Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Last month I noticed that the Batrouni auto center site, at Fifth & 24th, was still on the market. Here's a P.L.Sperr photo of the corner, taken in 1941, after the El was taken down.

Monday, June 26, 2017


The auction date got moved to June, with a minimum starting bid of $850,000.  Apparently it's in contract.

With vision and your architect bring this attached single family home back and realize a great return on investment. Located between 5th and 6th Aves. on 15th St. this 1300 sqft home has great potential for a buyer with both the vision and means...
...The lot is 14.25 X 100. With 3 floors (garden, parlor and 2nd floor) and a stand up attic.

"Vision" not once but twice.  I think I lack the acumen insisted here.  For me the word has other connotations.

There's not much in the Eagle archives for 264, but in 1899 next-door twin 262, "a two story and basement frame dwelling," was listed for auction.  It sold for $1,350.  The same address is listed in a WANTED - SITUATIONS - Female advertisement of 1908.

The houses appear on the Bromley & Robinson City of Brooklyn Atlas of 1880.  I don't know the year they were built.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Lost Lease: Heading South

Like next door 540, 538 is getting the 4 floor- plus-penthouse vertical & horizontal enlargement treatment.  Well actually, 540 was completely demolished, and the new building slid by as an enlargement. Somehow the DOB found this situation unremarkable.

Friday, June 23, 2017


I was talking to Farouk Elsebaie a couple of weeks ago.  He said many people have told him how much they love the look of his storefront.  I love it too.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


It is just a quality of beauty that
It comes and it goes.  We are contented with the ocean's
Being that way, and summer, winter, fall, and
Spring also leave and return.  
                           Kenneth Koch - "On Beauty"

In the city archaeology might mean years not centuries.  Or even minutes!  An older sign store sign hides under a newer, vinyl awning. Queen in Bazaar is still skulking under Dreamy's!  A mural appears, lights up a block for a year or two, then gets a coat of paint, or a replacement vista. If you get distracted, turn your head for an instant, you'll miss an arrival or departure.  You'll need a third eye to track it all.

Over a decade ago, if you looked in the right places, you might have seen visions in gold in the most unlikely corners.  You'd have to have been on them fast - most lasted only for a matter of months. And it might depend on where you walked.  Do you like entrance ramps, overpasses, the underbelly of expressways?  The more monolithic the setting, the more a shot of beauty radiates.  Is that a golden rule?

Our stealthy artist struck far and wide, with thirty pieces in the city.  It's the ones close by that tantalize the most.  I thought I was observant, but I missed almost all of them - except for those footprint impressions at Fourth and Prospect. For years I'd wondered how they got there.  

Suddenly all was revealed. In cryptic emails (some in verse) and archived photographs, back they came.  In miniature, and on the screen instead of on the streets.  But still gleaming.

"Yes I did those footprints. They were in gold metallic aluminum about 2 feet long. I thought of it as turning the highway into a foot path. You could sort of see them from about 15 blocks away. I loved that. The city took them down maybe after 4-5 months (considered graffiti) but they left the adhesive so you had a ghostlike petroglyph. I liked that."

There were four pieces on Third Avenue, but it's hard to find traces of them now. If you travel along the Gowanus Expressway, around 28th Street, you'll see the old sail factory building next to the VFW Post.  It's owned by CBS.  Today it's painted over in brown.

A few years ago though, if, like me, you were prone to enjoying expressway views, you could've caught a creature with gold and silver scales. Piscis or hominum?  If you were stuck in traffic, you could have made it out more clearly, but by 2013 or so it was fading, with barely a shimmer left.  I try to pin down a glimpse on Google Earth, but even there you flicker in and out of the decade, retrieving a year and then, zooming in and out of picture and date, doomed to search and search again to bring it back.

Down on the ground though, in 2007, it's easier to reel in. Here's the fish-man, bright & shining.  What perfect chance he landed in a maritime home.

The fish-man lasted longer than his peers on the expressway, who were removed more quickly.  

"I had so much fun with my project. 2 or 3 minutes of adrenaline as I set up and climbed my ladder worrying about being busted.....and then I stopped worrying. I figured anyone seeing an older man do this would think "it must be something official." I love getting away with stuff.

...I did the third avenue pieces anonymously. Anything on highway property turns out to be considered graffiti which is why the city took them down. I put pieces at elevation because it'd be harder to steal them. And I made the pieces in parts so that someone who stole them would have to do a lot of work.."

Close by Rossman's, the discount fruit & veg. store at 26th.  I find nothing left.

"About 3 foot high heads attached on the water side of the BQE about two blocks up and two blocks down from the discount grocers there (maybe 36 pieces in all) lasted about 3 months then the city took them down."

At Third and Hamilton, close to the home of Sandy victim Pithecus, the beloved blue ape of the auto-auction yard, you can still find traces of gastropods.  

"Good Hunting. Yes. Snails up the entrance ramp in two groups....about 20. I only have a pic of the lower group. And right around the corner on third ave facing 4th avenue were the sperm and eggs....ahh ...memory lane. and up the street with the tire store along the highway to 4th ave were the "sweating bricks."

It's jammed at the expressway ramp, and hardly a place to linger.  This makes me all the more impressed by how these little guys got here. They set the perfect pace. Here's what's left of the upper group of snails.

Here's the lower group, newly installed, in all its glory.

As for any traces of the sperm and eggs today, they're hidden under a 2016 Boa Mistura mural.

And the sweating bricks?  I couldn't find even a droplet of perspiration. The only light was the sun on the avenue as the Google van drove by ten years ago.  

"I started the series thinking I would make a name for myself but something happened. I started thinking by piece #2 or 3 that it would be better for me to walk away and leave them anonymous...... sort of nice to just be anonymous and see what happens."

(Photographs of original installation pieces copyright of The Artist.  Other photographs by One More ...etc. & Google.)

Monday, June 19, 2017


With a SWO order at 657- 665 Fifth in effect since March of 2015, and a good portion of the building a shell, it's a little surprising that retail space here is still being listed for rent. 

"Prime corner retail opportunity with Ownership installing brand new, all-glass facade at Ownership's expense. Located on the corner of 19th Street and 5th Avenue, 657 offers the largest contiguous retail frontage in the South Slope submarket.
... South Slope, which extends from Ninth Street to 20th street, from Fourth Ave to Prospect Park boarders (sic) Park Slope, Prospect Park, Gowanus and Windsor Terrace. South Slope which is characterized by its cozy mixture of turn of the century homes and multi-unit apartment buildings is currently home to a dearth of development projects."

March 2017


Sunday, June 18, 2017


Photograph by @patkowsk

An Open Letter to Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, on their endorsement of the BQX (UPROSE)

Mayor's streetcar project will further gentrify Brooklyn (Crain's)

Red Hook cranes could be history (Red Hook Star Revue)

The Brooklyn Machine vs. the First Amendment: A nursing home operator who says he was defamed in ProPublica is ignoring the publisher with deep pockets and instead taking aim at two freelance investigative reporters. (Daily Beast)

Walkers in the City: Leonor Fini'sWhite Cat (Romy Ashby)

Red-tail fledging in the city:
Fledge Day! The world becomes a jungle gym (Roger Paw)
Tompkins Square hawk fledges, & a second fledgling arrives! (Laura Goggin Photography)

Cinema memories by Luc Sante (Metrograph)

Would You Eat Blue Crabs Caught in the Gowanus?  The NY State Health Department Recommendation May Surprise You (Pardon Me for Asking)

Sunswick Creek, Queens - the hidden waters at Hallet's Cove  (Hidden Waters Blog)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Airways Pizza

With LaGuardia nearby, I get the reasoning behind the name, but it really doesn't work too well for me.  Too much Heimlich resonance, I fear.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Idle Laundry Pole

This one stands as a relic, with no line(s) attached.  We still use ours, but it only has one line.  The top one got taken down in the 1980's.  The family that lived in the main part of the house before we moved in included eight children, with two sets of twins.  The children slept in the attic, with boys on one side and girls on the other.

I grew up with laundry lines.  When I was little, my mother used a primitive washing machine with no spin cycle.  Instead we had a mangle - an object that looked more nineteenth-century than early 1960's. I used to help feed the clothes into the mangle & crank the handle to squeeze the water out, either right onto the grass, or into a white enamel basin.  Clothes were either hung outside, or placed on drying racks, that hung from the ceiling and were raised up and down by pulley.  At some point later in the decade, we got a twin tub that spun the clothes too, though you had to use a rubber mat to keep the sodden clothes from driving the machine off-balance. We never got a dryer. When we lived in the country we'd get regular visits from the gypsies, sometimes in the old hooped, horse-drawn caravans. They'd sharpen knives, mend pots and pans, and sell hand-whittled willow clothes pegs, bound together with hoops of tin.  I was always excited when the gypsies came round. Although I knew of the odious, pejorative rhymes and tales concerning gypsies  - robbers of chickens & children alike - I never gave them credence. Instead my head was stuffed with gypsy dreams, of life on the road, and of sitting round a campfire eating rabbit stew or hedgehogs baked in clay. The fact that I was very fond of hedgehogs, and liked to put a saucer of milk out for them at bedtime, and check the morning doorstep for the empty saucer smudged by a pair of tiny footprints, didn't dispel the campfire scenario. I was sure hedgehog tasted good.

How much time laundry seemed to take. My poor mother, with four children to look after, lived a life of endless physical labour.  I doubt I was hardly ever much real help, but I had a few small tasks. Sometimes I set the fire, with kindling and coal, and balled up paper.  Sometimes I helped collect eggs. I suspect my jobs were assigned to me mostly to keep me busy, but I did come in handy as an extra pair of hands in the endless turning and folding of newly washed sheets - a tedious, but strangely solemn ritual.

Until I was nine or ten, when we moved to the hateful town, we didn't even have a refrigerator. Instead we kept our milk and meat and butter in the cellar, which stayed cool enough in all but the hottest of summers.  The milk came daily, and the butcher's van showed up once a week. Every so often my father would wring the neck of a chicken, and my mother would pluck the bird in the scullery.  Without a refrigerator, ice cream was a treat. Sometimes we'd get ice lollies from the village shop - maybe a Sky Ray or a strawberry Mivvi - and lick them contentedly on the walk home. Sometimes we'd hurry back with a carton of Walls, wrapped up in newspaper for insulation.  The paper didn't help that much, with the ice cream often soft & drippy by the time we got to eat it.

We grew most of our fruits and vegetables, & my mother made jars and jars and jars of strawberry and raspberry and rhubarb jam.  One of my earliest memories is of picking raspberries in the orchard, and today I grow my own raspberries in Brooklyn,  They grow like weeds, and I get a good crop of them for a small, city back yard.  Of course, everyone in the family gets to eat them, but as the gardener and picker-in-chief, I think I get the lion's share.  Madeleines?  A line of laundry or a dish of home-picked raspberries always does the trick.

This morning the berries ripened.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

On 9th

"Flawless Luxury in Gowanus, Brooklyn!
This two bedroom residence will accommodate every apartment seeker in love with clean design and modern elements while keeping to the boot-strap industrial flavor embodied by this neighborhood."
                                                                                                        (203 9th Street - Ideal Properties)

That's certainly a busy Gowanus theme on the side of the building.  I do think it's time to retire the Kentile motif though.  Like countless others, I loved the old sign, and have many pictures of it, in all seasons and weather conditions.  But it's gone, and frankly I'm tired of the commercial fetishization. It's gotten like the logo of a theme park.  How about a substitute?  Bruno (still here!), Eagle Clothes or poor dear Pithicus, untethered by Sandy & never seen again?  Maybe a little expressway action?  There's no end to the possibilities.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Jack and Tony

Fourth & 32nd


Vice-Versa, the thrift store at Fifth and 15th, is closing at the end of the month. The next door Rent-a-Center, housed in the same building, closed earlier this year. On the same side of the block the G & M Mens Suit Outlet lost its lease in January, but is still open for now.  iLoveKickboxing opened on the block late last year, and a Crunch gym is supposed to be opening soon on the NE corner of 15th. The Crunch gym was set to share its space with other retail tenants, and For Lease signs are still up on the building. Nearby Monk Thrift, at 16th, also closed this year, and was replaced by a French bakery. On the NE corner of 16th a long-closed retail space, formerly occupied by a kids' prep center, is still vacant. North of Vice-Versa, up to 9th, empty stores include the former Radio Shack, Frank's barbershop, Camelia restaurant, Max beauty supplies, the maverick, barely-ever-open-but-really-closed-now-I-think Beba's La Royale/Mezini (such an 'interesting' business), & the long-closed Garry's Jewelers (oh leave that beauty be). Something new appears to be opening in a new building at Fifth & 12th, and a store under scaffolding at 10th is undergoing renovation.

That's a lot of change, and a lot of vacancy. Thrift stores, at least those of the vintage variety, often act as placeholders as neighborhood retail goes upmarket. Vice-Versa & Monk seem to have served their roles.  Monk always seemed like a bit of an over-stuffed closet - too musty & exhaustingly packed with goods to tackle, but Vice-Versa has more space, and cheaper prices.  Most of its stuff is plain old second-hand rather than 'vintage,' but it's popular with a wide range of clientele - it's not just middle-class teens and twenty-somethings hoping for a cute find. The Life vintage store at 13th is similarly popular. These two - especially Life - operate as a cut above a Salvation Army store, and Life has a higher-end designer range, but the basic prices are still modest.  I just got a pair of shorts at Life for five bucks, and have found quality leather boots for $30 or $40. Fifth Avenue used to have a number of charity thrifts and small discount outlet stores, & before the condo at Fifth & 13th was built, with Life as a retail tenant, there was a charity shop there.  DII Deals & Discounts on 9th doesn't look like it's going anywhere soon.  There are still plenty of people looking for bargains.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Xstasy, 26th & Fifth


The Multi-family Super Sale

Cushman & Wakefield are now marketing "The Brooklyn Legacy Portfolio," which it bills as "the second largest portfolio of multifamily buildings ever offered in New York City and the largest the outer boroughs have ever seen." The portfolio consists of 57 multi-family buildings, spread across Brooklyn and Queens.  Most of the buildings are situated in Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, and Bushwick, and closer to home there are properties in Park Slope and Sunset Park.  I recognized one of the buildings from the listing set-up: 219 13th street, just off Fourth Avenue.  I wrote about this building last fall; its owner, Silvershore Properties, had put it on the market shortly after buying it in 2013, and it was back on the market again in 2016.

... a look at the DOB open violations for 219 13th shows a sorry picture, with Failure to Maintain, material false statements as to rent controlled/stabilized units in the building, & unsafe wiring. 

All open violations were issued after Silvershore bought the property.  This is not the first indication of dubious practices by these owners.  In 2014 Bushwick longtime tenants of a Silvershore building faced eviction from their apartments, despite alleged assurances from the previous landlord that they would be able to stay.   Earlier this year Silvershore was accused of "predatory" behavior by purposely neglecting a property in Ridgewood to displace Section 8 tenants.

The Brooklyn Legacy set-up states that 27% of the portfolio units included in the sale are rent-regulated, and "have not been renovated to cater to the prevailing demand of the surrounding market. 

In 2014, Silvershore principal David Shorenstein described the company's recent buy-up activity:

“We discovered some lower-cost buildings in Brooklyn,” principal David Shorenstein said, observing that there are “so many different neighborhoods that haven’t yet been established,” at least from the perspective of the real-estate investor.
His company, Shorenstein said, invests to improve buildings with amenities like granite countertops, Shaker cabinets, and quasi-spa showers: “You have to spend a lot of money to get those quality tenants.”
Those tenants are often newcomers with parental guarantors. Some 85 percent of those renting 200 apartments from his company in the last eight months showed out-of-state drivers’ licenses, he said."

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Third & 17th

At Third and 17th, just at the Gowanus exit to the Prospect Expressway, there'a memorial to a couple who died in a tragic motorbike accident back in 2014.  Over the last three years the colors have washed right out of the photographs. The images there are as faint as shadows.  To a passer by, the love expressed there feels as strong as ever.  RIP Jose Chevere and Jalissa Otero.