Left: 255 McKibbin St., the original McKibbin loft. Right: 248 McKibbin St., which was converted a few years later.
Photo: Frankie Alduino
In 1997, East Williamsburg was a mostly industrial neighborhood — just northwest of Bushwick, it was home to fabricators, manufacturers, and clothing producers along with working-class Latino families that occupied two-story rowhouses and the residents of NYCHA’s sprawling Bushwick and Hylan Houses. But that year, a group of recent college grads, eager for the kind of cheap rent and customizable space that was becoming increasingly hard to find even a mile away in Williamsburg, moved onto the fourth floor of a factory on McKibbin Street and converted most of the space into lofts. Before long, the building entered borough lore, with no shortage of stories about its apartment designs (bi-level hobbit holes sleeping eight in a two-bed room; communal-space half-pipes); tenants’ in-building ventures (steampunk-fashion ateliers; porn studios); and, of course, the endless parties. Soon, the warehouse across the way, too, was packed with Vice-reading, American Apparel–clad DJs, skaters, and filmmakers — the brand of early-aughts hipster who would change the area permanently. Despite being separate buildings, they soon became known citywide as the McKibbin Lofts. By 2002, developers had taken notice of this abundance of neglected, and suddenly desirable, commercial space. The Opera House Lofts popped up on Arion Place, the Tea Factory appeared on Stockholm, and others followed. Of course, not everyone benefited from this rapid development: The neighborhood’s longtime residents found themselves dodging beer bottles and bicycles that were thrown off the lofts’ rooftops — and, later, felt the squeeze of the area’s surging real-estate valuations. Now, million-dollar luxury condos are everywhere in the neighborhood, as are restaurants selling $23 bowls of squid-ink pasta. And apartments in the lofts, whose average rents are now nearly $3,700 (some $2,300 more than 13 years ago), are being systematically gutted, combined, and decked out with subway tile and freestanding tubs. The culture in the buildings has changed, too — it’s grown up a little. Though not entirely: There are still impromptu concerts (which can draw hundreds even during a pandemic), but now they tend to wrap up by 2 a.m. instead of continuing until dawn.
In the late ’90s, New York City’s economy was booming. College graduates, many of whom worked at dot-com startups, were using their paychecks to scoop up leases across the East Village and Williamsburg. With rents quickly rising, in 1997, Dan Nuxoll, Lars Williams, and Sam Marks — recent graduates, who had met at at Stuyvesant and the Village Community School — decided to look further down the L train for something cheaper with more space, where they could build out their own rooms without too much oversight.
Dan Nuxoll, currently Rooftop Films President, 1997: Lars got a realtor, this crazy guy. I think his name was Tony. He was an old-school Italian; he had a cheap but flashy pinstripe suit. He was showing us around warehouse spaces in Williamsburg, mostly along the water, which we were like, “No, too small, too expensive,” so he takes us in his car deeper in Brooklyn, out to this warehouse space [in East Williamsburg].
Sam Marks, playwright and playwriting lecturer at Harvard, 1997: It did not feel like the Bedford stop. There were some artists’ spaces, but it was mostly Spanish-speaking families. The Bushwick projects were right across the street; there was a video store that sold drugs.
Nuxoll: We went up and Tony showed us the entire fourth floor. It was dirty, like years and years of industrial slop had soaked into the wood floors. But it was 10,000 square feet, sixteen foot ceilings and from like three feet up to the ceiling, it was all like bay windows. It had unbelievable light.
Marks: I believe it was Lars who had the idea of building apartments within the larger space. I don’t know exactly what the law was, but if the landlord was collecting rent off people who he knew were living there, we figured we wouldn’t be held liable.
Lars Williams, distillery founder, 1997: I had postulated a scenario in which we built two extra apartments in the space, and we could live there rent free. It turned out people were pretty excited about that.
Greer Goodman, interior designer, 1997: Lars’s dad had been doing this for decades in Tribeca, getting properties in various ways, and so Lars was the only one who knew how to do anything when it came to construction.
Nuxoll: They were asking for $3,200 a month for 10,000 square feet, and we actually got a ten-year lease on the space.
The building’s new fourth-floor tenants incorporated their venture as Peter’s Car Corp., and for the first several months, they spent their days wiring the space with electricity and installing plumbing and drywall, going to their day jobs, and sleeping. They also got to know the neighborhood.
Nuxoll: There was what was essentially a sweatshop in the basement. The first floor was vacant. The second floor was Mr. Yee, this totally wonderful guy; he owned a big warehouse space called Mr. Yee’s Treasure Chest filled with, like, the little plastic animals and robot frogs they used to sell on Canal Street. The third floor was half-vacant and a group we called “the Europeans” moved in less than a year after we did. They were like the old kids on the block — 28, while the rest of us were all 22, 23 years old. And on the other side of the fourth floor, there was another woman who had signed a lease on another 10,000-square-foot space. She built out the space just to rent it to subtenants.
Williams: The people below us were Swiss German filmmakers. In the back of their apartment, they built a giant glass swimming pool, and they were making an underwater film for six months.
Nuxoll: I was actually the first person who moved in, before we had walls. I’d just wake up in the morning, do drywall and then go to work. We just worked our various other jobs — one of us was an actor, another a chef. We built all the walls by hand, we did all the floors by ourselves by hand, we did most of the electrical ourselves even — I went back there a few years ago and was like, That’s the shitty outlet that I put in. We did a good job: There were no disasters, no electrical fires, no burst pipes. Our plan was always to take about a quarter of it and rent it out immediately.
Goodman: In October ’97, I was living on 14th Street between First and Second Avenue. I had dreams in my head of Flashdance, being Irene Cara in a loft with broken windows, somewhere industrial, and Dan said, “Hey we just got this space,” and the other half of the floor was available. I immediately got on the L train to meet Dan. Looking back on it now, there was like a closet that had a toilet in it and a plank that had a kitchen sink. Dan and I ran down to the ATM, and I got the cash.
Nuxoll: In addition to a pack of feral dogs that lived down the block, another clear indicator this was a vacant area, we realized that livery car drivers had realized this was a good spot. They could pick up prostitutes along the way and take them to do whatever they were gonna do out in front of our building. It was happening a lot, and it was a problem because they would throw their condoms out their windows.
Marks: The first year was not that different than squatting. It was still a factory. There were still people working in the building, like garment workers, so the heat would run out on Friday at like six and you would have to get through the weekend.
Williams: Literally, the glass of water next to my bed would ice over.
Marks: We built these units, and the first person that lived there was a guy named Rand and his girlfriend, Katrina, and they had a dog. The dog was weird looking. And the other tenants were these two sisters.
Goodman: They were tough. They had two ferocious-seeming pit bulls, they drove a yellow SUV. They built this funny situation— three rooms, then space above — and lived there for a while before subletting it out to this other guy. He was super-fun but totally a cokehead, gambling addicted, definitely dabbling in some not-above-board shit.
Nuxoll: In less than a year, we had a place that we could also throw just, like, massive parties in. We did screenings on the roof of early work, what would become Rooftop Films — Debra Granik, who did Winter’s Bone, Sean Baker’s early short films — and had live music beforehand.
Marks: We made these flyers for parties and would hand them out to our friends. I believe it was June ’98, I remember being like, ‘We’ll go to the corner and get a 40,’ and going down and looking toward Bushwick Avenue and seeing people coming toward me and being like, Oh fuck.
Nuxoll: We charged five dollars, but when there’s 700 people, that’s enough to pay for the free beer, and we’d have bands like Parts & Labor and variations on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs playing in different rooms. We hired security that was all Golden Gloves boxers. One of the landlords actually came to one of our first parties. Within six months of us moving in, there were a couple of real-estate professionals who got long-term leases throughout the building and hired contractors to to build out spaces, but more like straight-up for-profit endeavors — just building like nine 1,000-square-foot apartments. There was a tremendous churn. I considered us responsible for our tenants; I was making sure these people were good people. But that wasn’t happening in the other spaces.
By the early aughts, the members of Peter’s Car Corp. had all left McKibbin. Meanwhile, the building filled with young, new tenants — who tended to treat the building like a dorm.
Jeff Sharlet, writer and professor of creative writing at Dartmouth, 2001: Dan had a utopian ideal for this thing. He thought there was a correct way, and the correct way was to do really cool things like screen films on the roof. And then there was a frivolous way. And he was frustrated by people who were being frivolous and not really doing the kind of utopian art things that he imagined for that space.
Nuxoll: There was a brief period of time where someone opened up a strip club in the building — it was around ’99 or 2000. These guys had a duplex on the first floor, and they were actually good neighbors. They were just bros. But at least, like, three nights a week, it became a strip club. It looked like some sort of mix of ’70s strip club mashed up with a Williamsburg loft space. On more than one occasion, we came home and saw the women doing more than just stripping in the stairwell with the clients.
Sharlet: I remember at one point, someone was having a party, and they put up signs in the halls asking for women who lived in the building to volunteer to — well, as I recall, they were gonna set up cages, and they were going to have the women be cage dancers. I was like, Oh, great, ironic misogyny.
Nuxoll: In the early stages, it was mostly people who wanted to be artists in New York City, who needed some space to work, who didn’t have a ton of money and were willing to explore. The second and third groups of people who moved into the spaces below us were just, frankly, spoiled brats. There were so many different parties happening at all different nights that the cacophony could get numbing. Saturday morning, Sunday morning, there’d be vomit in the stairwells. And because it was commercial space, there wasn’t any sanitation department pickup, so we were paying for our garbage removal. But all the new people who came in didn’t know whose dumpster was whose, and people would break open each other’s dumpster locks and just throw their couch in it or whatever. It was Lord of the Flies.
Thurman Martin, associate video producer, 2020. “Before the pandemic, my girlfriend and I decided to move in together. I live here by myself now—we broke up; the pandemic did that — but you can make good friends in the lofts.”
Photo: Frankie Alduino
Around 2000, as 255 was filling up, young postgraduates (generally chefs, or music producers, or fashion assistants) began moving into the building across the street, 248 McKibbin. Like 255, the apartments were flimsily arranged loft spaces where three residents might pay around $500 a month each plus utilities for a 900-square-foot apartment.
Goodman: When other building owners caught wind of what was starting to happen out there, everybody started realizing they were sitting on cash cows.
Michael Stout, designer, 2002: My friend Ben was moving up to start grad school at NYU in January, so I said I’d look first for places for us to live. I don’t remember how I found 248 — probably The Village Voice — but I saw a top-floor corner unit and thought we could build it out the way we wanted to.
Ben McClure, wine-brand ambassador, 2003: There were basically two walls of windows, so the light would just pour in. Michael at the time was working for a photo agency, so photographers would come do shoots — and that would supplement our income. Cat Power did a photo shoot with my cat. We did another one with the Rapture when they had just released House of Jealous Lovers.
Francis Stallings, circus performer, 2004: I had recently finished college, and I wanted to live somewhere new and exciting. The building was in the middle of nowhere, but there were all these beautiful quirky apartments, and I could afford it. Some people left their spaces all open and big, and some people cut them into these hobbitlike, Fraggle Rock–type things. I ended up finding everything I needed here, and by everything I needed, I mean friendships, and there was an endless rotation of attractive people to sleep with.
Francis Stallings, circus performer, 2004. “We had a fire in our apartment in 2016. I don’t know what happened, but at 7 a.m. I heard my roommate screaming, “Fire! Fire!” I saw 11 feet of flames. I’ve been worried that this whole place is a fire hazard because it’s just not meant to be residential. There aren’t a lot of outlets, so there are extension cords running all over the place. And our kitchen is set up like a campsite, basically.”
Photo: Frankie Alduino
The new residents quickly discovered just how hands-off the management companies — Carnegie Management in 248 and Bamboo Hills in 255 — were.
Chris Carr, photographer and artist, 2008: I first came up to visit in 2005. There was a party on the roof, with fire spinners and DJs and live music, people were hanging out on top of the elevator shafts, where you could easily fall right off the building. I went downstairs and ran into these crust punks who were living six or seven people per two-bedroom apartment, with graffiti all over that read, you know, “Your mom licks dog nuts.” There was a music studio upstairs, there was a film studio on the bottom floor. I’d never seen anything like it.
Ryan Hunter, writer-director, 2005: I moved into the basement that year. My rent was $300, and the apartments down there didn’t have their own bathrooms or kitchens — there was a communal bathroom and a communal kitchen down the hall. There wasn’t a proper bedroom area either: We had to build a little four-foot second floor ourselves.
Carr: It was total building-code violations. Some apartments were just built out with plywood, but then others were really dope because the people who lived in them were contractors or had worked as stagehands. Aaron Watkins, he had a stage built in the basement, and I don’t mean a little six-inch riser — I’m talking 2.5 feet high, DJ equipment, club speakers, and a dance floor.
Tom McDonough, schoolteacher, 2007: There were concerts multiple times a week on the roof in the summer. There was a half-pipe or a quarter-pipe in one of the second-floor lofts and skateboards would routinely fly out of the window. There was a speakeasy in the mix.
Tom McDonough, schoolteacher, 2007. “For many, many years,people referred to me as the Mayor of McKibbin. When you own a dozen kiddie pools and an industrial-size moon- bounce slip ’n’ slide and you throw parties, you’re bound to get name recognition. I’ve lived here for 14 years, and I think there would be many who would attest to the fact that I haven’t grown up a lot in those years. Fifteen years, though, might be the end—my girlfriend moved in years ago and specifically said, “I don’t want to die in McKibbin.”
Photo: Frankie Alduino
Aaron Watkins, actor and former BRIC TV host, 2004: I think the term for how to describe the place was “properly shifty.” As soon as I moved in, I noticed that it smelled like weed. But not just a whiff — it made you think of neon green; it was offensively odorous. Then one day, there was a leak in the basement that was so bad that water was coming into my downstairs neighbors’ apartment. The super found out the leak was coming from the apartment next door, opened the door to the place, and said, “I wish I didn’t see that.” Turns out the whole apartment was a grow house.
Carr: In between when they got found and when the cops came and took the rest, they forgot to lock the door, and people raided it. I got sent photos of people walking out with branches of weed, garbage bags of weed.
Hunter: There was this guy that went by the name of Dirt who was a performance artist — you’d see him in the hall inside of a latex bubble or jumping around on industrial stilts. He ate fire, he spun fire. He had been on Letterman for stupid human tricks or something.
Stallings: I saw another guy shoot bottle rockets out of his butthole on the Fourth of July. I was kind of impressed.
Chris D’Acunto, art director and painter, 2009: Soon after I moved in, I turned 24. My roommates and I decided to have a “Twenty-Four Loko Party”— this was soon after they’d banned the real stuff, but there was a liquor distribution center down the street, and they had some left. I woke up on the roof the next morning wearing this denim outfit that the super used to paint the apartments, thinking, How did I get here?
Carr: One year, on New Year’s Eve, I rented a coach bus and brought people up from D.C. to party. It was spread out over three floors, and we had performers and live events in every apartment. Once you got in the building, if the door was open, it was like, Go in and rock out.
Watkins: The bus left D.C. at 6 p.m., got to New York at 10 p.m., and at 4 a.m., the DJ announced, “If you’re going back to D.C., the bus is leaving. Everybody else, let’s party!”
Chris Carr, photographer and artist, 2008. “A few years ago, my neighbor was complaining, trying to get me evicted. My landlord came over and said, “Okay, you have four people on your floor complaining about you. It’s in our interests to have you move— we can fix your apartment and increase your rent.” I was like, “Yo, I’ve been here for how many years?” We had like a human-to-human, personal discussion, and they let me stay. That being said, I mean, they probably should have kicked me out God knows how many years ago.”
Photo: Frankie Alduino
The trouble with the hands-off approach was that the buildings, whose warehouse floors were converted into living spaces by a mix of twenty-somethings and sloppy contractors, were basically inhabitable. [Both management companies said any alterations to the apartments that violated building code occurred without their consent.]
Stallings: Once, the guy upstairs tried to move his toilet, and we had urine leaking through the ceiling. And whenever his dog peed on the floor, it would leak. After they finally kicked that guy out, they did major demolition, and our ceiling started cracking. Things started falling on us. Including maggots. [Carnegie denies this.]
Hunter: It would flood if it rained hard. The apartment next to ours was especially susceptible, so they were sort of our canary in the coal mine. If we heard them freaking out and, you know, throwing sandbags in the hall, we knew that the water levels were rising and coming our way. I think probably everybody in our apartment had a computer that was arranged to sit a few inches off the ground. [Bamboo Hills says the leak was repaired.]
Carr: All types of things would go wrong. Once, some people had snuck into a room to make out during a party, and they fell through the floor right into the karate studio next door.
Stallings: The whole place used to be an old sewing factory, and sometimes my socks got caught on needles in the floor. I’d get a tetanus shot on a regular basis
D’Acunto: Those giant windows would cook the place in the middle of the day. I woke up on that roof a couple of times with my feet in a kiddie pool.
Stout: Once, during a heat wave, our candles were melting and we called our friends downstairs. We told them about our candles and then they told us their records were melting. I went down there, and they in fact were.
D’Acunto: And the walls were paper, paper-thin. I had my parents crash with us for the night once. Our neighbors at the time were these dubstep-tech freaks — they were always reading Wired Magazine, they sold drugs, they were renting out this bunk-bed loft space above their refrigerator, just total friggin’ weirdos — anyway, my parents in the morning were like, “I couldn’t sleep all night, these people were playing this terrible piano next door!”
McKibbin’s bedbug issues became public knowledge in 2007, shortly after residents posted about it on one of the building’s now-defunct MySpace pages. Gawker ran the headline: “Bedbug Population Explodes At Bushwick Hipster Ground Zero.”
D’Acunto: Those dubsteps guys kept cycling through people, and one of my Australian roommates came up to me and said, “Uh, hi Chris, do you what these little dots are here?” I knew what they were because they were in a perfect straight line. Everybody had to bag up their clothes. It was stupid. That’s when we had to leave.
And then there was crime — both in the building and outside.
Goodman: For the first couple of years, when we were up there on the fourth floor, nobody paid us a lick of attention. As there was more and more gentrification, more and more people being ostentatious, that’s when there started being altercations. Our car was broken into. I was mugged at gunpoint.
Hunter: One night, two or three people broke into our place while we were asleep. They stole this prop revolver, which I’m sure they thought was a real gun. One of my roommates, Johnny, was a prop master. I hope they never used it because I think if someone tried to load it, it could actually hurt someone.
But robberies weren’t the only reason law enforcement showed up at the lofts. In 2011, for one, the FBI searched a top-floor 255 McKibbin apartment as part of a wider raid across the city and beyond on the international hacker group Anonymous (the hacker was not found, although the New York Post reported that the apartment’s previous tenants included members of the band Broken Glow).
Garrett Deming, music teacher and former Broken Glow member, 2010: About a week before our lease was up, we found this place out in Bed-Stuy next to the Marcy Projects. We had been in the apartment for about a month when our guitar player Brenner got this message from someone on Facebook that said, “I think someone was looking for you at McKibbin — and they looked official.”
Dave Colon, journalist, 2010: I came home early one morning, like 6 a.m., and I saw these guys in FBI hats running in with extremely large guns. I was thinking, Am I hallucinating this? It turned out this person [they were looking for] was somehow, maybe, involved in Anonymous.
Deming: The rumors were spreading. Some thought we were dangerous underground guys; some thought we were underground heros. It’s a good story — a vigilante rock band staying two steps ahead of the FBI — but no one in the group was tech savvy. We could use pro tools and mix a record, but as far as getting involved in cyber espionage? Nah.
Muggings, floodings, and infestations aside, the McKibbin Lofts’ reputation kept growing. In 2008, the New York Times put a story about the lofts on its front page. With the attention came a mix of locals and out-of-towners, eventually willing to pay nearly $1,000 in individual rent to “live the Brooklyn lifestyle.”
Stout: We were subletting one of the bedrooms in our place and noticed we were getting a lot of inquiries from Europeans. One girl who moved in was, it turns out, Mick Jones’s daughter.
Carr: One summer, a bunch of Irish kids were over on their J-1 Visa. Thirty of them. They got six four-bedroom apartments. People were sleeping on the couch, the floor. And because they were part of this Irish community, they were throwing parties where everyone was from Ireland.
Stout: Roberta’s opened around 2008, and I think that was kind of the tipping point. It put Bushwick on the map.
Watkins: Around 2010, thanks to Facebook events, suddenly every single person was throwing a party. There was an uptick in the amount of people but it seemed like people weren’t vibing the way they used to. All of a sudden the sense of the community was gone. It went through the roof, the amount of people, and you didn’t know anyone. It was not a good time.
Residents suddenly found the buildings’ management companies attempting to rein in the anarchy. Bamboo Hills posted flyers in 255 in 2013 threatening to call the police on unsanctioned parties. In 2015, complaints from 248’s neighbors led to a shutdown of tenants’ access to the roof. Everyone has a different story as to why it got shut down.
Carr: People threw TVs, bicycles, all types of stuff off the roof. Someone threw a mattress out the window. He didn’t feel like carrying the mattress down the steps, and I guess the elevator was broken at the time.
Jason Donovan, karate instructor, 2003: I mean, you’ve got a mom walking her kid to the train for school and a television set comes flying off the roof at 6:30 in the morning because somebody’s still partying up there? That’s not ideal. That actually happened more than once. Plus, there was a suicide attempt once. [Carnegie denies that anyone ever jumped off the roof.]
Stallings: And there’s a church right behind the building — so a lot of the stuff that came off of the roof would land on the church.
Jose Diaz, 248 superintendent, 2010: The priest would get very mad.
Jason Troisi, fashion designer, 2014: I think the story goes that our roof at 255 got shut down because somebody supposedly decided to shave their dog up there and it clogged the drains.
Jason Troisi, fashion designer, 2014; student, and Andria Veltri, landscape designer, 2019. A.V.: My old roommate sold weed andgot his supply from one of the basement apartments here. That’s how I knew of McKibbin. Then I met Jason and moved in with him. I haven’t gotten to know anyone else in the building. They’re not bad people, but there’s something off. It’s sort of, like, Lynchian.”
Photo: Frankie Alduino
There were many factors that changed life at McKibbin: Facebook events, the surge of new lofts elsewhere in the area, rent hikes (by 2016, the average rent had shot up to somewhere around $1,200 per person), the roof shutdowns. But the consensus among several residents is that everything shifted when people started realizing they could make a lot of money renting their lofts out on Airbnb. By the middle of the decade, city inspectors were making regular appearances on the block.
Watkins: Everybody had an Airbnb account in case they needed it. So if your roommate up and left, you could just rent the room out for a while — that kind of thing.
Carr: But eventually, it turned into a commercial endeavor. People were renting apartments just to Airbnb them, and the landlords knew what was going on because you could see all the people with their luggage out front. [Both management companies say that any alleged use of their buildings as illegal hotels was done without their knowledge. Carnegie says that there were a “handful of times the Department of Buildings came to investigate tenants renting out their apartments with Airbnb.”]]
Carr: So I think they started raising our rents to accommodate for that fact.
Troisi: There was this one guy who had 30 of those Ikea bunk beds in his loft, and, at any given time, there’d just be like 15 to 20 people living in there. He was essentially running a hostel.
Watkins: His name was Frankie, and don’t get me wrong, he was a cool guy. But one day I looked out of the door and realized the whole street was people getting out of cars, looking up at the building, and walking in. There’d be five or six Ubers at a time — German couples, families, strollers. At one point, I believe, he had an entire loft in 248 rented exclusively for people’s luggage.
Carr: One time, these people carrying suitcases walked right into my apartment. I said, “How can I help you?” They said, “Uh, where’s the hostel, McKibbin hostel? Where can I check in?” I’m like, “This is my apartment.”
Watkins: He was approaching people to be a part of his scheme, too — offering to put bunk beds in other people’s apartments. And they were taking him up on it and dividing their places up. A year later, everything shut down. The Department of Buildings basically said, “Oh hell no.”
In recent years, everyone from Blue Bottle to Netflix has signed a lease in the neighborhood; the nearby Milk Factory has a unit asking nearly $2 million. The companies running the McKibbin buildings have apparently taken notice.
Skot Video, video editor, 2017: The basement is sort of the touchstone for what they’re trying to do with the rest of the building. They’re not just trying to clean it up; they’re trying to modernize it. There’s construction everywhere, and on the top floor, which has great views, they turned three apartments into one huge apartment.
Skot Video, video editor, 2016. “I have a massive apartment. I havemore space than anyone I know. I have a friend whose parents are very wealthy, from Westchester. They bought her a $2 million apartment in the East Village. My apartment’s bigger than hers—900 square feet. It’s just me and my two little cats, Larry and LaFonda.”
Photo: Frankie Alduino
Phen Grant, graphic designer, 2019: In the unit across from mine, they put in a new floor, the kitchens have new subway tile, there’s this industrial lighting, and they completely gutted the bathrooms — there’s a freestanding bathtub plus a shower.
Video: Now there’s a guy down the hall for me, Patrick Church, who’s a designer. And we have two Project Runway contestants living in the building.
McDonough: I remember seeing the first stroller in McKibbin — this must’ve been around 2011 — and being like, What?! Now there are children that I see regularly who know my dog’s name and say hi.
Jay Murray, CUNY sociology adjunct.
Photo: Frankie Alduino
As quarantine began in March 2020, residents at the McKibbin Lofts suddenly found themselves in possibly one of the worst places to ride out a pandemic. The same features that made the places desirable to live in in the first place — hundreds of young neighbors, rooms constructed one on top of another, the ability to casually walk through a stranger’s door — also made them especially risky. And many found themselves unable to pay the ever-increasing rent.
Jay Murray, CUNY sociology adjunct, 2008: Once the news got around that one person on the fourth floor had COVID, some neighbors really freaked out and they sealed off completely for, I don’t know, at least two months. There was seemingly nobody coming in.
Sam Rich, Band manager, 2018: A sense of anxiety arose because of the fact that I need to pay all this rent, but how was I going to do it? And there was no understanding. Just Carnegie Management appearing at your doorstep and saying, “Where’s the rent?” It’s something that a lot of people experienced.
From left, Jordan Studdard, graphic designer for an ad agency, TikToker, and Sam Rich, band manager and music producer.
Photo: Frankie Alduino
Stallings: I’m in a rent strike and class-action lawsuit with tenants across several buildings against the building management right now. When tenants that suffered economic hardship were unable to pay rent or participated in a tenants association, the management responded by terminating and refusing to renew leases, essentially maneuvering around the eviction moratorium. And then, as retaliatory action for tenants’ organizing, they also threatened people’s credit and in some cases actually damaged it. So now that’s part of the lawsuit. [Carnegie says it worked with tenants who demonstrated financial hardship during the pandemic and that it has not engaged in any illegal or retaliatory actions. The company claims to be unaware of any 248 McKibbin tenants who have filed a class-action lawsuit.]
Murray: One of the biggest tragedies was losing the Vault, the bar on the first floor, which shut down soon after the pandemic started. It was like this drag-queen mecca, but also a neighborhood spot where you could just go and have a cheap Modelo with your friends.
Phen: It’s vacant now — actually, my neighbor recorded some people coming up to [the Vault] in a van and wearing masks and ripping the ATM off the wall and throwing it into the back of the van. It was nuts.
Still, some managed to make the pandemic a surprisingly — some might say alarmingly — good time.
Donovan: I’ve operated my dojo out of my apartment here since I moved in. Since most of my students were young — are young — after class, we’d often hang out and have a drink together. Sometimes we’d be up until two or three o’clock in the morning just hanging out in the karate school and talking and drinking and looking at martial-arts stuff. It’s like the karate version of Cheers. Since COVID, I’ve been getting more of an influx of people who live in the building. I think that they’re looking for something physical to do and something to do that’s out of their home but isn’t so far away that it takes them out of their comfort zone. We’ve kept rooftop classes going all the way up until we couldn’t feel our hands anymore. There’d be women sunbathing topless and people drinking beer and smoking weed, and, you know, I’d have to ask, “Can you keep the drugs on this side of the roof and we’ll be on this side of the roof?” Everybody was really respectful.
Waverly Colville, journalist.
Photo: Frankie Alduino
Waverly Colville, journalist, 2020: There’s an apartment on the third floor where these guys live, and I live in a four-bedroom on the fourth floor. And now my apartment and their apartment are really good friends. We hang out multiple nights a week — the boys play, like, Call of Duty together and watch Kanye West videos on YouTube.
Murray: People are doing, myself included, pretty stupid things in terms of socializing. It’s just like these wild swings from “Okay, we’re bleaching everything every Sunday and nobody’s coming in” to “Well, you know, I guess it’s okay to have a DJ in the basement.” We had an apartment crawl in June, which is just the dumbest thing, you know. I was kicking myself after. We had 100 people on the roof for the Fourth of July.
Stallings: On a recent Saturday night, I got home and went to check the mail. The whole front entrance of the building is a big glass wall, and I heard, like, banging, screaming, pounding. I heard someone was having a 30th birthday party in the basement, and all these people outside were so desperate to get in. It felt like the scene from I Am Legend, where all the zombies were desperate to get into where the humans were.
Troisi: We decided to have a party during COVID, over Labor Day. And once it got going, this lady, she lost her mom due to COVID and was calling the super on the party, so I went over to her apartment and I told her, “This is McKibbin. We got a DJ, we got a keg in there; we throw parties. You moved into this building, you had to know what the culture is like. We’re going to do this.” While I was talking to this lady, the party ballooned from like 40 people to 170 — literally in five minutes.
The longtime super fields frantic phone calls from parents and saves cats.
Since moving into 248 McKibbin to be the live-in super, Jose Diaz has not only fixed ACs and managed leaks from shoddily installed toilets but also — often — reassured parents of tenants that their kids are doing okay. “One of the moms from Indiana, she dropped the kids here, found me, and said, ‘Can I call you to check on my son?’ ” says Diaz. There is no task he won’t take on, from “weeding out the assholes if somebody is causing trouble at your event,” according to one resident, to rescuing cats. “My roommate and I were off on some shoot,” says Tova Byrne. “We got back at midnight and found our cat stuck behind our bathroom wall, six feet down. We called Jose in hysterics. He calmly smashed a hole in the wall, pulled out our dust-covered cat, and handed her to us.”