the neighborhood. On duty to combat the insurgents was NYPD's Lt. Joseph Petrosino, who gave his life in the on-going fight and is remembered at Petrosino Square a few blocks away. Forty years later this block was home to director Martin Scorsese, first at 241 Elizabeth and then later in a third-floor apartment facing onto Elizabeth at No. 253. There, from the fire escape where he slept on hot summer nights, Scorsese soaked up the activity on the mean streets below. Deadbeats and BBQs and all.
· Design Commission Meeting Agenda: 244 Elizabeth [NYC.gov; PDF]
· Tenant Interim Lease Apartment Purchase Program [NYC HPD website]