‘I Love Lucy’: Were Fred and Ethel Mertz Rich?

I Love Lucy may have been all about Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, but their landlords and friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz, were just as important to the story. One of the show’s running gags centered around Fred and his penny-pinching ways. Based on Fred’s overwhelming desire to save money, fans would think he was hurting financially, but as building owners, the Mertzes were probably pretty comfortable. Were they rich, though?

What was the address of Fred and Ethel’s apartment building

The Ricardos and the Mertzes met when Lucy and Ricky rented an apartment from Fred and Ethel. The industrious couple had taken their money from working in vaudeville and invested it in an apartment building in Manhattan. The address used for the building, 623 East 68th Street, was not real, though.

Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo in 'I Love Lucy'
Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

East 68th street intersects with the FDR Drive. The final building on the street is 525 East 68th Street, meaning the apartment building belonging to Fred and Ethel would have been placed squarely in the center of the East River if it had been real. Lucy and Ricky’s phone numbers didn’t correspond to the neighborhood they lived in, either.

How many apartments were in Fred and Ethel’s apartment building?

The Mertzes didn’t work any other steady jobs after leaving show business. Presumably, running their apartment building was their full-time career. Over the years, several other neighbors popped up, leading fans to assume there were far more than two apartments in the building. The actual number of units was never mentioned during the show’s six-season run. An educated guess can be made by utilizing a few hints from the show, though.

The cast of 'I Love Lucy' in a convertible
The cast of ‘I Love Lucy’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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During the show’s run, Lucy and Ricky first inhabited apartment 4A. They later moved into apartment 3D across the hall from Fred and Ethel. If we assume the building was four floors and each floor contained apartments A, B, C, and D, then the brownstone was broken up into 16 units. 

How much money would Fred and Ethel have collected in rent?

As a primary income source, the apartment building would need to generate enough revenue to keep Fred and Ethel comfortable, even though they were living frugally. It’s pretty easy to figure out, roughly, how much they would have collected, based on just a couple of assumptions. Suffice to say, Fred probably didn’t need to be so cheap.  

Vivian Vance and Bill Frawley ride in on a motorcycle in front of a dismayed Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball
The cast of ‘I Love Lucy’ | CBS/Getty Images

According to the GothamistLucy and Ricky signed a 99-year lease at one point during the show. At that point, they were paying $125 per month in rent. Assuming the other tenants were also paying $125 per month, Ethel and Fred would have collected $1875 per month if the building was 100% occupied. Even If a couple of units were empty at any given time, they were still collecting around $1,500 per month. That means Ethel and Fred would have earned between $18,000 and $22,000 per year.

That may not seem like a lot, especially when you factor in expenses, but it would have been more than enough for the pair to live comfortably in 1951, the year I Love Lucy premiered. According to The United States Census Bureauthe average family earned $3,100 in 1949. If the couple was spending two-thirds of what they made on maintenance and bills, they were still nearly doubling the average family’s income. While Fred and Ethel may not have been rich, they would have been considered comfortable by 1950s standards.