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‘Literally a Rat Hole’: How Seventh Street Squat Grew on a Governor’s Meadow

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

209 E 7 is tucked between Graffiti Baptist Church and the Lower East Side Ecology Center Garden. Credit: Nadeen Shaker)

209 E 7 is tucked between Graffiti Baptist Church and the Lower East Side Ecology Center Garden. Credit: Nadeen Shaker)

In late October, I emailed Fly, a resident of the former Seventh Street Squat, to tell her that I was able to find out when her home of two decades had been built. The six-story apartment building at 209 East 7th Street was completed in 1897. “Interesting!” she wrote back, “There is a marker on the top of our building commemorating 1899 as the year the building was completed.”

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From Squat to Rooftop Squash: A New Garden Blooms at Umbrella House

Residents hang out at Umbrella House's new rooftop garden (Photo: Nicole Disser)

Residents hang out at Umbrella House’s new rooftop garden (Photo: Nicole Disser)

After a visit last year to ABC No Rio, a former squat building turned community space still very much awaiting its day for the ambitious makeover plans to get underway, I didn’t know what to expect from Umbrella House. The latter is a former East Village squat that, after years of push and pull with the city over legalization, became a fully legal, limited-equity affordable housing co-op. But then I caught up with Steven Englander, who now works at his former residence ABC No Rio and has lived at Umbrella House for about 16 years.

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Former Squatter Remembers the ’90s Squat Scene in New Book

(Photo: Akashic Books)

(Photo: Akashic Books)

Stacy Wakefield’s new book The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory, being published by Akashic in May, weaves together her experiences as a squatter in New York City back in the late ’90s. Though it’s a fictional account and the main character Sid, who makes her home in squats in Williamsburg and the Lower East Side, is based on a number of people, the book still offers a window into the waning years of what was once a vibrant squat scene.

We spoke with Wakefield, 43, about the book and what the squatting life was like before it all but disappeared.

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