Location of the apartment in the center of the district

When Elizabeth Stewart was a girl in the 1970s, she dreamed of moving to the building on the cliff. Everyone did it back then. It was the tallest thing in the area, 19 stories of beige and brown bricks perched on a shield of jagged rock. From up there, Stewart thought, she could see the world and never leave the West Bronx. The apartments were so big that she could even have her own bedroom.

It wasn’t until 1991, when Stewart was a young woman, that she realized her dream was dead. Thank goodness she never moved in. She has lived all her years in the shadow of the great building, never within its walls.

For that, she is grateful.

“It was a desirable place. And it’s still a beautiful building,” said Stewart, 58. “But you don’t want to live there. There are a lot of drug dealers and a lot of violence. I never go near it, especially at night.”

Now the building on the cliff is known across the country for monumental tragedy. A fire that broke out in a third-floor apartment on Sunday morning sent smoke throughout the 19-story building. The smoke killed 17 people, including eight children, making it the worst fire in New York in decades. Another 17 people are in critical condition, Fire Marshal Daniel A. Nigro said on Monday.

“This is a global tragedy because the Bronx in New York is representative of ethnicities and cultures around the world,” Mayor Eric Adams said Monday afternoon at a press conference in front of the Tower. ‘apartments.

A resident of a building across from the Twin Parks North West apartment building in the Bronx watches the scene of the fire on January 10, 2022.

Before the fire, before the arrival of fire trucks, ambulances and television crews, Twin Parks North West still functioned like a magnet, attracting people and simultaneously repelling them. When it opened in 1972, the building was celebrated as a new model of human subsidized housing, with duplex apartments and sculpted open spaces meant to bring the amenities of the suburbs to high-rise buildings.

Many residents still appreciate these qualities today.

“I love it. My parents, they never want to leave,” said Fonzo Guttierez, 21. “We are a big family. Here we have enough space for everyone.”

Many others, including the residents of the building and those who live nearby, see it as a dangerous plague and a place to be avoided, especially at night.

“It’s really not sure. At all,” said Bonnie Chavez, 42, who lives across the street. “Every night, it’s children who drink, smoke weed, fight. This building is the center of all problems.”

The last:New York mayor brings death toll to Bronx apartment fire to 17, calls tragedy “unspeakable”

For those who love the building and those who hate it, this is one point everyone agrees on: Twin Parks North West was the center of it all. In dozens of interviews in the neighborhood on Monday, everyone lived in the building before the fire or had relatives or friends living there. This is partly a function of the size. With hundreds of units, the building is almost twice the height of any of its neighbors.

It is also simple economics. In one of the most expensive cities on the planet, Twin Parks North West defines the skyline of one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods. The median family earns $ 15,000 per year and 40% of households live below the federal poverty line, according to the US census.

Firefighters work outside a building after a fire in the Bronx on Sunday, January 9, 2022, in New York City.

When Harry Goff lived with his sister in a two-story, two-bedroom apartment on the ninth floor of Twin Parks North West, their monthly rent was $ 775. Then her sister died. Now, Goff is paying $ 350 for the same apartment, which is subsidized by a federal housing program.

“I’m lucky to be in this,” said Goff, 84, who escaped the fire on Sunday wearing gray sweatpants, a puffy black coat and cap. baseball cap with the inscription “I am the boss”.

Questions:Bronx apartment fire raises questions about self-closing doors, lack of sprinklers and fire escape stairs

The old and the poor love the building, just like the young and the poor who grew up in it. Charles Thomas moved from Youngstown, Ohio to live with family members in the apartment building in 1999. Now he divides his time between his homes in Ohio and New York. But he still feels drawn to the great building in the Bronx.

“My family is here, my friends are here,” said Thomas, 32. “I can’t stay away.”

Firefighters work at the scene of a fatal fire in a building in the Bronx on Sunday, January 9, 2022, in New York City.

Thomas’s friend, Marquise Smalls, has lived close to the building for 30 years. He feels the same. As the largest building in the area, Twin Parks North West has always had a lot of kids hanging out in the front yard or on the basketball court at the base of the cliff. It was as if the building was emitting a magnetic pull.

“This building is special,” Smalls said. “Everyone wanted to come into this building. There was always something going on.”

The qualities that appeal to young men often repel adults. Saida Hammond lives in Twin Parks North West with her husband and two sons aged 5 and 7. She plans to move as soon as her boys are old enough to leave the nearby elementary school and go to college.

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In the meantime, she feels trapped. When she comes out, she sees the young men in the yard selling drugs, screaming and playing loud music, she said. When staying in her 12th-floor apartment, she fears the return of rats, which she says are as big as chubby house cats.

“The last rat we saw was so big it hit our coffee table and smashed it!” said Hammond, who immigrated from Ghana to New York in 2012. “I couldn’t sleep for weeks.”

For now, residents are not allowed inside the large building on the cliff. All day Monday, cleaners in white Tyvek coveralls could be seen through the windows of the building, removing furniture and rugs. Residents were standing on the street outside, hoping to be allowed in to collect medicine and warm clothes.

Hammond and his boys escaped unscathed. Come Monday morning, she did not know what to do. Her family had no place to sleep. She wore a thin black coat and a light cap against the cold.

“I have to go into our apartment. It’s too cold in here and we’re not dressed for it,” she said. “This building is terrible. I hope we can find another place.”

She can’t wait to get in. She can’t wait to get out.

Christopher Maag is a columnist for NorthJersey.com. To gain unlimited access to his unique take on New Jersey’s most interesting people and experiences, please register or activate your digital account today.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @Chris_Maag

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