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A blog from CityRealty (Links below will take you to the 6sqft site)

Features

Image courtesy of the GVSHP Image courtesy of the GVSHP
In the 1980s, the idea that Avenue C would eventually be home to condo developments with names like Boutique 67 would have sent most local residents into a fit of laughter and possibly a fit of rage. At the time, heroin was so widely available in Alphabet City that junkies would simply line up outside local tenements and wait for dealers to lower their next hit out the window in a bucket (such practices were well documented by local activist and photographer Clayton Patterson and some of this footage appears in the 2010 documentary, Captured). Of course, Alphabet City in the 1980s was about much more than drugs. It was the epicenter of New York City’s fight to maintain affordable housing at a time when gentrification was already beginning to reshape both the West Village and Soho. The neighborhood was also home to the city’s then thriving punk music scene.
Most vestiges of the Alphabet City of the 1980s are already long gone, but at least a few reminders of the era and the old neighborhood remain, including C-Squat.

What is C-Squat?

Put simply, it’s a squat house. This means that its original residents simply took over the building—at the time, a largely burnt out skeleton of a walk-up—and lived there for free. But C-Squat is not just any squat house. It’s one of the city’s longest standing and most well-known squats both due to the fact that it was once an important punk music venue and for the critical role its residents have played in local housing struggles over the years.
Boutique 67 and The Calyx
It is more than a bit ironic, then, that today C-Squat, located at 155 Avenue C, occupies an increasingly expensive stretch of real estate—one that is home to Boutique 67 at 67 Avenue C and The Calyx at 189 Avenue C. How much are C-Squat’s newest neighbors paying to live on a stretch of Avenue C that was once considered even too dangerous for the NYPD? A one-bedroom unit at Boutique 67 is asking $5,900 a month in rent after selling for $824,783 in 2016 (the least expensive closing in the building) A three-bedroom unit sold for $1.75M back when it opened in 2016. At The Calyx, a one-bedroom is on the market for $865K and two-bedroom is asking $950K.
With the average price per square foot reaching above $1,500 on some recent Avenue C sales (that is just under the current median price/square foot on the Upper East Side), one may wonder why C-Squat and its residents have not already sold their coveted property? After all, selling now would yield a phenomenal return on investment. If you think these squatters (now legal co-op shareholders) are about to move, however, think again. All signs point to the fact that even if and when the Armani shop arrives on Avenue C, this squat house isn’t going anywhere.

C-Squat’s History

Prior to its life as a squat, 155 Avenue C was much like other buildings in the neighborhood. The building was constructed in the late 1800s and over the years, it served as a home to several local businesses. Then, in the 1970s, the building was nearly entirely gutted by a fire. At the time, of course, fires were commonplace in Alphabet City as many landlords reasoned it was more financially viable to burn their buildings to the ground than pay taxes and upkeep on properties with virtually no value. By the late 1970s, 155 Avenue C had been taken over by the city, and by the mid 1980s, all remaining tenants had been evicted. That is when the building’s new life started to take form.
In the '70s, many landlords reasoned it was more financially viable to burn their buildings to the ground than pay taxes and upkeep on properties with virtually no value.
In the late 1980s, a group of squatters entered 155 Avenue C and started to rebuild the building from the inside out. By the early 1990s, C-Squat was not only home to a rotating circuit of residents but also had established itself as one of the city’s most infamous punk venues. Leftover Crack, one of the many bands with a longstanding connection to the squat, even immortalized the house at “9th and C” in their lyrics: “‘Cuz yer brain is all numb as yer body decays / I feel that long black cloud, it’s coming down / 9th & C.” But the members Leftover Crack not only knew how to write truly gritty lyrics, they were also handy with tools and among the many C-Squat residents who have helped to keep 155 Avenue C standing to this day.
While C-Squat may be best known for its wild punk shows, over the years, the squat and its residents have also proven stalwart advocates of a community that has frequently found itself under siege—first by local authorities attempting to “clean up” the neighborhood, including its squats, and later by developers and a new wave of residents. As such, despite the push under Mayor Giuliani to eliminate squats in the early 1990s, C-Squat was among the squat houses that hung on to its space. In 2002, it was one of 11 remaining neighborhood squats that was able to purchase its property from the City of New York for $1. As part of the deal, the squat also agreed to bring 155 Avenue C up to code and to eventually restructure as a co-op.
Image courtesy of the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space

The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space

If you’re a new renter or condo owner in Alphabet City and would like to get to know your neighbors at C-Squat better, don’t worry—C-Squat’s doors are nearly always open. Since 2012, the storefront level of C-Squat has been home to the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, a small community museum and archive that hosts exhibits and events dedicated to keeping the neighborhood’s history alive. While not officially part of the squat (the space is actually leased from the squat for a reported $1,700 monthly), the museum is run by a group of long-time local residents who include several people with connections to C-Squat. According to the museum’s website, visitors are welcome to drop by Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday), but this volunteer-run museum isn’t the MoMA—opening hours can be erratic and calling in advance is well advised.
When you visit, bring a donation (it’s how the museum and in turn, C-Squat continue to survive) and start to explore the neighborhood. The museum doesn’t set out to explain how Avenue C’s real estate soared from zero-per-square-foot in the 1980s to its current levels of value, but visiting the museum, there is no question that much of what makes Alphabet City a desirable destination today, including its community gardens, can be attributed to the the labor and commitment of local residents—and that includes those who arrived as squatters.
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Additional Info About the Building

 
Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.
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