Sunday, June 24, 2018


Following the path of an elevated line is a walker's pleasure.  The light & the structure of columns & girders slice & frame & flatter.  They wake up your eyes.  Look this way, look that.  Take nothing for granted.

I was walking in a hurry & I only had my phone, but my eye was drawn to this two-story house across 31st.  With its tiled rooftops & blue-green walls it could be on a hillside over the ocean.  There's even a beach umbrella!  No Mediterranean here though, just Ns & Ws.  Add to the villa the chain-link fences, aluminum awnings & graffiti & it goes freestyle.  Everything's always in the mix.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


I hopped on the F in the afternoon to go to Coney Island.  I couldn't take any more news.  A man on the train was screaming at his lover on the phone, all down the line from Fourth to Stillwell Avenue.  It was a wild ride. We all sat silent in the car, careful not to stare.  We tried to tune him out, but despite ourselves were drawn in to the details of their sexual and domestic woes. The sea air came as a relief.

I got a drink & fries at Ruby's, & sat behind the usual guys while the music stalled in Rat Pack mode. It got a bit much & I took a walk. The weather was perfect.  It was busy enough, but low key.  Along the pier a man drew a gleaming sea robin out of the water, & told me it was only good raw.  "Sushi," he repeated several times. 

I'm always a people watcher & Coney's still the place for Everyman & Woman, but today it was Every Child that mattered most.  I looked at the parents, sluicing the sand off the kids in their swimsuits or queuing up to get them sodas.  Kids rode on shoulders. Kids took rides. A kid at the water's edge was playing alone, while a mother farther back was busy with an older child.  The mother's shirt read Too Tired to Care but exhausted or not you knew her third eye was operating fine.  Another mother had a pair of toddlers with her.  Over & over they tested their boundaries & ran away from her, slowed by the sand, stumbling & falling, & laughing, picking themselves up again, & turning around to check she was still there.  Of course.  Of course she was.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


I love the excitement when the World Cup swings around.  All over the city our hearts fly back to our countries of origin.  A mixture of homesickness and national pride courses through our blood; in bars and living rooms & at workplace lunches we're fierce with excitement.  Here we all are, with one foot in the city & the other back There, & aren't our multitudes of dual identities the grandest thing?  And don't we do it well, these double lives we lead, miraculously (more or less) harmonious and tolerant?  And aren't we the best of the country, here in our city state, as the nation slips, day by day, deeper into hatred and isolation?

Still, I wasn't expecting this one, on Fifth.  Russia 3, Egypt 1.  It tested my sentimental mood. Given my own team's lackluster chances (1966 was long, long ago) I'll be ready to cheer on plenty of other teams, especially the favorites in the neighborhood. But there are exceptions.

The New Yorker saw the game..

It was reported before kickoff that the disgraced former FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, who is banned from soccer for six years and widely seen as a symbol of its institutional corruption, would watch as Putin’s guest. During the game, video footage shared on Twitter seemed to show Blatter arriving in Moscow, his twinkly smirk undiminished by exile. The globe is burning, authoritarianism is unchecked everywhere, and Putin may be the first world leader in history to project imperial power primarily through trolling. The Russian team may still be exposed in the knockout rounds, which it is all but certain to reach. But for now, regardless of the outside world and regardless of the future, the Russian players are just having fun.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

En el Séptimo Día

En el Séptimo Día carefully observes the men’s world in realistic details, pausing to appreciate what we might only half pay attention to if we were living this. As José prays in church, his teammates prep for their next game: Shirts are ironed on the table, banda music blares in the background, soccer cleats are wiped clean, and old water bottles are refilled, then tossed into a cooler. At the field, the camera wanders away from the players and focuses on onlookers’ faces reacting to the game. To drive home its documentary-like style, onscreen text sets up the time and place of the story: “Sunset Park, Brooklyn, U.S.A. — Verano/Summer, 2016.” (VillageVoice)

Monday, June 18, 2018


Eagle, 1941

Photographing (and Singing) at a Brooklyn Karaoke Bar (NY Times)
Reuben Radding doesn’t do halfhearted. As a kid, he immersed himself in punk and rock music (perhaps rebelling against his classically trained parents). As a bassist, he threw himself into his music, eventually making a name for himself in the avant-garde jazz scene. Then, entranced by photography, he started taking pictures of — naturally — other musicians.
Now, you’re likely to find him at karaoke night at a Brooklyn bar (Freddy's) where he enthusiastically sings with the likes of regular performers like Badda-Bing Crosby, Be-Bob Deluxe and H-Bomb. And yes, he is taking pictures.

Saying goodbye to the old Essex Street Market (Nathan Kensinger at Curbed)
For now, a stroll through the Essex Street Market is still a comforting visit to an older Manhattan, one not driven mad by the latest food fads, or obsessed with glossy new food halls. Most of the vendors here offer up a mix of favorite local ingredients, sold at refreshingly affordable prices, ranging from guanabana and cassava to porgies and pata de res. While some outsiders have described the market as unlovely, utilitarian, and Plain Jane, for the vendors who call it home, and their many loyal customers, it contains a lifetime of memories.

Industry, NYCHA and Flooding are Areas of Concern as Gowanus Moves Toward 
Rezoning (City Limits)
The de Blasio administration’s Gowanus planning framework released this month contained few surprises for most of the stakeholders who worked closely with the city to bring the document into fruition. But its lack of detail on the commitment of city resources, the needs of local NYCHA developments and the future of industrial firms has raised concerns among some involved in the process.

How Journalists Need to Begin Imagining the Unimaginable (ProPublica)
"I think that it would have been a story about how Donald Trump was running for autocrat. I think at that point there should have been a big journalistic break with American exceptionalism and that's where we would have gone to other countries to look at what has happened to other countries when politicians have run in democratic elections for autocrat. It's happened many times and it's succeeded many times."  Masha Gessen
Julius Mendes Price’s London Types (Spitalfields Life)
It is my greatest delight to show these examples of London Types, designed and written by the celebrated war artist Julius Mendes Price and issued with Carreras Black Cat Cigarettes in 1919. After months of searching, these are the latest acquisition in my ever-growing collection of London  Street Cries down through the ages. Some of these images – such as the cats’ meat man – are barely changed from earlier centuries, yet others – such as the telephone girl – are undeniably part of the modern world.

“Joe Strummer’s London Calling”: All 8 Episodes of Strummer’s UK Radio Show Free Online
(Open Culture)
Strummer was the kind of rock star who could renounce fame and mean it, who escaped the London punk scene with integrity and health intact, and who was a larger-than-life humanitarian, yet also an approachable everyman.  It’s all these qualities and, of course, the songwriting, the distinctive mumble and growl, the indelible image, and the writing and acting cred that have endeared him to a few generations of loyal admirers. In addition to all of the above, Joe Strummer was also a free-form radio DJ, playing an eclectic mix of classic punk, reggae, folk, jazz, afrobeat, and about a dozen other genres, all sequenced perfectly and introduced in his distinctive, asphalt baritone.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Visitor Ralph

I was walking on Hamilton Avenue the other day & saw this mysterious sign attached to an Expressway pillar.  I guess 2022 must be the expiration not the issue date.  The sign is probably related to contractor parking.  But in my head the functional is never far from the romantic.  I imagine an honorific, almost-impossible to gain Walker's Permit, allowing special passage throughout the city, with small paper permit signs pasted randomly along the streets and avenues. The permit would serve no purpose other than the Walker's pleasure - out of the blue - at coming across a sign from time to time.

I'd like that a lot.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Demolition at Fourth & 9th

The building at the SE corner of Fourth Avenue & 9th Street is to be demolished.  It was last occupied by Good Shepherd Services, & was apparently sold earlier this year, though no sale is evident on ACRIS.  437-441 Fourth was built in 1875 by George L.Morse, whose work includes the landmarked Old First Brooklyn Reformed Church. The Fourth Avenue building operated as the clubhouse for the Democrats of the 22nd Ward:

Judge John Delmar was the patron saint of this Democratic Ward club. He was a very influential ward “boss” ostensibly under the control of the powerful Democratic Boss of Brooklyn at the time, Hugh McLaughlin. He controlled not only the 22nd Ward, but also the 8th, and had enough independence and nerve to buck McLaughlin whenever possible; defying him at every turn, until McLaughlin finally shut him up by making him County Clerk, the third highest position in the city. Delmar used his appointment to get rich and then retired to Manhattan to live the good life. But while he was still a powerful figure in the 22nd Ward, his followers named their club after him.
                                                            Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris) - Brownstoner)

Spellen describes the club's lavish accommodation, which included a banqueting hall, library and game rooms.  The property was later sold to St Thomas Aquinas, and then occupied by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.  For the entire Spellen piece on its history, read here.

No plans for a new building have been filed as yet.  The owner is listed as Joseph Banda/Vibes of One LLC, with a Borough Park address.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

This Climate of the Nerves

"What a strange, what a fantastic city ... there was something here that one experienced nowhere else on earth.  Something one loved intensely.  What was it?  Crossing the streets - standing on the street corners with the crowds: what was it that induced this special climate of the nerves ... a peculiar sense of intimacy, friendliness, being here with all these people and in this strange place ... They touched one's heart with tenderness and you felt yourself a part of the real flight and flutter - searching their faces, speculating about their dooms and destinies."

                                           Mary B. Miller, quoted in Vivian Gornick's memoir The Odd Woman and the City

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Merely to Be

Just a couple of days left to see the Summer of '78 exhibition at the Central Park Arsenal Gallery at Fifth Avenue at 64th Street.  It's worth every second of the hike over.

Look at the images.  Soak in their sun.  Watch our 70's selves. However they group themselves, in laughing crowds, in couples, or daydreaming alone, life is improvisation, and the ragged state of the parks, in full city slump, is no barrier to pleasure.  Summer is always liberation, from school, from clothes, the weekday grind.  Summer on a dime in '78 is even sweeter; even the parks themselves - some identified, others lost in time - have given up on order and responsibility.  Relax, make do, enjoy.  Life's free-form; the landscape reflects a state of mind.  An overgrown meadow in summer haze is a child's Eden.  Untethered from texts and calls and online personas, the body and soul rest purely in the elements.  Who's freer now?

Monday, June 11, 2018


Puerto Rico Is a “Playground for the Privileged”: Investors Move In as Homes Foreclose & Schools Close (Democracy Now)
While healthcare, the public school system and infrastructure in Puerto Rico are flailing nine months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, wealthy investors have descended on the island to turn a profit. We speak with Naomi Klein, author, journalist and a senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her new book is titled “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes On the Disaster Capitalists.” We also speak with Katia Avilés-Vázquez, a Puerto Rican environmental activist and member of Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, and Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE and co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance.

Celebrity chef Adam Harvey arrested for poisoning seven-story maple tree blocking his solar panels (Daily News)
Adam Harvey, 33, was arrested in May after neighbors spotted him drilling 11 holes into the trunk of the seven-story tree and filling it with herbicide, prosecutors say. The former “Top Chef” contestant, who owns the Gowanus restaurant Bar Salumi (Fourth Avenue & 15th), was arraigned on May 15 with two misdemeanors charges: criminal mischief and criminal trespass. A judge also issued an order of protection against the foliage fiend, barring him from going near the tree’s owner.

At Freddy's, June 17th - From Dublin to Brooklyn: A Cabaret of Words with Nicole Rourke and Rosie Schaap 
Nicole Rourke and Rosie Schaap met at a protest in Dublin in 1991. Since then, Nicole has distinguished herself as a spoken word artist, monologist, and milonguera (a master of tango), and Rosie as author of the acclaimed memoir Drinking With Men and “Drink” columnist for The New York Times Magazine. Now that Nicole is finally setting foot on New York City soil, they will join forces for a performance of drama, poetry, and story.

What the Kiki Ballroom Scene Looks Like Now: A Family Photo Album (W)
Ballroom culture can be traced back to Harlem in the '20s, where drag balls explored both racial taboos and gender nonconformity, and the House system's roots can traced to the late 1980s, where Houses emerged as a call to action for HIV/AIDS and STD prevention. The Kiki scene was born in 2003, as a collaboration between members of the larger ballroom scene and HIV and STD prevention workers—many of whom are also House members—and still flourishes today. Before Pose, there was of course Jennie Livingston’s famous 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, and the ballroom scene has influenced and been ripped off by pop culture in countless ways—Madonna’s “Vogue” video is an oft-cited example—but rarely do the young black and Latino members of the scene get proper representation or acknowledgement in mainstream media. With The Kiki Yearbook, Matthes celebrates and illuminates those lives and families. Meet them here.

On Publication Day For Adam Dant (Spitalfields Life)
... Unlike a photograph or a topographic view, which records a location in a moment in time, a map is a representation of a place where we continue to extend the threads of physical history even if these are no longer visible due to being buried or trodden underfoot.
Even when the buildings remain, the sites of our daily engagements and our cherished urban nooks and crannies are constantly being refashioned and repurposed until they disappear. The layout of our streets are dug up, rationalised and reordered. Consequently, our cities get transformed beyond recognition. Yet even when they are razed to the ground, all the places where we walk are essentially constant. In the widest and most profound sense, they part of a cosmic cartography that is eternal, infinite and immutable. As long as we live, they live in whatever form we care to imagine them.

Preventable Tragedies (New Yorker)
My psychoanalyst said that he had never before had every one of his patients discuss national politics repeatedly, in session after session. Now there is a continuous strain of anxiety and fear from one side, and brutality from the other. Hatred is depressing—it is of course depressing to be hated, but it is also depressing to hate. The erosion of the social safety net means that more and more people are at a sudden breaking point, and there are few messages of authentic comfort to offer them in these pitiless times. One is done in by disease, by isolation and despair, and by life crisis. At the moment, many people’s vulnerability is exacerbated by the unkindness manifest in each day’s headlines. We feel both our own anguish and the world’s. There is a dearth of empathy, even of kindness, in the national conversation, and those deficits turn ordinary neurosis into actionable despair.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

On Sixth

Midtown has still got a few grubby strips in the 30's. They're one of the things I like best about Midtown.  They're mostly on the side streets, where you could be a couple of decades out of sync, but the avenues have moments too, in between the Starbucks and the Banks of China & the mediocre chain hotels.  Remaindered fabric stores & down-at-heel gift shops linger.  Fragile looking businesses bear names that make you root for their success: Pinkies and Fun Beads and Gossip Accessories - such sweet, hopeful dissonance.  And never forget to look up.  Among the tailors & the loan shops, & the body rubs, next to the Epic barber shop, a vinyl banner for the New York Garden Church beckons. Blessings on them all.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Back at 26th

The corner building at Third & 26th Street is up for lease.  This troubles me on at least three levels.

1. The thought that two good businesses, the Safety King workers' equipment store & a longtime picture framing business may be leaving. 2. The wonderful symmetry of Safety King - its mannequin figures clad in helmets, reflective vests and harnesses & ropes - and the ladies en déshabillé over at the 24 hr. X video store on the other corner.  Maybe there were harnesses & ropes there too. I never checked.  I always thought these sets of mannequins should get together - they were made for each other - but now there'll be no fun at all with this sort of idle conjecture.

On a more serious note, 3.  I think I may be the only person in Brooklyn that knows or at least cares that this building, which stretches well up 26th Street, is the slightly truncated 1850's stable for the horse-drawn Brooklyn City Railroad Company, a beautiful old building that really ought to be preserved.  Well actually, I've mentioned its presence online before, and told a few people about it in person, but that still leaves the knowledge & the caring at a minimal level.

The building has been listed for lease before (see top pic., above), and Safety King did stick around, but we'll have to see what happens next.  Nothing's safe any more.  Today the place is getting touted as a great location for an internet cafe (what?), restaurant, "flex space," showroom, bar, or fitness center.

The streets go all prosaic on you block by block.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Visions of Gowanus Dance in My Head

View north from the 3rd Street bridge

You can read the new Gowanus Neighborhood Planning Study here

It's a given that Gowanus will continue to change its character, and continue to become an increasingly wealthy neighborhood, with or without rezoning.  And with or without rezoning, its traditional, industrial base will continue to transition to lighter (or liter) forms of manufacturing.

Rezoning will certainly accelerate the change.  With rezoning, Gowanus will see a massive increase in housing, much of it luxury development, albeit with a higher, much welcomed, MIH component. Personally, if there's going to be new housing, I'd like to see it all affordable, but this is an unrealistic dream these days.  In the planning study, it's proposed that Fourth Avenue will be upzoned, along with (at last) MIH requirements.  Fourth Avenue has changed beyond recognition in the last decade, so in some sense upzoning makes little difference now, but oh what a lost opportunity in that decade, with a mere handful of new affordable apartments on Fourth thus far.  There should have been hundreds, thousands.  You can't help despairing over a city that to most of us seems like it functions only in the pocket of developers. There is one piece of housing good news though. On city-owned land at Smith & 5th - site of the old Slab City shanty town  - there will be mixed-use construction with 100% affordable housing.  Also good is the emphasis on improving public housing facilities & resources, tenant protection, transportation, and climate resiliency.  But when you think about it, these kinds of improvements should be taking place irrespective of any rezoning.  Esssential services are padding here.

And of course, Gowanus sits in a flood zone, and a highly polluted one at that.  Does it really makes sense to build new housing here?  And with rezoning, what's the balance of what's gained and what's lost?  I'd like to see increased quotas of affordability in any new housing. I'd also like to see specific requirements for the protection of existing industrial jobs and the development of new ones, with fair wage blue-collar jobs in skilled manufacturing trades.

Renderings are by nature bland affairs, but the one above, with its little retail & canal-side plazas,  is particularly chilly.  It's a tame, controlled, vision of the future. How sad it looks. There may be a canal - just look at its Caribbean-blue waters -  but Gowanus has vanished entirely.  I'd like the place to keep its older, wilder style, its watery dead ends & its ragged lots, its low streets and big skies, its warehouse industries of glass and tile and scrap. But we're well past the tipping point by now.  Where does it go next, and at what speed?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Weir is Back

The work on the Green-Wood Cemetery visitor building is certainly taking its time, but I see the sign is back on top of the renovated greenhouse dome.  No McGovern here, as in recent years,

but just the Weir.  Complete with weather-vane, it looks just like the one P.L.Sperr photographed in 1941.

Monday, June 4, 2018


The Department of Traffic lasted from 1950 through 1977.  This model of push button, from the 1960s, was discontinued in the '80s, but you can still find it scattered throughout the city. The one here is at 31st Drive & 21st Street, in Queens.

Hell on Wheels: Fatal accidents, off-the-books workers, a union once run by a mobster. The rogue world of one of New York’s major trash haulers  (ProPublica)
The building’s basement is the domain of the men who work in neon reflective gear. Each night the workers, most of them black or Hispanic, descend the steps to sign in and get their assignments. The supervisors make sure everyone has the printout from the Squitieris: “Do your job or get written up.”
From the basement, the workers head to the trucks out in the yard. Once on their routes, the drivers and their helpers often pick up young men on the street as additional hands, everyone sprinting through fatigue and red lights to finish nightly routes of 1,000 stops or more.

Taking On Climate Change: Trying to solve the problems that are affecting our world, and believing that they can make a difference (NY Times)
Elizabeth Yeampierre, a native New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage, did not plan on being an environmental justice activist.
When she became the leader of Uprose, a Latino community-based organization in Brooklyn, she began by listening to what the community wanted: clean air; more green space; no new power plants in their neighborhood.
In the process of fighting for these things and others, Ms. Yeampierre found herself at the helm of what has become one of the country’s most successful community-based climate and environmental justice groups.

Can the Gowanus Canal’s industrial past be saved?  (Curbed)
 ...once the rezoning of the Gowanus is passed and the floodgates of development are opened, there will be no stopping the wholesale destruction of the neighborhood’s warehouses. Aside from the immense profits that will be made by real estate developers, however, it is not clear why there such a rush to rezone the area’s toxic land.
The Gowanus Canal is one of the most polluted bodies of water in the United States, with the federal Superfund cleanup expected to take at least a decade or more to complete. The remediation of the numerous toxic brownfields along its banks will also take many years. Meanwhile, the streets here flood on a regular basis during rainstorms, and the area is expected to be inundated by rising sea levels.

Really want to fix local journalism, Mayor de Blasio? Here's how. (Daily News)
The mayor says the media is stuck in the 70s and 80s. Journalism wasn’t perfect then either, of course. Yes, we can find the roots of a snarky and shallow tabloidism that went on to infect our national conversation. But the dominant fact of local journalism back then is that there was a lot of it. Hundreds of reporters competed with each other. The News had whole offices working seven days a week and late into the evening in Brooklyn and Queens. In Queens alone, The News had two education reporters, and two more in Brooklyn.

A story of survival: New York’s last remaining independent bookshops (Guardian)
On certain nights Seidenberg, who exudes a maverick ingenuousness, might open up his treasure cave for late-night salons where a bottle of whiskey is generally understood to be the entrance fee. Perhaps a couple of books will be exchanged for a few dollars (I once bought a bright green, 1969 first edition of Renata Adler’s Toward a Radical Middle from him for about five bucks) but sales aren’t really the point. In a city like New York, a place increasingly beholden to money, it’s good to be reminded that there are other forms of currency. Not just the civility of a bottle of bourbon, but those other, priceless currencies, too, the ones that New Yorkers don’t like to invoke because they all sound embarrassingly earnest: community, human connection and the preservation of knowledge and ideas.

“Frog and Toad”: An Amphibious Celebration of Same-Sex Love (New Yorker)
When reading children’s books as children, we get to experience an author’s fictional world removed from the very real one he or she inhabits. But knowing the strains of sadness in Lobel's life story gives his simple and elegant stories new poignancies. On the final page of “Alone,” Frog and Toad, having cleared up their misunderstanding, sit contently on the island looking into the distance, each with his arm around the other. Beneath the drawing, Lobel writes, “They were two close friends, sitting alone together.”

What Resulted When a Photographer Gave Rural Children Cameras (New Yorker)
Every photographer has a give-and-take relationship with her subjects. Wendy Ewald has more give than most. Since 1975, the American artist has been entwining photography, activism, and education in a series of collaborations that upend our prevailing ideas of authorship and authority. For months, even years, at a time, she has moved into rural communities around the world—from Mexico and Morocco to India and the Netherlands—to teach local children how to use cameras. The resulting black-and-white photographs are credited to both Ewald and her students, who are quoted and named in the titles. (This started twenty years before the term “socially engaged art” entered the lexicon.)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Dancing in the Street

June has appeared. The heat is here in fits and starts.  It's time for a re-run of 21st Street's 1982 block party. Enjoy.

Block Party (4)

More of the party here, here, and here

Friday, June 1, 2018

Local Produce Mini Festival This Weekend

Spoke the Hub has been around in Brooklyn since 1979, with arts spaces in both Gowanus & Park Slope.  In the early 1980s, its Living Room Performance Space was located on 9th Street.  This Saturday the 25th Annual Local Produce Mini Festival will take place on Union Street, between Fifth & Sixth Avenues. The festival will include dance & theater workshops & performances, street games, painting, fashion, and evening comedy.  Koko NYC, the youth division of Open Source Gallery, will be inviting volunteers to Build-A-Treehouse (without the tree) in the middle of the street. The festival runs from noon to 11:00 pm.  More information here.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Whitman's Birthday

Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? as every one is immortal,
I know it is wonderful . . . . but my eyesight is equally wonderful . . . . and how I was 
conceived in my mother's womb is equally wonderful,
And how I was not palpable once but am now . . . . and was born on the last day of 
May 1819 . . . . and passed from a babe in the creeping trance of three summers 
and three winters to articulate and walk . . . . are all equally wonderful.

And that I grew six feet high . . . . and that I have become a man thirty-six years old 
in 1855 . . . . and that I am here anyhow—are all equally wonderful;
And that my soul embraces you this hour, and we affect each other without ever 
seeing each other, and never perhaps to see each other, is every bit as 
And that I can think such thoughts as these is just as wonderful,
And that I can remind you, and you think them and know them to be true is just as 
                                                              Leaves of Grass, 1855

Today is the 199th anniversary of Walt Whitman's birth, and his spirit is still lodged in every atom of the city. Who better than Whitman to celebrate the spirit of the loafer, or the brush of bodies in a crowded street?  Who better than Whitman to voice our purest democratic impulses, our physical longings, our tenderness of feeling for the strangers around us?  Who whispers in our ear, sees what we see, hears what we hear as we walk the streets by day or by night? When we cross a bridge or take a ferry, who comes along for the ride? He's there on the buses and the subways too. Looking in through that Broadway window, isn't that Whitman right at our shoulder?  At a pitched-roof frame house, down by the water, isn't that Whitman at the door?  Whitman is New York. He may be known as America's poet, but really, we know he belongs to us.

But history has not been kind to the actual New York buildings where Whitman worked and lived.  Most were either demolished or forgotten.  One of the forgotten got a lucky break.

In 1995, Paul Berman, writing for The New Yorker, described the detective process by which Whitman's Brooklyn home of 1855 - the year the first edition of Leaves of Grass was published - was rescued from obscurity.

"... we turned to “Smith’s Brooklyn Directory, for the Year Ending May 1st, 1856,” a sort of telephone book for the pre-telephone age, which did contain a listing for “Whitman, Walter, h. Ryerson st. north of Myrtle av.” In the Brooklyn City Registry, we got hold of a microfilm of the old quill-written title deed to the Ryerson Street house and lot, which was held for a time by Louisa Whitman, Walt’s mother. And, with these several researches in hand, plus the findings of a real-estate-titles searcher who went into the archives to investigate the current deeds and the very arcane history of Myrtle Avenue and its official width (which has in fact changed, by a full twenty-five feet, but only on the side away from Ryerson Street), I can affirm that Whitman’s home from long ago is, today, the address known as 99 Ryerson Street. It is the tawny wooden house in the middle of the block. The one with a top story that was surely added later on. The house with a modern red concrete stoop and a bright-white door."

It's such an exciting article.  What triumph to have found the house, hiding in plain sight for a century and a half.  And a house with such literary pedigree.  But it's still not safe, and the City's record of preserving buildings associated with Whitman is not encouraging. In 1961, the Cranberry Street building where Whitman printed the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass was demolished, despite a campaign that involved literary luminaries such as Arthur Miller & Marianne Moore.  Late last year the Landmarks Preservation Committee rejected a proposal to landmark 99 Ryerson Street, deeming the house too altered over time, and Whitman's stay there too brief to accord it significance.

While acknowledging Whitman’s significance, LPC cited his birthplace in Long Island and his final residence in Camden as sites that “retain integrity to the periods they are associated with Walt Whitman, and are available to the public to visit.”
Furthermore, LPC wrote, “in the 20th century, an additional story was added to the building and it has been re-sided, substantially altering its appearance since the brief period of association with the Whitman family.” Despite alterations, a bit of the original Greek Revival style doorway is still visible surrounding the front door.

However, the LPC did express an openness to re-evaluation, and Brad Vogel, who spearheaded the landmarking campaign, has not given up the fight.  He has broadened the campaign's support base, and questioned the LPC's "overemphasis on architectural purity rather than on cultural and historical associations — both of which are permissible bases for landmarking under the NYC Landmarks Law."

Last week, the City Council's LGBT Caucus, along with Council Member Laurie Cumbo (whose district includes Ryerson Street) wrote to the LPC to make a case for protecting the building.  Here's the letter.

May 21, 2018

Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor North
New York, NY 10007

Re: Walt Whitman House 99 Ryerson Street, Brooklyn

Dear Chair Srinivasan and Commissioners:

We are writing to urge you to designate the Walt Whitman House a landmark.

Although altered, this house is one of only two known extant sites (the other being Pfaff’s saloon in
Manhattan), and the only residence, in New York City associated with the great American poet. It is also one of the earliest extant buildings in the city associated with someone who today would be considered an LGBTQ individual.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), often proclaimed America’s greatest poet, lived mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan between 1823 and 1862. Whitman was intimately associated with Brooklyn, where he worked as an editor, journalist, and writer, and lived in at least 15 different residences.

Whitman lived in this house between May 1, 1855, and May 1, 1856, with his family, including his mother Louisa, father Walt Sr. (who died here in July 1855), and his four brothers. The Whitmans were the first owner-occupants of the recently completed building.

Whitman lived in this house when the first edition of his epochal first collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, was finished, and published and for sale in Brooklyn in June 1855. It was also while living here that he received his first favorable reviews of the work, which launched his new career as a poet.

Today, Leaves is considered one of the most important American works ever written.

The significance of Whitman and his residence to world culture cannot be understated. Needless to say, as one of the first Americans to express same-sex desire in literature, Whitman has a special place in LGBTQ history and designating the house would help address the dearth of landmarked LGBTQ sites.

Sincerely, Corey Johnson, Speaker, NYC Council,  Daniel Dromm, Chair, LGBT Caucus,  Laurie A. Cumbo, Majority Leader, NYC Council,  Ritchie Torres, Council Member, 15th District, Carlos Menchaca, Council Member, 38th District, Jimmy Van Bramer, Council Member, 26th District

cc: Sarah Carroll Executive Director, Ali Rasoulinejad,  Director of Community and Intergovernmental Affairs

Let's hope the LPC listens. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have 99 Ryerson landmarked by this time next year, Whitman's two-hundredth?  Let's keep it standing. What it looks like hardly matters by now, and overly bureaucratic LPC burdens shouldn't be imposed upon its owners.  Buildings change over time, and are imbued with the spirit of each succession of residents.  Whitman is there, but so are all the others who called it home. I swear he wouldn't give a damn about its appearance, but he would love everyone who lived there after him.  It's the heart of the place that matters.

"All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it."

99 Ryerson (above, center)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Opening at Tabla Rasa

Gregory Frux. Rail Pier, Oil on panel

An exhibition of works by Brooklyn artist Greg Frux will be opening at Sunset Park's Tabla Rasa Gallery on Sunday, June 3rd:

Tabla Rasa Gallery is pleased to present BROOKLYN PLEIN AIR, a solo exhibition of works by Gregory Frux.  Mr. Frux's detailed depictions of the local waterfront, brownstone streetscapes, and Prospect Park landscapes, quietly reveal a painter of passionate observation with a deep sense of longing for his hometown Brooklyn.

In addition to an opening day "meet and greet artist's reception" on Sunday, June 3,from 
2:30 - 4:30 pm, there will be a panel discussion on Saturday, June 9, at 3:00 pm, "I'm from Brooklyn.  What are you looking at?" with Michael David Gordon, actor playwright, musician, Ash Hayes, interdisciplinary artist, model, Philip Kaplan, author, playwright and Larry Racioppo, photographer, as well as a film screening of Waterways of Hope, an environmental film by Robert DiMaio including a talkback with the director on Saturday, June 16 at 3:00 pm.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wood to "Brick"


The brick look (above left)

A frame house gets a renovation that includes a brick facade.  Even on an upscale block that's almost entirely composed of pretty wooden houses, we find the brick-brings-more-bucks play. I'm partial to variety - paint your house parrot green for all I care.  I like the different kinds of coverings wooden houses have endured over the years, just as I like them looking (something) like their old, original selves.  I like the 101 ways a patch of dirt or concrete up front reveals an owner's love or indifference. 
But there's no sentiment here. This is all formula. A wooden house will be reborn as a brick townhome.  It's got a new black cornice, and I wouldn't be surprised if the white brickwork ends up going dark grey.  Dark grey is today's mustard!

Monday, May 28, 2018


Proposal revealed for new public park on the Gowanus Canal’s Salt Lot (6sqft)
The Salt Lot is a triangular piece of land just south of the point at which all three branches of the Gowanus Canal meet. The city-owned site hosts a NYC Compost Project facility, as well as the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s nursery and educational facilities. However, the EPA has mandated a new four-million-gallon retention tank be placed there to manage combined sewer overflow. Gowanus by Design (GbD) saw this new infrastructure requirement as a catalyst for sparking conversation about much needed public urban space in the area. They’ve therefore created a conceptual proposal for the Gowanus Salt Lot Public Park, which includes three buildings constructed with materials that reference the Canal’s industrial history, along with sloping hills and wetlands.


Two Trees completes Gowanus assemblage with $62M deal (The Real Deal)
The city is likely to rezone Gowanus in the near future, and developer Domain Companies recently bought two sites in the neighborhood — 420 Carroll Street for $47.5 million and 545 Sackett Street for $26.5 million — with an eye on building a larger project.
However, Marks said Two Trees does not seem to be following this strategy and noted that Lowe’s has a long-term lease on the Second Avenue site. He described the assemblage as a very long-term investment and said that the company’s short-term plans likely just involve leasing to commercial tenants.

Fast Forward: The Plan to Modernize New York City Transit (MTA)

40 Years of Chronicling the Unnoticed (NY Times)
Mostly, I was assigned to the Metro staff, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The Times explains the world, but I always felt that Metro qualified as its pulse. Covering the billowing activity across the miscellaneity of the five boroughs was never tiresome, never trite. Some reporters relish traveling to Novosibirsk or Malacca. I liked Canarsie. I liked Bayside. They were local. I liked being local.

Prince Street Girls (Magnum)
The Prince Street Girls series ultimately captured the transience of youth. Only two years later the same girls are photographed casually smoking cigarettes at Manhattan Beach, midriffs proudly displayed in their ever-shrinking crop tops. Espadrilles replace trainers, and lipstick, gum. They are now nubile teenagers, as their self conscious posturing in Meiselas’s portraits suggests. Reflecting on their budding sexuality, Meiselas writes: “In the early seventies there was little discussion about the dominance of a sexualized culture or the influence of advertising, so who were they imitating?” Maybe they were posing to impress each other. They were still in their awkward little bodies trying to find themselves.”

Weegee the Famous, the Voyeur and Exhibitionist (New Yorker)
Bonanos describes the Speed Graphic camera—even now, still part of the Daily News logo—as being “tough as anything, built mostly from machined aluminum and steel.” It was the only press credential Fellig needed at murders and fires, where, after leaving Acme, in 1934, he continued to show up with a manic freelancing zeal. A couple of years later, he was living in a room at 5 Centre Market Place, with no hot water but with a handful of books, among them “Live Alone and Like It” and “The Sex Life of the Unmarried Adult.” He decorated the place with his own published photographs—“like taxidermied heads on a hunter’s wall,” as Bonanos puts it. 

The Spectacular Personal Mythology of Rammellzee (New Yorker)
His generation grew up after urban flight had devastated New York’s finances and infrastructure. Ramm channelled the chaos into a spectacular personal mythology, drawn from philology, astrophysics, and medieval history. He was obsessed with a story of Gothic monks whose lettering grew so ornate that the bishops found it unreadable and banned the technique. The monks’ work wasn’t so different from the increasingly abstract styles of graffiti writing, which turned a name into something mysterious and unrecognizable. Ramm developed a philosophy, Gothic Futurism, and an artistic approach that he called Ikonoklast Panzerism: “Ikonoklast” because he was a “symbol destroyer,” abolishing age-old standards of language and meaning; “Panzer” because this symbolic warfare involved arming all the letters of the alphabet, so that they might liberate themselves. 

Derelict London - Toilets (Derelict London)
After 15 years of running this Derelict London website I am still stumbling across lots of closed down toilets. A BBC report in 2016 said at least 1782 facilities have closed across the UK in the last decade (disclosed after a Freedom of Information request).
Gradually a few are being regenerated but not as public toilets.

Dog Days At Club Row (Spitalfields Life)
In Club Row itself are to be found bicycles, tyres, an occasional motor bike or a superannuated taxi. The police are frequently seen about here looking for “unofficial goods”. Chance St sells furniture and “junk”, Sclater St is a nest of singing birds, rabbits, white mice, guinea pigs and their proper nourishment. In the Street of Wirelesses the air is heavy with crooning, and Cheshire St is clamorous with “Dutch auctions”, or demonstrating remarkable inventions like the World’s Smallest Darning Loom (“Stop your missus hating you … now you can say ‘you might darn this potato, dear, while I have shave’ … and she’ll do it before you’ve wiped the soap off!”).

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Lost Signs of Eastern Parkway

I took these photographs a few years back, on rides to & from work.  Were the signs still around?

Dorothy's (South Carolina) Kitchen, formerly a pharmacy, is a pharmacy once more. Rx has regained its life's purpose!  Maybe the Soul Food & the Ribs are still up top in hiding - the structure of the sign is still the same - but odds are they're wiped out.

Charter is out of sight, but as it's painted on the wall itself, it has a better chance of survival.  I like to think it's undercover.

There's another sign I ought to check on. Don't Let Your Colon Dig Your Grave. That one will have to wait.

Oh what the hell.  Here it is.  And it's gone too.  Remember to get those check-ups.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

New Rental Building at Fourth & 11th Changes Hands for $81M

The rental apartment building at 237 11th Street (formerly known by a 470 Fourth address) has been sold.  It was developed by the Adam America/Slate team, and leasing began last summer.  Now it has been bought by Trinity Place Holdings for $81M. 

The building stands 12 stories tall and contains 105 units, and leasing started in August, according to Trinity. The residential portion of the building is now about 63 percent leased, and the property includes 6,264 square feet of retail as well, part of which is leased to Starbucks.
Trinity purchased the building from Adam America Real Estate, Slate Property Group and Naveh Schuster. Matthew Messinger’s firm financed its acquisition with a $67.8 million loan, although this has not yet appeared in property records. Trinity did not immediately respond to a request for comment about which institution the loan was from.  (The Real Deal)

I've written a number of posts about 237 11th/470 Fourth, dating back as far as 2014.  Adam America/Slate have been active in the neighborhood, both in new construction on Fourth, & the acquisition of older rental buildings. You can find a few links back here & here.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Walking the Dog

I can't say I ever want to walk the dog last thing at night but once we're out, especially on nights like this, the rhythm sets in. A fifteen, twenty minute round is all it takes to put the day to bed.  The dog sets the pace, stopping at the usual corners to sniff and lift his leg and piss. We're in no hurry in the heat. We’re both on automatic, except if one of us scents or spots a raccoon - a flicker of drama catching us out of one dream state & into another.  Always this time of night the closing of the shutters & the garbage hauler pick ups, and always the random snatches of conversation.  A teen on a stoop, into his phone: "I mean I love you more than the fucking world," & a graying couple by the subway stairs (on Trump): "But what do we do about the man?" We're almost home when we pass a mother & a child, sitting on a bench outside a store. It's just the night for it. The boy is four or five, with cheeks like pillows. He's curled right into her; she only belongs to him.  It's her birthday, and he's singing to her softly in Spanish.  It's still May, but it's already summer.

Tree Pit

Flowers, candle wax, jar.  Early morning, Seventh Avenue by Green-Wood Cemetery

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Brooklyn Bridge, Opened May 24, 1883

Insistently through sleep - a tide of voices - 
They meet you listening midway in your dream,
The long, tired sounds, fog-insulated noises:
Gongs in white surplices, beshrouded wails,
Far strum of fog horns ... signals dispersed in veils.

And then a truck will lumber past the wharves
As winch engines begin throbbing on some deck;
Or a drunken stevedore's howl and thud below
Comes echoing alley-upward through dim snow.

And if they take your sleep away sometimes
They give it back again. Soft sleeves of sound
Attend the darkling harbor, the pillowed bay;
Somewhere out there in blankness steam 

                                     Hart Crane, from The Bridge (1930)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Street Fair

A lot of people don't like street fairs.  Take this online comment.

"In terms of not-that-controversial but entirely inconsequential topics, I offer this after walking a few blocks of the 5th Ave. street fair in Brooklyn today: NYC street fairs are all uniformly terrible and should be rethought from the ground up or just eliminated entirely."

I get at least some of the criticism.  The same old vendors at every fair bring a uniform glut of sausage and funnel cakes and hokey t-shirt stands.  The live music is a mixed bag - I'll admit to growing tired of the Brit revival band in front of Smith's.  But familiarity breeds affection as well as contempt.  It wouldn't be a street fair without the smell of grease and sugar, and judging by the dancing at Fifth & 9th, some people still enjoy another 19th Nervous Breakdown.  And really, who's so severe as to find fault with a bouncy castle or King Kong?  There are plenty of local businesses in the mix too, for whom the fair brings a yearly revenue boost, and there's often food outside the standard fairground staples.

It's not just the eats and the music. It's the street and the crowd. Just as a fall of snow disrupts the rule of keeping to the sidewalks, so a street fair gives the beleaguered pedestrian a change of perspective.  An (illusory) taste of transgression!  All the familiar markers change too, & stores become backdrops.  As well as walking in the middle of the avenue, I like the sidewalk's shift too. Relinquishing its normal role, it offers a back of the scene view of things.

Don't take a street fair too seriously - other people are having fun. Too much good taste is definitely bad for you, but cheesiness & excess calories every once in a while won't kill you.  Stay for half a dozen blocks, or walk a mile or more.  And don't worry.  It'll all be back to normal in the morning.