Putting the word ‘artist’ and ‘coop’ together may evoke lots of possibilities, but real estate developer probably isn’t among them. The walking tour I did today demonstrated how artists were essential to the New York real estate cooperative.
Charles Fourier’s ideas influenced artists in a lot of ways, but the Fourier lifestyle ideas are what’s relevant to today’s exploration. He believed that marriage trapped women and encouraged them to take seven lovers. I didn’t ask why seven, but my fantasy is a different lover for each day of the week.
Fourier also developed an assessment of personality types and encouraged those of similar types to live together, which would foster the most creativity. An architect Huber brought these ideas to New York, when the Rembrandt opened on 57th Street in about 1880. While that project was apparently a bust, the cooperative style of living wouldn’t be.
Victorian mores discouraged living in close proximity to people you don’t know, which made the craze for single family homes. On 5th Avenue, this meant mansions. On the other side of the park, the cooperative reemerged in the early 1900s, when artists were desperate for affordable housing.
A group of artists became real estate developers by building five buildings on W. 67th Street.
These artists were innovators, too. They developed the studio apartment–one room where the artist could live and work in a studio. Meals were prepared in a cooperative kitchen and provided in a common dining room, which is why each apartment’s kitchen is lousy. The idea was to create collective space where ideas could be shared. And the artist wouldn’t be burdened with the mundanities of life.
The buildings still suggest their historic roots, named for example, Central Park Studios and Hotel des Artistes. Of course, today these buildings are wildly expensive coops, with that New York exclusivity. Pretty far removed from the original egalitarian vision.
Those original groups of artists glamorized the idea of unrelated people living together under one roof. Soon buildings were springing to life all over this new neighborhood west of the park, borrowing that cooperative idea.
But apartments grew into 7000 square feet. Elegant lobbies were used as marketing tools to attract the upper echelon. New York real estate was growing into the miasma it is today. All started by a bunch of artists.