The Disappearing and Reappearing Lenin Statue
Whose decisions impact New York City’s skyline? Does a recognizable statue at the intersection of art, politics, and architecture change meaning when moved from its intended location? What story does your building tell?
In the 1980s, the USSR commissioned a statue of Russian dictator Vladmir Lenin. The statue was meant to be a tribute to Lenin’s commitment to the working class. The 18-foot bronze statue was built by Yuri Gerasimov, and it was never displayed for the public. When the Soviet Union fell in 1989, the statue was prohibited and discarded. Property developers Michael Rosen and Michael Shaoul found it in Moscow and envisioned a new purpose for it, thousands of miles away. How would this statue resonate in New York?
In 1994, these developers opened the first doorman building in the Lower East Side. It contained 130 one and two-bedroom rentals, as well as community and art studio spaces. 250 East Houston Street (between Avenues A and B) was a bold new building named Red Square by its developers: a nod to the fall of communism but also because it’s made of red brick and shaped like a square. An iconic sideways clock (designed by Tibor Kalman) with numbers out of order was painted atop of the building, as well as Lenin, facing southwest on the building’s corner. The building’s designers imagined Lenin waving to Wall Street workers at the World Trade Center–a global monument to capitalism–and spoke publicly about the irony and contradictions in their building design.
When they conceptualized Red Square, the Lower East Side was being gentrified. For decades, there had seldom been private construction in the area. The developers took advantage of the increasing community of young professionals, artists, and NYU students working–and suddenly interested and living–on the Lower East Side. Michael Rosen brought local artists in to design the hallways, elevators, and even parts of the exterior and tried to immerse the building in the fabric of the neighborhood as much as possible, but these were market rate luxury rentals from the moment the building opened.
In September 2016, Dermot & Co. bought the property for $100 million and converted it to condos. They renamed the building 250 Houston Street and as they stripped away elements of is previous identity, the first thing to go was the Lenin Satue. After 22 years as a notable piece of Lower East Side skyline, it disappeared without explanation. Neighborhood residents were left wondering until a year later, when the statue reappeared a block away.
Today, you can find the statue atop a building next to the Angel Orensanz Center, at 178 Norfolk Street. This building is also owned by Michael Rosen, a former NYU Sociology Professor, current head of a food and agriculture company in Vietnam, and one of the developers who found the statue in Russia 25 years ago.
Whose perspectives shape the appearance and story of your city? When is it necessary to share a building’s story of your city? When is it necessary to share a building’s story? If you were tasked with designing an apartment building that makes a political statement, what would you consider first?