eyes on the street

Jane Jacobs Rented a Desk Here for $8 a Week. Now It’s Asking $8.9 Million.

Photo: Google Maps

The plaque outside 555 Hudson Street says that Jane Jacobs lived there when she wrote the hugely influential The Death and Life of American Cities. But the process of putting words to paper required a room away from the kids, and Jacobs’s defining work was written in a 1836 townhouse four very walkable blocks away, a pale-blue Greek Revival building where she rented an upstairs desk for $8 a week. Now, 27 Bethune Street is for sale for the first time in 60-plus years, with a listing price that puts it firmly out of reach for all but the most successful city scribes: an extremely “eyes on the street” $8.9 million.

The longtime owner of the house, Otis Kidwell Burger, who was also an author, bought the building in 1959 for $30,000 with her husband and rented the upstairs rooms to writers like Jacobs as well as many other actors and artists, some of whom lived there. (Madonna apparently used to hang out on the stoop.) Burger also was active in the neighborhood, teaming up with Jacobs on the campaign to stop Robert Moses from building an expressway through the Village; in 2017 she told the New York Times she was with Jacobs when she was arrested at a 1968 public hearing. Burger died in 2021, but in her later years she held a poetry salon every Sunday evening at the townhouse. With this price tag it’s unlikely that it will go back to any kind of cultural use, but here’s a humble suggestion for someone affluent and altruistic: Turn the house into a co-working space for New York City writers — perhaps with subsidized housing upstairs.

Jane Jacobs Wrote Here for $8 a Week. Now It’s Asking $8.9M.