No takeout delivery, though—not with a Liberty Island address.
David Luchsinger, a National Park Service veteran, is used to living simply. He and his wife, Debbie, reside in an 876-square-foot bungalow that was built in the 1940s and lacks such amenities as a dishwasher—or even kitchen cabinets. Their front-entrance storm door is short and leaves a yawning gap at the bottom.
But the Luchsingers aren’t complaining. They inhabit prime waterfront property in a singular corner of the city that no amount of money can buy.
The couple are the only occupants of Liberty Island. They live in the middle of New York Harbor courtesy of Mr. Luchsinger’s job as superintendent of Liberty and Ellis islands. The post, which he assumed in July 2009, puts him in charge of 450 employees and an annual budget of $16 million.
“One of the most amazing things about living here is to see Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey and Staten Island, and yet it’s so quiet,” says Mr. Luchsinger, sitting in his living room, which has heart-stopping views of lower Manhattan. Nothing beats the evening stroll the pair take after the 15,000 daily visitors have departed, he says.
The Luchsingers are always aware of a special presence. “Every day you see something different about the statue, depending on the lighting,” Mr. Luchsinger says. “Her face seems to change and sometimes she looks masculine. Other nights she seems softer.”
They also do not take their unique home, which they rent from the federal government, for granted. “It’s an honor to be in this position,” says Mr. Luchsinger, 60, who was most recently superintendent of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in New Orleans.
The couple are now the last remaining link to an era during which Liberty Island was home to a small community of Park Service families housed in half a dozen buildings.
“Children grew up here,” Mrs. Luchsinger says. “They had playsets in the yard and took the ferries to school.”
The federal government reassessed its role as a landlord after 9/11, when it seemed that the Statue of Liberty was suddenly painted with a giant bulls-eye.
“It gave the government pause, having families living on Liberty Island,” says Frank Mills, Mr. Luchsinger’s deputy superintendent. Mr. Mills lived there for 10 years with his wife and two sons before relocating to Manhattan a year ago.
The Park Service tripled its staff between Sept. 11 and July 2009, when Liberty’s crown reopened. A focus of the hiring was increased security for both Ellis and Liberty islands, which are patrolled 24/7. Four of the six homes on Liberty Island were converted to places for workers to take breaks, eat meals and change clothes.
The Luchsingers embrace their role as caretakers and ambassadors, welcoming the world to their special neighborhood. This summer, when the Park Service began offering evening tours of Liberty Island for the first time, they would stand at the dock mingling with visitors and wave as the ferry pulled away.
Life on the 13-acre island does have challenges. Transportation is limited to public ferries, which run every 20 minutes until 6:15 p.m., or to infrequent Park Service staff boats.
Mrs. Luchsinger likens her daily routine to “being a pilgrim.” While her husband uses staff boats to hop between the islands he oversees, she must navigate multiple schedules to get groceries or do anything else off the island. To avoid crowds, she usually leaves on the 6:55 a.m. staff boat and retrieves her car on Ellis Island, which is connected to New Jersey by a small bridge. There, she joins the legions of suburbanites for whom jumping in the car to fetch a forgotten item at the supermarket is no big deal.
Although the city is tantalizingly near, nights on the town—to see a play or movie, or simply to eat out—are rare.
“That’s what they make hotels for,” says Mr. Luchsinger, who concedes that he has access to a Park Service police boat but doesn’t want to impose on the staff.
There was one inconvenience that Mr. Luchsinger would not tolerate, however: commercial party boats. The music emanating from these vessels, which would anchor in front of the Statue of Liberty at all hours, “was like someone punching you in the chest—it was that loud,” he says.
About two months ago, he met with New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to discuss the problem. The following week, it got a lot quieter after 11 p.m. and has remained so, Mr. Luchsinger says with a chuckle.
On the other hand, the couple were thrilled last summer when passengers aboard a cruise ship bobbing in front of the statue spontaneously broke into God Bless America.
And while the harbor might serve as a moat around their home, the Luchsingers, like all New Yorkers, must occasionally contend with a scary situation. One night last summer, Mr. Luchsinger chased away a pair of boaters who had docked inside the island’s security perimeter.
Missing delivery service
Still, none of this has deterred them. In fact, Mr. Luchsinger’s current off-hours project is renovating the superintendent’s historic residence, a two-bedroom brick colonial where Mr. Mills and his family lived. The Luchsingers plan to move from the bungalow into that house when it’s finished, and they hope to stay there for at least a decade.
Mr. Mills, who moved off the island because his wife became ill, says he misses it. But he has discovered that living in Manhattan also has attractions.
“We were totally blown away by delivery service,” he says. “For the first few months, we went wild with takeout.”
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