How one building transformed Hell’s Kitchen into wholesome “Clinton”

The documentary “Miracle on 42nd Street” on the transformation premieres at DOC NYC film fest this weekend
November 11, 2017 12:43PM

(Credits: back photo by Roger Rowlett/Wikimedia Commons; front credits from left to right: Frantogian/Wikimedia Commons, Walmart/Flickr, pinguino k/Wikimedia Commons)

It’s all thanks to one developer and a life-altering building — at least according to filmmaker Alice Elliott’s documentary “Miracle on 42nd Street,” which premieres this weekend at the DOC NYC film festival.

The building is Manhattan Plaza and the developer behind it is Richard Ravitch, the former New York lieutenant governor and long-time player in city real estate. He dreamed up the idea to create an amenity-filled building to draw middle class tenants into what was a rough, low-income neighborhood at the time using a city subsidy to pay for the majority of the construction costs, according to the New York Post.

Despite starting construction in 1974, Ravitch’s project flopped, in a sense, as New York’s financial woes caused rents to skyrocket so that none of the target tenants could afford it. So, in desperation, the building was turned into Section 8 housing with 70 percent of the units reserved for performers.

Stories of the artsy tenants abound: the time Craig Russell lit his apartment on fire; Samuel L. Jackson working as the doorman between auditions; someone giving Alicia Keys the piano she played while writing her first song; and Giancarlo Esposito and Terrence Howard practicing lines together.

Manhattan Plaza is still up and running today with about 8,000 people waiting for apartments, however the building’s surrounding neighbors have become notably more refined and expensive — a result that filmmaker Elliott argues is a product of some of The Plaza‘s residents’ success.

[NYP] — E.K. Hudson