Holdout tenements dwarfed by towering giants


Every so often on New York City streets you come across a faded old walkup or tenement that’s holding its own beside a gleaming tower or tall office building.

It’s hard not to be charmed by these little underdogs, whose owners likely turned down a hefty buyout offer for the property.

I love these two buddy tenements on Third Avenue and 22nd Street, once probably part of a late 19th century row of tenements that looked just like them.

New York is all about change, and lovely buildings are always being torn down to make way for something new.

Yet there’s something strangely satisfying about a massive 20-story co-op being forced to build around these two stragglers.


On East 59th Street sits the well-maintained walkup below—squeezed between handsome 1920s residences that are at least six times the little building’s height.


Also in the East 50s is this little guy—a fire-engine red old-school walkup wedged against a 20+ story apartment building, with other apartment residences casting cold shadows over it on its right and from behind.


What’s it like to live in an architectural relic—left behind from an older, smaller-scale New York—that refused to budge as the city marched forward?

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15 Responses to “Holdout tenements dwarfed by towering giants”

  1. Tom B Says:

    The Russian Tea Room is my favorite holdout.

  2. me Says:

    My dad told me about the building on East 60th, near Bloomingdale’s, that had a high-rise built around it. The last woman living there was a hold out and the developers knew she liked to drink, so they would take her to a local bar while there was work going on. Then she died either before the bigger building was done, or just after.

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    The ones on 22nd St & 3rd will look beautiful once the scaffolding is removed but what an ugly huge neighbor it now will have, ugh!

  4. Barbara Finkelstein Says:

    “What’s it like to live in an architectural relic—left behind from an older, smaller-scale New York—that refused to budge as the city marched forward?” This would make a great New Yorker “Talk of the Town!”

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:


  6. Alex Says:

    How is it that someone can build over your property? Doesn’t the owner of the tenement also own the air rights? Something doesn’t add up here.

  7. Kazza Says:

    That… that… THING next to the little guys on 22nd & 3rd is one of the most hideous buildings I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen some ugly buildings. UGH! Progress? Progress is an eyesore.

  8. ATH Says:

    Don’t they have to sell their airspace to be “built over”? Or a preceding owner had to sell it, with the condition attached to the sale to a new owner.?
    I think the sale of air rights is the absolutely most detrimental feature of NYC construction and the real estate bubble. It seems to be, like pollution, a feature that allows “get rich now” and “to hell with the future.”
    These small convolutions provide a charming setting in some cases, for tenements that might have otherwise been ordinary. I think the charm will lessen once convolution becomes the rule rather than the exception. Ultimately, they undermine guarantees and expectations to light, air, safety, and order within the city. I also believe they are a burgeoning symptom of the two-class America: one class builds empire, and one just lives with its consequences.
    Just my .02.
    Thanks for a great post. I always come here to be charmed and beguiled.
    Ann T.

  9. Anne Says:

    Found you while researching family history in the tenements of the Lower East Side. Now I follow you on Feedly. Your blog has been terrific for me. And fun. Thanks.

  10. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you!

  11. David Palladino Says:

    Just discovered your site. What a joy. For over twenty years I lived on the top floor of a brownstone at 45 East 29th Street (between Park & Madison) that was razed for the monstrosity in the photo next to the remaining red townhouse in the photo you posted. Please note that the buildings you frequently label as tenements are not officially tenements. Tenements refer to two distinctive styles of legally- approved buildings built during the late 19th and early 20th century, not an “old building.” Thanks again for this site!

  12. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks! How painful it must be to see what replaced your former home. And yes, not technically a tenement.

  13. The Folly of Preservation « Big Smoke Says:

    […] 1899 rowhouse on 57th St is dwarfed by its 1927 neighbors, yet both would be considered worthy of historical preservation today. The two […]

  14. Ajs1512 Says:

    I don’t know if New York is so much about change anymore. Historic districts seem to pop up and expand everywhere in the city now.

  15. Manhattan’s lonely little holdout buildings | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] out more holdout buildings here, and of course, the most famous of all the holdouts—the one in the middle of […]

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