Carnegie Hall Evicts Apartment Tenants

The Associated Press
Saturday, August 4, 2007; 8:29 PM

NEW YORK -- Artists' studios in the two red-brick towers that rise above Carnegie Hall were once home to Marlon Brando and Leonard Bernstein. Marilyn Monroe took acting lessons there, and Lucille Ball had voice coaching.

Between the towers, which have sheltered musicians and other artists for more than a century, are studios with double-height ceilings and huge skylights that catch the northern light artists consider ideal.

The special light and century-old wood creates "a stillness, a permanence that put my subjects at ease _ and that you're not going to get in one of those white boxes in a new building," said Josef Astor, a 51-year-old photographer who has occupied his eighth-floor studio since 1985. The studio is just a few feet above the ornate, white-and-gold ceiling of Carnegie Hall's main auditorium.

However, Astor and his neighbors might have to consider moving to new buildings. The Carnegie Hall Corporation is trying to evict its 50 tenants so it can gut the space and renovate beginning in 2009.

The residents aren't going without a fight.

On Friday, they won a reprieve when a judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Carnegie Hall from taking any action until the tenants' case can be heard Sept. 17.

The tenants' attorney, Arlene Boop, said the plan to gut the little-known Carnegie studios and apartments "is sort of like 'Let's bulldoze the Greek temple.'"

Carnegie's executive and artistic director, Clive Gillinson, said the space is needed to expand the hall's education programs, which benefit about 115,000 children.

"The space is going to be used for something that is totally about the mission of Carnegie Hall _ to provide a music education to every child," he said.

The concert hall was built in 1890 by industrialist Andrew Carnegie at the corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue. The towers _ one 12 stories, the other 15 _ were added several years later.

Tenants pay anywhere from several hundred dollars a month for a studio to several thousand, depending on whether it falls under the city's rent-control regulations.

The building survived a demolition threat in 1960, when violinist Isaac Stern led a public campaign to save it from developers who wanted to tear it down to build a high rise on the site.

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© 2007 The Associated Press