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January 18, 2013 | December 12, 2013
A Magical Place I Love
Normally I wouldn’t write about this memory. I have an agreement with my wife and kids that I don’t write about them, not directly anyway and certainly not publicly.
In 1994 I found myself in New York City. I was working for Opportunity Magazine on Spring Street in the heart of SoHo. At that moment in my life I was homeless. I bounced from living at the offices on a fold-out couch to a transient hotel on Grand Street a few blocks from Chinatown and just South of the Opportunity offices. As cheap as the “hotel” was, I couldn’t always afford it.
The hotel was actually called the Grand Hotel. It was nothing but grand. They offered private rooms and shared rooms with bunk beds. There were no private bathrooms. There was a large common area that was a wet room. A line of 5-6 toilets on one wall with no doors on the stalls. And 5-6 shower heads on the opposite wall, prison style and very open. I say this with all honesty, it is the closest to being in jail that I have ever come in my life. There were some horrible things going on in that building that I will not write about here.
My days at the Grand I was lucky enough to have a private room. That meant that there was a single bed in the room along with a sink and a mirror. The room was the size of a walk-in closet. My luck extended to getting the room that overlooked Grand Street which meant there was a window. Of course the window had bars, but something was better than nothing. One awful night once the screaming had died down and the doors stopped opening and slamming shut, I finally drifted off to sleep. About two hours later I heard something and I twitched and turned over in the small bed. A few moments passed and I startled awake to a large man standing over me right beside the bed.
I am going to save my conversation with the gentleman for my book, but it ended with learning that the front desk has given him a key to my room. And, P.S. he had just been released from a 5 year prison term earlier in the day. He was in a better mood about the misunderstanding that he might have been, say, 5 years earlier.
A few weeks later I found myself with Brian Saltz. Brian worked for a Manhattan apartment finding service, which is required in New York if you truly expect to find any decent apartment due to the payoff and kickback payola that operates in the underbelly of the real estate market in the city. I met Brian through a mutual friend and I described what I needed; he ended up showing me a total of three apartments. Due to our connection he showed me the best he had to offer at his best prices. The last apartment has haunted me since that day.
Through my years in New York I have visited lots of apartments. I have known a few people that have lived in some pretty cool and virtually indescribable places. Brian introduced me to Milligan Place. I had walked place the gate that opened onto Milligan Place a hundred times when walking up Sixth Avenue. I have sought out many of these private streets during my private time in New York like Washington Mews, Patchin Place and a handful of others. These are places that usually have a private gate, in this case a private courtyard and tiny manicured gardens.
This apartment was on the top floor and a studio apartment. It had three windows that overlooked the courtyard and then beyond that was the private playground for Public School 41 that sat to the corner of the building. I could see the children playing the day I visited. The apartment was being renovated due to the damage the last tenant had done during his stay. It was a magical, mystical place. It remains as one of the best spaces I’ve ever seen in New York. I immediately saw myself living there and could imagine the years passing watching the gardens and the children playing outside year after year. I had never seen my life so clearly laid out in a future context.
The owner required first and last month’s rent in advance, then the super required a month’s rent worth of payoff and then Brian’s company required a month’s rent worth of fee. I can easily say it was worth every penny of that and more. But fate had other plans for me. Though I did not know it at the time, I have learned that people like Marlon Brando, E.E. Cummings, and a host of famous writers have lived at Milligan Place. For those that know about Patchin Place around the corner, that building is home to most of the famous psychotherapists in the city. What a great combination.
When I think about Milligan Place I wonder the turn my life could have made and I think about the influence the place could have inspired in me. Perhaps I was there in a different time, an alternate universe of choices I chose not to make. I have rarely fallen in love with locations, but that was love at first sight. It seduced me in a way I have never been able to shake. I’m glad to have been touched by it.
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These buildings at Milligan Place were originally built by Samuel Milligan around 1900. Interestingly, Milligan’s daughter, Isobel, married a man named Patchin which of course the adjacent street, Patchin Place is named after.
(More details in the book.)
Text by Greg Treadway
Milligan Place by Greg Treadway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://gregtreadway.com/milligan-place/.