Monday, March 19, 2018

Off Fourth

The Practice

William Carlos Williams with his sons, Paul and William, and his mother, circa 1918 - Beinecke Library, Yale, Special Collections

"And it is the actual words, as we hear them spoken under all circumstances, which contain it.  It is actually there, in the life before us, every minute that we are listening, a rarest element - not in our imaginations but there, there in fact.  It is that essence which is hidden in the very words which are going in at our ears and from which we must recover underlying meaning as realistically as we recover metal out of ore ...

... The poem springs from the half-spoken words of such patients as the physician sees from day-to-day. He observes it in the peculiar, actual conformations in which life is hid.  Humbly, he presents himself before it and by long practice he strives as best as he can to to interpret the manner of its speech.  In that the secret lies.  This, in the end, comes perhaps to be the occupation of the physician after a lifetime of careful listening."

                                                            from The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Offshore Wind, Onshore Justice (Gotham Gazette)
At UPROSE, a community-based organization in Sunset Park that advocates for sustainable economic development and environmental justice, our advocacy for climate justice is rooted in our struggles against displacement—displacement by rising waters and rising costs of living. The Climate Justice Alliance is a national collaborative of over 50 community-based and support organizations working to forge a scalable, and socio-economically just transition away from an extractive economy and towards local living economies.
Together, we are calling for the creation of new offshore wind manufacturing and logistics jobs on New York City’s waterfront to strengthen neighborhood resilience and make the case against re-zonings that irreversibly impair our capacity to address climate change locally.

‘The Trains Are Slower Because They Slowed the Trains Down’ (Village Voice)
Internal MTA documents show everything we thought we knew about subway delays was wrong.

Another Hammer For the IMBY Toolbox (IMBY)
There are so many new architecturally related  online applications available to us keyboard voyeurs it's hard to keep au courant.  If you're literally still hiding in the bushes, old school, this NY City Parks Capital Project Tracker will allow you to keep an eye on the cities shrubbery from your darkened saferoom. Quit venturing outside sans sunscreen. Go forth and ride the waves of government transparency from your waterbeds, my dear 400lb readers.

Amazon Go Might Kill More Than Just Supermarkets (CityLab)
Supermarkets are community anchors. Amazon’s “just walk out” version embodies a disconcerting social transformation.

Who Maps the World? (CityLab)
Too often, men. And money. But a team of OpenStreetMap users is working to draw new cartographic lines, making maps that more accurately—and equitably—reflect our space.

99 Snapshots (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)
99 Snapshots is a documentary project about people I met and photographed in 1999. I met them on sidewalks and in places of business in each of Manhattan’s many neighborhoods. I am now re-photographing and interviewing as many of the 300+ original people as I can find, seeking details about who they were in ’99, who they are now, and their thoughts on multiple topics including New York but also big ones like life and the passage of time. Because I encountered the people in 1999 randomly, the group as a whole reflects demographic diversity. I aim to turn this into a book and a documentary film.  Michael Berman

Maeve Brennan: On the Life of a Great Irish Writer, and its Sad End (Lit Hub)
Yesterday afternoon, as I walked along Forty-second Street directly across from Bryant Park, I saw a three-cornered shadow on the pavement in the angle where two walls meet. I didn’t step on the shadow, but I stood a minute in the thin winter sunlight and looked at it. I recognized it at once. It was exactly the same shadow that used to fall on the cement part of our garden in Dublin, more than fifty-five years ago.

More on the red-tailed hawks love triangle in Tompkins Square Park - Christo's busy! (Laura Goggin Photography)

Viscountess Boudica’s St Patrick’s Day (Spitalfields Life)
On St Patrick’s Day, we celebrate our dearly beloved Viscountess Boudica of Bethnal Green who once entertained us with her seasonal frolics and capers but is now exiled to Uttoxeter

Harry Permutt, Master Goldsmith (Spitalfields Life)
At eighty-two years old, Harry Permutt believes he is the oldest working goldsmith in Hatton Garden. As the grandson of immigrants who made their lives in Petticoat Lane at the beginning of the last century and as one who has learnt his skills over more than sixty years in the Clerkenwell jewellery trade – working his way up to become a master goldsmith – Harry carries an astonishing collection of stories and a rare depth of historical perspective.

Early Sound Footage Of New York City, 1928 (Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina)

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I walked up 20th Street and stopped to look up at the Al-Noor Halal live poultry building.  Not for the first time.  I'm a little obsessed with this building, but I've never been able to find out much about it.  In the nineteenth-century, there was a wooden house here, set at the back of the lot.  A brick building is shown on a 1903 map, and it's the same shape as the building standing here today.  Given those beautiful birds on the facade, it must have always been a poultry market.  There are no certificate of occupancy records at the DOB, and ACRIS records only trace ownership back to the 1980s.  From ACRIS you can see the transition from Jewish to Asian to Muslim owners, but I don't know who owned the property before Minnie Dinerman.

It was a good time to look at the building.  The shutters were down and the street was quiet.  The guys across the street were closing up the warehouse for the day.  You can't take pictures of a live bird market when it's open.  I know too well.  I've been inside the market on Third and talked to some of the workers there - they were friendly, but still, of course, cameras no way.  But here, at this time of day, there was no problem.  As I was standing taking pictures, I heard a voice behind me.  "So you like those birds too?"  I turned around, and a smiling, middle aged woman was standing there too.  Like me, she told me, she liked to look up when walking, delighted in the lesser-known landmarks of the neighborhood. All those funny little signs and dates and embellishments. 

We talked about all the new construction, and thoughts of moving on.  We were about the same age, though she was Brooklyn born & bred. She said her kids were grown and her mother - settled in a new place - had lived long enough to make her dream concert at the Barclay Center - Barbra Streisand!  Was it time for her to head down South - so much cheaper, and a whole host of family there?  Really, though, how could she leave after over fifty years?  I laughed - I'd only be leaving the city in a casket or an urn.  Hopefully neither but by that point it's beyond your control.  We talked for a bit, exchanged names, the ages of the kids, the numbers of the streets we lived on. The sun was going down, turning white brick and aluminium pink. It was time to get going. "We're doin' good, aren't we?" she asked as she headed off home.  We're doing the best we can.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

No Objection to the Country

and waitress, or take care of children, by a respectable
young girl; no objection to go to the country; best city
references.  Please call to-morrow at 138 Ninth st,
near Second av.
                     Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Wednesday, 9th July. 1879

Monday, March 12, 2018

Brooklyn's Millionaire Recluse

Louisa Herle lived alone, with her money and her yipping dog, in what had once been a mansion and had become a shambles.
When they found her dead body on Oct. 31st. last, in the shabby, disintegrating brownstone house at 292 12th St., they found, also, cobwebs, and a fortune - and mystery upon mystery.  There was the mystery of her death and the mystery of what had happened to her will, if she left a will. And there was the basic mystery of her life.
It was a life full of contradictions.  They were more or less the contradictions of the wealthy recluse, of the miser.  She had been a rich woman for years, and for years before she died, at the age of 82, she lived the skimping life of the poor.  She had money, money, money - a fortune somewhere between one million and two - and she was afraid of being robbed.  But she kept thousands of dollars in rolls under the kitchen linoleum, in wads stuffed into holes in the walls, in curious, strange places all over the house. 
                                                                               Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 7th, 1935

The Eagle describes Herle in her later years as a "crotchety," miserly recluse, who slept at all hours of the day and night. It describes a life thwarted and twisted by controlling men, a life which could, in kinder circumstances, have allowed her to be quite "another sort of person." Though the scale of her wealth is remarkable, the tale of her diminished life is not an uncommon one.

Herle's father was a baker who came to the States in the 1830's.  According to the Eagle article, Jacob Herle became a successful business man; in addition to the bakery business, he also worked in real estate. His story is a stereotypical one of immigrant success. In the early years, life seems to have been harsh, and rigorous.  Herle and his wife had nine children, but only three - Louisa and her brothers George and Robert - survived childhood.  Little Louisa had scant schooling, and after working for a while "sewing eyes on stuffed dogs," and dressmaking, helped out in the family bakery. But business prospered.  Louisa's life became replete with creature comforts, including many fine dresses, and a piano. She was described as an attractive and vivacious young woman.  By all accounts Jacob Herle was a controlling father, and forbade her from seeing a suitor she had fallen in love with.  After her father's death, her brother George took the reins. The family must by then have moved to their "new mansion" on 12th Street. The house is referred to in another Eagle story as dating back to the Civil War, but that must have been a wooden house, built prior to the brownstone.  By the time the "mansion" was built, Louisa, if her given age was correct, must have been in her thirties. George, a confirmed bachelor, thrifty, and disappointed in love, wanted to keep his sister at home as the housekeeper, and quashed the attentions of her subsequent suitors.  These included one Robert Schmitt, a retired silver-plater described as "aristocratic" looking.  Louisa and Robert became engaged, and Robert's attentions grew amorous. George put a stop to their relationship.

None of the three Herle children ever married, and Louisa outlived her brothers.  In 1919, when Louisa was in her sixties, Robert Schmitt, still attentive (to her charms or to her money?), proposed to her again, but she turned him down on account of their advanced age.  Or so the story goes.

Louisa Herle became a shrewd businesswoman after her brother's death.  She studied hard to learn the family business.  By the end of her life the bakery was long gone, but she had fat bank accounts and considerable number of real estate holdings. She owned a number of local storefront properties. Initially, at least, she was a sociable woman, friendly with her neighbors, but as she aged, though she maintained some friendships, her life became more solitary, and she grew more fearful of the outside world, worried that she might be attacked or poisoned.  She lived in just a couple of rooms in the house; most of it was left abandoned.  She skimped on food. Her habits became more eccentric.  According to the neighbors (a font of gossipy tidbits) she turned her dresses inside out when cleaning house, to keep the outer sides presentable, but sometimes forgot to turn them right side out again when she went outside.  Even in her old age, she still received marriage proposals, but recognized the motives behind them.  She turned them all down.  She kept her money close, and spent little, when she could, according to the Eagle, have lived "with all the extravagance available to a Prince of Wales."

Louisa and Robert Schmitt remained in touch until Schmitt's death in the spring of 1934, months before her own.  According to the garrulous neighbors, Louisa wore diamond earrings at his funeral "which she had not worn before nor since," and after the funeral declared that she had buried her sweetheart:

"I should have married him. I loved him but George wouldn't let me.  Now it is too late.  I always listened to George and wasn't I the fool!  Of course George was good to me.  He used to treat me once a week - with coffee and cake on Fulton Street."   

That George - what a guy.  It's a mystery though, why Louisa didn't marry Robert Schmitt in later years.  Had she grown too cynical, too consumed by avarice to gamble on happiness? Was the chance of a better life gone?  We'll never know the answer. Louise Herle was buried in a silver casket, in the family plot at Evergreen Cemetery.  The Eagle reported that 100 people attended the funeral.

Louisa Herle's death and the mysteries surrounding her will became something of a cause célèbre, in New York and beyond. The Eagle published a number of stories about the house, the money, and the many claims on the fortune. Wealth, death, thwarted romance, a retreat from society - it was all good press. A series of articles covered the search for money in the house on 12th Street. The cause of her death was queried; there were suggestions of foul play.  There's plenty of lurid excitement.

The house on 12th Street still stands.  It looks unremarkable enough, a rare brownstone on a block that is mostly brick and frame.  In recent years 292 has looked as shabby as it might have been in Louisa's last years.  Or maybe more so.  You'd hardly have thought of it as a mansion.  For a while it stood empty. It was sold a year ago for almost $2M, and is getting a renovation.  As the walls and ceilings were ripped apart, over a century of plaster dust spread in a cloud from the windows and doors.  Maybe fragments of currency too.  The dust billowed, as if the spirits of the old house were leaving the building too.  Are there any faint wisps of the Herles and their successors still lingering there?

Saturday, March 10, 2018


As Columbia University moves into Manhattanville, its industrial past is erased (Nathan Kensinger, Curbed)
“You know how you watch a termite eat the lumber? At first it looks like nothing, and then you turn around, and it’s all gone. That’s what this feels like"

The Death and Life of a Great American Building (Jeremiah Moss, NY Review of Books)
The moment you step inside the St. Denis you feel its energy. Again and again, the people here describe it as “human,” as if the building itself were warm and alive, an entity animated by a soul. It is rich with residue. And if you talk to enough tenants, you will hear ghost stories.

Returning this weekend & nextA Tale of 17th-Century Witchcraft Staged in NYC’s Oldest House (Hyperallergic)
As the family in this farmhouse, along with two visiting priests, examined the afflictions that kept their daughter bedridden, other conflicts about faith, relationships, and possession emerged. Audience members could decide whom to follow, discovering perhaps that the father may be poisoning the young woman and causing her fits (played with Exorcist-like contortions by Rae Haas), or that the younger priest (an unnervingly dogmatic Brian Lore Evans) may be the most dangerous, with the absolute conviction of his belief in the devil’s presence.

A Small Town Kept Walmart Out. Now It Faces Amazon. (CityLab)
“If you were going to pick a place years ago that would still support small businesses, and shop downtown first, I would have said Greenfield would be that place,” Jessica Mullins, the owner of World Eye, told me. But her store’s sales were down significantly last year. Several customers who were once reliable shoppers now come in and find out about new books and games, take a picture of them, and then buy the products online, where they’re cheaper. It’s a practice called “showrooming,” and while the executives running big legacy retailers are the ones who most publicly lament it, it can hurt smaller shops too. “People are getting on Amazon and they’re not getting off,” Mullins said.

Geoffrey Fletcher Among The Meths Men (Spitalfields Life)
There is a curious camaraderie among the meths men, perhaps the only attractive quality a conventional observer would allow them. It is a ghostly solidarity, the fag end of what is called co-operation, citizenship, the team spirit or any other of those names used commonly to cover up the true nature of the forms of society.
... Brick Lane is marvellous, a melting pot of all the nationalities that grew from the loins of Adam, greasy, feverish Brick Lane, the Bond St for the people of the abyss.

The Birth of London’s 1950s Bohemian Coffee Bars (Open Culture)