Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Border

At Second & 64th, the giant Extraspace storage warehouse. This was the New York State Arsenal from 1926 to the 1950s, operating as a storage, training & education center for downstate and New York City Units.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1926 - Brooklyn Visual Heritage

Turning up 64th to Third, you can see the expressway dividing into two.

Across the street, right underneath the Belt, the John Allen Payne Park.

From the climbing frame, it looks as if you could almost touch the roadway. When I went by, the park was empty, except for a kid idling on one of the handball courts.  It's a sad location for a children's playground, but a Friends of the Park group is working to make it a safer & better maintained place.  Money has been allocated for the park's renovation.

On 65th, you come face to face with the sentinels to Bay Ridge proper, the vast Towers of Bay Ridge West, one of the two hulking Mitchell Lama high-rises built in the 1970s.  Somehow their form and their name makes me think of some Tolkien urban dystopia.

Cross Second Avenue, and peering through the chainlink fence you'll see a more heartening sight - a miniature world of ships, water, railcars, tracks.  On a clear September morning, it's a transit lover's heaven.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Sand Man Returns

A better sighting this time ...

In the 60s

By 60th Street, it was time to get Third Avenue crossings done with.  I headed west of Third & walked the Third/Second blocks as far as the Towers of Bay Ridge at 65th Street, by which point the expressway had split in two - Gowanus & Belt - and Third was free again!  The Fifth to Third blocks would be walked later.
Again I find just how different the identities of neighboring blocks can be.  On 60th, a row of fire-escapes seem to cage in the worn apartment buildings they grip onto.  This is a mixed-use block, with businesses like Quickly Done auto repair, Magical Years nursery daycare, and The Meat Club, shouting out its name in fat blue-on-yellow letters.

Turn into 61st and you might as well be in Bay Ridge already. This is the most bucolic & quietly prosperous block I've seen in all my walks between Third & Second . Yellow-bricked, round-bayed rowhouses line each side of the street.  There are tall trees & lush pocket-sized front gardens. Roses grow.  It feels like closely guarded territory - oasis and fortress all in one.  On 62nd, more recent, detached homes (40s?) look like nothing else I've seen around here, as suburban as you'll get west of the expressway.  A proud, neatly kept street with a flag in almost every yard, and cars pulled up in driveways.  A street of shrubbery. A street of rational dreams, achievable goals, and steady, incremental progress.  I'm getting ready to turn around and head back in the opposite direction.

To follow: onward to 65th!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

23rd & Fifth

Back to work at 724 Fifth, with a giant crane stationed on 23rd.

How strange that the White Eagle Tavern sign is still there.

Demonstration Unit

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Look for Old

Here's the new look for 657-665 Fifth Avenue, the furniture & appliance warehouse buildings at 19th Street.  They sold for $8,500,000 a year ago.  These sorts of architectural renderings always veer towards the surreal, with those strange Stepford figures posed in the streetscape, but maybe the real thing will turn out better than the picture suggests.  Hmm, maybe.  It's looking kind of Disney faux-historic right now.  I'll admit that the arched windows play on an original feature, and I guess it's better than a giant slab, but there's none of the poetry of the weathered old building, with its steep, steep fire escape (stairway to dreams!) and its ghostly signs lingering on the walls.

I seem to have accumulated many pictures of this building, a real favorite of mine. Here are several more.

Looking Good?

Another drear scene of construction, with workers (no hard hats here) rushing to raise the building.  Can we find a small silver lining?

Yes.  The Sand Man truck!  The man himself is getting a bit faint, but still - a classic hand-painted company sign.

Hotels & Top Hats

How Many Sodding Hotels Do We Need?

An eight storey hotel is in the works for 32nd Street, below Fourth & Third (YIMBY).  The architect is Michael Kang, and to get an idea of the way the hotel will probably look, check out Kang's hospitality portfolio.  We seem to be awash in hotels in the Slope/Gowanus/Heights/Sunset Park corridor.  In April I noticed five of them on 38th & 39th Streets alone. The warehouse currently on site at 131 32nd housed P M Belt Corps., a leather belt manufacturer.  The property sold for $2,550,000 in December, 2013.

Farther north at Fourth and 5th Street, Hotel Le Bleu, which was put up for sale a year ago, finally sold at the end of July for just over ten million.  In the vanguard of the local hotel boom, the blue-lit Le Bleu, which opened in 2007 next door to a dialysis center, was marketed as a sexy, boutique destination, with a top floor restaurant, but it seemed to become shabbier with each passing year.  There were stories of bedbugs and ominously stained furniture.  Is it going to get a makeover?

A Loss of Style at Fifth & 21st?

692 Fifth Avenue has just come onto the market, at $2,200,000. The retail space is currently occupied by a deli/grocery.

EXCLUSIVE - South Park Slope Three Story Commercial / Residential Building Prime 5th Ave Corner Building with Two Commercial Spaces & Two Residential Units.
This mixed-use building is built full on a 20x80 lot and located on 21st St, one of 5th Avenues best blocks. With 4095 Sq ft. and the possibility to add additional buildable square footage, this tiered design provides space for a couple roof decks some with city views. Your options are limitless. Located in one of the most active residential neighborhoods with great local and commuter traffic, this property is a great investment opportunity and an excellent choice for an eatery or large retailer.

I wonder what will happen to the elegant man who still watches over 21st Street, even though his clothing & limo business closed some time ago.  He's always been a welcoming sight when you head down Fifth.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Basis Independent Brooklyn Opened Today!!!

Well, that's the opening date listed today on the school's online calendar .  I went over to Red Hook this afternoon to take a look, but there was nary a student in sight.  I asked a site worker if there were any classes operating today, and he chuckled softly.  No, there were not.  This was not entirely surprising given the current state of school construction.  Here are a few pics.

BASIS has a construction progress page on its website, but as of today it hasn't posted any updated photographs since July 20th.  You can see the way the school should look when completed here.

I'm no expert on the history and performance of BASIS, whether as a charter or for-profit model.  But I did find a recent online article on the organization, written by ed researcher Gene Glass.  You can find it on Diane Ravitch's education blog here.  I make no claims for or against its accuracy, but it's interesting reading ...

At the Danish Athletic Club

A late birthday outing: supper at the Danish Athletic Club.  I was having such a good time that I forgot to take any pictures, except for this sub-par departure shot.
What a warm welcome newcomers are given here!  This was quite a lively Sunday scene, with a lady accordionist playing old-time favorites to an elderly crowd in the banquet hall, and a smaller number of mostly older people eating in the dining room.  Middle-aged visitors may feel young again. Oh, but it's a friendly place!  Diners wandered from table to table, greeting each other and catching up on news, and one woman even came over to see how we were doing - "First time here?" -  and how we liked the place.  "You girls enjoy yourself!"
The club is a decorative mid-twentieth-century period piece, and all the lovelier for that.  The bar's jukebox selections stop at the 60s, and are heavy on Presley, Sinatra, the Everlys, Tom Jones. The paneled dining room is softly lit and comfortable. On the screen between dining room and bar a fleet of full-sailed Viking ships sets course. Next door, a century of club memorabilia, with photos of fifties gatherings in formal dress, teams of strapping broad-cheeked footballers, maidens in traditional costumes, and even a Brooklyn Andersen mermaid, blonde and beaming.  Trophies, proclamations, the stiff smiles of Danish monarchs.  A glorious community history.
The meals here are generous, and the prices moderate, with a three course meal running under twenty dollars.  By the time we ordered the kitchen was all out of fiskeboller (fish balls), and the lapskaus (stew) was not available.  Next time! Two people could have eaten my giant plate of pork loin, prunes and sauerkraut, served with a nice side helping of home-cooked carrots, turnips and potatoes, and the frikadeller (pork and veal meatballs) were a huge portion of meat.  Embarrassed, we were too full for dessert.
Service here is just about the nicest you'll get anywhere.  The waitresses are kind and attentive, and patient in explaining any menu item.  You will be urged to return.  You might be new here, without even a trace of Scandinavian lineage. but you will not be made to feel an outsider.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What's Going on Here?

Work on a new hotel going up at 6th & Third Avenue.

Enlarge it, and you will find these comforting words:

New York City has a variety of projects, both public and Private, which when completed improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers.  Whether it's new building construction, road repairs or park improvements, each effort will make New York a better place to work, live and visit.

This part's a bit confusing though.

Here on 344-346 E110 Street, New York, NY, a new condo being buil will be 12 stories condominium

Are we in Gowanus or East Harlem?  My map skills are not the best.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Goodbye Video Gallery

It had to happen sooner or later. At a time when the video store is practically extinct, the much loved Video Gallery, on Park Slope's Seventh Avenue, will be gone by the end of the month. Last time I returned a DVD there, a couple of weeks ago, the owner, Kathy Smelyansky, waived my late fee, and I guessed the end was in sight. For those under a certain age, selecting your viewing pleasure online is second nature, but I still liked walking to an actual store and browsing. I liked talking to someone like Kathy, whose opinion you could ask about any kind of film you cared to mention, and who would always respond with a personal & knowledgeable review. Just how many thousands upon thousands of movies had this wonderful woman watched over the years?  She seemed to know them all.  I liked the randomness of finding a film you didn't anticipate, of film conversations with Kathy or other customers, of personal encounters rather than virtual selection. Places like this, just like bookstores, or libraries, allow you these opportunities.  The real world matters.  Of course, we're lucky to live in a city where the best way to see a movie - up on the fairly big screen - is so easily available and the choice so broad, even at such high prices.  But the video store phenomenon - thirty five years or so from start to (almost) finish - was something special too..

When you go into the store right now, the atmosphere is one of shocked sadness, and appreciation.  We can't believe the place is really closing! There's a sale on in the store & the DVDs are disappearing fast.  Let's face it, there are films here you'll never find on Netflix.  But as much for their own collections, people are buying keepsakes of a place and an era.  I bought two films by Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin, Lovers & Lollipops, & Weddings & Babies.  Like the better known Little Fugitive, both black and white films were shot in New York, and take you to earlier days in the city, to the streets of 50s Chinatown, and a Feast of San Genarro in an altogether different Little Italy.

Kathy will be off traveling soon, and has plans for a very different line of work. Many, many thanks for the movie home you built for your loyal customers. We will miss you.

CB6 Meeting for Gowanus Parole Center

Flyers have gone up for a CB6 meeting concerning the new parole center coming to Second Avenue, right across the canal from Whole Foods. The meeting's next Monday night, at the 78th Precinct.   Could be a lively one.

Friday, September 12, 2014


58th between Third & Second

South of Lutheran, it's back to a mixture of residential & industrial below Third.  And at this point south, the names shift.  Sunset Ridge Deli (on Fifth at 58th),

Two beauties flank the wretched Papa Johns

Bay Welding (on First at 59th),

Bay Ridge Ford (59th & Second), Bay Ridge Tile Inc. (Third & 60th),  Ridge Glass & Mirror Works (60th & Fourth).   We're at the border.  And right at the edge of the Brooklyn/New Utrecht line.  As a walker not a historian, I'm confused about this, but have seen it variously described as 59th or 60th Street.  59th between Second and Third, above the Army Terminal, certainly seems like an urban divide.

The building at right (above), is the one I saw on the B37 back in July, at a different angle. You can see its ghostly clothing business sign here.  Who knows what plans are afoot for this large tract of wasteland?

Across from this empty land on 59th, and taking up a whole block, is a beautiful old building, a Brooklyn City Railroad Railroad Company property (1892), which may have been used as stables or a carbarn.

You can read more about the building & the B.C.R.R.C. in an excellent Forgotten New York Third Avenue post here.

Even though I love walking around here, I certainly won't miss the dash across the avenue under the expressway as I've wended my way south.  It must be hell to cross it every day. The traffic lights are not kind to pedestrians, and photogenic though it may be, it's miserable and forbidding territory.  I wish I had seen Third before Moses got to work on it.  In the Forgotten New York post mentioned above, there's a beautiful quote from Robert Caro's The Power Broker (1974) that describes the then-and-now:

The heart of the neighborhood — the focal point that gave it unity and a sense of community — was Third Avenue. Lining it, along with newsstands off which 9,000 Nordisk Tidendes were sold every day, were seven movie theatres, dozens of tiny restaurants run by couples and featuring recipes from the old countries … and scores of small, friendly “Mama and Papa” stores (the Northland Gift shop, the Finnish Book store, a hardware store that looked like a general store out of the Old west, a butcher shop that raffled off twenty-five big turkeys every Christmas) that occupied the ground floor of three- and four-story brickfronts in which Mama and Papa lived upstairs with the children…
The El had cast a shadow over Third Avenue, but the El had been forty feet wide. The Gowanus was ninety-four feet wide. Its shadow was more than twice as broad.
And more than twice as dark. The gaps between railroad ties had made the el’s shadow a Venetian-blind shadow; sunlight had come through as if through the slats of an open blind. A highway was a concrete slab, without gaps. The construction of the Gowanus Parkway, laying a concrete slab on top of lively, bustling 3rd Avenue, buried the avenue in shadow, and when the parkway was completed, the avenue was cast forever into darkness and gloom, and its bustle and life were forever gone.