Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Librarian

























Uncle John's liquor store - Clinton & Tillary Street, 1959

John D. Morrell worked as a librarian at the Long Island Historical Society. In his spare time, in the late '50s & early '60s, he engaged in amateur photography, and the now-named Brooklyn Historical Society has over two thousand of his photographs. The bulk of the photographs are of locations in South Brooklyn. The pictures he takes of older areas, like Downtown or the nearby Heights, like Fort Greene, Red Hook, or Gowanus, show a non-conforming variety of architectural styles, but as you head farther south, newer blocks offer staider vistas. Here you feel the flatness of the landscape in full force. Most of his photographs are in black and white, though every so often they burst into period-postcard chromogenic color. You can quench your thirst for mid-century stores & cars with Morrell. There's a riot of neon & fins. Still, the absence of people in the pictures make what must have been bustling streets and avenues sometimes makes them feel slightly buttoned-up and claustrophobic. You'd like them better populated.

The Downtown photos, like the buildings themselves, are more mixed in their character. Morrell lived as well as worked around here, and you feel in these photographs his personal connection with what he sees. In a brief experiment (what possessed him?) Morell takes interior shots inside a diner, and the blurry snaps exude all the muggy, steamy comforts of melts and soups and cigarettes. And suddenly, people! Hats hang on stands next to tables where bare-headed balding men in suits are serious about their food.  It's almost too intimate after all the emptiness we're used to. Morrell also shows of scenes of urban renewal: a building waiting in a sea of rubble, next in line for the wrecking ball, or, already half-gutted, exposing a beehive of wallpapered rooms to public scrutiny. Though the bulk of the collection ends in the 60s, a handful of quite ordinary shots appear a decade later.  The 70s pictures are muddier colored, and the cars have shrunk.  There are several pictures of fire damage, and the rest are of Hicks Street, most likely taken from Morrell's own apartment. They're casual.

Who was John D. Morrell?  It's ironic that a historical society has almost no biographical information about a former employee, especially one who left it such a fine record of the borough.  I hope it finds out more about him one day, and maybe gives him an exhibition.  I did a little digging around, and found what I believe (see above) was his Hicks Street address.  I know the BHS can do better than that, but here's what they have thus far:

John Morrell was a graduate of Pratt Institute and the assistant librarian at the Long Island Historical Society (now the Brooklyn Historical Society) under Head Librarian, Edna Huntington for many years. Little else is known about him. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Out of Bounds

Time to reward the old laundry pole with a few new clothes pegs (or pins in US lingo).  They're not new really - I picked up this 1950s dozen in a second-hand store near home today, but sixty-plus years on, they're still sturdy. 1950s or 1950's?  This is the sort of question that always drives me crazy.  I grew up without the apostrophe, then threw it in to try & show willing on American soil. But I never felt comfortable in its presence so I'm throwing it back out again.  I've received several waspish comments over the years on my weak grammar & punctuation skills, & I'm the first to admit I'm over-casual in this respect.  At least part of the problem (if you see it that way) is caused by the old UK/US duality.  I can hardly get either system right any more, and some attempts to conform never became instinctive. That weird US punctuation within a quotation, where the period sits inside the quotes instead of finishing the sentence?  If I don't let that period have the last say I feel like I'm burning my English passport.  Most spelling differences don't bother me much, but the storey/story one still bugs me and a couple of readers have been quite nasty about the English version I used to use.  I switched it to try and quell the critics, but like the intrusive apostrophe and the errant period it never felt right. Just as I'm still an in-betweener citizen, even after all these years, I've decided not to care any more about trying (and clearly failing) to get it right each side of the Atlantic.  If my grammar and my spelling and my usage suck (see, I'm no purist!), then at least it'll be for want of trying.  Language - my dear little family of words, sayings, phrases ,vowels, italics, dashes and inverted commas, every little last point of you - I grant you freedom!



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stores After Dark

An elegant, if eery bunch: from downtown Brooklyn & beyond, the 40's/50's world of neon & fancy fonts.  All photos from the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection of the Library of Congress.

Barton's Bonbonniere, DeKalb Avenue (1949)


























Bostonian Shoes, Kings Highway (1951)






















Miracle Mart, Flatbush Avenue (1951)






















Field Brothers, King's Highway (1953)






















Rockabye, Avenue J (1947)




















Hunter, Avenue U (1946)




















Adler's, Flatbush Avenue (1946)


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017

How We're Feeling

"Take cover" drill at PS 58, Smith & Carroll - Walter Albertin, 1962.  (Library of Congress)


Friday, August 11, 2017

Links

























Music of the People - Harold Feinstein

These youth of color are organizing to address climate change: the UPROSE-hosted Climate Justice Youth Summit on Aug. 3 in New York City (PBS)

On the site of the Gowanus Van Brunt farm: 19th-Century Diary Suggests Slaves Are Buried in Brooklyn Lot (NY Times)

Catch Leopoldi's hardware store on the big screen, in Ingrid Jungermann's Park Slope-based "Women who Kill"  (NY Times)

Jon Alpert’s “Lock-Up: The Prisoners of Rikers Island” (Village Voice)

Protest and Politics - a global sound map of protest and political activism (Cities & Memory)

Photos of Greenwich Village shops in 1979 (Ephemeral New York)

Next to Ennis playground (& the DSNY Gowanus garage), a lot for sale in "one of the most coveted locations in all of Brooklyn."

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sea-side


















I couldn't help thinking of that couple on the beach (see yesterday): the figure in the blonde wig, with white or silver penciled eyes. and the blonde-haired doll sitting beside her.  Both bare-footed, both wearing princess tiaras.  The doll's tiara was all askew, but she kept on smiling anyway. Whatever little scene the two of them had going, you had to love it, and the beauty of Coney is that still, however anodyne they try to make the place, it's the people that count, and the shore here still has the magic power of letting them do as they damn well please.  It's the city at ease. Everyone here is letting go of something or other - clothes, convention, inhibition.  The shackles of propriety. We're better that way.

For a while the doll was left alone while her companion took a dip, and she looked a little vulnerable, like somebody's human princess child, left there all alone without an adult's supervision.  I guessed the lifeguard could keep an eye on her along with the swimmers.  By the time I'd walked back from the end of the pier the two of them were gone.

Near where they'd been sitting, someone had written CHABOLITA in the sand, with a heart inside the letter 'O.' You could see the top of a head and a waving arm too and the start of a name, PAOL-, but the tide had rinsed the rest of the scene away.





Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Shore

"Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality."
                                                             from Leaves of Grass (1856) - Walt Whitman



Monday, August 7, 2017

Along the Avenue: Vacancies, Closures, Stalled Sites

I walked along Fifth from 9th to 23rd to look at the commercial vacancies.  This list is by no means complete.  Some spaces are long vacant, and a couple of others will be occupied soon, but many are recently closed.  From talking to just a few of the small business owners being forced out, I heard familiar tales of rent hikes and lost leases.  We've acquired a plethora of (chain) gyms in recent years, some macarons & croissants, some changing-of-the-guard restaurants, and the front guard (in & out) of thrift stores.  And bars. We've also got a couple of nice art studios, active in building community ties.  New construction and/or renovation herald higher-price/higher-end tenants, and in general it's harder for smaller, longtime business owners to hold on unless they own their buildings. Fifth below 9th Street is still very different in character from Fifth above 9th, and I still feel a loyalty and pleasure in walking south of 9th.  But real-estate fervor & those higher rents are chipping away at the diverse, local, down-to-earth spirit of our piece of the avenue.




















Incoming: 458. The T-Mobile store has remained open while the building is being enlarged, but the second store at this address (formerly a discount store) was vacated. It's still empty but apparently a "physical culture establishment" is on the cards. Now that's something we're short of around here ...





















(Long) closed: 474. For a while I held out hope that Garry would reopen, as planned, but sadly, this looks less and less likely as the years go by.  It's such a familiar part of the avenue, I can't imagine it not being there.  While not as glamorous as the exterior, the interior, when I was last inside the store, had a perfectly intact 1950's decor.  Lovely.




















For rent: 471. Most residents will remember a laundromat there, & its signs still exist under the Empire vinyl awning.  I have a special fondness for this laundromat; it was our go-to laundry spot when we first moved in around here in the 80's.




















In transition? 492, Beba's La Royale (Mezini) operates by its own bizarre logic.  It's been closed for months, and recently the interior furnishings were at least partially dismantled.  But there's no word on whether the same owners are revamping the business again or whether there'll be a new business taking over.

Closed: 494, the store previously occupied by Max Beauty Supplies is still vacant.






















For rent (new building): 491. Tacos Nuevo Mexico originally operated out of 491 Fifth, next door to its current location.




















Closed: 499 has been empty since the Mexican restaurant Camelia closed (late 2015?). The building was sold in 2017.




















Closed: 513. Frank's barbershop closed early this year due to illness.



Closing: 512 - La Casa Artesanal



















Closed: 528 - Radio Shack




















Closed: 538 - G&M Mens Suit Outlet




















Closed/for rent: 548-550 - Vice Versa & RAC Rent-a-Center





















For rent/in transition:  555. A Crunch gym has been in the works here for some time, but it seems to have taken longer than expected, with some SWO delays in the building conversion along the way. There's still a partial SWO in effect.  Apparently there's additional commercial space for lease. Several small businesses were displaced in the process of the conversion/Crunch tenancy.




















Vacant: 575.  The Kumon tutorial center is long departed.  For a while there were for rent signs in the windows here, but they're gone, and the space is still empty.




















For rent (building conversion & expansion): 589-591.  Readers might remember the longtime Ramirez travel service at 589.  Owner Jesus Morales died during a robbery at the store in 2013.




















Vacant: 613.  Damaged by an adjacent fire in 2010, the Mambo Lounge never reopened.  There's still a full vacate on the property.




















For Lease (?): 623-29.  Aaron's Fine Ladies Apparel closed in 2007.  There were plans to lease the property, and a Brooklyn Paper story in 2014 revealed the owner Howard Mankin's plans to sell the property.  The Aaron's parking lot was sold the same year to developers, but the store building has not changed hands.  I've seen the building used by filmmakers from time to time, but otherwise I'm not aware of what's going on inside.  There are still For Lease signs posted on the building.




















Coming in soon: 637. Hamilton Plaza Vision will soon be arriving at 637.  This sounds like it's one of the businesses still remaining at the Pathmark complex on 12th Street, which leads one to wonder how the other small businesses left at the site are faring, and whether a large commercial tenant will be coming to the Plaza soon. Time to get down there and see what's going on.





















Stalled development site: 643-5. These two buildings (above left), slated for demolition, have been in limbo for a couple of years.




















Vacant: 651 Roosters Caribbean restaurant closed in 2016.  Last I heard there were plans for a Japanese restaurant here, but the work is taking its time.






















For Lease: 657-665 Fifth. Despite an SWO in effect since March of 2015 the commercial space is still being listed for rent online.




















Closed: 650/648 Fifth. The medical offices recently posted a closure sign, but the deli next door has been empty for many years.  A year or so ago  I ran into a relative of the owner who was planning to fix the place up but this seems to have come to naught.  We can't leave this one behind without another picture.








































For lease: 652.  The brown paper suggests something will be arriving soon ...


















Building work: 694A  The Circola Festa di St. Anna Provincia Caserta recently sold the building, and it's being expanded.  Perhaps someone can offer more information about the history of this building, which seemed to have operated until recently as a religious meeting place/social hall.



















For lease: 708.  The corner space occupied by Mary's bar, which closed last year after a five year run, is still vacant, and the interior has been gutted.  We remember the earlier Polish bar Smolen



















Next door Czech/Slovakian restaurant Milan was replaced by Nostro in 2016, and the Italian restaurant is thriving.