Urban Removal: How A Utopian Vision For Hell’s Kitchen Burned Out

Gothamist September 2016

Veronica Geist took the stairs a half step at a time during a reporter’s visit to the Women’s Interart Center in June. Lately, she’s been taking the stairs a lot. Geist, who goes by Ronnie, has been involved in the center since shortly after it began as a feminist art collective in 1969. Since 1971, it has operated mostly out of several upper floors of a city-owned ten-story building in Hell’s Kitchen, or Clinton, as some locals call it.

Over the last decade and a half, the building has deteriorated dramatically and the women of the arts center have been locked in litigation with the city and a nonprofit developer over the center’s fate. In the process, Geist’s job as director of special projects has become cataloging the calamities of a decaying century-old building, and trying to beat back dust and water that forced the center’s retreat from whole floors of their space. Women’s Interart lost its battle against eviction this spring, but as part of a settlement got six months to move out. Lacking a readily accessible elevator as the end approached, Geist walked up and down the stairs, trying to sort the center’s files into some semblance of order for a move to…somewhere.

“If we’re compelled to leave, I think the Women’s Interart Center will have taken its last breath,” said Margot Lewitin, the center’s director and Geist’s partner, in an interview in January. “We certainly do not have the resources to pick up and go somewhere else.”

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