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Living in Emma Lazarus’s home, sharing her values

BY MARTHA WILKIE | Author Andrew Solomon lives in the Village with his family in the former home of Emma Lazarus, author of the poem inscribed onto the base of the Statue of Liberty.

 

“Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

— Excerpt from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, 1883.

 

When he purchased the 1856 Italianate brick-and-brownstone house in 1992, it was a site of “unimaginable squalor” complete with a dead cat and “inexplicable formica,” as he wrote in Architectural Digest in 2017.

Emma Lazarus (1849 to 1887) lived in Greenwich Village on W. 10th St.

Today the place has been gloriously restored and is filled with stunning antiques, art and, of course, thousands of books. Elegant formal rooms perfect for gracious entertaining live alongside comfortable family spaces suitable for romping kids and dogs.

What’s it like to live in the former home of a famous person?

“First, I find that I identify with Emma Lazarus in more ways than one,” Solomon said. “She was a well-connected woman who liked glamorous parties and famous intellectuals, but who was also deeply committed to those who were oppressed and burdened. She was Jewish but moved easily in non-Jewish circles. A recent biography posits that she was gay. So the points of overlap are considerable.

“But I also feel that we have some responsibility to her legacy,” Solomon noted. “At a moment when the federal government is using the separation of children and parents as a strategy, there is a call to remember that we are, in her words, a nation of exiles, and that our welcoming those who had to flee oppression elsewhere is what made America great in the first place. One of my favorite things Emma Lazarus wrote is an essay in which she declared, ‘Until we are all free, we are none of us free.’ I enjoy very considerable freedom but am heartbroken for those who do not. Her words are resonant indeed for our times. When we curtail the freedoms of others, we damage ourselves.”

In fact, in addition to currently being home to a fellow writer, Lazarus’s home has figured in at least one previous literary work.

“Zadie Smith’s last novel makes reference to our house and the plaque outside; someone who is being booted out of her apartment looks balefully at the irony of being thrown out of Emma Lazarus’s house,” Solomon said. “It’s fiction, of course, but I liked learning that the plaque had touched her artistic enterprise. I didn’t know much about Emma Lazarus when I moved in, but I’ve become an ardent fan.”

Solomon’s home — shared with his husband, John Habich Solomon, and their young son — is also currently home to three other friends and family. This includes a young refugee from Libya, who, had he not escaped to the U.S., could have been slaughtered simply for being gay.

When President Trump threatened to slash legal immmigration by half, someone left these yellow roses on the doorstep of Andrew Solomon’s W. 10th St. brownstone, where Emma Lazarus once lived. The building’s exterior sports a historical marker identifying it as the famed poet’s former home. Courtesy Andrew Solomon

“An anonymous stranger left a dozen yellow roses on our front steps on Aug. 2, 2017, after Trump announced that he was going to cut legal immigration to the United States by half,” John Habich Solomon said. “Our neighbor suggested that we drape black bunting across the front balcony as long as our nation’s immigration policies remain so ungenerous.”

Andrew Solomon’s deeply compassionate books include “Far From the Tree,” about children who are very different from their parents. A documentary of the same name is available for streaming online, and he recently began a podcast on Audible called “New Family Values.”

Are there currently any row houses or brownstones available in the Village in dire need of renovation and therefore less crazily expensive? None at the moment, but they do exist in other neighborhoods.

At 345 E. Fourth St., you could convert a former church with a spectacularly ornate interior to a single-family house. Imagine that nave for a living room! Complete with old-school free-standing stove in an apartment probably originally used for the clergy.

In Hamilton Heights, south of Washington Heights, a handsome 1910 single-family house with a stone facade is being sold as a shell, and needs a complete renovation.

A single-family house in Harlem, on W. 136th St., needs work, but has incredible woodwork and lovely ornate fireplaces.

Here’s an interesting challenge: a well-priced absolutely gorgeous 1890 five-story brownstone in a historic district in Harlem with original fireplaces and other intricate detail. The catch? It’s a former S.R.O. with a tenant in place. So if you want to renovate around someone living in the building, this could be your next home.

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