Despite all of that, as late as the early 1980s, the Upper West Side still looked tired.
The afternoon of my first visit, I had lunch with a friend in a seafood dive on the southeast corner of Broadway and West 77th. As I gazed out the window of the restaurant that day, I looked directly at the Belleclaire. There was something about her soot-stained red brick, partially decayed facade and two rounded towers that called to my heart — a once haughty dowager fallen on hard days.
The Belleclaire, built in 1903, was a very early example of Emery Roth’s work and scarcely anticipated his later, more celebrated buildings, including the two towers of the Eldorado on Central Park West.
“Someday, I’m going to live in that building,” I vowed to my disbelieving friend at that 1982 luncheon.
Six months later, I miraculously acquired a lease for a two-bedroom apartment here. Even though the Belleclaire was a registered single room occupancy, or S.R.O., hotel, it had several larger apartments available for lease. My first home here was a high-ceilinged, east-facing space — an oddly laid out mash up of five hotel rooms.
Back in those S.R.O. days, I remember the flickering fluorescents down long, spooky halls; a multitude of drug dealers; the occasional scream from behind thick doors; and a muscular, aggressive pimp and two of his women hanging out in the lobby. I loved it all.
My dotty building was home not only to the tawdry and the drunken, but also the homicidal. The week I moved in, a man who worked at the hotel caught his wife in bed with another man and killed both of them,…