Notes from the Street Gentrification Forgot Part V

Gavin Young Maloney moved to the Street in 1999 when he bought a former carriage house that had been one of many carriage houses in the late 19th century when this region of of Bed-Stuy acted as a stable yard for the gentry living in the mansions up in Clinton Hill. The carriage house had long since been converted to a warehouse, but the beams and brick walls of the original stable remained.

Gavin’s first task was to install a toilet, which he did by labouring for 18 hours straight, fitting the pipes through the decaying walls into what would become the upstairs bathrooms. This single-minded focus defined the renovations in the months and years to come, as he transformed the derelict floors into the transcendent space with skylights and brick walls I’ve stayed in off and on for the last couple of years.

He slept on an airbed on the ground floor in what would become the guest bedroom, and lived on Chinese food from the take-away with the bulletproof glass up Franklin. Machinery and boxes of garbage choked both floors and the front stairwell had been converted into a conveyer belt. Just getting the floors cleared out took months. He took out the drop ceiling from the top floor, exposing the beams underneath, and widened the ground floor by building a kitchen and pouring a concrete floor, putting in skylights to bring out the natural beauty of the overhead beams and the brick arch leading to what would become the downstairs kitchen.

Upstairs Kitchen
Upstairs Kitchen

The Street was pretty far from being gentrified then. Hookers lined the pavement, even in the daytime, and in the vacant lot up the street, where the new apartment buildings have just gone up, a dozen pit bulls ran free between the the wooden fencing. The hookers, Gavin said, were civil enough when they got to know him, but gunshots rang out at night and the projects on Lafayette were still very much THE PROJECTS.

But Gavin persevered and by the time I came round in 2003 to help finish the office, the two floors were almost finished. You can see pictures here:

Though Gavin was raised on the Upper West Side, parts of his family had long worked construction and he started in the trade in his teens. In his early 20’s, he formed a rock band, playing a few gigs around the city, and he still has a fine singing voice, but his first love was poetry. In his library, he has an impressive collection of the Classics – Yeats, the Greeks, annotated copies of Finnegan’s Wake and Ulysses, and even a few copies of Neitzsche in the German – Gavin once studied the language hoping to read Neitzsche in the original. He says studying poetry has helped him with construction – and indeed his interiors, particularly the latest a poetic range of mood, colours and form. But he continues to write poetry and recently put out a book ”The Persistence of Memory’

His interests are far-ranging, and ever-evolving. A couple of years ago, he got into watch-making, and bought hundreds of vintage Dial watches and learned how to rebuild them himself. He buys prints off Ebay and collects art from artists he knows, from art fairs upstate, along with antiques and picture frames which he fixes himself in the house he bought in a small town upstate.
In other words, he is a typical New Yorker – eternally restless, ingenious, brilliant, eccentric – twinned with the city that formed him . . .

Gavin in Living Room of New House
Gavin in Living Room of New House


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