Monday, August 21, 2017

Another World

How quickly streets change.  I've been watching the rise of the rental building on 19th Street (Fourth & Fifth), and now there are listings advertised.  On StreetEasy the asking rents for one to three-bedroom units are $2,500 to $5,500. I've looked on several sites but haven't found any floor plans. From the listing blurb found on Trulia, we learn of "condo quality bathrooms" & local attractions:

Located between 4th and 5th Avenues in burgeoning Greenwood just over the border from the South Slope. The 25th St R train is 5 blocks away and neighborhood highlights include easy access to the expressway, plenty of new restaurants and iconic buildings like the Grand Prospect.

If you look at the apartment photographs you'll see the decor features lots and lots and lots of ... gray.  A bit of gray can be charming enough - I like it myself in moderation.  But inside & out it's sweeping the city in its sad, deluxe neutrality.  It's hardly a color at all.

There was nothing neutral about the buildings the apartment building replaced.  Miraculous survivors, these small, nineteenth-century houses made it all the way to the twenty-first. Most blocks round here, where frame buildings predominate(d), featured these kinds of anomalies - back houses sitting at the back of otherwise empty lots, or houses set so low you could tell they'd survived major street-regrading.  Each block with variety - in its people as much as its architecture - and each with its own small mysteries.

2011 (top), & 2014 (bottom)

What's life without mysteries & colors & all the celebrations of our infinite varieties?  It's no sort of a life at all.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Librarian

Uncle John's liquor store - Clinton & Tillary Street, 1959

John D. Morrell worked as a librarian at the Long Island Historical Society. In his spare time, in the late '50s & early '60s, he engaged in amateur photography, and the now-named Brooklyn Historical Society has over two thousand of his photographs. The bulk of the photographs are of locations in South Brooklyn. The pictures he takes of older areas, like Downtown or the nearby Heights, like Fort Greene, Red Hook, or Gowanus, show a non-conforming variety of architectural styles, but as you head farther south, newer blocks offer staider vistas. Here you feel the flatness of the landscape in full force. Most of his photographs are in black and white, though every so often they burst into period-postcard chromogenic color. You can quench your thirst for mid-century stores & cars with Morrell. There's a riot of neon & fins. Still, the absence of people in the pictures make what must have been bustling streets and avenues sometimes makes them feel slightly buttoned-up and claustrophobic. You'd like them better populated.

The Downtown photos, like the buildings themselves, are more mixed in their character. Morrell lived as well as worked around here, and you feel in these photographs his personal connection with what he sees. In a brief experiment (what possessed him?) Morell takes interior shots inside a diner, and the blurry snaps exude all the muggy, steamy comforts of melts and soups and cigarettes. And suddenly, people! Hats hang on stands next to tables where bare-headed balding men in suits are serious about their food.  It's almost too intimate after all the emptiness we're used to. Morrell also shows of scenes of urban renewal: a building waiting in a sea of rubble, next in line for the wrecking ball, or, already half-gutted, exposing a beehive of wallpapered rooms to public scrutiny. Though the bulk of the collection ends in the 60s, a handful of quite ordinary shots appear a decade later.  The 70s pictures are muddier colored, and the cars have shrunk.  There are several pictures of fire damage, and the rest are of Hicks Street, most likely taken from Morrell's own apartment. They're casual.

Who was John D. Morrell?  It's ironic that a historical society has almost no biographical information about a former employee, especially one who left it such a fine record of the borough.  I hope it finds out more about him one day, and maybe gives him an exhibition.  I did a little digging around, and found what I believe (see above) was his Hicks Street address.  I know the BHS can do better than that, but here's what they have thus far:

John Morrell was a graduate of Pratt Institute and the assistant librarian at the Long Island Historical Society (now the Brooklyn Historical Society) under Head Librarian, Edna Huntington for many years. Little else is known about him. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Out of Bounds

Time to reward the old laundry pole with a few new clothes pegs (or pins in US lingo).  They're not new really - I picked up this 1950s dozen in a second-hand store near home today, but sixty-plus years on, they're still sturdy. 1950s or 1950's?  This is the sort of question that always drives me crazy.  I grew up without the apostrophe, then threw it in to try & show willing on American soil. But I never felt comfortable in its presence so I'm throwing it back out again.  I've received several waspish comments over the years on my weak grammar & punctuation skills, & I'm the first to admit I'm over-casual in this respect.  At least part of the problem (if you see it that way) is caused by the old UK/US duality.  I can hardly get either system right any more, and some attempts to conform never became instinctive. That weird US punctuation within a quotation, where the period sits inside the quotes instead of finishing the sentence?  If I don't let that period have the last say I feel like I'm burning my English passport.  Most spelling differences don't bother me much, but the storey/story one still bugs me and a couple of readers have been quite nasty about the English version I used to use.  I switched it to try and quell the critics, but like the intrusive apostrophe and the errant period it never felt right. Just as I'm still an in-betweener citizen, even after all these years, I've decided not to care any more about trying (and clearly failing) to get it right each side of the Atlantic.  If my grammar and my spelling and my usage suck (see, I'm no purist!), then at least it'll be for want of trying.  Language - my dear little family of words, sayings, phrases ,vowels, italics, dashes and inverted commas, every little last point of you - I grant you freedom!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stores After Dark

An elegant, if eery bunch: from downtown Brooklyn & beyond, the 40's/50's world of neon & fancy fonts.  All photos from the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection of the Library of Congress.

Barton's Bonbonniere, DeKalb Avenue (1949)

Bostonian Shoes, Kings Highway (1951)

Miracle Mart, Flatbush Avenue (1951)

Field Brothers, King's Highway (1953)

Rockabye, Avenue J (1947)

Hunter, Avenue U (1946)

Adler's, Flatbush Avenue (1946)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How We're Feeling

"Take cover" drill at PS 58, Smith & Carroll - Walter Albertin, 1962.  (Library of Congress)