Activists keep up the pressure for Firestone feminist apartment

From left, Nancy Kogel, Pete Dolick, Fran Luck and Bill Koehnlein held up a jumbo-sized copy of the petition outside Tower Brokerage’s office before presenting a letter addressed to landlord Bob Perl requesting a meeting. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY TEQUILA MINSKY  |  On Sept. 23, a memorial for Shulamith Firestone, the feminist visionary and author of “The Dialectic of Sex,” was held at St. Mark’s Church. Firestone died at the end of August. She was a member of the radical Redstockings group, a second-wave feminist and a longtime East Village resident who lived at 213 10th St. for 30 years. Feminists at her memorial suggested continuing Firestone’s legacy by creating a “feminist-in-residence” opportunity at her apartment, if the landlord would agree to offer the apartment below the market rate.

Fran Luck, executive producer of the “Joy of Resistance” multicultural feminist radio program on WBAI, lamented how changes in the neighborhood, particularly the rents, can no longer nurture the inspiration and inventive thinking of someone like Firestone.

On the afternoon of Wed., Oct. 10, Luck and others were on E. 10th St. outside Tower Brokerage, landlord Bob Perl’s office, with an enlarged copy of a petition signed by a bevy of renowned feminists.

“I’ve seen the hub of creativity, Allen Ginsburg, jazz musicians of the ’70s — but it’s not happening now because you have to make at least $75,000 to live here in the Lower East Side,” Luck said. The key cause of the loss of this creative nexus is lack of affordable housing, she added.

“We want feminist work to continue; we still need women doing this work,” she stressed.

The petition states that currently the average rent in the East Village is $2,100, which is pricing out the creative spirits that gave the neighborhood its unique character. The petition further notes that sister feminists and Shulamith’s friends and admirers would like to continue her legacy by making feminist work possible in the neighborhood, but need affordable rent.

The petition urges Perl to work with the core signers to create a “Shulamith Firestone Memorial Apartment” that would, in perpetuity, remain below the market value, not exceeding $1,000, and be reserved for a feminist-in-residence, such as an artist or scholar.

MNN TV producer Nancy Kogel and Bill Koehnlein of the Brecht Forum delivered a letter addressed to Perl asking for a meeting to discuss the request. Perl was not present, but another Tower employee in the office accepted the letter.

“This apartment would be reserved for a woman who is making an important contribution to the feminist movement that is not well remunerated” the petition reads. “Candidates for residence in such an apartment would be vetted by a committee of feminists drawn from the list [of signers] and would meet the same standards as any other tenant — with the exception of paying a lower-than-market-rate rent.”

However, in an interview on Monday, Perl said he stands by his earlier statements in this newspaper, in which he said he opposed the idea, and that every time a famous person dies in New York his or her apartment shouldn’t be made “a shrine.”

“My real estate taxes have risen 2,000 percent since I’ve owned that building,” said Perl, who purchased the property in 1993. “There’s no room to subsidize their specific goals. I contribute to charities in this neighborhood, and I’m not going to give a lifelong donation to a group that shows up — and no one even had the courtesy to introduce themselves to me. … I can’t believe this story still has legs.”

With reporting
by Lincoln Anderson