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THE FORWARD BUILDING

Greeting guests and residents with the diligent doorman of a Manhattan apartment block

The Foward Building,
New York,
USA

Interview FELIX BURRICHTER
Photography CAROLINE TOMPKINS

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Doorman Anthony Narvaez outside the Forward Building, originally built in 1912 as the offices of the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language newspaper. He has worked here for 12 years.

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Felix Burrichter: So, you’re a doorman at the Forward Building, Anthony. Is that your official title?

Anthony Narvaez: Yes. Some people also say “Supervisor” but I prefer just “Doorman”.

FB: And just for the record, what is your regular shift?

AN: 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, Monday through Friday.

FB: And since when?

AN: Off the top of my head, I think I’ve been working here for five years now. But I’ve been in the building since 2006, since it first opened. Because before that it was owned by some people who bought it to try to turn it into a church.

FB: Oh, is that why it used to say “JESUS” on the side?

AN: Yes. But I guess they couldn’t afford to continue with the works after 9/11, so they sold it to [the architect] Ron [Castellano] and it stood shut for a little while before he turned it into apartments. I was here before the lobby was done. Remember how there was a back office that was still a raw space? You had a party there when no one was living in the building yet. You gave me my first drink in the building. I remember, it was seltzer water and vodka, ha.

FB: Were you a doorman somewhere else before coming here?

AN: Yeah, that was on the Upper East Side, for about two years. The building was way bigger. It probably had about 80 units or something. It was on 92nd and York. The lobby was huge – chandeliers, lots of sofas. It was a big building. The staff was huge too. Maintenance, porter, a live-in superintendent, security guard in the back. I had to wear a full uniform over there: the white gloves, the jacket, the shoes.

FB: So in terms of a “doorman building”, the Forward is actually quite unusual. Because they’re usually a lot bigger in New York.

AN: Yes. You do see some smaller buildings with doormen now, but before it was usually only the big buildings. I think it’s cool having a smaller building with a doorman. I’ve grown to love everybody here. It’s like family now.

 

HANDSHAKE OF A BUILDING (Nº — 2 The Forward Building)


A brass pull handle on the main door of the Forward. It is one of two such symmetrical fixtures at the entrance, either of which might be grasped by the staff doormen. As the building is a registered landmark, before either handle can be buffed back to a shinier state, permission must first be granted by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

FB: So what kind of responsibilities do you have, as a doorman?

AN: When I first get into the building, I go through the log and see what happened the night before. The log is where we note everything down: packages, mail, dry cleaning, groceries.

FB: Oh, that’s why there’s a refrigerator in the lobby!

AN: Yes, the walk-in refrigerator. It’s for FreshDirect, Amazon, any kind of grocery deliveries, it could also be wine. We also use it for keeping our lunch in.

FB: You work alone, right?

AN: Yeah. I have to lock the door if I leave the lobby.

FB: Do you have access to all the apartments?

AN: Yes I do.

FB: So give me an example of when you might have to go into an apartment.

AN: Someone might call me to say, “I left a candle burning!” or “I left the stove on!” Stuff like that generally. Otherwise I don’t go in unless they tell me to.

FB: Well, I hope so! Anyway, what about the building door. Do you hold it open?

AN: Yes! That is the number one rule of being a doorman. There are some tenants that don’t like it. They feel it’s too ritzy.

FB: I don’t always like it. But I do when I’m carrying something.

AN: Yes, that I stress more. When people have stuff in their hands, or need help.

FB: How did you start working here? Did you apply?

AN: I had applied, but I didn’t get hired at first. They had hired some other kid instead, but he didn’t show up on the first day so they called me back. It was on Saturday–Sunday overnight. That’s how I started here.

FB: Isn’t that the worst shift?

AN: Yeah it is, ha-ha. I’ve done about every shift there is here.

FB: What do you think is special about the Forward Building?

AN: Well, it’s beautiful. And it’s quiet. There’s not too much in and out. And because I’ve been here for so long, the people in the building are like family now. I’m used to them, and everyone calls each other by their first name. With some of them I even hang out. Uptown it’s a very different vibe.

 

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Residents of the 29 apartments in the Forward Building pass through the calm welcome of its main lobby.

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FB: Have you met some famous people visiting the building?

AN: Yes, a few guests I’ve seen coming into the building. There was Jonah Hill, the actor. Jessica Biel. Ellen Page, I think is her name. Who else have I met? Who’s this guy, the artist… Chrissy Teigen’s husband? John Legend. And Sting. He was here too. But I treat everyone exactly the same way. I still ask them the usual: “Where are you going? What’s your name, please?”

FB: Tell me some crazy stories from 12 years of being a doorman at the Forward Building.

AN: By far the craziest thing for me was Hurricane Sandy, back in 2012. The city evacuated the neighbourhood because there was no more electricity and no running water, and residents were afraid of looting, so we doormen all took turns watching the lobby, staying here for 24 hours at a time, for about a week. I remember when I first drove here at night, from Staten Island. There wasn’t a single light on. It was spooky.


Celebrity or not, all guests must report to Anthony upon arrival.

FB: Do you live on Staten Island?

AN: Yes. I drive every day.

FB: How long is that commute? And where do you even park the car each day?

AN: It’s complicated. Me, my wife and my son drive in from Staten Island, because he goes to school in Williamsburg, in Brooklyn. So she drops me off in the morning, in front of the Forward Building, usually at 7am. Then she’ll drive across to Williamsburg to drop off my son at school. Then she parks the car in Greenpoint and catches the G to the E train for a total of three or four stops to go to work in Midtown.

FB: Okay, that sounds crazy. But I assume the real estate prices are much better in Staten Island.

AN: Yes, I can afford a house. I have a town home over there. Four bedrooms. Two and a half baths, three floors.

FB: Are you from New York?

AN: Yeah, from Brooklyn. Williamsburg slash Bushwick.

FB: Why do you love New York?

AN: I grew up here. This is home. But it’s funny, because I’m actually getting kind of tired of New York as I get older. I’m a little over it right now. Eventually I think I’m going to leave. A few more years. If I left it up to my wife we would be leaving to Florida tomorrow. We would sell the house and go and buy something over there.

FB: That’s a terrible idea. Please don’t. Last question: Do you ever compare notes with other doormen in the city?

AN: Um naahhh. To be honest, every building is more or less the same now. Most people are cool but then you always tend to have one or two people in the building who are a pain in the ass. It’s kind of the same. I don’t actually think it changes much, ha.

 


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