Saturday, January 20, 2018

January Reservoir

On Gyms

"The gym is the interior space that compensates for the disappearance of outside and a stopgap measure in the erosion of bodies.  The gym is a factory for the production of muscles or of fitness, and most of them look like factories: the stark industrial space, the gleam of metal machines, the isolated figures each absorbed in his or her own repetitive task ... The industrial revolution institutionalized and fragmented labor; the gym is now doing the same thing, often in the same place, for leisure."

"The treadmill (allows) travel to be measured entirely by time, bodily exertion and mechanical motion.  Space - as landscape, terrain, spectacle, experience - has vanished."

                                                                       Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust  (2000)

Friday, January 19, 2018

The One Dimension

“From Brooklyn Boulders, Brooklyn Aikikai and Court 16 to Gotham Archery and the Brooklyn Fencing Center among others, Gowanus is quickly becoming the Brooklyn playground for those living an active lifestyle,” Shannon Eidman of Compass, who handled the deal for developer Serabjit Singh of 304, LLC, said in a prepared statement. “We’ve seen an increased demand in fitness destinations in the neighborhood, and are excited to deliver that with Gowanus CrossFit both as an amenity for the future tenants of the building as well as to the general public.” (Commercial Observer)

And let's not forget the ax-throwing.  CrossFit will be a part of the five-building "repositioning" at Third between 12th and 13th. The Yard co-working space on 13th, a part of the complex, opened last year.

What strange sensation as building by building, block by block, the streets themselves turn into flat, glossy renderings. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Still Life

I didn't grow up in Newcastle, but I was there for half a dozen years, right around the time photographer Tish Murtha was documenting her neighborhood, Elswick.  I lived in a flat just off the Westgate Road in Elswick, in the late 70's.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


"Eagle photo,"April 18, 1935 (Brooklyn Public Library)

"Police Commissioner Louis Valentine demolishing roulette wheels used in crime-related gambling. The location, presumably Brooklyn, is unknown." (Brooklyn Public Library)

It looks to me as if the photograph was taken on the Sunset Park waterfront, with Bush Terminal Building 19 (on 39th Street) in the background.  At this angle it's hard to tell that the central part of the building is recessed, but the ornamentation, the window count, and the water tower (at center) make it a good match.

Here's Building 19 in 1957,

Museum of the City of New York

and here's a Google pics from 2007.

The facade of the building has been altered over the last couple of years.  It's not Bush Terminal any more; this is Industry City.  The Brooklyn Nets have their training center here.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Selma to Montgomery

Selma to Montgomery, March, 1965, directed by the late Stefan Sharff, close family friend over generations.


Plans for been filed for a two-story vertical extension and five-family residence on the existing structure at 379 13th Street, which is situated just below Seventh Avenue.  The ground floor of the current building has belonged to the Iglesia Evangelica Pentecostal for over forty years, though there's been a partial vacate on the building since early 2015.  ACRIS shows no sale on record, but the owner listed on the plan application is Segev Nachom, and the business name is listed as 379 13 Street LLC.  The architect on record for the conversion is Woody Chen, who is active in Brooklyn.  Some of his creations can be seen in the neighborhood.

A few doors down, there's still an empty lot where a fine old wooden house used to stand.  371 13th was torn down in 2015.  Plans for a new building have yet to be approved.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


An Easy Way to Give East New York a New Subway Stop (Urban Omnibus)
Imagine there were the possibility for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to extend a subway line to a major concentration of new affordable housing — and a neighborhood with some of the longest commutes in the city — without building a single foot of new subway track.

The Man Who’s Been Sent to Rikers 100 Times (Village Voice)
A long-ago drug plea deal has left a Brooklyn homeless man on an endless shuttle to jail

Opioid Addiction Knows No Color, but Its Treatment Does (NY Times)
On a street lined with garbage trucks, in an industrial edge of Brooklyn, dozens of people started filing into an unmarked building before the winter sun rose. Patients gather here every day to visit the Vincent Dole Clinic, where they are promised relief from their cravings and from the constant search for heroin on the streets.

Barren Island’s Treasure Trove (New Yorker)
Robert Moses levelled a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood in the nineteen-fifties. Debris is still washing ashore.

So Long, Arthur Of Arthur’s Cafe (Spitalfields Life)
Even at ninety years old, Arthur was still running around his magnificent shining cafe, taking orders and serving customers with sprightly efficiency. Possessing the grace, good manners and handsome features of a young Trevor Howard, he was a charismatic figure, venerated in Dalston and throughout the East End.

A sound-portrait of a personal favourite - Bethnal Green's E. Pellicci.  Just listen!

Coney Island Creek: A Kayak Tour by Charles Denson
A circumnavigation of Coney Island Creek at high tide.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Mod New York

Costumes worn at Truman Capote's 1966 Black and White Ball

The Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip exhibition, at the Museum of the City of New York, left me disappointed.  I guess I was envisioning more of an English version of mod, or rather my English version of mod, but this was another mod entirely.  Encompassing a wider time-frame, and a broader range of cultural trends, this Mod felt faded and inert. Fossilized. Granted I was a small kid during the English mod heyday, with a child's distorted sense of things, but even in the primary school playground I felt the excitement of the era.  Older kids would corner you and demand to know if you were a mod or a rocker (at six or seven years old I knew my camp).  The crackly sound of Radio Caroline buzzed from my older siblings' transistor radios, and in the early to mid-60's, an hour away from Liverpool, those of us young enough to get it basked in the glow of the city's reputation.  Yes there was a world of high-end fashion and art, high-end clubs and juicy tabloid scandals somewhere in the distance, but even as a kid I knew mod was really lived in the music & the street culture of towns and cities all over the country.

So this mostly 1% couture version of Mod had none of the bite or the fun or the energy I'd hoped for, and most of the clothes & designers and celebrities in no way met my biased expectations.  Jackie O.? Audrey Hepburn, Oleg Cassini, Adolfo?  Mod?  Oh come now. The parameters were all wrong. And even the Campbells & Op-Art minis lost their zing in this fusty gathering.  It might have been something to do with the presentation - the dimly lit space and the blank-faced mannequins, or maybe the lack of any music to liven things up but really, I think it was the smell of money.

Still, I had to enjoy the Black & White Ball clothes, especially that Halston rabbit ensemble worn by Candice Bergen, who later expressed regret that she had attended the party "while there was war and suffering in the world."  Also the bolder, fresher African Jazz Art Society and Studios Grandassa Models photographed by Kwame Braithwaite in 1962.

But there were surprisingly few things to covet.  Visiting the Alexander McQueen show several years back, I was wild for his clothes' grand, savage beauty, but this was tamer stuff by far.  If I had to pick something I guess it would be the Courrèges Paris Hyperbole, a slinky looking crinkly vinyl on cotton & spandex in black.  It had a faint edge.

Despite my negative views, I love the MCNY.  Right now I'd recommend another show there: Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art in New York.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Farewell

Yes, I know this picture doesn't show the number of years Sam Batrouni had been in business at Fifth & 24th, but suffice it to say it's been over forty.  His auto-repair business got consistently good reviews from his loyal customers, and the occasional conversations I had with him were always delightful.  The business closed at the end of last year. The property has been for sale since late 2016, and though it's still listed, I'm assuming a deal is in the works.  The lot has M1-1D zoning, so there's the possibility of residential construction here.  A good number of auto business corners round here have been snapped up by buyers for rental or condo development.

As the sign on the fence states, there'll be some continuity for customers, whatever happens to the lot:

Please be assured that you will still be receiving honest service next door at 745 5th Avenue from my current manager Mohammed, who will be running the business with George and Zuhair, also from Batrouni Service Station.

If you read the whole thing, you'll see what a gracious note of farewell this is - the proper way to do it.  Best wishes to you Sir, a happy retirement, and I hope you land some good catches.

E. 103rd

I've been wanting to catch this stoop for a while.  I had my chance yesterday, but didn't have a decent camera on me.  Still - what a pair they make, these old gods of the city.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Old & New

After 25 years at the corner of Fifth & Prospect Caesar's Carpet Center is moving across to the opposite side of the block.

Ofelia's salon has become Lina's.

No more drinks at Fifth & 23rd.  Well, maybe water. Mary's bar, around for four years or so, closed in 2016.  Older residents might remember the corner better as home to the Polish bar Smolen.  The next business coming in will be an animal clinic.

A & E Supply Co, the coffee shop/butcher/cheesemonger/restaurant had something of a bumpy ride since its late '16 opening.  Issues with ConEd, a "guerilla marketing" campaign that ruffled local feathers, & possibly its choice of what the owners called a "desolate location" all hindered its success. The store is papered up and the owners are planning a new business model, re-opening "in a few months" as just a restaurant.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Looking Up

The steady drip, drip, drip of the city as the snow and ice started to melt away.  It was finally time to start shedding layers, but from an instinct acquired over the last fortnight, I still overdressed.  No matter.  How good it felt to walk, and to feel the blood pumping, thawing out my brain and waking me up after the deep freeze.  Instead of looking down, to better navigate the slushy, icy intersections, I found myself looking up, at small amendments to the streetscape, and at small, longtime markers I had either taken for granted or never noticed before.

A little glamor has disappeared at Fifth & 21st.  The old Tuxedo Den signs have gone, along with the astonishingly narrow-waisted dapper gent in top hat & tux.

In their place, there's a Marksman (We Do It All!) Construction sign.  Marksmen has new premises just down the block.

At Fourth & 23rd, across from the Jurek funeral home, I saw a detail at 722 that I hadn't paid attention to before - "Hanover" inscribed on top of the corner facade. It's hard to date the building precisely, but Hyde maps show it to have been built between 1898 and 1903, when the area's population was booming, and all around Fourth there was a rush of construction in anticipation of the BMT subway line. A lot of buildings from this era were given names - some vaguely baronial, like Hampton Court, and some sentimental, like Mildred and her sister Genevieve.  Hanover has a stout, burgher-ish ring to it.

I don't know what business occupied the ground floor of 722 originally.  A 1949 ad in the Brooklyn Eagle lists an ice cream parlor & luncheonette for sale, and just a couple of years later the paper shows the Clavin Funeral Home at this address.  There are still plenty of funeral homes round here, perhaps because of their proximity to Green-Wood cemetery.  In earlier times the area was also dense with monument works and florists.  Death was big business.

At Fourth and 22nd, no. 698 bears the name & year of its builder, P. Capo, 1921. At first I thought this was a brick building, but the sides of the building are aluminum or vinyl sided.  In 1916 it's shown as wooden, but I'm guessing the Capos added this facade. It certainly has a 20's look. The name up top shows a nice touch of family pride.

An Eagle search for 698 reveals the usual motley fragments of residential life.  In 1900 former tenants of the building were caught up in a love triangle, when George Crotty, an electrician, was shot to death by a fellow tenant, Edward Leasure, who Crotty believed was paying too much attention to his wife.  And in 1906 a midwife living at 698 was tried for performing a "criminal operation."

Other tenants in the building are seen looking for work. This ad suggests either a carefree or a desperate spirit.  I suspect the latter.

Young man, 22, wishes position at anything; first-class reference; willing to move away. S. Aleis (27 Feb, 1909)

Eventually the Capos make brief appearances. In 1928 Agnes Capo (45) and Marie Capo (25) are injured in a car accident.  Asunta Capo and Antonio Greco purchase a marriage license in 1937.  Then the family goes out of sight again.

You can walk a street or an avenue hundreds or even thousands of times without registering peripheral details.  It's all a question of light, angle, and level of attention. Had I really never noticed this faded ad past 20th Street?  Try as I might, I couldn't figure the sign out.  Here's a photo that I darkened to try and get the lettering into better focus.  It didn't help much.

Our random lives fade in and out of focus.  Who notices the clues we leave behind?

Monday, January 8, 2018


The winter sun is blinding if you walk in its path. There's nothing soft or sentimental with a winter sun; its beauty is as tart as a lemon.  How cleanly it separates light and shade. With newer, taller buildings on our low level-street, there's less sun all-round, but especially so in winter, when even a southern exposure means shadows shortly after noon. Over on the northern side, there's a point towards the end of the day, when the sun, reflected in the window of a house on the next block, sends its rays diagonally across backyards and lands them in our kitchen.  Its precision is a wonder - the rest of the room darkening, and just this fragment of light hitting cutting board, bottles, tea tin, wall.  Ten, fifteen minutes, and it's gone.

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection (ProPublica)
Waste removal is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. On the darkened streets of New York City, it’s a race for survival.

Erica Garner, Daughter of Police-Brutality Victim Eric Garner, Dead at 27 (The Root)
Erica Garner was indeed a force to be reckoned with, occupying space and speaking out loudly against police brutality ever since her father’s July 2014 death. She was unafraid, unabashed and unapologetic about what it was she was fighting for.

The Wall of Love Outside a Jail (NY Times)
Maria stood outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, on a recent evening, looking up. The jail loomed above, a concrete bulwark more than a dozen stories high and lined in narrow windows. Behind one of them was her husband. (But NY Times, don't call the waterfront adjacent to Industry City an area "known as Industry City.")

550-Seat Restaurant Overlooking Gowanus Canal To Open In Spring (Gowanus Patch)
"I love the area and I think our canal should be Venice," said Alex Donskoi, a furniture company owner working on the restaurant. "It has all the potential to be there and it's going to get there. It's not that far away."

Medina Mohammed: From an East Flatbush Childhood to the Captain’s Seat (Waterfront Alliance)
Meet Medina Mohammed, a 27-year-old first officer with Hornblower Cruises and Events who hails from East Flatbush, Brooklyn. We caught up with Medina when she wasn’t out on the water to hear about her journey.

Taking Out the Trash? That’s Still a Man’s Job, Even for the Liberal Coastal Elite (NY Times)
Clearly not fitting this NY Times demographic, I'm proud to say I have no problem shoveling snow or taking out the trash.

Stories of the Nature of Cities 2099 - Prize for Urban Flash Fiction.  Entry details at The Nature of Cities
Let’s imagine. What are the stories of people and nature in cities in 2099? What will cities be like to live in? Are they lush and green, verdant and biodiverse? What will cities look like; be made of? How will they be designed and powered? Will they be tall, short, dense, under ground or under water? What of public spaces? Social organization? Mobility? Government? Sustainability and food? Wildlife? Climate change and resilience? Poverty, consumption, wealth, and justice? How will we interact and relate to one another and the natural world? What sort of stories can we tell about our communities and the spaces that will shape them?

Radio Trottoir (Walkers in the City)
My Dutch friend told me that something distinctive about New York is the way we all talk to each other. New York, unlike Amsterdam, she said, still has its Radio Trottoir—its pavement radio—meaning that we find out a lot from overhearing talk on the street. I had never thought about that, although it rang true as soon as she said it.

Nature's little sanitation engineer visits Tompkins Square (Laura Goggin Photography)
The big news around Tompkins Square recently has been this opossum, who mysteriously appeared in the park a couple of weeks ago...

Gerritsen Beach - Brooklyn's forgotten Levitown (CityLab)
Isolated on the edge of the metropolis, linked by a single bus line, Gerritsen Beach developed a social fabric as tightly knit as its streets. It had its own Chamber of Commerce, Civic Association, and Citizens Protective Committee, a Lily of the Valley Garden Club—even its own elected “unofficials,” including a mayor and commissioners of parks and public welfare. When the city failed to fix a massive sewage backup in Shellbank Creek, citizens organized a pick-and-shovel army to cut a channel across the Plum Island sandbar to Rockaway Inlet, allowing tidal action to flush the waters.

History of Fountain Avenue Landfill, site of Gov. Cuomo's proposed State Park. (Hidden Waters Blog)
In an unexpected start for 2018, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday a proposal to create a 407-acre State Park in Brooklyn. My first reaction was in line with the city’s independent spirit: “Do we really need more State Parks, state troopers and state tourism road signs within the city’s borders?” My second reaction was, “Here we go again, the Governor and the Mayor’s rivalry is now a literal turf war with a State Park inside the city.” My third and final reaction was, “Where in Brooklyn is there a 407-acre expanse of undeveloped land that can become a park?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Deep and Crisp and Even

Almost deserted in the middle of the day.  The train runs though, and three B61s tail each other up the hill.  A couple of shovelers, an oil truck or two, and every so often a walker, hunched against the pelting snow.  Whenever you cross paths there's that awkward negotiation as to who has dibs on the narrow band of cleared snow or footprints and who gets to wait. The old familiar winter shuffle. And whenever I walk in fresh snow, a lifetime reflex kicks right in; before I know it there I am singing Good King Wenceslas again, as happy as a six-year old.  Fresh or dinted, king or page, I couldn't care less.  I'm in my element.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Roosevelt Island, Winter 2010

I was thinking of the days when I broke up my commute by getting off the train halfway through the ride to grab a cup of coffee and catch the early morning sun.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Day

The only way to start the year.  Though I'd rather have had a balmy day, like last time, it felt like we needed the freezing air to blast 2017 clean away. It was purifying. And there's nothing like good company - family and friends and complete strangers - to help us start all over again.

Blowing Horns on Bleecker Street, 1943

Marjory Collins (Library of Congress)