[Marxism] Gentrification versus Autonomedia

Jim Fleming jim at autonomedia.org
Wed Mar 15 12:41:52 MST 2006

yes, i guess more a lurker than a frequent poster, but certainly a  
steady reader... unfortunately, the NYT chose to personalize a story  
that ought to have highlighted the same endangered legal status for  
thousands of similarly-situated residential loft tenants throughout  
the city....

On Mar 15, 2006, at 2:32 PM, Louis Proyect wrote:

> (The Jim Fleming mentioned below is a Marxmail subscriber/lurker.)
> NY Times, March 15, 2006
> Williamsburg Journal
> The Good Life on South 11th Street
> For more than a century, the book business flourished inside two  
> brick warehouses on South 11th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a  
> block from the East River. Since the late 19th century, when the  
> six-story structures were built between Berry Street and Wythe  
> Avenue, they have often been occupied by publishers and presses,  
> both recognized and rarefied.
> In recent decades, artists and performers moved in, but now they,  
> along with the last remaining book publisher, may have to leave soon.
> In the fall of 2004, a real estate concern, DOV Land L.L.C., bought  
> one of the warehouses, which includes 36 spaces in which people  
> live or work. Residents said the new owner made it clear to some of  
> them that it wanted them to move out and began eviction proceedings  
> against others. About three dozen residents in 13 living spaces  
> went on a rent strike, and have withheld their payments for about a  
> year.
> Now the tenants are waiting for a decision by a judge in State  
> Supreme Court in Brooklyn, who will determine whether they are  
> protected by rent stabilization laws. If not, then many longtime  
> residents, including an array of artists and artisans, members of  
> two circuses and the last publisher in either warehouse, are likely  
> to have to move.
> "If we have to leave this building it'll almost certainly mean  
> leaving New York City," said Jim Fleming, 56, who has lived on the  
> fourth floor of 55-65 South 11th Street since 1982. "Williamsburg  
> has come to be thought of as hip, but we were a bunch of pioneer  
> artists."
> While living on South 11th Street, Mr. Fleming started Autonomedia,  
> a nonprofit company that publishes criticism by authors like Dwight  
> MacDonald, Guy Debord and Michel Foucault. Mr. Fleming and his  
> companion, Lewanne Jones, 53, an archivist, live in a 2,700-square- 
> foot loft — with painted wooden floors and homemade wooden shelves  
> holding Mr. Fleming's personal library of 60,000 volumes — for  
> which they had paid $787.35 a month since 1985. Since 1997,  
> Autonomedia has used a space the same size on the second floor,  
> with a rent of about $1,100.
> Mr. Fleming and Ms. Jones, who have two children away in college,  
> acknowledged that the rates they paid before joining the rent  
> strike were well below market. They added that although the loft  
> was spacious, life there was far from luxurious. Over the years,  
> they said, they made their own plumbing repairs, paid for their own  
> heat, and navigated streets lined with burned-out buildings. At  
> times in the 1980's, Ms. Jones said, she was awakened by the sound  
> of cars burning in the street outside; she said thieves would bring  
> the cares there, strip them, and set them afire to dispose of them.
> "Market rate has been created by the fact that people want to come  
> here because of communities that were created by people like us,"  
> she said.
> Gerard Proefriedt, a lawyer for the landlord, said his client had  
> tried to negotiate with the tenants but without success.
> "Through changes in the neighborhood and inflation and other market  
> forces, the rental values have gone up," Mr. Proefriedt said. "The  
> landlord, like any landlord who owns a building, wants to maximize  
> rental income." Mr. Proefriedt refused to say what his client  
> planned to do with the building. (The landlord also bought the  
> other warehouse across the street, but many of the tenants there  
> are protected by the loft law and cannot be easily evicted.)
> While market values on the north side of Williamsburg have been  
> rising for several years, gentrification has taken hold more slowly  
> in this part, the south side. But on Kent Avenue, four blocks from  
> Mr. Fleming's loft, some units in a new 26-story development called  
> Schaeffer Landing are listed at up to $2 million.
> More changes could be on the way nearby. Last May, the city  
> approved an ambitious rezoning plan for the Williamsburg and  
> Greenpoint waterfronts that will allow developers to build towers  
> up to 40 stories tall.
> Mr. Fleming said the two warehouses on South 11th Street were  
> completed in 1870 and housed McLaughlin Brothers, which at the turn  
> of the 20th century was one of the country's biggest companies  
> making board games and publishing children's books. In the 1930's,  
> he said, the American Book Company, which published school  
> textbooks, moved in.
> The cultural history of 55-65 South 11th Street took a more  
> colorful turn as publishing faded. Alan Saret, known as an anti- 
> form artist who makes wire sculptures, lives on the sixth floor,  
> and the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat used a studio there in the  
> 80's, Mr. Fleming said.
> Two members of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus live in rooms they  
> built in the Autonomedia space on the second floor. On the floor  
> above Mr. Fleming live Cindy Greenberg and Jennifer Miller, both  
> members of the Circus Amok. Next door to them lives Gary Fierer,  
> the singer in a band called Primordial Ooze.
> On Thursday afternoon, Ms. Greenberg, 37, stood in her 1,500-square- 
> foot loft, for which she and Ms. Miller were paying $450 a month. A  
> trapeze hung from bolts in the ceiling and a closet was crammed  
> with costumes and props.
> At times, the story of 55-65 South 11th Street has inspired  
> performances. Ms. Greenberg said the circus performed a series of  
> shows last year about a magical cat that comes to the aid of  
> embattled tenants.
> "This is the headquarters, the storage, the rehearsal space, the  
> living space," she said, noting that the circus is able to perform  
> free because of the low overhead. "If we get kicked out, the  
> question of whether we'll be able to keep the circus going is up in  
> the air."
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Jim Fleming

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