If the walls of Greenpoint’s famed The Astral building could talk, they’d probably tell you that they’ve seen it all. Completed in 1883, the Astral was developed by oil baron Charles Pratt as housing for his workers. Unlike other worker lodging at the time, Pratt designed the Astral specifically for the purpose of enriching his workers’ lives – decidedly not a tenement, but rather, featured natural light, beautiful brick and terracotta touches, and indoor plumbing. There are rumors that Mae West was born there. Mary Ovington White, who later co-founded the NAACP, helped run the kindergarten on the first floor.
The Astral is a landmark building on the National Register of Historic Places, but through the years, its reputation in the neighborhood turned from that of a living piece of history to its notoriety for squalid living conditions. Most recently the building made headlines with the arrest of longtime superintendent Thomas Tamborski, who allegedly recorded female tenants without their knowledge with cameras planted around their apartment. Greenpointers reported in July that “law enforcement found three years’ of footage capturing this woman, as well as a previous tenant, showering, changing, and doing other personal activities.” Tamborski has been charged with 36 counts of unlawful surveillence and pleaded not guilty.
The Brooklyn blogosphere’s mid 2000s heyday featured no shortage of coverage on Mr. Tamborski’s activities and the living conditions they claim that property management group Pistilli Realty were slow to fix.
In 2007, a user called TheMadAstrals created a Blogspot account in order to organize their fellow tenants against the living conditions they faced, though the blog only features one post. “The bedbug issue in this building is not a new problem, I assure you,” writes TheMadAstrals “I know people in this building who have been dealing with this recurring problem for over two years. Pistilli claims that the exterminator comes the first Saturday of every month (which isn’t always true), BUT this exterminator is for roaches and mice only.” TheMadAstrals compares their treatment from Pistilli Realty akin to being treated like a squatter “so [T]ommy can have free time to take “pictures” in his “studio” in the basement…”
It’s a claim that would be echoed later that year by blogger and Astral tenant Eefers who claimed that she spotted Mr.Tamborski conducting his model photography business on the premises and upon running his name through Google, found some of his more risque pictures on his website.The story later appeared on NewYorkShitty, and Gawker later picked it up and ran it under the headline: “Is Your Super Not Fixing The Bathroom Because He’s Busy Making Softcore Porn?”
In response to Ferris’ initial blog post, Stella Kevlar, the pseudonym for the blogger who ran SuperheroSewingCircle detailed her own experience in the same unit that she had lived in prior to Ferris moving in. Her issues ran the gamut from roaches to water damage in the ceiling to bedbugs. When she alerted Pistilli Realty about the problem, they sent Mr. Tamborski in to fix it, who arrived at the apartment with two spray cans of insecticide. Kevlar writes:
“THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. You need a REAL exterminator; you need to turn your apartment basically upside down, and you need, most especially, to wash every piece of fabric in your apartment in hot water. Tommy told me that “this should take care of the problem,” and that I probably wouldn’t have to wash any of the clothes hanging in my closet, and as long as I didn’t leave my drawers open, my other clothes “should be fine, too.”
When that didn’t resolve the problem, she attempted to contact Pistilli Realty again and was met with radio silence.
“I’m 100% convinced that whoever lived in the place before me moved out on account of the bugs, and of COURSE, Pistilli did nothing to fix said problem…Nor did they do anything to help when I kept complaining over the course of the next few months when, shockingly, Tommy’s spot treatments hadn’t done anything to remedy the problem. I called and left messages; I called and demanded to speak to the manager (I never did); the receptionist told me she’d take a message and someone would get back to me (no one did). Finally, it was late March or early April, and I gave up. I knew I was leaving the apartment on June 1, and I was so tired of trying to talk to these people. So I gave up…”
It’s worth noting that in a comment responding to Greenpointers post from 2008, Kevlar writes that her issues with communication were always with management and never with Tamborski, whom she notes was “very sweet and attentive to the apartment’s many problems.”
In 2009, NewYorkShitty received another tip about Mr. Tamborski’s alleged boudoir photography taking place on the Astral’s premises. In 2010, NY Daily News reported myriad concerns that tenants had with Pistilli Realty, including those from other buildings around the city. In an article titled “Living in a house of horrors,” Claire Trepasso writes: “Tenants at several Queens and Brooklyn properties owned or affiliated with the Pistilli family complained of shoddy construction and, in some cases, vermin. Residents also said it was difficult to get issues resolved swiftly.”
Tenant Denise Gibson started a now dormant blog called “The Truth About Pistilli Riverview East” to document the living conditions she faced, including a water leak in her ceiling that became a gaping hole. According to the NY Daily News, Gibson eventually sued the unit holders and the property management company “for harassment and not making repairs.”
In an email to Greenpointers, a longtime resident of the Astral, who asked to remain anonymous, shared:
“Obviously, the Astral is one of the oldest buildings in Greenpoint and it has a lot of people who live there who have affordable rents (section 8 type housing). They have those because Pistilli took them in when it was the most profitable to do so. Now, they can make even more profit on these units they’ve already paid for, and they’re horrible to these longtime neighbors. Management does everything it can to make these people be uncomfortable and feel threatened, not least of which is having a sex criminal come in to make matters worse when attempting to fix things. Pistilli does everything it can to make these people feel even more insecure than they do, and they know the gentrifiers who moved in in recent years are too suburban to understand they can and should fight back.”
Pistilli Realty did not return Greenpointers’ request for comment.