NEW YORK – A woman moves into a treehouse in her backyard in Manhattan.
Melinda Hackett, 49, put up a round, cedar treehouse for her girls in a broad-trunked London Plane tree in her tiny Greenwich Village backyard, a neighbor called about “a structure in rear which is nailed to a tree” and “looks unsafe,” with no construction permit posted, according to a complaint filed with the city.
“I got home and the police were at the door,” says Hackett, a 49-year-old artist. “Then firefighters came.”
After months of legal battles, Hackett triumphed. Her girls’ treehouse, apparently unique in one of America’s most densely populated areas, can not only stay — it’s been granted landmark status.
Soon after Melinda and her girls moved into the treehouse full-time.
Though the treehouse is only five years old, Hackett’s townhouse is from the 1860s, and she bought it from musician David Byrne of the Talking Heads. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission decided to grant the treehouse a permit because it’s part of a historic landmark district.
Any addition or change on such property requires approval with a permit, and architect Robert Strong filed Hackett’s structure under “recreation equipment” allowed in a backyard, according to a city zoning resolution.
A single mother of three girls, ages 11, 13 and 16, the artist got the idea for her urban respite from a friend who knew two carpenters who had built one on Shelter Island, just off Long Island.
“She said, ‘You should have one on your big tree!’” Hackett says.
I came from the country with three little girls who were used to running around,” their mother says. “I wanted them to have an oasis of calm in the city, a private space.”
The treehouse was started months after she bought the property on West 12th Street from Byrne, a decade-long resident. In the backyard stands the proud London Plane, stretching high into the sky above the four-story townhouse beneath it.
Carpenters Nick Cohen and Ashley Koral worked on the project on and off for about five months.
“I just told them I like circular things,” says Hackett, whose art is filled with circles in vivid colors.
Her ground-floor painting studio has a view of the treehouse — and of a swing made from old firewood that hangs from a branch, next to a bird feeder that attracts cardinals, blue jays and doves.
“It’s a beautiful treehouse; it has a beautiful design,” says architect Robert Strong, who helped Hackett unravel the red tape threatening her treehouse. “It’s wonderful the way it encompasses the branches; it’s completely rounded, flowing much like the tree.”
But Hackett’s neighbor, who she says “didn’t love that I had moved in here with two dogs and three kids,” wasn’t as appreciative. The neighbor wanted Hackett thrown out of her building and “sent back upstate.”
That didn’t happen. But Hackett and her girls are now living full-time in the tree house.
A treehouse grows in Manhattan.