Artists’ loft community on the ropes in Williamsburg
An artists’ community at 475 Kent Ave., an 11-story loft building in Williamsburg, has thrived since 1998 but may be under fire. Since new owners Shlomo Meichor and Assi Arev of the Gaia Investment Group took over last year, about half of the tenants have been evicted despite there being a loft law in place to protect the tenants, according to the Freunde von Freunden website.
Over the years, the building has housed photographers, actors (including Bill Murray at one time), artists, musicians and authors. Freunde von Freunden interviewed several of the tenants and former tenants to trace the evolution of this informal community.
In 1998, then-owner Nachman Brach decided to let some tenants move into what was then an almost-empty building on the condition that they make their own repairs and investments in capital infrastructure. Guy Lesser, who moved into the building then, recalled his space as initially being “just a cement box.”
Over the years, it turned into a close-knit community: Furniture-maker Gregoire Abrial said, “To me, it felt like I hadn’t left art school, where you have different majors, but at some point you all start to hang out over lunch or at parties.”
While there were always problems in the building – tenants were temporarily evicted in 2008 when flammable materials were found in a makeshift matzo factory in the basement – the real change came after 2013, when upscale residential development began to rise nearby. Now, life has changed dramatically at 475 Kent, Freunde von Freunden said. The surviving tenants work with lawyers to advocate for their rights and recently held an art auction to benefit their tenants’ association.
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