Gone are the gusts of wind blowing fermented hops through the streets, the storefronts in German. But a link to Yorkville’s past comes in the unlikely form of condo towers. Ruppert Yorkville Towers Condominium sits between 90th and 92nd Streets, flanked by 2nd and 3rd Ave to the east and west. The three towers, Yorkville, Ruppert, and Knickerbocker were built where the Knickerbocker Brewery once stood, in its heydey the main economic engine of the entire neighborhood.
The Knickerbocker Brewery’s most famous owner also owned the New York Yankees; Jacob Ruppert, who you can thank for buying Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox. At the height of its pre-prohibition glory, the Knickerbocker Brewery employed thousands. “A lot of housing was built because of the brewery, and even the church, Our Lady of Council which my family helped get built. Schools, and drugstores, diners” all thrived serving the brewery’s employee base, says K. Jacob Ruppert, the great-grand nephew of Jacob Ruppert.
By the early 1960s, the big national brands edged out the regional brewers of the east like Knickerbocker and Schaefer. Ruppert says the premium land the brewery sat on became more valuable than the business itself. After a failed attempt to move the business to Westchester, the Ruppert family sold off the company and the brewery’s land. The brewery shuttered for good in 1965, along with the 1,800 remaining jobs.
After its demolition, the four street blocks in between 2nd and 3rd Avenues were vacant. With the disappearance of jobs and a tax base in the 1960s, the city was desperate to stem the tide of middle-class moving out to the suburbs. The three towers, which make up over 1,200 apartments, were built at the tail-end of the Mitchell-Lama program, a New York State housing initiative started in the ‘50s to keep those middle-class families inside the city.
In 1999, you could still be paying $600 a month for a one-bedroom unit in Ruppert Towers. The company that owned the properties began its effort to buy out of Mitchell-Lama, another litigious, heartbreaking saga, which ended in 2003 when the towers were converted into market-rate condos. Yet again it was out with the old, in the with new.