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Neighborhood Celebrity: Meet the Queen of Williamsburg

By Jess Hullinger | September 4, 2014 7:53am
 Leonora Russo can often be found perched on a bench along Bedford Avenue, making conversation with passersby. 
Leonora Russo can often be found perched on a bench along Bedford Avenue, making conversation with passersby. 
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Jessica Hullinger/DNAinfo

WILLIAMSBURG - It’s not every day you meet a royal.

But if you take a stroll through Williamsburg, you might have the honor of running into the neighborhood's queen, Leonora Russo. The 89-year-old has lived in the same rent-controlled apartment on North 11th Street for 66 years and has become a local icon for her extravagant wardrobe and brassy commentary.


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DNAinfo New York found Russo sitting outside on Bedford Avenue and North Eighth Street and asked her a few questions as part of our Neighborhood Celebrities series:

What do you like about Williamsburg?
I’m here so many years, at this age where am I gonna meet people like I know here? You know what I mean? This is part of me. If I was to change, I would be hurt. I would be unhappy. You understand? I can just sit here and be happy. If I were to move away, you know what it takes to make friends? Good friends? And know people? It’s very hard.

How has the neighborhood changed in 66 years?
The population is much more expanded and we have people from all nations here. I’m not prejudiced about that but what I’m saying is we have a mixture of everything. So many changes here. The doctors used to come to your house and visit. Not now. That was nice. It’s very hard to live today for some people. The rents are so high, the rent is over $1,000, how you gonna live? When I moved here the rent was $125. The bus was a quarter.

I love this neighborhood, especially now at this age. Don’t forget… it’s part of me. I had my son here. My husband died here, my son died here. Not only that, I know everybody here. You know my title is “Queen of Williamsburg.”

How did you get your title?
I didn’t expect this, the people gave me this name. I had nothing to do with it. It was their choosing. I used to sit here, wherever I was, and I didn’t know why, but they used to take pictures of me. I said go ahead. I didn’t know they were gonna put it here and there and on the Internet. Now I’m in five magazines. I’m in six countries. My picture is in the pizza shop. Look me up in the Internet. Everybody knows me. Everybody. My picture’s in the New York magazine, centerfold.

It was a shock to me. You know how I found out about me being in New York magazine? My neighbor across the street said, “Hey Leonora, you’re in New York magazine!” I said “Get out of here.” I couldn’t believe it. And that’s how I became famous.

What did you do when you were younger? Did you have a career?
I didn’t do nothin’, I was married. I lived my life. I lived a beautiful life. I came from Manhattan, I wasn’t born here. When I was a young girl, at night I wined and dined with my husband. I lived my life, honey. I went to the best of casinos, I went to the best of racetracks. Now I wanna sit down and relax. What do you want me to do at the age of 89?

You’re known for your sense of fashion.
Yeah I’m a good dresser. Every day I dress different. I know how to put clothes together. I have three fur coats. I have mink, I have leopard and I have raccoon. I have a full-length raccoon. As a matter of fact I’m gonna give it to somebody because it’s too heavy for me, I can’t walk in it. By the time I put it on I’m half on the floor it’s so heavy. I don’t need it, anyhow.

When I was 19, honey, not that I wanna brag, I was a beauty. I was a beauty. I used to cause car crashes here. 

Do you have a local celebrity in your neighborhood? You can submit them here, or on Twitter using the hashtag #neighborhoodceleb: