The Way We Lived

When Nora Ephron first dropped into the city, she managed to snag a tiny place at 110 Sullivan Street.

But not for long. "The real-estate broker assured us it was a coming neighborhood, on the verge of being red-hot," Ms. Ephron recalls. "He was about 25 years off."

Back in the care-free days when you could break a lease without consequences, Ms. Ephron did and moved into a place on 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth. Finally, Ms. Ephron moved to a fifth-floor walkup in Chelsea. We can only imagine what that would set her back today.

The Factory scarcely needs introduction. It's the midtown bachelor pad where Andy Warhol made his landing in New York with a spectacular bang. Originally a fire station, Warhol covered it in tinfoil and silver paint. He claimed the rent was about $100 a year.

Chuck Close lived in a raw loft at 27 Greene Street for $150 a month in 1967. "The loft had no heat," he says. "I painted for an entire year with gloves on and just my trigger finger sticking out to the button on the airbrush." Despite the rough beginning, Mr. Close elected to stay in the loft. But while Soho gentrified, we can safely report the inimitable Mr. Close never did.

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Allen Ginsburg occupied three different units at 437 East 12th Street. Two have been rented for around $1,700 each, and one recently hit the market for $1,875. Ginsberg and his long-time partner Peter Orlovsky lived in the East Village building for over two decades. A number of bright creative lights lived here, including Arthur Russell and Richard Hell.

Graydon Carter lived in the Prince George Hotel, paying the $22 a night student rate and working at Time magazine. "The trouble was, I couldn't go to work in a suit and tie and still get the student rate," said Mr. Carter, "so I had to dress like a student in the morning, go downstairs to settle the bill for the previous night in cash, and take my suit with me to work." He also lied about his Canadian citizenship. All in all, an auspicious beginning.

James Rosenquist arrived from Minneapolis and headed straight for the massive 1,600-bed YMCA on 34th Street, he says. He elected to make his own bed so he could stay for $1.79 a night. The Y closed in the 1990s. Now you can rent a furnished one-bedroom apartment there for $3,650 a month.

How artists used to live–large, in some cases–in old New York.

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