Exclusive: Market Rate Apartments Coming To The “Banksy” Building In Melrose

For almost 30 years the 3 upper levels of the 4 buildings have been abandoned and the windows were filled in with cinder blocks and cement.  Less than a year after the artist Banksy tagged the building, the owner is now converting the upper levels into residential units.
For almost 30 years the 3 upper levels of the 4 buildings have been abandoned and the windows were filled in with cinder blocks and cement. Less than a year after the artist Banksy tagged the building, the owner is now converting the upper levels into residential units.

Last year, on October 21st, the infamous street artist known as Banksy struck in the Melrose neighborhood of The Bronx on E 153rd Street (just down the block from me) where Elton and 3rd Avenues meet prompting thousands of fans to trek to the area and catch a glimpse of his controversial ‘Ghetto 4 Life’ piece.  The 4 story buildings have been vacant for decades (close to 30 years) with the exception of the retail spaces on the ground floor.  Now the owner is beginning the process of converting the top 3 floors into market rate residential units.

Immediately when hipsters and lovers of Banksy descended upon Melrose, the owners of the building put up an overnight security guard to protect the piece from vandalism.  By the next day, Plexiglas and a roll-down gate had been installed to protect the tag.

Last year thousands came to see Banksy's 'Ghetto 4 Life" tag at 651 Elton Avenue in Melrose
Last year thousands came to see Banksy’s ‘Ghetto 4 Life” tag at 651 Elton Avenue in Melrose

The Banksy Effect?

It is very well documented that property values of buildings tagged by Banksy have increased (whether directly has yet to be proven).

Curbed.com reported back in April:

“Lots of property owners now remove Banksy pieces so they can sell them at auction for pure (and enormous) profit. His “Slave Labour” stencil piece sold for $1.1 million last June; “Flower Girl” from an LA gas station went for $209,000 in December; “Kissing Coppers” from an English pub wall, sold for $575,000 in February. Banksy doesn’t condone removal, but he has never, as far as we can find, tried to stop a sale. Banksy doesn’t make street art anymore; he gives half-million-dollar gifts to people who own buildings.”

Also in April, Yahoo News UK wrote:

“A mum-of-five woke up to find her home had more than doubled in value overnight – after artist Banksy sprayed a £500,000 mural on her wall.
Stunned Karen Smith, 48, heard voices outside in the early hours but thought nothing of it until she spotted men loading huge screens into a van in the morning.
She watched them zoom off before finding a painting of three 1950s-style spies on the side of her £300,000 three-bed semi in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.”

But that’s not what pushed the building owner to renovate the derelict edifice according to a statement he made to Welcome2TheBronx.

“I know there is a demand for housing and have seen the positive changes in the neighborhood,” said building owner David Demaggi.

According to Demaggi, the process is in the very beginning phases as they work with the Department of Buildings to determine the number of  apartments and bedroom counts, etc.  They are also determining if the 4 buildings will be combined to create one single property.  He went on to stress that this is very preliminary and that total number of units have yet to be determined let alone rents but the rents will indeed be market-rate.

Patricia Wheeler Bozza, who grew up in Melrose and lived in one of the buildings at 649 Elton Avenue (651 Elton is the one where the Banksy ‘Ghetto 4 Life’ is located), told us she lived there from when she was born in 1947 until 1967 when her parents decided to purchase a house and moved north near the Olinville Section of the Bronx.

“It was a railroad flat above stores and the rent started out at $27.30 a month and once we had radiators and risers, the rent rose to $43.80,” said Wheeler Bozza.  “The bathtub was in the kitchen!” she added.

If indeed the units are market-rate, it will be the first of its kind in the area.  All construction in Melrose so far has been mixed low and middle income rentals, condos and cooperative apartments.


Residents React

Melrose resident and homeowner in the area since the early 2000’s Dani, says she’s glad that, “Finally something is being done with the building.”

“I was tired of walking by that building and seeing it so abandoned and nothing being done with it for so many years.  I think it’s positive for the neighborhood and making use of space that otherwise is sitting empty.” Dani added.

Other residents were a bit more cautious.  30 year old creative consultant Karah Shaffer said:

“As someone who moved into the neighborhood nearly seven years ago because of the inexpensive rent, express trains to Fulton Street, and lack of “cool” neighbors, hearing of the plans for the upper floors of the four story building at 3rd Avenue and 153rd to be renovated and offered at market rate is a bit bittersweet for me. I understand the elation of any newcomer to the neighborhood seeing the space they can get for the price per square foot. I also understand that the asking price of these units will likely far outpace what I and other neighbors pay per month, and those newcomers are far less likely to accept the neighborhood as it is than to wish for things that aren’t here. I hope potential new residents will be mindful of their surroundings and understand fully that Melrose and the Hub already have everything they’ll need, likely for a fraction of whatever neighborhood they’re moving in from would sell the same necessities for.

That Port Morris has the higher end sushi, galleries, and restaurant fare to enjoy a night out with friends or a cute date. That the people here have worked their fingers to the bone to maintain what some people might turn their nose up at– a friendly, welcoming, diverse, and active neighborhood with local shop owners and family-run businesses. The South Bronx does not need stamps of approval from would-be residents, it needs the respect of all who enter. So long as this attitude is adopted by potential renters, move on up!”

Located next to The Umbrella Hotel and in the middle of The Hub Business Improvement District, future residents will have easy access to shopping and many other amenities in the neighborhood.  The Bronx Documentary Center is within 4 blocks from the site as is historic The Opera House Hotel.  3 blocks away will rise La Central which will include a 48,000 square foot YMCA and rooftop farm.  La Central will include almost 1,000 units within 5 buildings and include an astronomy observation deck on the roof of one of the 21 story buildings.

Mom and pop restaurants from Xochimilco, to Mexocozina, La Parilla Latina, The famous Bate African Restaurant, Yolanda’s Italian Restaurant (serving Melrose for over 50 years), the temple to all things mac and cheese deliciousness Landin Mac & Cheese (which was listed in the top 10 mac and cheese joints in NYC by the Village Voice last year) and many others are there for new residents to come and enjoy and be a part of the community.

Those looking for their fitness fix have Senshi Okami Martial Arts Cener where you can learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the legendary John’s Boxing Gym, Musoko’s Mixed Martial Arts Academy (at 686 Courtland Avenue), and of course the national fitness chains such as Crunch, Planet Fitness, Blink Fitness (Blink has two locations in Melrose), and Lucille Roberts for women.

The cinder blocks and cement that once sealed all the windows are now mostly gone.  Windows are being installed. So now we sit tight and see what happens over at the “Banksy” Building as it continues its renovation and eventually begins to welcome new residents into an already dynamic and diverse neighborhood.  Melrose is the most diverse it has ever been in its history — let’s make sure we can keep its diversity alive.


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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.