Over 50 years, ‘Bond St. mayor’ has seen it all

By Jefferson Siegel

Bond St. may only be two blocks long, but for a city thoroughfare, it is an unusually wide street. The cobblestones recall the earlier days of a slower, more neighborly way of life. A walk down the street today reveals a modern furniture store, several bars and restaurants and a high-end fashion boutique. 

The three-story building at 26 Bond St. near Lafayette St. dates back to the early 1800s. Residing on its second floor for the last half-century has been Jack Champlin, who turned 80 last Wednesday. Champlin, according to friends and neighbors, is that rare commodity that gives a block what can’t be measured in real-estate values: He gives Bond St. the cachet of neighborhood. 

That’s one reason why old-timers and newcomers alike on the block gave Champlin a birthday party in front of his home last week. There was dancing in the street as everyone expressed a similar sentiment about their “Mayor of Bond Street.” 

“He’s so warm and friendly and kind,” said Carol Conway, who’s lived on the block since 1974. 

“He’s the history of the block,” added Denise Martin, a 33-year resident.  

“He’s an admirable member of our community,” said Bill White, who has lived on the block 30 years. “He typifies

what makes New York City a community of neighbors, block by block and person by person.” 

At the street party, Champlin spent the better part of an hour being hugged by one neighbor after another, all while being serenaded by the Slavic Soul Party band, which was playing a mix of fiery gypsy brass and soulful Balkan anthems. 

“I’ve seen incredible things happen on this block,” Champlin said after disentangling from another hug. 

“It used to be an arts community,” he recounted. “Brice Marden, Robert Mapplethorpe. Abbie Hoffman came here a lot. Robert De Niro’s father had a studio here at 26 [Bond St.], a very good painter.” 

A native of Sierra Madre, California, Champlin arrived in New York in 1953 with his partner, artist Dale Joe. Champlin became a fashion illustrator and the pair started working for Family Circle magazine as designers. They moved into 26 Bond in 1959. 

“I paid $55 a month and the landlord loved artists. Those days it was so different,” Champlin said of a time when few lived in the area because of its isolation and nighttime crime. Each morning he would encounter his landlord standing across the street. When asked what he was doing, the landlord replied, “I’m counting the bricks.” 

In 1964 Champlin let Andy Warhol photograph some dance sequences in his loft.

The 1970s were, “very bad, this was a very bad crack block,” he recalled.  “We got through that. Now we have paparazzi because of the celebrities who live here.”

New buildings at 40 and 48 Bond St. have attracted several boldface names, giving the once-staid block “buzz.”  

“We’ve been through everything: marriage, divorce, joy,” Champlin said wistfully. His partner Dale died in 2001. 

Another local, artist Chuck Close stopped by the street party to say hello. 

“He’s such a fixture in the neighborhood,” Close said after chatting with Champlin. “He’s a friendly, charming, good neighbor.” 

As the hugs continued to envelop him, Champlin displayed the voluble energy of someone half his age, greeting old friends, telling stories and dancing whenever the music started up.  

On a recent visit to his doctor, the ebullient Champlin received the kind of prescription that President Obama’s healthcare initiative should consider: He was told to walk dogs. 

Per doctor’s orders, these days Champlin is the designated walker of four canine neighbors. And when other feline-loving friends go traveling, he tends to their cats.  

“We’re all fans of Jane Jacobs,” Champlin said as the party wound down. “This is what she envisioned for our community.”