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The Nation

Seinfeld Project Has No Laugh Lines

Conflict: TV celebrity is building a garage in Manhattan to house his prized cars. But neighbors are up in arms over the dust, noise.


NEW YORK — If this wasn't a real-life Manhattan comedy, you'd swear it was a "Seinfeld" script. Imagine Jerry and Kramer circling the block, looking in vain for a parking place, as big construction trucks block the street.

When Jerry learns a big shot is building his own garage for luxury cars, he blows up. But Kramer sees it differently: "We're not just talking cars, Jerry," he says. "We're talking Porsches. Oh, yeah, Porsches!"

For the residents of a small block on Manhattan's Upper West Side, life is now imitating Seinfeld. Ever since TV comedian Jerry Seinfeld began constructing a garage to house Porsches and other cars on West 83rd Street, the aggravation from noise and dust has reached a breaking point for many residents.

It's a crowded block that already has three large public garages, two rental car agencies, 10 residential buildings, a firehouse, a post office, a public school and a police station around the corner. This is a street where not everybody loves Jerry--and his decision to build a garage here, three blocks from his co-op near Central Park, has sparked strong reactions from characters who could have come right out of his show.

There's the beleaguered but hopeful yoga instructor next door. "Jerry is our supreme teacher," confides Jennifer Walker. "If my students can learn to breathe through all the noise and construction, they'll master the art of deep breathing in a hurry."

The anxious chiropractor two doors down is less upbeat. "It's been like a subway rumbling through here," says Glenn Scarpelli. "And we're powerless--powerless--to do anything about it!"

Get a life, advises Felix Rios, a philosopher-plumber who works four doors down from the garage. "Seinfeld is a rich man who can do what he wants," Rios says. "If it drives you nuts, what are you going to do?"

If nothing else, the story of Jerry's Garage shows how New Yorkers' nerves can fray when it comes to street parking. Many residents don't own autos because they're expensive and too much trouble in a traffic-clogged city. Despite nerve-racking rides and mechanical breakdowns, the Big Apple's taxis, subways and buses offer more reliable transportation.

Finding a Space Is Only Half the Problem

For those with cars, finding a space is a frustrating battle. "Everybody in New York knows there's way more cars than parking spaces," Seinfeld himself once noted. "It's like musical chairs, except everybody sat down around 1964."

Even if you find a space, good luck figuring out the parking regulations. On West 83rd Street, a flurry of signs on the same block appear to offer conflicting rules, ranging from "No Parking--11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday and Thursday" to "No Standing--Fire Zone" to "No Parking Anytime."

The final barrier to street parking is a torturous, daily ballet called Alternate Side Parking Regulations. It requires motorists to remove cars from one side of the street to permit street sweeping and double-park them temporarily on the other side before returning to the original side after cleaning is completed. This is a complex procedure with rules about where people can or can't double-park that varies from one street to the next.

If you can afford it, there's always room in a $450-per-month garage. But if you're Jerry Seinfeld, you simply buy a storefront for $880,000 and spend $1.3 million to build a three-story garage.

He set up seismographs to measure the effect of drilling on local businesses and plans to build an elevator inside the structure to move his luxury cars from one floor to another. Seinfeld also plans to build a kitchenette and office in the small 16-by-52-foot brick building.

Seinfeld Offers Gifts of Wine

When it's completed, the garage is expected to hold up to five cars, including some of the comedian's prized Porsches, which he collects. His 1957 Porsche Carrera GT Racer fetched $92,800 at auction last year.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Indeed, Seinfeld's construction company, Campbell and Cantor, has received all the necessary permits from the city's Building Department, and the TV star has attempted to soothe ruffled feathers on the block by offering some residents and merchants complimentary bottles of wine.

"Jerry loves the Upper West Side, and the last thing he'd want to do is become a stigma in the neighborhood," said his publicist, Elizabeth Clark. "He's followed the rules, and he's a very considerate person. He doesn't want to offend anyone," Clark said, adding that the gift of the wine "shows this is what he'll do if he thinks he's inconveniencing anyone."

More important, his construction crew has halted work each day during the 15-minute "savasana," or relaxation period, following yoga sessions in Walker's Practice Yoga studio. Earlier, the firm compensated her when the center had to cancel classes for a week because of intensely loud drilling.

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