Businesswoman Stops to Preserve the Architecture

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childhood prize from mayor beame was the start

by rochana rapkins

upper west side entrepreneur nora lavori purchased a crumbling building at 100 w. 80th st. in the late '70s, when new york city real estate was at a low point. asked what gave her the confidence to do it, she laughs.

"i was young," she said.

at the time, the bryn mawr college grad was a lawyer specializing in domestic relations, women's issues and real estate. she was also the author of living together, married or single: your legal rights. but when she and business partner david sterling saw the opportunity to purchase the 100-year-old building that faces the american museum of natural history, they jumped on it.

"i ended up owning this historic property that was in derelict condition, as much of the upper west side buildings were," said lavori. "we brought it back to life."

in addition to having served as one-time president of the women's city club of new york, an organization established in 1915 to promote women's suffrage and good government, lavori launched the culture center in 1990. housed inside the building she owns, the center hosts events designed to promote cultural exchanges and is also available for special events.

lavori, who declined to give her age, is also a founding member of the columbus avenue business improvement district, which has organized tree plantings, sanitation efforts, holiday lightings and fundraising events.

"we brought madison ave. quality retailers to the uws," she said, "and that is something that has persisted over time."

when she is not wearing one of her multiple hats, lavori enjoys strolling around central park, popping into the new york philharmonic and the ballet, sampling local eateries and attending events at the bard graduate center on 86th street. and she is a regular at the new-york historical society and the natural history museum, which should come as no surprise. even as a child in public school on staten island, she was interested in historic architecture, and after winning an essay contest on historic preservation, she was awarded a prize from mayor abe beame.

it was this love of history that motivated her purchase of the building that is now home to six retail shops and apartment rentals overlooking central park.

"what drove my interest was the quality of the historic structures," she said. "they are so beautiful and so incredibly well-constructed. that is what motivated me-to see if i could find a new life for these beautiful buildings."

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