Description & Building Alterations
No. 21 Avenue C, a six-story Old Law Tenement, was built in 1899 by architect Michael Bernstein and today referred to as Umbrella House (see Off the Grid blog post link to the right). In 1980, squatters moved into the building and found a very leaky roof. They umbrellas to shield themselves from the elements inside, and named their home after this makeshift solution to the building’s problems while they continued to work to renovate it. During July 4th weekend in 1995, a city-ordered siege occurred during which police in riot gear came into the Loisaida area of the East Village and evicted and arrested squatters, including those in Umbrella House. The evicted squatters countered in court claiming that they were lawfully living in these abandoned buildings under adverse possession, a law that says if someone has been living openly in a building for more than ten years, he or she owns it. The judge agreed and the squatters were allowed to remain. In 2002, a partnership was formed between the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board and the residents, in which the building was brought up to code and sold to the residents who had lived there for so long. The building remains a low-income housing cooperative today, and has a green rooftop garden.
From the NYTimes Abandon It, And They Will Come by Amy Barrett October 6, 2002.
Siobhan Meow, 21-23 Avenue C
Moved in 1988. Invested $30,800. Squatter monthly payment: $100. New payment: $200.
”All these people are going, ‘Hey, the city gave them a free building!’ They weren’t living here without a roof, O.K.? Pigeons would fly in, and the wind would blow right through. It was like camping. They weren’t lugging five gallons of water up the stairs for three years and lugging five gallons of urine down and dumping it in the sewer. They didn’t do the work we did on the building to get it. Putting the toilet in took three or four days; the floor took a couple of months. I’m crippled now from working on this house. I have had two operations on my back for a herniated disk, each for $25,000. A lot of people are defining ‘squatter’ lately as ‘crackhead who burns a building down using candles for heat.’ It depends on who you ask. But that’s not who we are. The minute we walked in this building, it was for keeps. I have about 80-some cats right now. I’m on disability for my back these days. I also cat-sit for a living. I’m trying to get permission to set this up as a foundation for cats. I don’t have any regrets that I did this. My only regret is that I wasn’t born a trust-fund brat.”
Block : 385 / Lot : 038 / Building Date : 1899 / Original Owner : Mess Nuberg Brothers / Original Use : Residential/Commercial / Original Architect : Michael Bernstein