Does government surveillance really get your goat? (To be honest I have never really understood that expression but I am just going to run with it.) Is your ideal evening spent watching documentaries on the deep state? If so, then you’re in luck.
In a new film fest running today through Aug. 5 — ominously titled “Spy vs. Us” — the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) in the East Village takes on national security and the surveillance state. Even better, like last year’s MoRUS-sponsored film and theater festivals, this year’s festival screenings will occur in the lovely environs of several community gardens. Tonight’s opening screening takes place in the roof garden of Alphabet City’s fabled Umbrella House.
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)
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.”
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.
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.