Masaryk Towers

In Professor Glenna Gordon’s International Photojournalism course, students learn to engage with the language of visuals and to think critically about photographs and representations. After looking at both traditional photojournalism methods and new forms of image making, students can choose to create a hands-on photo project in a diaspora community in New York or take on a personal project.

Masaryk Towers in the Lower East Side was erected in 1966 under the Mitchell-Lama program. Launched in the 1950’s, the program started with 100,000 units providing low-equity government housing to those in a medium income bracket. 20,000 of those units left the program since 1989 choosing to privatize and become market rate.
The residents of Masaryk opted to stay.
With more than 1,000 units, Masaryk Towers consists of six buildings snug in between the Gompers and Baruch Houses just north of the Williamsburg Bridge. People who have lived their wholes lives in the neighborhood were able to purchase a stake in a building allowing them to remain in the Lower East Side.
Since early October 2018, I have been documenting several of the Masaryk residents who still live in the complex and aren’t leaving anytime soon. With gentrification rapidly closing in around the towers, the tight-knit community of Masaryk continues to rally to remain affordable for generations to come. This collection of photos is the beginning of an ongoing project highlighting their stories and the necessity to keep places like Masaryk in existence throughout Manhattan.
For more of my work, please visit: lauriemarkiewicz.com and my Instagram pages @ladybirdlaurie @thegreyeye.

Early December sunset on building numbers 77-79 &81 of Masaryk Towers. Erected in 1966, Masaryk is the only Mitchell-Lama building in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan. Generations of residents continue to reside there amidst the rapid gentrification issues.
Maria Garay’s mother moved to a three bedroom in Masaryk when it opened. In the 1970’s, her two sisters and brother moved into the complex as well. When her brother decided to move to San Francisco in 1982, Maria took his apartment in #77 where she has lived ever since with her daughter, granddaughters, and great-granddaughter. She sat on the edge of Lucy’s couch, anxiously discussing their grandchildren’s relationship issues. Maria’s grandson is engaged to Lucy’s granddaughter.
Lucy and Maria pass photos back and forth of their family and old friends. Here Lucy reminisces about her family friend Migda Cartagena who passed from cancer in 2016. She used to live on the same floor and look after Lucy’s twin girls.
Lucy Ramirez moved to #87 in Masaryk with her mother to in 1967 after they were displaced from their apartment on Norfolk Street. For over 50 years, she has raised both her children and grandchildren in this building. “I’m fine here. There’s nothing like Masaryk.”
Known for being a cook, Lucy takes pride in her wall of pots, pans, and a host of baking utensils. “I don’t cook anymore, it’s hard for me to let any of it go,” she says sarcastically, “It’s so much work.”
Lucy cuts her husband of 50 years, Willy, a piece of bread pudding she made early that morning. “Enh, it’s missing something, but I’ll eat it.” She rolls her eyes, “Who gives a shit what he thinks.”
Lucy shares a picture of her and her family in 1965. Lucy on the far right of the photo quickly points out, “The guy on the other end, no one cares about.”
After living in a two bedroom for several years with their two sons, they moved to 7G in the early 80’s when they unexpectedly found out they were having twin girls and needed a three bedroom. For the first three decades, residents at Masaryk were easily able to move from one apartment to the other. Now there are thousands of people on a waiting list.
View from the 16th floor of #77 looking down at the original playground. The Masaryk Board raised money to renovate the playground in 2019.
Power Malu holds up a picture of him and his mother dressed up for his first communion (1984) posing in his parents apartment in Masaryk’s building #65. Born in the projects on Avenue D, Power’s parents moved to Masaryk in 1977 when he was only a few months old. He took over his uncle’s studio apartment next door in 2006.
Power goes through photo albums filled with photos of him playing little league on FDR Drive, only blocks away from the towers. “There was so much going on here growing up. It was such a safe environment where everyone always looked out for you. I was always supervised. If it wasn’t my parents, it was dozens of other adults looking out for you.”
An artist, activist, and athlete, Power shares notebooks filled with stories, thoughts, and rhymes from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Known as “Baby Power”, he was well known as an emerging mc in NYC underground hip hop scene.
A champion for several causes, Power’s extensive outreach in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria continues to grow. He shares a plaque he received this past September in Puerto Rico for his ongoing efforts.
Power’s shirts hang from the windows of his mother’s apartment. “I feel so lucky to live right next door. We have each other.”
Warm afternoon light fills the third floor hallway of building #81. Rosa the “pasteles” lady won’t let me in, worried her pitbull won’t like me too much.

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