Constance Rosenblum, New York Times, Feb. 15, 2013
The century-old Belnord, a blocksize Renaissance Revival landmark on West 86th Street, is one of the grandes dames of Upper West Side apartment houses. Its jewel is a vast courtyard framed by soaring arched entrances. Come warm weather, the space is a tranquil oasis of tulips, azaleas and flowering trees, the soundtrack the water trickling from the marble fountain. Once horse-drawn carriages circled the courtyard; the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, a longtime resident, strolled its paths in search of literary inspiration.
Ted Comet, 88, who recalls Mr. Singer — “a feisty gnome of a man” — has lived in the Belnord for 45 years. Here he spent 13 years caring for his wife, Shoshana, who died last year of Alzheimer’s disease.
In 1994 the Belnord was bought by Extell, and in the years since, the population has become increasingly upscale. Although some tenants, like Mr. Comet, still occupy rent-stabilized units, others pay up to $38,000 monthly for a five-plus-bedroom apartment.
In recent years the number of older residents has waned. The building has 217 rental apartments, and in 2000, it was estimated that as many as 60 percent of residents were at least 60. Now that estimate is down to about 20 percent.
To serve this population, efforts were made to provide services within the building. For a time after the Sept. 11 attacks, the social services agency Dorot was given use of a ground-floor community playroom one day a week, and a social worker from the agency offered services like meal delivery and referrals. Dorot, which had come to the building at the request of Thomas Vitullo-Martin and Sumner Rosen, leaders of the tenants’ organization, also held what it called “teas” in individual apartments to describe its offerings.
“But there were issues involving privacy and confidentiality,” said Sara Peller, Dorot’s associate executive director of programs. “We couldn’t say we were doing such-and-such for a person because many people didn’t want their neighbors to know they were getting help.”
After 18 months the effort was abandoned, and the ground-floor space is now used exclusively as a playroom, reflecting the growing number of families with small children.