Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Must Decline

Somehow or other I have ended up on the mailing list of Transportation Alternatives.  Usually I don't pay much attention to the messages, but this one, an invitation to an end of Bike Month party in Dumbo, surely falls into the category of Parties I am Least Likely Ever to Attend:

"Have a drink in the Bike and Roll Beer Garden, featuring Brooklyn Brewery and Coney Island Brewing… Pedal for T.A. donations with REI as part of an interactive light project… Get a close look at Brilliant Bicycles’ sweet new rides inside the Dumbo Loft alongside an interactive light show… Check out cycling fashion from Vespertine and Cleverhood and new bikes at the NYCEwheels and Vanmoof booth… Design your own reflective buttons with RydeSafe… Or go back to your college days with foosball thanks to Redbeard Bikes and a hair braiding bar courtesy of Po Campo!" 

No, no, for God's sake, no!

Defying the Odds

The 5th Avenue Key Shop, at 295 9th, must be one of the oldest businesses still operating in Park Slope, having been around since 1924.   Not as old as Neergaard (1888!), but still up there. Let's hope it can make it another nine years to the centennial.  If you look at the black and white photos below, taken in 1940/41 by Percy Loomis Sperr, and compare them to those taken in 2015, you can see that several of the buildings surrounding the key shop are still there, though a couple have fallen by the wayside.  The Michaels store, which once stood up the block at the corner of Fifth, was replaced by a squat bank building, a Manufacturers Hanover Trust that later became a Chase, and the awning of the Avon movie theater (1914 - 75), another teardown (Gone with the Wind, indeed), was replaced by one for McDonalds,   It's not so easy to make out all the businesses in the 40s pictures, but at the NYPL site (better resolution) you can see Western Union & Real Estate signs at 295, next to the key business, which later expanded to a double width first floor storefront space. Next door to 295, there's the Avon beauty salon, and a tavern.  There's still a bar at the site today. It's 295, the key shop building, though, that fascinates me most.  Look at that wooden survivor, flanked by brick, with its original eyelet windows still intact, even though the cornice they were set inside is long gone, and look at that little attic window, high up at the side of the building, and think of the sunsets upon sunsets, tens of thousands of them, that have flooded through the panes.  It's hanging in there.

At the Cinema Treasures Avon page, there's a link to a film of trolleys making their way along Fifth south from Flatbush, and also along 9th. Though it's titled as a 30s film, this is impossible, as the El line was still operating along Fifth until 1940.  It must have been taken later in the 40s.  If you look quickly, you can see the Avon movie house at 2:30.

And I almost missed this one, also at Cinema Treasures.  Date unknown.  Locksmiths and wooden house prominently displayed.  Now: Pornography in New York / Amazing Transplant.  Wed: A Time to Love.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Eagle Provisions - Vanished (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)
Shop Owners in a Changing Brooklyn Decide to Call it Quits (NY Times)

Summer Arrives

It was from the El on its way to Coney Island that I caught my first full breath of the city in the open air. Groaning its way past a thousand old Brooklyn red fronts and tranquil awnings, that old train could never go slowly enough for me as I stood on the open platform between the cars, holding on to the gate.  In the dead calm of noon, heat mists drifted around the rusty green spires of unknown churches; below, people seemed to kick their heels in the air just a moment before being swept from my sight. With each homey crash-crash crash-crash of the wheels against the rails, there would steal up at me along the bounding slopes of the awnings the nearness of all those streets in middle Brooklyn named after generals of the Revolutionary War.  I tasted the sweetness of summer on every opening in my face. 

                                                                    Alfred Kazin - A Walker in the City (1951)


Sunday, May 24, 2015


Strange, Beloved, Local, Endangered: Five Years of the Neighborhood Joint (NY Times)

The Times returns to Fifth Avenue's Jubilat two years on, and notices accelerating neighborhood change that includes the recent sale of Eagle Provisions.  There's a nice & well-deserved repeat profile of Jubilat, but also some of that out-of-touch Times observation you can find in their Living In real estate pieces:

For 25 years, New Yorkers of Polish heritage, including residents of working-class enclaves like this stretch south of Park Slope, have come to Jubilat for the flavors of home, speaking in their native tongue while choosing from among the store’s many versions of kielbasa. But these days, older Poles share the neighborhood’s sidewalks with throngs of Spanish-speaking children. New apartment buildings in the area are attracting a more affluent crowd.

Hmm. These days?  Spanish-speaking children have been thronging the sidewalks of the neighborhood for decades, be they of Puerto Rican, Dominican, or, more recently, Mexican, or Central/South American heritage.  A 1980 Census of Population and Housing showed census tracts around the area mentioned in the Times article to be 40% - 60% Hispanic.  Perhaps it would have been more pertinent for the Times to have indicated how development/affluence is driving out the families of these children.  
Still, the Times does get in a cutesy, story-ending quote from a newer resident.

Ms. Volturo’s husband, Josh, said he had learned of the place from a cousin who used to live nearby. “You can get the same kind of sausage at Whole Foods for, like, 10 bucks,” he said. The couple paid less than half that at Jubilat. “We go and get everything else we need from Whole Foods.”

Visiting Tony's Park Barber Shop (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)

Last weekend's Viking Fest! (Brooklyn Paper)

A No-Brainer: Saks Off Fifth Coming to Sunset Park (Racked)

"It'd be located inside 30,000 square feet of the ground floor of the eight-story Liberty View Industrial Plaza, the same complex that Bed Bath & Beyond signed on for last year. "This site is a no-brainer for any well-researched retailer," Chase Welles of SCG Retail, which is marketing space at the adjacent Industry City, told the publication. "The high density, the solid incomes, the impressive education levels added to some of the highest traffic counts in the country equal a no-brainer."

Friday, May 22, 2015


I've been exploring the NYPL's Digital Collections archives for some time now, and yesterday the library released a new search tool, an interactive map,,  that makes it easy to sample its collection of historic photographs by neighborhood.

Anyone living in the South Slope/Greenwood/Gowanus/South Brooklyn (etc. etc.) area should be able to recognize the location in this Percy Loomis Sperr photograph, taken in 1930. Any takers?

Development Site!

This one's quite something.  Ideal Properties has just listed a Park Slope development site for $15,000,000.  The location isn't specified, but it's easily identifiable as 16th between Fifth & Sixth, and presumably comprises numbers 220-222.  This property's a bit special, because the irregular L-shaped lot at 220 extends behind a number of properties on 16th almost as far as Sixth Avenue.  The lot includes a number of garage structures.  Here it is today,

and here it is again on a Sanborn map of 1888.

The 1888 map is fascinating, because it indicates the businesses and institutions of the period. Just this section of a block shows a hot house, a tinsmith, a smithy, a coal yard, a paint shop, and the Union Sunday School.  16th between Fifth and Sixth has been ravaged by developers, but still contains some fine old houses.  The house at 220 is gone today, but its immediate neighbors to the west are still there, along with a number of other brick and frame houses dating at least as far back as the 1870s.  There's also a front house/ back house combo that I covet.

The $15,000,000 price tag marks an attempt at an almighty flip.  Both 220 and 222 were bought a year ago by Grekam Realty Management, 220 for $1,820,000, and 222 for $980,000.
The address for Grekam is registered as 263 Prospect Avenue, the site of the Grand Prospect Hall. Local residents will remember that the owner of the Grand Prospect, Michael Halkias, proposed building a hotel and parking lot next to the hall on Prospect Avenue back in 2011.  The hotel has not been built, but by '14 Halkias had amassed seven properties on 16th, one of which gave him a connecting driveway to Prospect.

Fifteen million sounds like a crazy price, but it's 2015, and this is a large and unusual property. I have no idea how the size and shape of the lot dictates the scope of development. A good portion of it is surrounded by recent, less than attractive buildings, but there's also St. John's on Prospect & some smaller residential buildings.

On it goes.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Food & Drink - Fifth & Seventh Avenues

Work on the two new bars/restaurants on Fifth, Iron Station, at 683 Fifth, and another at 700 Fifth, is moving along.  At 700 Fifth, workers told me the food would be Jamaican/American.  If this is so, it'll mean quite an influx of West Indian food around here.  There's Roosters Caribbean Tapas nearby at 19th, the Breadfruit Tree on Fourth and 10th,and the regularly stationed food truck a block up at Fifth and 10th.  A nice collection of flavor.

At 426A 7th (14th/15th), formerly home to Amira's, and before that Anthony's, it looks like a new restaurant, Windsor Roast House, will be arriving soon.  A liquor license application is in the works.

Fifth & 9th, Forty Years Back

After hanging around Fifth and 9th the other day, I realized it was time to resurrect the Capry fashion show of 1979.  I last showed a video of the show back in 2012, which meant that it was surely ready for a replay.  Then I discovered that there were three extant clips, not one, so here are all of them.  Some of the footage is repeated, but who really cares? It's all good.  That 70s crowd, the mike-swinging MC, the models strutting the runway in rayon, velour & 100% crepe de chine.  And all going on right there at the intersection.  If you don't love it, you don't have a heart!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Eagle Provisions closed over the weekend, and the store is now almost empty, save for a couple of refrigerated fixtures and a few shelves.  Pope John Paul II remains on the wall, a benevolent presence above the deli counter, and a single, skinny, length of kabanos hangs alone amidst Christmas tinsel. Farther along the wall, you can still see the portrait of John, Richard & patriarch Szczepan Zawisny, taken in earlier years, which shows them surrounded by the fruits of their labor -  a glorious bounty of sausage and ham.

And what's next? I'm told that three retail spaces will remain, carved out of the main body of the store, and that the planned apartments will be built up on top of an existing structure, in from the corner of Fifth and 18th.  We'll find out soon enough.


At their Very Best

Let us leave Brooklyn for a while.  On a restless search in other boroughs, a listing in yesterday's NY Times caught my eye, though it hardly gives the Bronx the honors it deserves. The company at work here is Century 21, and the property is a vacant lot in Schuylerville. The price is $150,000.  C21 marketing of the property is on the cursory side - the only pic looks suspiciously like an 80s tax photo - though in its defense it has produced a sales video using the same image.  I think I'm the only person who's watched it so far, so I feel bound to share it with a wider audience.  Well, a handful of readers, at least.

Revere Avenue is a dead-end street, and 1136 is adjacent to the cemetery. The Google vehicle hasn't made it down Revere, so the street view is an interesting one. Yes, here we are in St. Raymond's cemetery, with the lot for sale just over the wall, at left.

If you're interested, you can see an earlier listing, with more complete information & a 21st-century photograph, right here.

Monday, May 18, 2015


The Good Life: home-owners opt for frugal lifestyle, dumpster-dive on Seventh Avenue (Guardian)

"Three or four times a week in warmer months, Marie bicycles through Park Slope. She knows supermarkets put out trash between 8-9pm. Food Train, at 7th Avenue and 11th Street, is “good for fresh fruits”, and Union Market throws away unexpired, sealed Tuscan bean soups, fresh cheese raviolis and raw kale salads every day – they clean the shelves for newer ones, she explains."

The state of development in Unsinkable Red Hook (Observer)
So who’s moving in (to the loft condos at 160 Imlay)? “The typical buyer would be somebody who is in love with the waterfront,” said Ms. LaRocco (lead broker, Douglas Elliman). “They would have bought in Dumbo in 2005, or One Brooklyn Bridge Park later on; they are kind of moving down along the waterfront. The rest of the people are in the creative industry in New York, and it caught on as a kind of a fringe thing; you either get Red Hook or you don’t.” Prices have climbed over $5 million for some of the larger units, and have averaged a substantial (for Red Hook) $1,000-$1,200 per square foot. “We are definitely setting records with these prices,” Ms. LaRocco laughed. “But what records? There’s nothing else like it here.”
Ms. LaRocco herself is proof of her contention that “people are willing to pay [well] to live here now.” A lifelong Manhattanite, she moved into a “one-bedroom with an alcove” in the Fairway building last summer—a building with a waiting list to get in—and pays $6,300 a month. 

All the Fun

Late afternoon as the Fifth Avenue Fair's winding down.   I've been to enough of them to want to walk the whole way any more, but I still like to catch the last few blocks at this end.  Better than just walking the avenue is stopping every now and then to watch the tide of fairgoers pass along the route.  It's kind of like sitting at Ruby's and watching the action on the boardwalk.  I love it all, the sausages, the funnel cake, the mix of the crowd.  I love the subversion that tilts the normal views of street and storefront, especially on the home turf of 9th and south.  Everything familiar shaken up & rearranged, everything blessed.