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Carnegie Hall's Elderly Artist Residents Face Eviction For Renovation Project

By DNAinfo Staff on March 11, 2010 7:14am  | Updated on March 11, 2010 6:37am

Editta Sherman, a tenant of Carnegie Hall who is being driven out.
Editta Sherman, a tenant of Carnegie Hall who is being driven out.
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Josef Astor

By Matthew Nestel

Special to DNAinfo

MANHATTAN — Everyone knows how to get to Carnegie Hall, but how do you get its elderly live-in artists to move out? Eviction, eviction, eviction.

As the fabled performance landmark converts two towers of artist residences built in the 1890s to office spaces, musical classrooms and artist spaces, a handful of elderly holdout residents fears being cast out into the street.

“I am in remission with cancer, and the added stress of not knowing where I’m going to live may kill me,” said Carnegie Hall tenant Elizabeth Sargent, a poet.

Concert pianist Don Shirley has occupied a studio in the towers since 1957.

“This was an artist haven," he said. "The ceilings are 32 feet high. Before I moved here it was a soundproof recording studio. Where are you going to find soundproof walls like these?”

Carnegie Hall’s artist residences were built in two adjoining towers in 1894 and 1896, after the 1891 completion of the main concert halls.

The studios housed such talents as Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, John Barrymore, Mark Twain, Leonard Bernstein and Marlon Brando.

Carnegie Hall Corp., which owns and manages the properties, is currently transforming the towers. The city has approved the renovation project, and the owners offered bonds in November to cover the $200 million price tag.

Since early 2007, 44 tenants have relocated. For the four who remain, the Carnegie Hall Corp. said it has offered to help find equivalent apartments in the neighborhood and pay any difference in the tenants’ rents for the rest of their lives.

Still, some of the tenants maintain a defiant stance and have retained lawyers to fight the evictions.

“My client is not going anywhere for years, at a minimum,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, the attorney for floral designer Antonia Cimino. “Hopefully, she will remain at Carnegie Hall for the rest of her life.”

Following a January meeting hosted by the state's Department for Housing and Community Renewal, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, Clive Gillinson, sent a signed Dec. 4 letter to the elderly renters stating they have 90 days to reach a deal or otherwise face eviction.

That 90-day deadline came and went on March 4.

Meanwhile, plans are moving ahead on the renovation project, said Carnegie Hall Corp. spokeswoman Synneve Carlino.

"Carnegie Hall remains committed to relocating each of them to equivalent or superior apartments in the neighborhood, paying any differential in rent for the remainder of their lives," Carlino said.

But some residents still refuse to budge.

“I’m hoping that people will realize what a heartbreak this thing is,” said Editta Sherman, a photographer who has snapped images of Andy Warhol, Yul Brynner and Tyrone Power. “For somebody like me to be thrown out after 60 years in one place — there is no price to it.

“They can build something around me,” she added. “I’m almost 100 years old. I belong here.”