A firehouse with many lives—including an illustrious turn as Andy Warhol’s first NYC studio—hit the market this week for a cool $9.975 million. According to the listing, the 5,000-square-foot space entices developer buyers as a “a blank canvas to create boutique condominiums, mixed use rental, luxury townhouse, or community facility/medical use.” A very different blank canvas than the one Warhol envisioned when he stepped foot inside the brick space, then without heat or running water.
The building sat a few blocks away from the 89th Street townhouse where Warhol had been living with his mother for three years. To remedy the overcrowding of Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans, he jumped at the discovery of the vacant firehouse, most recently occupied by a hook and ladder company. Warhol wrote a letter to the city and offered to pay $100 (the lease he signed sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for $13,750).
Concurrent to the move, Warhol decided he didn’t need to fabricate his own work anymore and hired an assistant, Gerard Malanga, to aid his exploration of the macabre in media. “I remember when Kennedy was shot,” Malanga told New York magazine in 1987. “We went back to the firehouse and made a silk screen of Dracula biting a girl’s neck.” Many such “Disaster” paintings began in the firehouse.
In the real estate mode, Warhol simultaneously scouted for spaces in midtown to base his first iteration of The Factory. A crumbling former hat factory on East 47th Street caught his fancy; he covered the walls with silver foil and metallic paint, and opened the Silver Factory in 1964.
The Factory and the firehouse attest to Warhol’s singular spatial aesthetic. “Andy was attracted to the space because it didn’t appear to be your typical artist’s studio, with wood floors and big windows looking out on a grand urban vista,” Malanga said. “It didn’t have that artsy aura. It had, more or less, an anonymous feel to it. You walked into it and you weren’t quite sure what it was or what had gone on there previous.”
Hopefully people now prospecting the firehouse will know what it is and some of what has gone on there.