Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and costume designer of Batman, was an urban nomad. Between 1939 and his death in 1974, he had at least fifteen addresses; I’ve accounted for all but a few of those years. All but two of these addresses were in the Bronx or Manhattan.
I’ve already introduced three stops on my custom-made “Bill Finger’s New York Tour”—the buildings in which Bill lived at the following times:
On 6/2/11, I was in New York to yet again retrace Bill’s steps.
But before I did, I walked into a funny overlap. It involves overhearing amateur documentary filmmakers asking to interview a comic shop employee. However, I must save the rest of that story for another time…
I donned the only superhero T-shirt I own, and I’d owned it only as of the previous evening. I’d wanted an unconventional design. I found it at Skreened, and the company kindly donated the shirt. Actually two—a small and a medium. Here, I’m wearing them both:
First stop was what some would consider the most significant building in comics history, if only they knew about it: I believe this is where Bill lived in 1939 (his parents definitely did) and I believe it was in this Bronx building that Batman was created:
(Why I believe this.)
I arrived at 11 a.m. and soon after an older woman emerged. I asked her about the building, where I’d not been before, and she answered most politely…in Spanish. Which I don’t speak.
At about 11:30, her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild arrived. Her son spoke English. He happened to be the landlord.
And he happened to be en route to the building’s closing.
Yes, he had just sold the place in which the world’s greatest detective had swung to life—only he hadn’t known that part of its history. (How would he? It took me a lot of digging to learn it and I was almost certainly the first to do so.)
I asked him if he could’ve gotten a higher price if he’d marketed it as the “The Building Where Batman Was Born.” He laughed, shrugging it off. But I swear his expression suggested he wished he could find out...
He told me that I’d almost missed him. If I’d come only minutes earlier, no one would’ve been there. If I’d come mere minutes later, no one would’ve been there—nor would they be coming back. And the new tenants were not moving in immediately.
While he went to the closing, his wife let me into the vacant building. The bottom two floors had been renovated but the top floor had not. I don’t know which of the units had been Bill’s but I like to imagine it was the top one.
Oh, get this. The new tenants—they’re detectives, too.