Is this 199b Vandam?
“I took a place on Vandam Street. It was a sparsely furnished loft in an old decrepit warehouse recently converted to the Church of the Latterday Landlord”. (Blast from the Past, 1998).
All Kinky fans must have harboured a wish at some time to visit the source of his inspiration, the loft at 199b Vandam Street, Greenwich Village. I got the chance last year when I was in Manhattan, so I ankled it over to Vandam to find the hallowed spot and take a photo or two. Only, like Sherlock Holmes’ flat in Baker Street, it ain’t there. There is no 199b Vandam Street. The numbers don’t go past 100.
So does 199b Vandam Street even exist? or was it all a figment of Kinky’s over-cooked imagination?
Read on…… Vandam Street itself of course exists. It is on the south western edge of the Village. This area has been called variously SoHo, the West Village, and most recently, Hudson Square – by developers who are buying up and converting the remaining warehouses. Zoning regulations have protected the development of the area into a residential district so far but there are signs that this is changing. (In spring 2008 Donald Trump’s controversial Soho tower “condo-hotel” was going up at Spring Street and Varick Street, just south of Vandam, and attracting furious protests from local residents and amenity societies who viewed it, correctly, as attempting to exploit a loophole in the zoning regulations).
“I sipped a luke espresso and gazed at New York from the kitchen window. A wall, a billboard, a fire escape. What else did you need?” (Frequent Flyer 1989).
I considered emailing Kinky himself to ask him direct. And while I was mulling this over, I also went for the hard boiled computer approach. While I was doing this some intriguing facts came to light. First I found a radio interview, back in 1999, where a caller asked Kinky if Winnie Katz’s lesbian dance studio ever really existed. Kinky told him to go and look for it, at 99 Vandam. So where was 99 Vandam? It had to be at the end near Greenwich Street. But I couldn’t find that either. The numbers seemed to stop at No 95, a loft conversion. I knew that Kinky lived on the fourth floor of a 5 storey block, No 95 was a 5 storey loft conversion so could that be it?
I went back to my computer and googled again. At the end of Vandam, on the junction with Greenwich there are two warehouses, one straddling each corner. By a stroke of luck, both buildings had recently come onto the market and I was able to look up the real estate agents’ details for them.
The first warehouse is on the southern corner of Greenwich and Vandam. It is a handsome, refurbished, red brick, 5 storey warehouse dating from 1910 and sold for $20m dollars back in 2006. It is numbered 531 Greenwich Street in the sales particulars but has an entrance, No 100, on Vandam. The warehouse on the opposite corner, No 533 Greenwich (see photo above) is in a less good state, run down and graffiti strewn on the lower floors, although a glance at the exterior shows that higher- up the lofts are better maintained. Getting warmer…..
No 533 Greenwich Street, turns out to have a chequered history. It is actually home to 12 sitting tenants, who have been there on “rent strike” since 1990! Somehow with the assistance of their lawyer, they have managed to perch on a loophole in the zoning legislation and have refused to budge (apparently awaiting the right incentive, believed to be in the region of 500,000 dollars each).
In spring 2008, after the latest owner lost patience, No 533 Greenwich Street, was put onto the market with the lure of air rights overlooking the river. (In the end it went for auction on 13 May 2008 with a starting price of $1m (final selling price not yet known). So was this the original 199b Vandam?
Then a second stroke of luck. On the real estate agents’ site for the sale of No 533 Vandam, there was a diagram showing the location of the air rights above the buildings across the end of Vandam Street and Greenwich Street (the next street north) with building numbers 99 and 101 marked at street level on Vandam on the corner building now numbered as 533 Greenwich Street.
There was my answer. Although the main entrance to the warehouse on the corner is now 533 Greenwich Street, the blocked up entrances on Vandam Street are Nos 99 and 101. Kinky added the 1 and the B in tribute to his hero Sherlock Holmes of 22b Baker Street.
And just to prove I was right, a few months later I actually found a shot of 99 Vandam on Flickr website.
99 Vandam Street May 2008 (Michael Dashkin onFlickr)
Above is the original doorway at No:99.
And here below is the building in full, in July 2008.
Is this 199b Vandam (photo by Paul & Shand July 2008)
To the right of the tree in the photo you can see an exterior fire escape. If you look carefully you will also see the bricked up doorway which used to be the entrance to No:99 Vandam. There is also a service elevator entrance on the left of the blocked up door.
If you google Vandam Street on Google maps on the Internet, you can drive up and down it in cyberspace and see the buildings. And irony of ironies, the Google shot of the corner of Vandam and Greenwich features a garbage truck turning in the centre of the picture. Life imitating art or what!