Monday, September 1, 2014

Real Estate Monday: The Flip

I only just noticed that the little wooden house at 205 12th is back on the market.  This one has had mysterious price shifts over the years, selling for $970,00 in 2008, and for $640,00 last November.  Weeks later it was listed for sale at $2,199,000, but by June of this year the asking price was $2,500,000.  It's currently listed at $1,999,999.

The house is only 19' (or 20'?) x 26', but it's a beautiful old place, standing when much of the land to the east, going uphill to the park, was still being parceled into building lots. It's only a few yards from the path of the old Gowanus Road, which crossed Fourth Avenue at 12th Street as it headed down to Third.  The road was still indicated (though unnamed) on this Map of Kings County, published by M. Dripps in 1868.

What does the future hold in store for 205, tossed onto the bobbing waters of the housing market?  Will it be bought all-cash by a Wall Street couple keen for a piece of Gowanus action, who pop it up and out in as many directions as zoning permits? Or will it (heaven forbid) get torn down and replaced by another four storey plus penthouse number?  I wish it had stayed quietly out of the action.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Over the City Line

I got out of town yesterday.  I took a Metro North train thirty five minutes out of Grand Central to Yonkers, and spent the afternoon walking around the Getty Square downtown, strolling the boardwalk, and stopping by a cafe, dawdling over views of the water and the Palisades.  I got the best kind of tour, from a family member who lives there.

Yonkers is the fourth biggest city in New York State, after NYC, Buffalo & Rochester.  It is both urban and suburban in nature, covering a wide geographical area, and evoking a varied sense of place. In 1894 Yonkers had the chance to join a consolidated New York City, along with Kings, Queens & Richmond County.  The people of Yonkers declined the opportunity, just as later, the prospect of a subway connection to the Bronx was met with distaste.  Yonkers has suffered the effects of industrial decline just like many American cities, and also been scarred by its infamous civic history of racism.  But it's too easy for an outsider to rely on stereotypes about the city, which lead tony Yonkers college Sarah Lawrence to deny its real address, putting itself in Bronxville rather than its true location.  Too bad.  There's a lot more to the city than many imagine, with its wide range of income and ethnicity, burgeoning arts community, and (still) affordable housing options for people priced out of neighboring New York City.  Visit, and you'll find a city with a vastly different demographic from its 90% white population forty years ago.  Today Yonkers is 35% Hispanic and 18% African American, and has seen an influx of many different immigrant groups.  If its downtown problems seem all too typically post-industrial, with high rates of poverty and urban blight, it also has a stunning (if precarious) post-industrial architectural legacy: a vast array of nineteenth and early twentieth century industrial, mercantile and civic architecture, along with earlier historic buildings, like Philipse Manor Hall, which dates back to 1682.  And its riverfront location is both a glorious blessing - forging its identity and being, just simply, stunningly beautiful - and an amenity that developers can't resist taking advantage of.  The public spaces by the water are a great resource for all citizens, but there's always a price to pay.  The waterfront already has its share of high rise apartment buildings, but clearly there's a move inward, with all the attendant issues of displacement and destruction.

We walked along Buena Vista Avenue, a lower income area tucked just above the newer river apartments, and saw graceful Victorians, some the worse for wear, and some lovingly tended, with fine old porches and mansard roofs, and the prospect of clear Hudson views. We stopped at a community garden, bustling with local kids, and chatted to the garden director. We also noticed the number of For Sale signs and feared for the future of the avenue. Later digging around revealed multiple-lot development listings.

In the center of Getty Square, across from Philips Hall, a parking lot was recently removed ("daylighted") to uncover a buried section of the Saw Mill River.  Imagine such a thing! - like Joni Mitchell's song in reverse! Running water always draws people in, and it was nice to see people standing in the park, looking down at the fish, reading about the river's path, and chatting to strangers about what they saw.  It was amazing to think that a river had been right there, under the concrete, all along!.  Everywhere there are possibilities.


Thursday, August 28, 2014


Another development site, at Fourth Avenue &15th (Brownstoner)

Birthday Music - WKCR

Today's the second day of the annual three day, non-stop WKCR birthday bash for Lester Young (August 27th) and Charlie Parker (August 29th).  Yesterday you could hear 24 hours of Prez, and tomorrow there'll be non-stop Bird.  Today you get a mix of the two jazz greats.  It's beautiful listening!

The MTA Speaks Once More


The MTA has issued another statement, to South Slope News, concerning the status of repairs at the Fourth/9th subway station.

Much of the work at 4th/9th Ave Station is specialty metal work along with finishing the tower brick work. The work is progressing and their projected completion is the 4th quarter of 2014.  NYCT staff is monitoring the progress of the work and if necessary will pursue other approaches should the work fall behind again.
Other approaches?  This sounds vaguely sinister.  I've spent a lot of time hanging out at this station over the years, and seem to have accumulated a somewhat obsessive number of photographs of the place, including pictures taken at the start of the renovations in January, 2011.  By now, I have little faith in the shifting completion dates the MTA grudgingly issues from time to time.  I can only rely once more on the words of Second World War poet Keith Douglas, always appropriate for these institutional fiascos.

"To live without hope is the best form of insurance.  It does not mean to live hopelessly."

Found in Yonkers

Through a window of Philipse Manor Hall

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Basis Independent Brooklyn ("The Best Schools In America Have Arrived in Brooklyn!) opens in Red Hook in three weeks! Will the building be ready for the new school year? Here's how things looked last Friday ...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Fun

Though the season is winding down, let's keep the summer spirit going with this Katrina Thomas photograph of would-be mayor John Lindsay and a teenage Liza Minnelli entertaining a beach crowd in 1965.  Now that's what I call a campaign!

Museum of the City of New York

Folded Sunsets

I've been enjoying looking at the digital collection of the Museum of the City of New York.  This Alfred C. Loonam picture, taken around 1940, at Third and 56th, marks the point I've got to in Part 1 of my 9th Street through Sunset Park walking tour.  It depicts what I believe is the unfinished Moses Gowanus Parkway, the narrower, pre-Expressway elevated roadway built on the structure of the old Third Avenue El.

Lewis Mumford wrote of the Moses project, in a 1959 New Yorker:

"At the very moment that we have torn down our elevated railways, because of their spoilage of urban space, our highway engineers are using vast sums of public money to restore the same nuisance in an even noisier and more insistent formBut what is Brooklyn to the highway engineer - except a place to go through rapidly, at whatever necessary sacrifice of peace and amenity by its inhabitants?" 

I'm going slowly.  I think I'll walk as far as 65th Street, which is more or less the boundary between Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, though I have toyed with the idea of stopping at 59th, the Brooklyn/New Utrecht divide. Then it's off heading east to loop from Fifth to Ninth Avenues in the opposite direction, back north. I'm not exactly speeding along here, but if you do this too quickly you a) stop really looking at your surroundings, and b) forget what you've seen.  And as I've learned a bit more about the history of the streets I've visited, I've become driven to go back to blocks I've previously walked.  There's always more than you thought you knew, or saw, and nothing remains the same.   The look of a block, the faces of a community, the you that walked a year ago and the you that walks today.  The rustle of dollars in the all cash deals that tear down, build up, drive out, and the rustling shifts in the layers of history that form a neighborhood's identity.  Some change is beautiful, and some very ugly indeed.  I wanted to say I'd walked each street at least once, over a year or so, even if I happily fall back to more aimless meandering.  A silly plan probably, but a strangely satisfying one. And I'm almost halfway there.

Monday, August 25, 2014

This is Fake

Yesterday a number of these signs went up around the perimeter of 724 Fifth Avenue, the old White Eagle Tavern construction site.  As I passed by, a concerned neighbor was editing the signs to explain that these were not issued by the NYPD and/or DOT.  Presumably they've been put there by the construction company "working" (well, not in recent months...) there. She also drew my attention to the curious dates on the sign.  May?   The state of this site has caused a lot of safety concerns for nearby residents in recent years.

Back at 33rd

A week ago, I was looking at the  of 816 and 817 Fifth Avenue (33rd Street) - semi detached properties that each consist of two attached houses (four apartments).  Yes, I know that sounds confusing.  There are six such properties on the block.  Since I wrote about them, I realized I'd overlooked 819 Fifth , that had been on the market since the spring, at $1,498,000, and yesterday the corner building, 314, was listed for sale at $1,350,000.  So four out of the six buildings are up for sale, and one of the sellers owns another of the remaining two. All 25 foot lots.



Here's the block looking north.  Notice the apartment building on the next block.

You have to wonder what's in the works.

Another small mystery here lies in the plaques on 816 and 817:

I've been looking online for any mention of Welsh Court, but have come up with nothing.  I'll look some more.  The fact that Woodrow & Roosevelt Courts are nearby, and of similar vintage, makes me wonder if there was originally a common courtyard at the back of the buildings.

Talking of Woodrow Court, No. 1, is getting some horizontal and vertical enlargement that certainly upsets the balance of the little group of houses.

Never Stop Improving

Battle Done

Sunday afternoon, Fifth Avenue

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Safe with Bill?

The mayoral connection is now a part of realtorspeak!  Behold this listing for 465 - 467 Sixth Avenue, a notoriously dodgy stretch of crime-ridden Park Slope.  Asking price - $5,200,000.

Excellent rental property or convert into one magnificent mansion. This property is also in a very secure block of Park Slope, as it sits 1.5 blocks away from NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio's home. Close to F/R subway trains, supermarkets, and great schools. MUST SEE...MUST BUY!! These two gems will not last long.  Call today!

These two gems have floated around on the market since last year, with an option at one point to buy them separately or together.  467 was sold two months ago for $2,400,00, but now the two are back on the market together & "must be sold as a package."  Will the new deBlasio safety sweetener speed a deal?

Donut Family Photo

Coney Island

Saturday, August 23, 2014

In The Development Pipeline

We live surrounded by construction sites.  On the home front it's been twenty months since work began next door.  It's still ongoing.  And on block after block after block you'll see a demolition site, an empty lot, a dumpster, an excavator, a cement block monster rising slowly above low-rise brick or wooden houses.

Fifth Avenue in the teens and twenties is a whirlwind of activity.  Corners are prime.  Between Prospect Avenue and 25th, I counted eleven corners where there are either construction/excavation/repair activities (some of them stalled), permits posted for work, or property either recently sold or currently for sale. And of course there's plenty more activity mid-blocks.

Walking home the other day, I saw that fences were up at the corner of Fifth and 24th (in front of the S. Batrouni Auto Service station, and next to the Citgo gas station) with a permit in place for tank removal and shoring.  Does this presage bigger plans?  A block south, a smaller auto repair business, at 732 Fifth, is on the market.

"732 5th Avenue features 25' of frontage on 5th Avenue. This site is zoned R6A with a 3.0 FAR. Under the current zoning a developer could build approximately 7,500 square feet as-of-right. There is an Inclusionary Housing bonus which would allow additional square footage. There is an existing 2,500 SF industrial building on the property that will be delivered vacant. The property is located along in the highly desirable Park Slope South neighborhood, with many new construction projects in the development pipeline. "