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Memories of NYC tar beach

April 15, 2012
By KATHRYN SPIRA , For The Leader Herald

Wherever I lived when I was in New York City pursuing my acting career, when I couldn't make the two-hour trip back and forth to the beaches in the Hamptons on the Long Island Railroad, I would head to tar beach.

Tar beach was a colloquialism for those of us who loved the sun so much that we went to the roof tops to "lay out."

Now, you talk about baking with not so much as a breath of fresh air, and forget about luxury, ocean-side sunbathing. I would lay out on a foldable recliner on the asphalt coated with tar of the flat roofs of the apartment house I was living in at the time.

Article Photos

Oscar warms himself in front of the fire Easter morning.
Photo submitted

Most memorable of those tar beaches, was 72 Barrow St. in the heart of the West Village of Manhattan.

I talked about this apartment building before and how much I loved living there. What a coup it was getting this apartment because I was waiting on the owner of the building, Mike Grabow and his wife, at Columbus Restaurant.

I always wanted to look healthy and glowing for any auditions I went to while trying to get acting jobs. I never wore makeup, so a healthy glow was obtained from the sun. This was before warnings about skin cancer and using sunblock became so prevalent. In fact, I used baby oil to magnify the sun's potency, as opposed to my current practice of coating my skin with SPF50 Ocean Potion for the ultimate in skin protection.

It was a classic brick building flowing with ivy with a courtyard and every apartment was resplendent with casement windows and tall ceilings.

Waiting on Mike week after week eventually brought up the question about where I lived. When I answered "Hell's Kitchen," he said that's got to be rough.

He reached in his pocket and gave me a card explaining about the building he owned and told me there was a vacancy.

I was all over this idea, phoned him the following morning and we met at apartment 2D, where I signed a lease and gave him a deposit. It was about $1,000 per month which I split with my roommate Jacques. It was only a one-bedroom but Jacques had a fold-out, futon couch which doubled as a bed at night.

All this was back in the mid- to late-'80s and the memories of tar beach and 72 Barrow came rushing back when I got a response from my greeting Mike with a Happy Passover/Easter email. I had sent out a picture of Oscar in front of our wood stove on a cold Passover/Easter morning last week and he sent this back:

"Kathryn, What a great shot, and what a cute puppy! Enjoy him, and have a great holiday. Mike"

So thanks, Mike for the memories of tar beach and 72 Barrow. I enclose a copy of the picture Mike was responding to.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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