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Red Square 1989

by Michael Rosen, unknown

This rather indistinctive luxury apartment building on the corner of Houston and Avenue A hides some remarkable features. To start, it was built by one of the East Village’s most notable characters, self-described “radical socialist turned real estate developer” Michael Rosen. Rosen grew up in Vermont, spent time on a kibbutz in Israel, and moved to New York City in 1983 as a junior professor of radical sociology at NYU. After a few years (and an unclear path), he ended up moving into real estate development. Red Square was one of his early ventures.

The dichotomy of Rosen is that he is both an active businessman and a well regarded social activist. Over the years, he has founded a Wall Street firm and served as CEO of a public company (whose offices were destroyed in the September 11 attacks). He developed this building and called it Red Square, mainly because it is red and it is square-shaped. But the statue on the roof? That’s Vladimir Lenin, direct from what was the USSR at the time of its manufacture. The way he is positioned has him enigmatically saluting Wall Street.

An avid supporter of the arts, Rosen brings that passion to the building. The lobby contains a large Julie Dermansky piece consisting of sea creatures carved into black steel panels, and the elevators are full of colorful animal mosaics by Claudia Nagy. In addition to the statue of Lenin, the rooftop contains the “Askew Clock” with jumbled numbers. The clock was created by accomplished graphic designer Tibor Kalman, a Hungarian immigrant who managed Colors magazine for several years.

Rosen’s influence in the neighborhood goes well beyond Red Square. He started a non-profit to preserve the East Village and essentially protect it from greedy developers‒yet critics point out that Red Square takes on the type of chain stores that the coalition discourages. A little older and more experienced, Rosen has said he now feels zoning laws never should have allowed a building as tall as Red Square to be put in this neighborhood.

Rosen himself lives in a luxury building in the area. While raising two boys they had adopted, he and his wife also unofficially took in five of the boys’ friends from the surrounding project housing, monitoring their education and sheltering them from the violence they had grown up with. Now mostly grown, the boys all consider the Rosens family. Rosen is considered a respected community activist who has also built subsidized housing and constructed halfway houses for victims of domestic violence.

Like the properties of Tony Goldman, Red Square is an example of how a developer can bring art, curiosity, and a little quirkiness to a neighborhood. Michael Rosen continues to be active in the East Village community.


1989 Red Square Building constructed
1994 Lenin statue installed on roof

Reference Links

link Forgotten New York: Red Square
article Michael Rosen Fights Back After East Village Rezoning
article Moscow on Houston St.
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