After Raising a Family in the West Village, She Began Again in Her Own Place


In 1983, Alice Rowen and her husband, Alan Rowen, bought a home in Grove Court, a complex of six brick townhouses hidden behind a gate in the West Village of Manhattan. The house was small, but they saw the potential.

“My husband, who could build anything, said, ‘Alice, I will make this a place that you’ll like very much,’” Ms. Rowen, 76, said. “The idea of living in the Village was very enticing because of its charm. I’ve always been such a sucker for charm.”

After the couple settled into the house, Mr. Rowen set to work. He moved the kitchen from the second floor to the ground floor, added another bathroom and split the top-floor bedroom in two to make room for their sons, Aaron and Jonah.

“It was an amazing place to grow up because we were living in New York City, but not on the actual street,” Jonah Rowen, 37, said.

Over the next 40 years, Grove Court would see characters and families cycling through — some musicians moved in, and then some magicians — but the Rowens remained. “In the summers, they would put on magic shows on their porch for the children,” Ms. Rowen, who was the librarian at the Friends Seminary school in the East Village for 25 years, said of the magicians.

It was only after her husband passed away, in 2019, that she started to think about leaving Grove Court.

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“I never felt uncomfortable in that house until my husband died and I was alone there,” she said. “We were kids when we designed that place. Who knew that the day may come that you would want a bathroom on the same floor as everything else? We had no bathroom on the ground floor.”

So Ms. Rowen and Jonah, an architectural historian, contacted Lauren Viviani at The Agency to find a one-bedroom apartment for around $800,000. Size wasn’t a priority, although Ms. Rowen did want plenty of storage space for her extensive wardrobe.

She also wanted to stay in the neighborhood, so they began their search in the area around Grove Court. Eventually, they broadened it to include Gramercy Park, a neighborhood across town (which includes an eponymous park) that she knew well after her years of working at Friends Seminary.

“During our showings, Alice would walk past a building and know someone who lived there,” Ms. Viviani said. “There was even a time when she saw a friend through a window.”

Ms. Rowen’s friends encouraged her to find a place with perks and amenities, but she didn’t see the point. “I realized some of these buildings had luxuries that are meaningless to me,” she said. “I want my money to pay for location, and for the interior of the apartment to be exactly what I want.”

Among her options:

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