The Five Ugliest Buildings on the Upper West Side

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We took your suggestions and came up with the Upper West Side’s worst eyesores

By Megan Bungeroth and Anam Baig

Every neighborhood has a few. Even on the generally well-maintained Upper West Side, some buildings, whether from construction, neglect or outright abandonment, cause neighbors to flinch when they see them. We asked local residents and community leaders to spot the worst eyesores in the neighborhood.

132 W. 83rd St.

118 W. 76th St.

Tales of sketchy politicians and safety violations mysteriously surround this empty sorest of thumbs on West 76th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, left to breed the city’s assorted refuse for more than 30 years.

Built in the late 1800s, this Renaissance Revival brownstone stands in an historic Upper West Side neighborhood where many buildings have been maintained but still have an old-school touch.

With a crumbling facade and windows blacked out with tarp, 118 stands out badly beside the West Side Institutional Synagogue. The top half of the building is its original rusting color, but the bottom half has been painted an ugly pale blue that is already peeling. Garbage litters the boarded-up stoop, and a giant wooden board is rudely slapped up against the driveway, a reminder that, technically, no one gets in and no one gets out.

“Over the years, it has served as a haven for the homeless, who make shelters constructed of old appliance boxes and sleep on the stoop and relieve themselves in the airway,” said 76th Street Block Association member Bill Rooney.
Rooney grew up on the Upper West Side in the 1960s, playing stickball in the schoolyard across the street, which is now P.S. 334. He recalled that the building was owned by Elsie, an elderly woman who used it as a boarding house.

“Whenever someone hit a home run over the fence, we had to retrieve the rubber ball from Elsie’s property and she would run out and chase us away, swinging a broom at us,” Rooney said. “Every child in the neighborhood thought she was a witch and her building haunted. It was in better condition then, but now it definitely has a haunted house look.”

The abandoned building has also been festering with vermin, accounting for many of the 14 complaints and 21 violations it has amassed over its 35-year neglect. After Elsie’s death, the house’s ownership supposedly went to a distant relative in Staten Island, who ignored it until it was purchased by Jean Rudiano in 1976 for $5,000 in back taxes.

It has been abandoned ever since.

Now owned by Rudiano’s widow, Diane Haslett-Rudiano, following his death last year, the building continues to look unjustly neglected. Numerous attempts have been made by the 76th Street Block Association and by Council Member Gale Brewer of District 6 to contact Haslett-Rudiano, who is the chief clerk of the Brooklyn Borough Office of Elections.

But she has not answered many phone calls or letters, two of which were sent by the block association over an 18-month span and one that was sent by Brewer in 2008.

The letters cite concerns over trash accumulation and rat infestations that plague surrounding buildings and the horrible physical state of the building that remains. Haslett-Rudiano has been referred to realtors by Brewer and Judith Bronfman, president of the block association, to have her building appraised and sold, but she has either ignored or refused the offers.

“It is totally unacceptable and a complete disgrace that someone in a position of political responsibility is allowed to get away with this—maybe, sadly, it is because she is part of the political establishment of the city that she has gotten away with it for so long,” said Joan Wucher King, another block association member.

Bronfman agrees, stating that as long as the taxes for the building, which she estimates around $8,000 a year, are paid, it is allowed to be kept in disarray.

“It is disgusting,” said local resident Amy Geller. “I’ve been passing this building every day from work for 10 years. It’s still a mess, and is getting worse every year. The one nice thing about the building was the picture of Bob Dylan that plastered the door, street art style, but even that’s been ripped down. It’s a shame, really, that such a nice building goes to waste.”

400-406 W. 57th St.—The Windermere

The Windermere has the potential to be one of the most iconic set of buildings in its Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, and residents of the surrounding streets can still hope for that day. A hulking apartment building complex currently wrapped from sidewalk to rooftop in scaffolding and bright blue mesh, the structure has been under renovation for several years. While it currently sits as a reminder of how arduous and long a building’s revival can be in this city, underneath the ugly covering is a landmarked treasure.

In May 2009, the former owners of the property, Toa Construction Co., settled a lawsuit with the city that resulted in the sale of the building to Windermere Properties LLC. Toa had not been complying with landmarking laws and was allowing the building to crumble into disrepair; they were forced to fork over $1.1 million in civil penalties to the city in addition to selling the building. They were also forced to compensate former tenants of one of the buildings who were forced to move when the fire department determined that it was unsafe and uninhabitable.

The buildings were constructed in 1881, and were once considered prime addresses for the city’s elite. While it is currently vacant and racking up complaints to the Department of Buildings (there are 134 complaints since 2009 on the 400 property), Brewer said that the owner has plans for the building and is working to make them happen. Locals are hopeful that it will eventually be restored to its former glory and take its rightful place as a proud landmark on the Upper West Side.

315 W. 103rd St.

From the outside, this building appears abandoned—there are broken windows, peeling paint, scaffolding and plastic slapped over holes. It juts out unnaturally over the other brownstones on the block, standing out in a bad way above the roofline. It could be a candidate for demolition, but in reality, the building is locked in conflict—and still occupied.

Neighbors and residents of this property describe a nightmare of an ongoing ordeal. In 2007, Jacob Avid of Dan-Bran Realty LLC bought the eight-unit building and applied for permits to construct a two-story rooftop addition and a rear yard extension. The problem is that Avid apparently reported the building as vacant in order to get the permits approved, when there were actually rent-regulated tenants still living there. Since then, the tenants have been living in a construction zone and the owners currently owe $10,000 in fines to the Department of Buildings, according to their records, for repeatedly violating stop work orders and proceeding with construction. The owner’s building permits were pulled in 2009 and the building now waits in a twilight zone of legality.

132 W. 83rd St.

This hideous building speaks for itself and is somewhat of an enigma. Property records don’t show the owner at 132 W. 83rd St., and while it sits empty and boarded up, it doesn’t get too much attention in the neighborhood. An area resident complained to the Department of Buildings in November 2011 that the plywood covering the windows was coming loose and was about to fall, creating a hazardous condition, but there was no violation found by the inspector.

120 W. 74th St.

It’s impossible not to associate this property with vermin, thanks to the graffiti scrawled on the front designating it “The Rat House.” Local resident Pat Sill called the property “a real mess” and said that since it was emptied and sold a few years back, it’s been “empty except for the rats.”

The landmarked property used to belong to Walter Tillow, who lived there with his family and is on record in 1988 opposing the historic district designation that eventually did envelop his property. It reportedly sold for almost $4 million to a company called 553 West 174th St LLC—and that company filed for bankruptcy in October 2011.

It’s not a pretty sight; still, eyesores are in the eyes of their beholders.

Julius Caberera, who works on the Upper West Side and was walking by on a recent weekday, said, “Oh, this building is abandoned? I barely every noticed it. That’s nothing compared to the building on 76th—that one is really disgusting.”

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