If only I had had an extra $100,000 25 years ago. (OK—an extra $100,000, today would be good too.) But that’s what I kept thinking as I sat chatting with Oliver Allen, a retired journalist and author who is now a regular contributor to his neighborhood’s monthly community newspaper, The Tribeca Triband its “unofficial” historian, in the to-die-for loft that he has shared with his wife Deborah since 1983. That’s the year the two of them pulled out of suburban Pelham, New York and never looked back.
The Allens paid $195,000 for their penthouse overlooking Duane Park at the same time that I paid $100,000 for a five-bedroom house in Mount Vernon—a world of difference. According to Deborah, their contemporaries “didn’t get it” when they sold their house to move to what was then still a pioneering residential outpost in Manhattan. The “Triangle Below Canal” was a very different neighborhood in 1983, with dimly-lit cobblestone streets, a sparse population, and very little in the way of amenities. The 2008 view from Hudson Street overlooking Duane Park on an unseasonably warm and sunny first day of spring could not have been further removed from this dark and distant memory. .
A Look Back
Tribeca is an area of Manhattan that is bounded by Canal Street, Church Street, Park Place, and the Hudson River. It is part of the oldest section of New York City, and its rich historical heritage can be seen in its weathered cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, and an architectural encyclopedia of Federal, Italianate, Second Empire, and cast iron designs. The neighborhood’s nickname stands for “the TRIangle BElow CAnal,” and according to Allen, was first coined in a 1967 guide to the neighborhood published by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Originally, Tribeca was part of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, which was by historical legend bought from the Native American Indians residing there for around $24 in 1626. The bustling southern end of the island of Manhattan was overseen by the Dutch West India Company, and did brisk business as a fur-trading hub. In 1664, the British wrested control of the city from the Dutch, and re-christened it New York.
As New York evolved from a remote trading post to a center of commerce in the West, Tribeca was at the center of it all. As the fur trade tapered off, the neighborhood’s lifeblood shifted to fresh produce and dry goods, as well as shipping business from the nearby South Street Seaport area, and eventually textiles.