Monday, June 30, 2014

Real Estate Monday

I found the MLS listing on the Exit Realty Top Properties site, and recognized the place immediately.  I'd photographed it last fall.  This one's on 11th, between Third and Second, one of those houses dwarfed by newer buildings & left over from a time when the grade of the street was much lower.  Under its siding, a piece of Gowanus history.  I think I'm in the minority here, but I find the loss of these old wooden houses sadder than a handful of stout burghers' brownstones making way for a hospital expansion.


Yes, that magic twenty-five foot development prize.  The 3 bedroom, one bathroom property (1,050 sq. ft.) is on the market for $1,899,000.

In the 80s

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Heros of Borough Park

Here's a recommendation I got from someone who knows a thing or two about delis.  A little while ago, Robert Cervasio, who along with his brother Vincent ran the late, great Catene's on 9th and Fourth, told me that I should check out Carlos's, at 20th Avenue and 52nd Street in Borough Park.  This is just a hop on the F train to Avenue I, and I'll take any excuse to ride on the elevated tracks along McDonald .  The deli is steps from the station.
Carlos's opened twenty-five years ago, and is now a second-generation operation.  This is a super-friendly joint.  When I was there there were plenty of working guys coming in for lunch, and the phone was ringing steadily for orders.  There's a nice old-school feel to the place, with big catering-sized cans of olives and tomatoes on the shelves, and plenty of snacks and ices.  I liked seeing the rack of Marlow's candies and nuts by the door.  Sour Apricot, Sour Crawlers, JuJu Fish and Strawberry Laces - sugar poetry.
The deli counter at the back is all-business - with some serious sandwich making going on.   During busy periods you might have to wait a little while to get your food, because there's no cutting corners here.  The egg and potato with mozzarella is famously good, along with the chicken parm, but everything looked good, and the bread here is perfect.
Get on the F, and enjoy.

More of McDonald at Avenue I here here here and here ...


Thursday, June 26, 2014

On the Street

I didn't see Cooky at all during the long cold winter.  The last time I'd seen him he told me he'd got his funeral plans worked out.  These included a prayer card on which St. Peter was ambiguously posed.  It would be unclear if he was welcoming you through the door or gearing up to push you down the stairs.  I thought about this during the frigid, snowy days. It was good to spot him back at his familiar seat on Fifth this spring.  He'd been sick for a long time, and had only just moved back home.
With that nickname, how could he not like to cook? A couple of months back I passed by in time for two quite unforeseen presents: a jar of home-made tuna salad, and a copy of Down and Out, On the Road: The Homeless in American History.  He'd found the book on the sidewalk, along with another one, a New York Times cookbook, from which the tuna recipe came.  Cooky is good at finding stuff, from nearby thrift shops, or stoop sales, or left for the taking on the curb.  When I see him, more often than not he's poring over the latest treasure.  Right after I got my presents, I ran into another neighbor, a pal of Cooky's, who mentioned the Times cookbook that Cooky had found.  It had become quite a topic.  Next time I saw Cooky, he had the tuna recipe waiting for me, along with a large can of solid albacore in olive oil.

It turns out Cooky lived on my block many years ago, and knew some of my nearby neighbors. I asked him when he moved there. "After Roosevelt died." I asked him when he moved out. "Before Bobby Kennedy was assassinated."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Of the Tribe of Tiger

Between Degraw & Kane, Columbia Street in summer. A steady stream of cyclists and joggers, trim and freshly tanned, make their way along the Greenway path. Through the chain link fence next to it is the weedy site of a future park, and beyond it, Port Authority dockland.  Beyond that, the view that all Brooklyn developers crave a piece of.

Each day, on a strip of grass between joggers and chain link, with the glittering skyline at his back, Eshete Woldeyilma tends his family of cats.  Eshete came to New York from Ethiopia via Sudan as a political refugee in '82.  He began training in office technology, but ended up working in construction, and was seriously injured on the job.  Money came, and money went, as it does.  After living at a variety of addresses, he found an apartment on Columbia, and lived there for twenty-one years, until his eviction several years back.  Now he has a room in an SRO in midtown and travels back here daily, on foot or by bike, to guard and feed his charges.  The current bike is child-sized - not the most comfortable, he confides, but sturdy at least.  This time of year he gets to his spot by late morning and leaves around nine p.m.

Eshete is still well known in his old neighborhood, and (by those that take the time to talk to him) well loved.  Passers by greet him, and he's often at his post in the company of other long-standing residents.   Sometimes he gives up his chair for a friend, or a visitor sits down on the grass beside him.  From some of his friends I've learned about the Columbia Street of the past, when blocks of houses stood on the now empty parkland to-be, and heard stories of prison, addiction and redemption. But kindness always radiates here.  Last time I saw Eshete a man crossed over from his apartment building nearby to say hello.  Gilberto, an admirably spry 89 year old artist, & World War II veteran, was checking to see if Eshete had enough drinking water, and stopping to chat for a while. Farther down Columbia, a cafe worker told me what a good listener he was, and how easy he made it for him to open up in conversation.  And yes, Eshete is a pleasure to spend time with, as curious to learn about you as he is to talk of his own affairs.  Despite hard times, he has a mellow, easy charm, and makes his daytime patch of home an oasis of cultured urbanity. We've discussed the literary greats - Dickens, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Wilde - and political affairs in Africa, with both of us expressing admiration for the late Julius Nyerere.  We've talked about the ache for a homeland that can never be summoned back from the past, and the greed and indifference that drives New York today.  But mostly we've talked about cats.

The cats' territory extends deep into the port area , and you may not see them if you pass by in the daytime, but by early evening, one by one, they emerge from the shadows and make their way across the empty plain and through the fence to wait for supper.  These are a tough and handsome brood, and each has his or her own particular wiles and charms.  They're also blessed with glorious names and pedigree.  To the novice, the family tree is a little confusing, even though Eshete is patient with explanations, and writes down an annotated roster in my notebook.  Consider these beauties.  Here today: Miss Ethiopia, the Rocket Girl - mother and speedy warmonger, Nubia - father and center of the family,  George Washington - long-haired and virile, Porto Rico - a talkative and calculating trickster, Damascus - sweet and loving, and Congo, a dark and violent fellow, most sensitive of all the cats.  Departed from the world:  Mrs. USA,  the most beautiful Addis Ababa,  the genius Mogadishu, & Vienna, friendly & fearless.

But there are more, and these young cats are missing:  Albert Einstein, Princess Diana, Castro and Patrice Lumumba.  Youngsters, no more than six to twelve months old, they were taken in March to be found new homes, with his blessing, but Eshete believes he's been purposely misled about their placement.  He has no idea where they've ended up , or even if they're alive at all.  This is the source of heartbreak.  This fills his nights with anxious dreams, and colors his days with mixed emotions. Some days he feels sure of a happy resolution, but on others he is utterly hopeless.  And an underlying resentment at the way he and his young children have been treated eats up his soul.  He writes about this on a series of unfolded cardboard boxes which he shows me and asks me to photograph.

I am too heartbroken, too devastated, and too hurt beyond words since they took my four baby cats ... I raised these baby cats with tremendous sacrifice in this harsh and too cold winter, with their supermother, Miss Ethiopia, the Rocket Girl.

...People of deception, people of hypocrisy, people of two sides (on which side are you really on?), people of paradox, people without a bit of conscience whatsoever at all - zero conscience!  Where are you when you are measured by the scale of the human race? Are you part of the human race?

Tonight, by the time the cats get to eat, the waterfront is filled with soft golden light.  That skyline view looks more of a prize than ever.  Some of the cats nudge in together companionably as they work on their meal, while others hang back more cautiously.  Eshete, distracted from his youngest children's fate, beams at his family, and celebrates their freedom of spirit:  "You can't really own them, or know them.  You can't control them."  Eshete, like his cats, is the noblest and proudest of survivors.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Real Estate Monday: Eagle for Sale

Last week it was revealed that 626-630 Fifth, long home to Polish food store Eagle Provisions, and before that to White Eagle Market, is on the market at $9,000,000. According to the Commercial Observer, the property sale is being handled by Marcus & Millichap.

“It’s an opportunity to capitalize on the rent growth that has dramatically spiked in the neighborhood,” said Mr. (Jakub) Nowak (of Marcus & Millichap), who is promoting the space along with his colleague Matthew Rosenzweig, in a prepared statement. “Particularly national retail tenants will pay a premium for this large of a floorplate as opposed to legacy rentals in the area, which is predominantly composed of much smaller floorplates occupied by mom-and-pop tenants.”
...The longtime owners of the property are willing to vacate if the owners reach an agreement with a prospective buyer, the brokers said."
I have to say I've wondered about the future of the store for years, as its Polish base of customers has shrunk, and the store has placed more emphasis on its varieties of beer than its sausage.  With the excellent Polish meat market, Jubilat, a block north, it's hard to see how the neighborhood can still support two makers of traditional foods. 
There's been a Polish store at the corner of Fifth and 18th at least since the 1930s, when the South Slope/Greenwood area was home to a thriving Polish population.  In 1952, a Daily Eagle article put the size of the "Polish colony" at 60,000 strong, and refered to businesses now vanished:  Kostecki's butchers, Gladies bakery at Fourth & 24th - open at 5:00 am for hungry workers - and the White Eagle Tavern (whose crumbling remains can still be seen today), where summer dances were held in the back yard.  
John and Richard Zawisny's father, Szecepan, came to Brooklyn from Poland in the 60's, and worked as a sausage maker in White Eagle Market.  The Zawisnys took over the store in 1979.  In '84, John Zawisny still saw the area as "very much a Polish neighborhood," but thirty years later he had a different story:
 "It's changed completely ... It used to be a lot of families coming here to do their shopping.  Now the neighborhoods's all hummus, veggie hot dogs and beer."
I've only known Eagle Provisions since the 80s, when it became our go-to place for kielbasa & kabanos, after leaving the East Village Kurowicky's behind when we moved to Brooklyn.  Their hams were delicious too, and this was the only place nearby for good, fresh bread, especially the Lithuanian rye.  And Eagle's epicurean delights really were a draw when there was nothing else remotely fancy on this part of Fifth: all kinds of honey and East European jams, a myriad of fruit and herbal teas, pickles and mustards before the Brooklyn Brands, and dried soups and mushrooms for winter days.  But it has got quieter over the years, and the interior rather more down-at-heel.  And the beer selection continues to take up more and more space.   In truth, I liked the place best when the cheery Szecepan was still there.  I liked seeing him bustling in the back of the shop, or outside in the summer, dealing with the customers buying plants.  The language barrier was easily surmountable for the pleasures of greetings and shopping.

It's sad to think of the corner without those hand-painted signs.  It's sad to think of a "national retail tenant" rather than a family business.  A CVS perhaps, or a nice bank?    Less space, or demand, for pierogi or babka, golapki, or paczki?  I hope Eagle stays on Fifth, but am not too optimistic.  The property market's sizzling.

Related links: Walking on 24th and 25th
The White Eagle Tavern

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On the Platform

I get on the G at Smith & 9th. In the end car, a young man is preaching conversion. "The last person to enter heaven will have ten planets all to himself."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Back on 43rd

I seem to stuck be in a 40s holding pattern, shuffling south a block or two, and circling north again.  I love walking around here.  On 43rd, between Third & Fourth, there's an unusual row of large, detached frame houses, set far back, and high above street level. I was there a few weeks ago and again last week, when I noticed some kind of work in progress at 332. The owners got a demo permit back in 2012, but have not secured approval for a new apartment building, and appear to be going for alteration work instead.

At right below is the kind of pleasure dome that might have taken its place, and next to it, a brick facade job that I hope is not serving as inspiration to the 332 owners.

These houses caught the attention of Montrose Morris, who wrote an interesting Brownstoner piece about them back in February:

Fourth Avenue has become a dividing line between the very late 19th and early 20th century development of the rest of Sunset Park, and What Came Before. Crossing the street is entering an architecturally different world, where the area’s industrial and residential paths cross.
Sunset Park, the park itself, sits on one of the highest ridges of Brooklyn, and affords an incredible view down to the harbor and piers of the old Bush Terminal, and beyond. The hill rolls down from the park to the shore, and the houses on Sunset Park’s streets stair step down the hills, one of that neighborhood’s most charming and picturesque features. When you look at the houses on 43rd Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenue, it’s easy to see some of the changes in Brooklyn’s topography.
These houses are early, in terms of this neighborhood’s growth. The 1888 map of the area shows that this group of wood framed houses is the largest singular block of development in the area. Groups of speculative wood framed row houses are bunched here and there on the surrounding blocks, but none are as large as this; a group of fifteen buildings.
Morris suggests that these buildings are "off the grid" for buyers looking east of Fourth, but I wonder how long it will be before the border shifts an avenue west, with the BQE becoming the house hunter's outer limit.  We live in voracious times.  At any rate, these are fine looking houses, on a block is anchored on Fourth by two Sunset Park landmarks: (the closed) St. Michael's parochial school, and the long shuttered police house & stables.  And what a beautiful willow tree.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Third at 46th

Traffic backs up on brownstone-lined 45th, where a Fresh Direct is wedged between an SUV and a moving van.  A crowd gathers to watch the spectacle and offer some onlooker expertise.  I talk to a man who has exited his car, and he says there's always too much traffic on the block.  The trucks need to be rerouted to a wider street.  Around the corner on Third, a bigger Fresh Direct truck slides past Jimmy's Tires & Rims. Facing Jimmy's: the New Way Laundromat, Trash for Cash Redemption Center, a stainless steel fabricator, a Sears cleaning business and Iglesia Pentecostal de Jesucristo "El Buen Samaritano," where a man is slumped outside the gates.  Under the expressway, a Peace of Mind Pest Control driver is waiting for something, or someone, or maybe just idling.  A couple of police cars pull in.  Back on Jimmy's side, a gaunt woman in a loose black slip, one strap hanging low over a shoulder, weaves her way haphazardly along the sidewalk, screaming at invisible demons.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Real Estate Monday?

OK, well it's a picture of a real estate office.  These signs have come into view as renovations take place at Panchito Deli/Ricos Tacos, at Fifth and 46th.  There was a Western Union/F & S travel agents at 4601 (the corner) before Panchito came in several years ago, but I couldn't find out anything about Port Realty. A 1927 Eagle ad. lists an Andrew Karl butcher shop at 1603, but I don't know what more recent meat markets were at this address. The sign on view above predates the early 80s though, as this tax photo shows a shift to grocery store.

I realize that I should have been more methodical about looking at the tax photos in tandem with my walks, and will try to do so in future.  Of course, the whole project should be more thorough.  Instead it's a patchy, vague kind of ambling, with a little lazy online arsing about.  It was never intended to be more than subjective, but I find my ignorance increasingly frustrating. I expect to have more free time on my hands soon though, and will be down at the Brooklyn Collection & Historical Society for some real reading. And maybe I'll pick up the pace of the walking!  I've decided to stick to the 1st/2nd to Fifth Avenue east/west boundaries, and will stop at 65th, which is pretty much the boundary between Sunset Park & Bay Ridge, and the old Brooklyn/New Utrecht divide.  The next phase will cover Fifth towards Borough Park.
And as I'm around here all the time anyway, I'll try to revisit particular blocks or buildings periodically.

The tax photo collection is, of course, compulsive viewing.  Whilst looking for the picture above I found these: a strip of Second Avenue at 41st.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Back at El Gran Castillo de Jagua

I was happy to stop by El Gran Castillo de Jagua yesterday.  Forced to leave its grand old digs at Flatbush & Park, it moved close by last month, to a vacant diner at 355 Flatbush.  For a post-lunch time of day, the restaurant had a fair number of occupied tables, and take-out customers waited at the counter.  It was good to talk to the guys there, and wish them well at the new place.  It's close enough to the old spot to keep the regulars stopping in, and being next to the friendly Sharlene's makes it a good location to pick up new diners. It doesn't have the looks of the original El Gran Castillo, it has to be said, but the warmth of the welcome and the great food are the same as ever, and it's just so nice to know that it's survived.
For a hot day, chicken soup might seem an unlikely choice, but this is the best chicken soup I've had at any restaurant in the city - thick with meat and the liquid fragrant beyond words.  I took a tub home with me for supper.
It's important to help a business that's been forced to go through the stresses and expenses of relocation.  Go over to 355 for the entirely pleasurable experience of helping El Gran Castillo reestablish itself .  One visit, and you'll be hooked for good.

Turfed out on Park Place
Park Place & Flatbush - Jeremiah's Vanishing New York

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thunderbird, from the B61

Van Brunt. And observe the Kentile-clad father.  Was it Brooklyn Industries that first popularized this quintessential new Brooklyn/old industry image on a t-shirt?  Like countless others, I'm sad to hear of the old sign coming down.  Coming over the viaduct, on an outward or a homeward bound outing - that glorious start or end of almost all my train rides - will seem incomplete without it looming into view or receding into the distance.  But I'm not sure resurrecting it nearby (if it survives the take-down) is such a great idea.  It would be odd to see it at a different point in the landscape.  And I'm always of two minds about the recycling of old signs or other architectural artefacts.  I love to see these things preserved, but once the businesses themselves are gone, watching them accessorize a high-end restaurant or boutique wine store is sometimes worse than letting them fade quietly from memory.  Just give the past a little dignity and move along.

Of course, I'm looking through picture upon Kentile picture I've taken over the years.  From the train, from the street, in winter, in summer, on misty morning or blazing sunrise.  With all that photogenic beauty, even an amateur had a hard time taking a bad shot.

Friday, June 13, 2014

More & More on Fourth

Marathon Day, 2011

The gold-rush continues, and more small-scale multi-families fall by the wayside.  The pace is manic.

Many thanks to a South Slope News post (the 470 Fourth demo) where a commenter mentioned a deal in the works for a twelve-storey high rise development on Fourth Avenue between 15th & 16th Streets (eastern side).  Apparently a parcel of six mid-block brick buildings is being amassed.

This week

ACRIS records reveal three sales in recent months:  553 Fourth for $1,800,000 to 553 4th LLC (February), 547 Fourth for $2,100,000 to 547 4th LLC (March), and 551 Fourth for $1,665,000 to 551 4th LLC (May). If this is definitely a six-building deal, the developers must have failed to secure a much-prized corner.  For the moment, at least, the Uneeda Biscuit sign (The National Soda Cracker) still hovers faintly above 15th.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer of '82

It's block party season again. Here's a time capsule of older days in the neighborhood - part of a longer video taken on 21st Street between Fifth & Fourth in 1982.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New Services for New Brooklyn


Overlooked on one side by IKEA, and the Red Hook Houses on the other, the area's new private school, Basis Independent TM Brooklyn, is rising.  According to a BASIS website, the average construction time for a new school building is 115 days:

The planned opening date is September. You'll have to wait until 2015 though if you're a "self-pay"client needing the "upscale rehabilitation" services of Urban Recovery House, which will operate nearby on Beard Street.

 "Mosberg and business partner Johan Sorensen called Red Hook perfect for their holistic rehab model, which they compared to Promises and the Betty Ford Center, both in California, where celebrities like Lindsay Lohan have gone to dry out. 
Patients who visit the five-story, 20,000-square-foot center would be charged “tens of thousands of dollars” for four- to six-week stays on the truck-heavy block, which is just around the corner from Fairway Market." (Daily News)

 On the business website, we read that:
"Red Hook sits at the southern edge of Downtown Brooklyn, making it the only neighborhood in New York City with an unobstructed view of the Statue of Liberty. It has limited public transportation, yet extremely accessible due to its close proximity to everything. Simply put, Red Hook is magical as a serene environment nestled in an urban area with a strong recovery support network perfect for URH and its recovering patients."


What exactly is a "21st Century" Library? - Brooklyn Heights Blog, getting awfully cozy with Josh Nachowitz
“If you’re going to visit one branch, I would encourage you to check out the Battery Park City library,” Nachowitz (BPL Vice President for Government and Community Relations) said in a recent sitdown with BHB. “It’s a one-story library with a mezzanine at the base of a condominium tower…. [I]n terms of programming and having a library in a multi-use residential building, it’s exactly what we want to do here—although it’s smaller...   The library is comfortably nestled in the prow of River House, a 31-story residential high-rise designed by David Rockwell. As such, it is an ideal “comp,” to put the matter in real estate terms, for what Nachowitz and his boss, BPL President Linda Johnson, envision as a paradigm of what the Brooklyn Heights branch and, indeed, perhaps more of the “new” Brooklyn Public Library system might look like.

At Juniors Site, Bidders see Brooklyn, Too, as a City of Spires - NY Times
The plans remain tentative. Bidding on the Junior’s property kicks off this week and should conclude by month’s end, but a number of prominent developers are already salivating over the possibilities. If the right firm can buy up the land and air rights for the entire triangular block, it would be quite possible to reach a height as yet unheard-of in Brooklyn.
...In February, Alan Rosen, the third-generation owner of Junior’s, said any deal would have to grant the restaurant a space inside the new building, but on Monday he said that he would consider moving if the price was sweet enough.

Park Slope Medical Office with Lots of FAR Sells for $25,000,000 - Brownstoner
This one (at 35 Fourth) is right next to the Pacific branch of the BPL.  The sale of the branch is currently on hold (thank God), but owning both sites would be a developer's dream.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Coming Soon (Maybe?)

According to staff at the restaurant, the Bread Fruit Cafe (4th & 10th) may open tomorrow. The windows of the cafe are still covered with brown paper, so it's hard to tell how much the interior has changed from its Slope Cafe days.  I asked about the menu (West Indian please?) and was told that it could be West Indian, but that it was probably going to be vegan.  I was asked for menu suggestions and also asked how lively the nightlife was in the neighborhood & how late the local bars stayed open.  These solicitations, along with the vague menu plans & opening date makes the planning here seem less than thorough ...  However, good luck to the newcomers! The right business next to the subway here, with good food and reasonable prices, could do well.   I'll keep an eye out for the Open sign.

Update:  6/10  No opening as yet ...

Real Estate Monday: Small Fry

In the annals of city development this is minor stuff, but at every level one finds discrepancies between plans & actions.  The permit approved at 540 Fifth is for "2nd - 4th floor vertical enlargement on an existing one-story commercial building."  There's nothing in the plans for demolition of said one-story building, which quietly disappeared this spring.  I noticed the gap a while back, and went by today to take another look.  When I first passed 540 the fence was up:

but a few minutes later - miracle of miracles! - it was open, allowing a clear view of construction action.

At the sides of the lot you can see the outline of the demolished structure. Not a significant loss, perhaps, but still. Who keeps an eye on this stuff? And how many more sites like this seem be of scant interest to officials?  At the DOB website, there are two complaints for illegal work, but no record of any follow up. In fact, the second complaint has been dismissed as a mere duplicate of the first.