Wednesday, October 1, 2014

To 65th (Fourth/Fifth)

Fifth Avenue in the 60s is a sleepy kind of stretch.  From Our Lady of Perpetual Help south, the avenue dips down in height.  Is this The Ridge?  The foot traffic is quieter than the bustling pace of the 40s and 50s, and the side streets between Fifth and Fourth (62nd, 63rd, half of expressway hacked 64th) are the uniform barrel fronted rowhouses common at this end of Sunset Park.  They're pleasant, attractive blocks, but a little on the staid side.

(I realize that as I've walked through Sunset Park, I haven't paid that much attention to the stores and other buildings on Fifth, the main commercial artery of the neighborhood. This is pretty ironic, as I'm on the avenue regularly, and have a good number of photographs that I've accumulated prior to this systematic journey.  When I turn around and head back north (Fifth to Ninth) I'll remedy this.)

The cathedral-like Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Between 62nd and 63rd on the eastern side there's a good assortment of business, with Feeney's pub right next to Plaza Xochimilco food center (some beautiful Mexican pottery here), and the Asian Women's Empowerment Center a few stores down.  All Kinda Furniture is on the block too, though it was closed when I walked by.  The Last Stop grocery holds a 63rd Street corner with a name that I guess signifies the break in the run of stores on the avenue.  Not that hopeful sounding though. The plumber's across from it has a great old window.

A block south, a trio I like.  The untouched facade of "God is Good" Rising Sun Alarms is fine and intact, unlike the ones it's sandwiched in between.

If you head down to Fourth Avenue at 63rd, you can see the Zion (Norwegian) Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was founded in 1908, and closed in January.

Peter Ellertson, grandson of church founder Pastor Johan Ellertson, writes about the last service here, and you can catch a glimpse of the church's interior.

Across 63rd from Zion, a Rite Aid has acquired a lurid Brooklyn mural which features (ugh) Barclays Arena.  God & mammon side by side.

Final border shots. Fourth & 65th, there's a deli with a name I like a lot,


The Fourth Avenue substation, completed around 1915, which is next to a smaller, more recent Tower, Bay Royal Towers! At eleven stories, it's more of a towerette really.

And an avenue east, looking at the tracks from Fifth,

Note: And to throw into the thorny debate of Sunset Park borders, a couple of lines in Robert Caro's The Power Broker (1974) mention "what they (local families like Cathy Cadorine) thought of as "Sunset Park" - the area extending from west of Third Avenue all the way to Eighth and from Thirty-sixth Street south to Sixty-third."  That sounds about right to me.  From conversations with long-term residents from Prospect Avenue through the low thirties, I've found none of them identifying themselves as Sunset Parkers.  But this issue will never be resolved.  The borders may be marked by track or highway, or by other natural or man-made landmarks, ordained or reinvented by government official or realtor, but they also exist in our footprints, our memories, the day-to-day routes we travel to shop and eat and drink, the comfort of neighbors, & the myriad of small, intangible markers that map our home in the world.

Walking Home on Third: Globe Wholesale

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Coney Gowanus

Mexico Tire Shop, on Third Avenue, between 9th & 10th. It sits in the shadow of the Culver Viaduct, and is close to the bus stop for the B37. Let's move in a little closer, to the side yard gate.

Well maybe not that close.

That's better. You may notice a small creature bottom right.  A rabbit?  Very nice, you say, but one rabbit is nothing remarkable, even in a patch of dirt next to a tire shop, with the train rumbling overhead and trucks bouncing by along the avenue. But a whole warren of them is more like it!

While I was watching them, several other people came up to the gate to watch them too. An elderly couple discussed their fate, and concluded they were being raised for their meat. A younger, middle aged woman passed by and said, no, they were pets. She had asked at the tire shop, and spoken to a man who lived in the building. They were his, not the tire-fixers, and there were fourteen of them. She said her mother walked past the shop all the time and never noticed them. "But I did," she smiled, "because I'm nosey!" Hurrah for nosiness. We stood there a long time, watching the rabbits digging holes and gnawing on pieces of particle board. It didn't look in the least verdant there in the yard - no Beatrix Potter vegetable gardens here - but the rabbits looked plump and content.

The city's small and beautiful surprises wait for us in all the right places.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Between 61st and 65th Streets Third Avenue is split in two, truncating 62nd to 64th, and creating a triangular patch of land hemmed in by avenue and expressway.  Most of this is taken up by the Father Tom Joyce Sports Complex.   In the 1970s, the pastor and parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Fifth Avenue at 59th) turned vacant land into soccer fields, where the O.L.P.H. teams have played ever since. You can cut through the park from one side of Third to the other.

When I went by a man was mowing the ballfield, and the smell of freshly cut grass filled the air. Adjacent to the Father Joyce Center and right off a northbound snippet of Third, there's a small piece of Moses-marooned 64th Street. In front of the few brick houses huddled there, there's a sliver of green, with a fair amount of garbage in the weedy edges.  To the left, soccer pitch & Belt.  Ahead, the great elevated divide.  To the right, an in-your-face close-up Gowanus expressway roaring by.  This is some strange world.

You can look across the roadway and see the 63/64 community garden!

Around the corner, a couple of business ads.

I wanted to get some better pictures of the 64th houses, but on a warm day, there were kids playing outside, neighbors chatting over a fence, and a woman sunning herself in a driveway. I kept my camera down.  But I took a Google Earth shot. The small brick houses were built in the twenties, and there's one for sale right now for just under half a million.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Quick Stop

The Quick Stop Deli Restaurant, at 27th & Fourth, keeps hours fit for blue-collar trades - 7-5 on weekdays and 7-3 on Saturdays.  I've walked by on Sundays, or late weekday afternoons, and thought it closed for good.  I finally got by at the right time.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Dream houses.  The small, wooden ones, that by luck and location have quietly survived a century and a half of history.  The quiet corners where they're been passing the years are getting busier and busier these days.  Some sit on lots too lucrative to allow their survival much longer, and some are sold for millions, fancied up and shown off in glossy design mags.   Some stay with their faithful owners for decades, despite their sticker price.  And some still rest incognito, in parts of the city that the real estate Christopher Columbuses have not yet discovered.

Here's a house I covet.  This one's in red-hot Gowanus, on a mixed-use block between Third and Second.  It's next to a taller frame building, and the two together, so different in size and shape, complement each other perfectly.  What a glimpse of the past.  These two are down the street from a group of low dark-brick houses that always remind me of two-up-two-down northern English terraces.  Green number 99 looks slightly worn but well kept, wearing its period details lightly, without a lot of fuss.  I hope it stays in such obviously good hands for decades to come.

I looked online to see if could find any mention of  number 99, and came across it, along with 101 14th and two of the brick rowhouses, in the appendix of Gowanus Canal Corridor, a 2008 Columbia University graduate historic preservation study.  They're listed there as Corridor Buildings of Historical and Architectural Significance. It's an interesting study, and I've thought about finding out what's happened to all the rest of the listed buildings in the last six years.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


South Slope News had a piece last week about old signage revealed on 9th Street.  This was at no. 334, and the sign, Henrietta's, was for a bridal store around since at least the early fifties.  There was  a really nice response to the post: a couple of Henrietta's customers - brides from the seventies - sent in pictures of themselves in their wedding gowns.
As I'm often on this block, I had to take a picture of the sign myself.  I remembered coming across Henrietta's among the 1980s tax photos, and sure enough, they were there in my photo files.  The store took up both 334 and 336 9th, and the sign was a classic:

It's A Bridal World At Henrietta's Bridal Gowns

61st to 64th (Third/Fourth)

61st (Fourth/Third)

On Fourth between 61st and 62nd the Fountain of Salvation storefront church is closed, and the premises are up for rent.

61st Street between 5th & 4th is almost entirely four storey apartment buildings.  Even though that's not particuarly high, building-wise, its uniformity, combined with its utterly leafless sidewalks, give it something of a canyon feel.  One block down, A Sunoco station and a variety of housing styles mix things up a bit. A bigger apartment building anchors the north-west corner, and the apartment building run down the southern side is a lower three storey.  On the north side, bay-fronted frames, and barrel-fronted brick.  A tree or two.

Turning at onto Third there are flowers and trees, and considering you're right next to the Gowanus Expressway, swerving down and eastward, it's kind of pleasant, but ha! there'll be more nature ahead.  Turn up 62nd, and you'll see it clearly belongs with the 62nd street across Third.  Here the houses are semi-detached, but like 62nd between Third & Second, they're clearly of much more recent vintage than other housing nearby.  A commenter speculated that the Second/Third block might have been built as army housing, connected to the terminal, and maybe the Third/Fourth block has a similar connection.

Closer to Fourth, the brick housing is a little older. I was pleased to spot another vivid green "mystery" business around this part of the block. This will make number three in my collection! Online Simplemente Lo Mejor seems to be registered as a restaurant ..

The modern PS 971 takes up the corner of 63rd & 4th.  Down the side of an apartment building opposite the school, catch a glimpse of Tower of Bay Ridge West & expressway.

63rd is lined with more small apartment buildings, and one business, Sun Auto Center, at the bottom of the block. No left turns here. So I'm forced to head up 63rd again, I think (wrongly).

The Fourth/Third blocks from 62nd to 64th get progressively smaller as the Gowanus heads east, and 64th on this side of it is barely a block at all, though there's also a small piece of it on the other side of the expressway. I realize that I've missed that tiny piece of Third & 64th out - I'll have to come back. Damn it! On this side, 64th consists of one multi-unit apartment building (pharmacy below) and under the highway some roadwork supplies. But right at the end of this little street there's a wonderful surprise: the 63/64 Community Garden!

For years before the 63rd & 64th Streets' Block Association in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was created, the land was a garbage strewn, rat infested eyesore ... Tenants of the adjacent building, frustrated and fed-up by the crime in the community decided to take back their right to a safe neighborhood. Maureen O’Boyle and other residents contacted the community board and assemblyman to help track down the owner of the property, the Department of Transportation. The DOT was delighted about a beautiful green space and even assisted with the efforts by providing a dumpster and fencing in exchange for active community participation in maintaining the site. In the 5 short years since the garden was formed, 63/64Garden has blossomed from a few garden members to a widespread membership that reaches out to hundreds of people in the local community through partnerships with local-non profits.

The Green Thumb Print, 2003

The Green Thumb identifies the garden as being in Bay Ridge, not Sunset Park, and frankly, I think it might have been better to stick to the old Brooklyn/New Utrecht division at 59th, but whatever the neighborhood, this is a beautiful garden, with maybe the most unlikely location to experience nature that you could imagination.  Even with cars roaring at its borders, flowers trump Moses.

The block long Walkway, maintained by garden members, connects 64th back to the sidewalk of Third & 63rd.

We'll stop here. Next time, the missing piece of 64th & Third, and the rest of 62nd to 65th up to Fifth.


Here's a photograph of 64th between Third and Fourth, in 1962, looking towards the site of the current community garden.

Work on approach to Narrows Verazzano [sic] Bridge from highway. At. 64th Street & 3rd Avenue View looking West:

John D. Morrell, Brooklyn Visual Heritage