Unionport co-op leader fussed over Mitchell-Lama

Norma Lazarus and Chatterton Terrace friends cherish the memory of her late husband, Norman, president of the Bronx co-op apartment building for 40 years. Photo by Daniel Beekman

Many Mitchell-Lama apartment buildings, constructed in the 1950s and 1960s to house middle-income Bronx residents, are on the ropes.

Before 2008, when New York real estate boomed, scores abandoned Mitchell-Lama, a New York State affordable housing program, to cash in. Many Mitchell-Lama buildings that remain need repairs.

But Norman Lazarus, who passed away in November, kept his beloved Chatterton Terrace strong for 40 years. He was 76.

Martha Perry, 91, lived next door to Larazus for 44 years.

“The building is a cream puff still,” Perry remarked. “Because we had a great leader.”

Lazarus, a graduate of DeWitt Clinton High School, the Pratt Institute and the United States army, born and raised on Grand Avenue near Fordham Road, moved into Chatterton Terrace, a new co-op and rental apartment building in Unionport, when it opened in 1964.

Chatterton Terrce sits on Pugsley Avenue between Chatterton and Blackrock avenues. His wife Norma’s parents lived nearby.

Lazarus, a commercial artist who rode the 6 IRT to Manhattan and did work for Coca Cola, Abbots Ice Cream, Pampers, White Owl Cigars and Gillette, put his skills to good use as publisher of the Chatterton Chatter, the building’s monthly newsletter. Early headlines included, “Hold the rent line!” and “Let’s have a picnic!”

Marc Lazarus was seven years old when his father launched the Chatter.

“He had a gossip column and news from [the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development],” Marc said. “He even had the kids’ birthdays. He liked the social concept of a co-op.”

Norman, an enormous New York Rangers, Knicks, Giants and Mets fan and a world class chowhound who devoured lobster and shrimp, kosher rules be damned, joined the Chatterton Terrace board in 1970. He soon became president and held the position until he passed.

“He was the money man,” Marc explained. “He kept the building affordable.”

Norman put Chatterton Terrace residents on buses to City Hall and Albany to lobby. He negotiated oil rate bargains. He installed low-flush toilets and monitored the building staff. Norman was also named to the statewide Mitchell-Lama council.

“He believed in the Mitchell-Lama program,” Chatterton Terrace attorney Andrew Brucker said. “He believed in middle-income housing. When you run a co-op, people rarely stop you in the hall to thank you. They stop you to complain. But Norman was really a mensch.”

Marc has fond memories of his childhood at Chatterton Terrace. Police Athletic League sports. Halloween parties. Ping-pong in the basement. He and his friends bounced rubber balls on a saddle behind the 15-story building. They saved Borden milk cartons for free tickets to see the Mets at Shea Stadium and often bused to City Island.

“I remember open doors in the hall, sports on the playground and our mothers on the terraces yelling, ‘Dinner!’” Marc said.

Chatterton Terrace had its own boy scout troop and football team, the Chatterton Panthers. Norman, who played shuffleboard at the Castle Hill Beach Club, worked behind the scenes to keep the building together.

“He planned the Father’s Day picnic and the annual open house,” Perry said. “He carved the turkey.”

Chatterton Terrace residents plan to name a renovated playground for Norman. Joseph Pompey, the building’s security guard for 28 years, was sad to see his friend go.

“Norman was a gentleman,” Pompey said. “He kept me here. When I was sick he made sure I got my sick days. He was like a father to me.”

Norman was chronically late. No trip down the hall went uninterrupted.

“He was there for us,” Chatterton Terrace board secretary Fran Carlson said.

Although six original families remain, Chatterton Terrace is hardly run-down. The lobby sparkles. The elevators work. Luis Fuenteabla, Chatterton Terrace super for 31 years, knows why.

“Norman listened to people,” Fuentealba remembered. “Jewish, Catholic, Baptist. He used to say Merry Christmas to me. When my daughter graduated from college he sent her a postcard. No one had more people at his funeral.”

Chatterton Terrace has changed; the family atmosphere has waned, Fuentealba said. But not much. Norman’s spirit remains.

“Want to find an enemy? Someone who hated Norman?” Fuentealba asked. “Forget it.”

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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