Friday, February 12, 2016


Every so often I walk this way with the dog.  As he heads towards middle-age, he's becoming more opinionated, stubborn about where he wants to go, and inclined to dig in his heels & try to resist the routes he doesn't like.  He's also taken a liking to hanging out on benches - in parks, on sidewalks, anywhere where he can sit and watch the scene.  I think he'd be sitting with the older crowd on one of those Bagel Factory benches on Fifth given half the chance. He especially likes to sit on a bench right here, idling in front of the canal.  Yesterday he wouldn't budge from it, and I had to pick him up and force him to move on with a few firm shoves.  Last time I'd been down here with him, a couple of months back, a couple of guys were preparing the billboard for a new ad., a replacement for Bulleit. Today we saw the next product. A Third & 3rd Whole Foods special.

Mendez Trucking

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Condo Conversion Approved for the Hutwelker

Last month the NY State Attorney General approved a condo conversion at 655 Fifth/251 19th Street. The corner building, 655, is known to many locals & architectural enthusiasts by its official title, the Hutwelker Building, and in earlier years it was used as a furniture warehouse.  251 was also used for light manufacturing, and a C of O issued in 1920 refers to the packing and storage of talcum powder. The two buildings have made their way into The Real Deal's Top 10 most expensive by offering price conversions for January. 655/251 have been operating as residential loft rentals since 2000 and were acquired by Time Equities for $8.1 million in 2013. Though earlier Real Deal articles situated 655/251 in Greenwood Heights, the newest article (2/8) puts them in another, dubiously referenced neighborhood

"Did you know Sunset Park, the off-the-condo’d-path land of beef tongue and dim sum, is getting condos from major Manhattan developer Time Equities?

655/251 are right across 19th from the long-stalled (or maybe not?) condo development at 657-665 Fifth.  The latter properties also operated as furniture warehouses, and a picture taken in 1941 (P.L.Sperr, NYPL)) reveals their originally similar looks.

Fifth at sunset - a beautiful stretch of the avenue 

More No-Permits Construction Mayhem - Throw the Book at Developers

At the end of January a full Stop Work Order was put in place at 158 15th Street, a couple of buildings up from the big development planned on Fourth Avenue between 15th & 16th. Prior to the SWO,  alteration/demolition was in full swing on site, with the removal of interior and back external walls.  The house was gutted.  There were no job actions filed or permit applications on record while this work took place, and nearby residents were justifiably alarmed.

Two violations were served (see above) & as of today, one of the violations served has finally made its way to the Property Profile Overview:

(Class One - Immediately Hazardous):



Strangely, no mention of the other, major "work" at the site.
Since the illegal work was stopped & the SWO put in place, after-the-fact permits-in-process have been issued(2/8) for "INTERIOR GUT RENOVATION AND REPLACEMENT OF FLOOR BEAMS IN CONJUNCTION WITH ALT 1."

It's not evident from the photograph above, but if you're on the street, you can see clear through the top front windows to the backyard - the rear wall is completely gone.

Sadly, this kind of stuff is all too common.  I know many people who've been impacted by neighboring, often adjacent construction malpractice, and have suffered the emotional stresses & financial anxiety caused by structural damage to their homes.  This goes on city-wide.  How about the City throwing the book big time at developers that display such indifference to building regulations, the safety of workers on site, and the safety & sanctity of neighbors & their homes? The current levels of fines imposed on errant developers (when they're actually imposed at all) are completely inadequate.


Red Hook Housing Project - Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., 1939 (Library of Congress)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Let's Work (1987)

I have to thank my ever-trusty Queens correspondent for not only alerting me to this rather, er, unexpected Mick Jagger video ("When did Margaret Thatcher start writing songs for the Stones?" a Youtube viewer asks), but also tracking the route Mick takes through New York.  Bravo!  At first we thought (hoped!) Mick might be jogging on the BQE, and were all set to send the video to the appropriate specialist, but on closer examination, we realized we were mistaken. Here's the Let's Work breakdown:

Mick begins his journey in Yonkers, on the New York State Thruway, right by the Yonkers Raceway/Empire City Casino.

Mick continues running down the Deegan, under the twisting ramps of the Hamilton Bridge.

Mick concludes his run in lower Manhattan on the FDR, near the South Street Seaport (with the World Trade Center in the background).

Our reporter would like to have identified what he believes to be a stretch of the Bronx in the video, but he was not able to pinpoint the specific location. Still, he is impressed (as am I) that Mick starts off in Yonkers, and b) follows a direction-appropriate route south. And how about the opportunity to reference both Mick Jagger & the Major Deegan in the same post?  What an unlikely delight!

Postscript:  I just remembered that Our Man in Queens sent me a Deegan report back in 2013!  How could I have forgotten the dismembered John Doe, sprawled on a rooftop?  You can see the horrid sight right here.

Monday, February 8, 2016


Coney Island Oral History Project: Coney Island's Takeshi Yamada

Takeshi Yamada (above right) at Ruby's, 2011

Screening on March 17 at the Museum of the Moving Image, the premiere of Dan Hendrick's documentary: Saving Jamaica Bay

The pet store owner, the pigeon fancier: Bed-Stuy resident Jerry reflects on his life with animals (Atlantic video)

Chasing Rainbows

Without really thinking much about it, I always assumed that budget retailer Rainbow was a product of the 1970s.  Well, yes & no.  The company was founded in 1935, by Austrian-born Irving Swarzman, who brought four of his brothers into the business, and built up an empire of eight-two stores.  The Swarzmans sold the business in the 70's and it is currently owned by the Chehebar family. Rainbow is still based in Brooklyn, but is now a national chain, with around 1,300 stores.
The Library of Congress digital collection reveals some rather stylish Rainbow images from 1945 - a spare contrast to today's crammed-to-the-gills looks.  And here's a nice snippet from 1938:

The employes of the Rainbow Shops of New York will give a testimonial dinner-dance in honor of Irving A. Swarzman, founder of the Rainbow Shops, and his brothers, Nathan, Ira, Herman and Oscar Swarzman. who are on the executive staff, this afternoon in the Isabella Room of the Half Moon Hotel. Chairman of the affair Is Charles Zahn. ( Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

The store pictured above, at 1267 Broadway (Bushwick), no longer exists, though today there are two other Rainbows close by on Broadway. 530 Fifth (top picture) was purchased by the Rainbow company in the 1990's, though I have fuzzy & probably inaccurate memories of it having been there a while longer. In earlier days there was a tavern at this address, and in August of 1900 injured motorman Henry Walsh was carried there after a trolley collision at Fifth & 9th. The accident was attributed to Walsh having suffered from heat exhaustion.

At 695 Sixth

The demo scene at 695 Sixth

Permit still pending for new construction.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

DeGraw Co-naming Passed for Robert "Pumpkinhead" Diaz

Great news!  In a vote on 2/5 (the same day that City Council members cheerfully gave themselves a hefty pay hike to $148,500) the Council approved 42 street co-namings, one of which was for DeGraw between Fourth & Fifth, in honor of longtime resident & rapper Robert "Pumpkinhead" Diaz, who died last summer.

“It’s important for him to be remembered," (friend and neighbor Claudia) Imperiale said. "There are barely any original Park Slopers left in Park Slope. He was an important part of it... He loved his art, he loved rapping, he loved doing it. It's an important message for people to not give up.” (DNAinfo)

Many congratulations to all those involved with the petition to rename DeGraw, & best wishes to Robert Diaz's family - wife Shawntay, sons Raiden & Royce, and baby daughter. A beautiful tribute to Diaz, and to an older Park Slope.

Holly Wood

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Luxury Conversion

"Beautifully converted, this South Park Slope's newest luxury condominium conversion is fully equipped with sleek high-end appliances and fixtures, including the immensely practical dishwasher and a washer/drier hookup. 180 SPS residences feature plenty of closet space, hardwood floors throughout, exquisite tile work in modern bathrooms, and low common charges. Open kitchen/living areas, with some units including private balconies (penthouse residence also has a private terrace), this pet-friendly building is sure to please without breaking the bank. 421-A tax abatement in effect for 25 years."

This condo building (at 19th, off Fourth) has been occupied for a couple of years, with prices at the lower end of the market. There's one apartment, #4, currently for sale at this address, for $425,000. Apartment no. 1, a ground floor/basement duplex (see its two petite windows in the photo above, at left) sold last month for the same price.  You can see the listing here.   There are no measurements in the floor plans for #4, which are captioned as"not to scale."  No pictures are shown.

Sanitation Squeeze

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Schools Needed NOW in Sunset Park

Last month eight sites were identified as possible locations for new school buildings in Sunset Park, where current schools are severely overcrowded.   The School Construction Authority is expected to report back early this year with a shortlist of viable locations.  One of the sites identified is the former Sunny 39 Hotel, which was closed down last year after operating as a brothel.  While the SCA and local officials have deemed the 39th Street hotel as a largely unsuitable site for a school, many parents & community members are still hoping it can be converted for educational purposes.

In a Window

This cat, peering through a gap in a curtain, made me think of that beautiful set of Ralph Irving Lloyd cat lantern slides, taken in Brooklyn a century ago.  Today's cat must watch the world behind a pane of glass, while the Lloyd gang roam free. Cats on rooftops, cats on fences, cats sunning themselves on window ledges.  Outdoor bruisers, they're kings of the backyard.

Cat named "Alert" - circa 1910 (Brooklyn Visual Gallery)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Back on Sixth

In the past buyers might take over a house like this gently, and with plenty of do-it-yourself spirit & not a lot of cash, turn it into their own home bit by bit - cleaning, repairing, fixing walls or ceilings, painting, putting in a bathroom, doing up a kitchen, replacing windows as funds allowed.  They might bring in experienced help only for the big jobs they couldn't manage alone. These days, with the sums involved, a sale results most likely in a gut-job or demo, with an attendant army of architects, contractors & hired labor.

Last spring, Curbed had unkind words for a little house for sale on Sixth Avenue, calling it "a house of horrors."  You could see from the photographs that the place had become run down - ample evidence of someone elderly having called the place home for a long, long time.  I thought the cruelty of the piece was unjustified.  The house on Sixth is still on the market, at the slightly reduced price of $1,425 million, and efforts have been made, with the help of Photoshop, it seems, to brighten up its looks.  But this is a crazy strategy. The stock white sofas & flat screen TV, the low, boxy coffee tables & pseudo-50's dining set look totally absurd superimposed on the same, melancholy empty rooms inhabited by spirits of the past.  Can anyone suppose these "home-improvements" will really seal the deal for today's buyer?
There's a disconnect on every level when it comes to this modest property thrown into today's market: business, taste, money, class.  And value, which has nothing at all to do with dollar signs.