The Upper West Side in the 1960s was a far cry from the cultural enclave it is today. The area was plagued with numerous crime and drug corridors and shabby housing occupied by squatters and boarders.
Despite all this, Merle Gross-Ginsburg, a native of Texas, decided not only to settle there, but to buy a Brownstone.
“It’s hard to describe New York City in the early ’60s,” Gross-Ginsburg recalls. “The Upper West Side had a very diverse population where Central Park West and Riverside Drive were beautiful avenues with many people living in comfort and Broadway was a busy shopping street, but the avenues then became criminal and dangerous.”
Gross-Ginsburg said it was around this time that “suburban robbery” began to happen and the Upper West Side saw its Brownstones become rooming houses for low-income renters.
Yet that’s when she decided to buy a Brownstone for $46,000 with a down payment of $10,000. Gross-Ginsburg bought his first property on West 77th Street. There was enough space for 12 bedrooms and two units that she and her husband converted into an apartment at the time.
Today, she attributes the purchase to “youthful naivety” and still doesn’t understand what the neighborhood was like and the challenges of owning and managing property.
However, Gross-Ginsburg persisted in the hope that his efforts would help grow the Upper West Side into a neighborhood that would appeal to young families and couples.
Her work gained more attention as she was later asked to help operate another property and became the first person to start a private Brownstone cooperative in New York.
But as the market shifted, Gross-Ginsburg had to find work elsewhere and landed at an Upper East Side real estate firm called the Edward S. Gordon Company.
Originally in charge of selling Brownstones and Co-ops, she stayed late one night and decided to organize the office.
Superiors noticed this and she was later called by Edward S. Gordon himself to be his assistant. Knowing of her experience with the Upper West Side Brownstones, Gross-Ginsburg was asked to help manage Gordon’s two office buildings, which was new to her skill set.
“All large office buildings are complex structures that require a lot of work,” Gross-Ginsburg said. “I didn’t have office experience, but I loved the challenge.”
Over the years under Gordon’s guidance, she was able to absorb information from chief engineers and managers on everything from rent lists and lease summaries to sump pumps and boiler rooms. Her tenacity eventually led her to become CEO of several Gordon properties.
But being a woman in a leadership position in the ’70s was not without its ups and downs.
“I was an anomaly because there were very few women in property management, so I think those engineers treated me kindly because they never saw a woman in the basement or going up ladders to inspect things,” Gross-Ginsburg said of those who helped. she learns.
However, the difficulties often outweighed the benefits. Often, out-of-town clients were shocked and concerned to see that a woman was managing the building. Despite her proven abilities and background, Gross-Ginsburg was limited simply by being a woman.
“Finally Ed [Gordon] came to me and said he wanted to expand the department but he had to have a man to introduce to all these people who come from big out-of-town organizations,” Gross-Ginsburg recalled. “It was a huge blow to me.”
But the devastating setback helped fuel his desire to seek change in the industry.
After attending a REBNY even in the late ’70s, Gross-Ginsburg couldn’t help but notice that of the nearly 2,000 men who attended, there were only three women, including herself.
“I was like, ‘What am I doing here,’ because these men all thought I was somebody’s date,” Gross-Ginsburg said. “When you try to be a professional, it’s very humiliating.”
Afterwards, REBNY held a seminar focusing on successful women in the real estate world and Gross-Ginsburg was invited as a panelist. To his dismay, of the hundred or so women present, no one knew each other.
“It struck me that we were all isolated because there were no networking opportunities available to us,” Gross-Ginsburg said. “And that’s when I got the idea to launch AREW.”
After being denied entry into many of the city’s male real estate associations, she decided to form her own, the Association of Real Estate Women, or AREW, in 1978. The structure was modeled similarly than men’s organizations where they had a board of directors. , monthly luncheons and speaker events.
“It was helpful for us to have mostly single-sex members because it made women feel comfortable here before they entered all the other organizations,” Gross-Ginsburg said.
In 2014, AREW merged with New York Commercial Real Estate Women to form CREW New York, part of a national women’s real estate organization that provides networking opportunities, scholarships, training seminars, and most importantly, a supportive environment. favorable to women in the sector.
“It was such a male-dominated industry and when you look at the successful female brokers doing such phenomenal jobs now, it’s hard to believe it was so different,” Gross-Ginsburg said.
She retired from her position at Edward S. Gordon in 1993, but continued her contributions to the real estate world by working as a consultant and serving on several non-profit boards.
Just as she saw the results of her hard work with Upper West Side Brownstones, she is now looking at how her efforts have contributed to equality for women in the world of real estate.
“There’s still a certain level of hesitation when it comes to whether women can really handle the grittier aspects, but I think that’s diminishing rapidly,” Gross-Ginsburg said of Climate for Women. Nowadays.
“There are still people who have a hard time accepting that women have the same brain size as men. But I’m sure as women get better, those barriers will continue to come down. erode.
(Visited 1 time, 1 visits today)