Jay Maisel Documentary Is Great. Inspiring, Sad, Funny.


LOVED this documentary. I’ve been smitten by this cool, mysterious building on the Bowery ever since I moved to the Lower East Side, almost thirty years ago.


In 2015, just after Maisel sold it and moved out (the basis of this movie), I did finally get inside. It left me breathless. For any New Yorker to see such an iconic building, which somebody had the gumption and the vision to make into their home for forty years, is absolutely mindblowing.  Link here to my post from that initial visit.

The minute I got word of this documentary, I planned to see it. But I missed the premiere. Both Jay Maisel and the filmmaker, Stephen Wilkes (his former intern), were there for the screening with Q&A afterwards. From what I hear, the Q&A was fabulous. It helps that Maisel loves the movie and he’s the most rambunctious and ornery 88-year-old I’ve ever encountered. Hearing him tell stories of what it was like to live in that iconic building in this neighborhood must have been fantastic. So bummed I missed it.

While this documentary isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea, I would recommend it to anyone interested in artists, real estate and the history of downtown NY. This is the area, back in the day, where all the artists were buying places to live/work e.g., Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns both also bought former banks. Jay Maisel even rented out space to two artists when he first bought the building: Adolph Gottlieb and Roy Lichtenstein were his tenants for a couple of years.

The movie is also poignantly relevant for many of us who have either helped parents move or have gone through a major “empty nester” moment ourselves. Disposing of beloved possessions is not easy but Jay Maisel takes collecting (or is it hoarding?) to another level!

The fact that it took the movers four months to pack up his possessions says a lot. As does the fact that it took 37 vans to make the move. It was further complicated by the fact that the movers could not figure out what was junk and what was a treasure.

Maisel and his wife now live in Brooklyn in a 5,000 sq. ft house that cost $15 million. This is significantly smaller than the bank. So Maisel is surrounded by fewer of his possessions – and he’s not happy about that although he does have 3,000 sq. ft of storage space in NJ.

For those of you not familiar with the Bank or its sale, Maisel had bought the Germania Bank building at 190 Bowery in 1966 for $102K and sold it for $55 million to Aby Rosen in 2015. It was the biggest private sale in the history of NYC real estate. And Maisel did not want to sell (he said he had always planned to die in his beloved building) but by 2015, taxes and upkeep had risen to over $300K annually. He simply could not afford to stay there.





Bottom Line.

Highly recommend finding where this might be playing or streaming! It is being screened at various art houses around the country at the moment.

In NYC,  it is playing at Film Forum through next Tuesday (unless it gets extended). It will also be shown at DOC NYC in November. Link here. 

And if you made it all the way to here, I know you will enjoy reading this interview with Jay that covers more about the sale including how much both he and Aby Rosen (the buyer) disliked each other (fortunately their lawyers were great pals). Plus his thoughts on living in Brooklyn (hint: he misses Manhattan).

Share this post on: