The kindest landlord Greenwich Village ever had

strunskywestthirdsignNew York has never been known for its patient and understanding landlords. But the back pages of the city’s history are filled with exceptions, like Albert “Papa” Strunsky.

Strunsky (below) was a portly Russian immigrant who got his start in Greenwich Village selling wine to restaurants before leasing several walkup buildings between MacDougal and Sullivan Streets south of Washington Square.

albertstrunskygvny-comIn the years following World War I, as Bohemia flourished in the Village, Strunsky rented flats to many struggling artists and writers.

And when they had trouble coughing up the rent, he didn’t send an eviction notice.

“Strunsky was a character,” recalled one former tenant, Henrietta Stoner, in an undated interview with the Greenwich Village Gazette.

“But he was the most wonderful man in the world. If you could not pay the rent, he’d settle for a radio, for a painting if you were an artist and he liked your work.”

A reporter writing about the Village in a New York newspaper in 1936 had this to say about broke Villagers’ favorite landlord: “A rent collecting scene with Papa Strunsky is a memorable event. . . . First there is the initial ultimatum: ‘Either pay or get out.'”


“Then, the letdown when Papa asks, ‘Have you finished that book or that painting yet?’ Be the answer negative, it will not be necessary to pack up. Papa Strunsky will stake his tenant to another month—and frequently, to another year.”

Strunsky wasn’t just a Village landlord—he lived in the neighborhood himself at 44 Washington Square South near Sullivan Street (the block above, in 1922; West Third Street west of Sullivan Street today, below).


His wife ran a pay-as-you-wish cafeteria on West Eighth Street, and his children traveled in artistic circles; one married Ira Gershwin.

But for all his generosity, perhaps his heart was a little too big. Because Strunsky wasn’t able to collect all of the money he was owed, the company he leased his buildings from took them back, leaving him struggling.

He died at 75 in 1942, apparently broke but beloved by former tenants.

strunskynytobituary1942Of his landlord days, the New York Times wrote in his obituary: “Mr. Strunsky shunned reporters in those days, for as he explained, each public mention of his name and charities brought fresh waves of hopeful squatters to his door.”

“But ‘they,’ as he described the artists, and ‘they,’ living rent free until his patience was exhausted, would dedicate their pictures, symphonies, and statues to him but pay no money.”

[Second image:; third photo: NYPL Digital Gallery; fifth image: New York Times]

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5 Responses to “The kindest landlord Greenwich Village ever had”

  1. bnzoot Says:

    Our world could use more like him.

  2. nwpaintedlady Says:

    Love the stories that bring the people back to life that made New York so great. Keep the posts coming!

  3. Christopher English Walling Says:

    My grandmother’s eldest brother! (The grandmother who was the only writer to ever co-author a book with Jack London, who was her best friend)

    Christopher English Walling.

  4. Mr. Breen Goes To the Village – Taking Up Room Says:

    […] of free love, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay. Most were poor and couldn’t always pay their rent, but that didn’t stop them from making the Village a busy, colorful […]

  5. Richard Kostelanetz Says:

    the composer Milton Babbitt told me that when he came to NYC in the early 1930s he would stay with the mother’s brother, the first great American film critic Harry Alan Potamkin, who had an apartment on the backside on W. third St., which suffered the elevated subway that turned up 6th Avenue. The front apartments facing Wash. Sq. were rented to wealthier film stars, et al. Milton remembered Sergei Eisenstein carrying a copy of his unproduced scenario for Dreiser’s AM. TRAGEDY. see my books about ARTISTS’ SOHO.

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