By Bohemia Agent Raphael Fetta
Last weekend I was out showing some sales properties to a client, and we happened to go look at a unit in a building I’d been to a couple times, but had never given much thought to – 409 Edgecombe Avenue. Chatting with the broker who was selling the unit, she told me about the vaunted history of the building – that W.E.B. Dubois and Thurgood Marshall once called it home, that George Gershwin had once played “Rhapsody in Blue” at a dinner party at the apartment of Walter White (NAACP leader, not Breaking Bad…), that Babe Ruth and other Yankees had stayed there at times before the famed Polo Grounds baseball field at the bottom of the hill was razed and replaced with public housing. I found it all interesting, but what really got my imagination working was something at once banal and completely unusual.
In the cellar, there is the usual network of conduits and electric meters, washing machines, stored items and the like, but something unusual caught my eye. Tucked away in a dark recess of the sprawling basement, there is a series of tall vertical metal drawers that look all of 100 years old – I would guess there is 1 for every original apartment in the building. At first I thought it was some sort of storage vault system, but when I pulled one of the huge handles, the drawer was actually filled with slats for hanging rugs, sheets, and clothes. I looked more closely at the bottom, and realized that a series of pipes (like a radiator) run beneath the drawers, piping heat up. They were clothes dryers – circa 1900! I had never seen anything quite like them. When I asked the super, he also agreed that he had never encountered them anywhere else.
Immediately, I visualized Babe Ruth’s uniform hanging there with a load of giant boxer shorts, and Thurgood Marshall’s shirt collars awaiting a stiff starching from his maid; maybe Gershwin spilled a glass of Burgundy on Walter White’s favorite throw…and maybe it, too hung here to dry. Who knows what textiles of the legendary and infamous had dessicated there? It was a small moment where I encountered something from the past that had an intimate history, and it briefly transported me to whole other time and place. That happens a lot in New York, and it seems to happen (at least to me) the most in Harlem. I didn’t close on that co-op, but the trip (both literal and figuarative) was well worth it.