Monday, December 31, 2012

Falling, Closing, Moving

Well, I completely missed the recent damage to 724 5th, the old White Eagle bar. The building's been in steady decline in recent years, but it looks like Sandy dealt it a knockout punch.

More White Eagle:

On Fourth at 11th, the 474 cafe has been closed by the DOH. Back open in a few days, apparently.

And Kostas, the wandering barber of the neighborhood, is on to his fourth location since this blog tottered forth in 2009. From Fourth (too many of these here)) he's back nearer to Fifth, at Diamond Cuts on 13th Street.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

John Street

Monsieur, without another word, took the costume from St. Pierre, gave
it to me, and permitted me to pass into the dressing-room. Once alone,
I grew calm, and collectedly went to work. Retaining my woman's garb
without the slightest retrenchment, I merely assumed, in addition, a
little vest, a collar, and cravat, and a paletôt of small dimensions;
the whole being the costume of a brother of one of the pupils. Having
loosened my hair out of its braids, made up the long back-hair close,
and brushed the front hair to one side, I took my hat and gloves in my
hand and came out. M. Paul was waiting, and so were the others. He
looked at me. "That may pass in a pensionnat," he pronounced. Then
added, not unkindly, "Courage, mon ami! Un peu de sangfroid--un peu
d'aplomb, M. Lucien, et tout ira bien."

from Villette - Charlotte Bronte

Friday, December 28, 2012

Waiting for the Train

You can't see too well here, but the kid had a great jacket on, with fingers emerging from the shoulders. When he got on the train, I could see the ones on the other side - a vivid green, with long red nails.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Then & Now (Fifth & 9th)

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the S&P newstand was getting a facelift.  I may be said to have an obsession with the Fifth & 9th intersection & I may dwell on matters that others consider trifling.  I liked the old look of the S&P though, with the magazine & paper racks outside, and sometimes a fat cat sitting of a stack of Posts.  It was more of a place for lingerers, both inside and out.  I liked its grubby charms.  On outer walls layers of Spanish music posters, stickers & signs in various stages of disintegration.  Always small details to catch the eye.  The new look is a blank box of glass, with phones replaced by outside ATM. It invites no interaction as you pass: no petting of said cat, or greeting to the guy behind the counter, through the open window on the Fifth side.  And nothing to catch the eye. No small dance that makes the passage through the streets a give and take of words & fleeting images.  You're either in or you're out. 

Maybe the box will open up when the warm weather comes?


Looking into the store again this evening, it looks like even the inside magazines section has vanished, & with it, the lurking male customers.   There's not much printed matter of any kind.  You couldn't even call it a newstand anymore  It looks to be snacks, lotto & a paltry selection of mags & dailies.

And just for a little historical perspective, here's the block in an 80s tax photo (Municipal Archives). Unfortunately the lot ID pretty much blocks out the newstand:

And eighty-one years ago, a newstand that looks exactly the same size, albeit with a pitched roof,

and its rather fine neighbor.

Photographs from Brooklyn's Park Slope- Brian Merlis & Lee A. Rosenweig

S & P's address is listed as 302 9th Street, but its lot includes Dunkin Donuts, a falafel cafe, and a sliver of a pizzeria where the diner once stood.  Dunkin wraps around S & P, and drove out the old Dee Dee Donuts on 9th a few years back.  The lot was sold a year ago.  I wondered if today's newstand was a glassified update of the same structure, but the ACRIS records were not helpful.  The certificate of occupancy for 302 was for a building built in 1931, but it was described on the cerificate as being on Prospect Park West.  So much for online research.  Somewhere in my disorganized photograph collection I'm sure I have a better shot of the corner to match with the 1931 picture, and maybe that will give a better comparison.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

New to the Tree

This little 1940s Father Christmas is a new member of the household tree-decoration family. Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Scandinavian Brooklyn

A while back, I was looking at the WPA Guide to New York City - specifically the section on Sunset Park - and wondering how I could find out more about surviving Scandinavian cultural institutions there.  Today I discovered the website of the Scandinavian East Coast Museum (formerly the Norwegian American Collection in Brooklyn). The museum, based in Bay Ridge but largely existing in an online capacity, is hoping to establish a permanent site, and is raising money for this project. It's a great resource if you're looking to explore Scandinavian-American history in Brooklyn:

Many people remember the days when Trinity Lutheran Church on 46th St. and 4th Brooklyn had 1,000 children in their Sunday School. Many people regret the loss of Eighth Avenue as the main Norwegian thoroughfare, known as "Lapskaus Boulevard", which thronged with Norwegian stores and restaurants. A Scandinavian community has existed in the Sunset Park, Bay Ridge and Dyker Park communities for over 300 years. The Norwegians physically and spiritually built these communities and built them to last.

Online you can check out a fascinating street map of Lapskaus Boulevard, with its businesses listed in detail, and see old photographs of the neighborhood. The museum also covers Scandinavia-related local news & has a calendar of current events.  For $12, you can become a member, and help support fundraising efforts. I'm signing up right away.

The photographs below are from the Brooklyn Collection at the BPL.  The first, from 1906, shows the Danish Home for the Aged, at 1055 41st Street.  The second, by Al Lambert, was taken in 1953:

 "Good-bye to the old home--Among the 18 persons who left the Danish Home for the Aged, 1055 41st St., to live temporarily at the Odd Fellows Home, 194-10 109th St., Hollis, Queens, were left to right, Mrs. Josephine Petersen, 84, Mrs. Elizabeth Brink, 82, and Knud Fosteen, 82. The Odd Fellows Home will house them until new Danish Home is built. The old structure was condemned as a fire hazard."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

House of Dreams

This building, on Pacific, hasn't been as made over & burnished as most of the carriage houses in the Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill neighborhood. It's showing its age, & those windows have a secretive allure.

Friday, December 21, 2012


At eight thirty, the sidewalks gleamed in the streetlight, and I realised I'd missed rain. By the pentecostal church, I heard a man singing.  His voice was frail, but the song itself had a tubthumping bounce.  Through the front door glass, I saw our singer, a gray-haired man in suit & tie, and in the pews, an audience of one.

A couple of avenues down, I saw the barman at Lucky 13 looking out into the night. I remember when he worked at the comic store on Seventh, and led a double life in my son's own comics, as the comic store clerk Oswald. Sometimes, in later years, when I left for work very early in the morning, along an almost deserted Fifth, I'd catch the light on at Timboo's, and see Oswald engaged in pre-dawn bar duties.  Half-drunk with sleep, I 'd feel as though I'd mislaid completely the line between fact & fiction.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Let There Be Light on 12th

Almost the shortest day.  I found these two, nestled in foliage, as the dark came rolling in.  As I stopped to admire them they burst into brightness, enclosed by a floral heart. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jesus Never Fails (Third Avenue)

I'm always pleased by the symmetry of restaurant/deli/church/deli/restaurant, on this block at Third & 9th. Third Avenue has certainly changed a lot over the last few years, with new restaurants, bars, coffee & pie shops.   This week's Brooklyn Paper has a story on newer merchants demanding more police presence, after the armed robbery of the owner of Four & Twenty Blackbirds at 8th.  The owner of Pilates Garage expressed concern:

“We do need more police patrol,” she said. “There’s a lot of riff-raff around here. There are some vagrants and drug addicts, and there’s prostitution.”

I hope the business owners & their staff stay safe.  I wish them well & am no defender of crime. If you've lived here a while though, & remember what the avenue used to be like at night, its fashionable rebirth is still startling.  In the eighties at least, this was prime hooker territory, before or after dark, and a place of forbidding mystery at night.  If you want a frisson of urban-grit with your business, you might need to be aware of vestigial danger in a quiet, industrial strip, & factor that into your plans.  It's still not squeaky-clean, & you sort-of wanted it (harmlessly) that way.  But that shouldn't last too much longer.  Real estate prices soar & the older stores, auto-shops & industries are vanishing.  The attendant riff-raff will surely melt away with them.  It should clean up nicely.

Monday, December 17, 2012

472 Fifth - Shoes Then & Now

Long, long before Payless was on Fifth, another shoe store operated at the same address. Here's a tradecard dated somewhere between 1875 & 1885 (I'm guessing the 1880s) for Carlile & Clement, Dealers in Ladies & Gents' Fine Shoes:


Brooklyn Museum Libraries Special Collection

I found this image online at the Brooklyn Visual Heritage site:

Brooklyn Visual Heritage was developed through Project CHART (Cultural Heritage, Access, Research and Technology), a collaborative effort of Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS), the Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Museum and The Brooklyn Public Library, focusing on the digitization of historic images of Brooklyn and making them easily accessible to a broad and varied audience.

This is a great storehouse of historical images, and while I'm familiar with some of them, I'm continuing to make exciting discoveries as I look through the still expanding collection.  I only found out about the Visual Heritage site by attending a teacher workshop last week at the Brooklyn Collection of the BPL Central Library.  The workshop, Photography and Archives: An Interdisciplinary Approach, involved the use of photographs & primary sources in classroom teaching, and focused in particular on the resources of the Collection.   After a really well presented overview of the Collection, and of historical images archives in the city, noted Brooklyn photographer Jamel Shabazz spoke to us about his work*, and about the impact photographic images have on students.  An inspiring day.

*Check out Shabazz's exhibition, Reflections, which is currently on display in the lobby of the Central Branch.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Theater for the Old City

For several hours, an earlier city, on Second, First & A.  At the East Village Ukrainean Restaurant, I was (almost) the youngest customer.  We had time to waste.  We dawdled over krokety & pancakes, read the paper, whiled away more time with coffee & tea, but the senior diners scattered about the room outlasted us with ease.  Nearby, a couple in their seventies, along with a male companion, discussed family health, exercise routines, and relatives in Florida.  An elderly doctor, it seemed, had taken up with a fifty-something girlfriend, and the woman at the table said it was all very well for widowers - they could take their pick of younger ladies.  The widows didn't have it so good.  Were the doctor's children "professional" she wanted to know? She asked this keenly. Several times.  But the answer was disappointing: their careers were nothing to write home about.  On the talk went, with a few bathroom breaks along the way, & it got mildly exciting at one point, as the woman told the friend of a time, way back, when she & her husband ended up at a party where all the other guests smoked pot, & soon afterwards all fell fast asleep. "They're all divorced now,  Every couple!"she pronounced with ill-concealed relish.  What comfort in a yellow, wood-paneled dining room, far from the avenue of 2012.

We got to Lucy's just as it opened.  More time ticking without urgency.  The pink light soothing away all daytime pressures.  The bar almost to ourselves. Lucy herself bustling about, slicing limes and getting things ready for the night ahead. Some Polish TV (after a fair bit of tinkering with the set) and a lady down the bar discussing the common vocabulary of Slavic languages.  What pleasure at an early weekday evening hour, without the bar-crawling hordes.

At Theater for the New City, we watched Bread & Puppet plays from the 60s.  The audience was on the gray side, and my theater companion claimed to hear the constant grumbling of stomachs.  The plays were earnest, the puppets big and beautiful, and the mostly youthful players purposefully sincere.  The old man himself, Peter Schumann, was a godlike figure, with his shock of white hair.  It was a fine thing to see his vision fifty years strong.  The People kicked the bare ass of a giant Uncle Sam.  The Diggers sang to occupy common ground.  Bread was broken and handed out as the plays ended.  The evening softened, for a little while at least, the edges of our all-too cynical hearts. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shopping Ideas

The windows at Neergaard Pharmacy are always teeming with possibilities.  I'm quite taken with the Brawl with Me John Cena doll.  The articulate Cena offers "over 10 sounds & phrases!" and boasts, "I talk..." but "you can't see me!"  John, I hate to disappoint you, but I can.  The doll reminds me of a former student, J., who once had a major tantrum when I wouldn't buy him Incredibles pajamas.  I wouldn't buy them because a) pajamas seemed an inappropriate teacher-pupil gift & b) he was too big (13, I think) even to fit into the largest childrens' size on sale.  Later, at 17 or so, he developed a big crush on Cena, and each session together, after our regular work was done, we'd go on Google images & print up a beefcake wrestler picture for his scrapbook.  This was a surefire formula for giggles of delight.

Dear J., wherever are you now? Would brawlin' with Cena still turn you on?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Now Playing

The Bread and Puppet Theater will be celebrating their 50th anniversary next year. Originally based on the Lower East Side, the company, founded by Peter Schumann, is based in Glover, Vermont. Bread & Puppet make a regular appearance at Theater for the New City this time of year, and this season, along with an under-12 kids' show, they'rel be offering a double-bill: The Possibilitarians & Dead Man Rises (Dec. 6 - 22):

The Possibilitarians, a play with live music and giant puppets, addresses present day occupiers, uprisers, and possibilitarians to learn from the 17th century diggers and levelers, and to start digging and leveling and opposing and countering the crumbling economic system and its inherited misrelation to Mother Earth, and to re-educate the disemployed hands & feet of the machine-age! Dead Man Rises is a fairytale-like life-size puppet show originally created by Bread & Puppet in the mid 60's, most notably performed as part of the student occupation at Columbia University in New York City in 1968. Performed by director Peter Schumann and the Bread & Puppet company, along with a large number of local volunteer puppeteers and musicians.

I haven't seen a Bread & Puppet show in years. I took my son to a "nativity" play there in the 90's (great show), & both my kids went on a trip to see them in Glover (in an almost-roadworthy VW van driven by my husband's Polish godfather). Time to go back & enjoy some old-school political theater. Certainly beats those Rockettes.

Burlington Free Press

Sunday, December 9, 2012

River Mist

English weather.  Fog, and a fine mist, soft to the skin.  I kept thinking of the old nursery rhyme "One misty, moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather..." but alas, no old man "a-clothed all in leather" (and he'd be a different kind of leather guy today) was out and about at this early hour. 
The river & bridges, as ever, ladies with no bad angles.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Links and ...

Inside the Gowanus Batcave (Abandoned NYC, via Untapped Cities New York)

Another charmless building on South Slope's Sixth (IMBY)

An Astoria Cobbler closes after 45 years (DNA Info)

And also from Astoria, a reader sent a shot of the Marathon Bank at 31st & Broadway. Look up above the bank sign to see the earlier 2nd Ave street name.

Back at the Corners of 9th

What's happening at the doughty S & P?   It looks as though the newstand is in for renovation.

And a block down, it wouldn't be Christmas without the Bartkowski lights.  Steps away from the closed Catene's, SpongeBob's gone tree-shape!

Friday, December 7, 2012


OK.  It's been a busy week, & the days are still shrinking.  No more holiday train after this,  I promise.

It's some sign though!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dionysus in the City

“Prepare yourselves
for the roaring voice of the God of Joy!”
    Euripides, The Bacchae

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The last, of course, is still around. The oft-derided C train car, in service since 1964.  The MTA will start phasing it out in a couple of years, but I'm happy it'll still be on the tracks for its fiftieth birthday.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Train Men

Sure, there were young people too, but most of the crowd on the MTA holiday nostalgia train were older, and most of them were male. The trip, from 2nd Avenue to Queens Plaza, in vintage subway cars, is transport buff heaven. All around you'll  hear accounts of childhood rides, or arcane comparisons of urban train systems. A fair number of riders fit into the solitary, transit-obsessive geek mold, and it was a day to celebrate their calling. There was also a father & son contingent, and one kid played conductor at each stop, with an air of informed gusto. Hurrah for single-mindedness!

And some riders celebrated the occasion in style.

I took about five million photographs today. There may be some more of them here later this week.