Thursday, January 31, 2013

314 Goes Green!

First the window boxes. Now the evergreen shrubbery. Right now it's non-stop action at 314 12th Street. The building seems poised for sale or lease.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Again, Libraries

From the BPLwebsite:

It is the mission of Brooklyn Public Library to ensure the preservation and transmission of society's knowledge, history and culture, and to provide the people of Brooklyn with free and open access to information for education, recreation and reference.

and on the Pacific Branch webpage:

"For almost 100 years the Pacific Branch has served a changing community. The branch, which boasts an active Friend's group, looks forward to serving the people of this busy crossroads neighborhood for generations to come ..."

Well this would be nice, but if it is lost it will share the fate of the subway station name outside its doors.  Pacific traded in for Barclays: an ocean poured away in the name of commerce.  The City Fathers care little for tradition or culture.  How about spending more money on the libraries than in subsidizing basketball arenas?

While I'm still in a library frame of mind, let's reprise this great little 1969 film on the BPL Bookmobile service.  I love it!  But maybe it looks to the future.  Maybe we'll end up with the libraries sold, free e-readers dispensed to the people & a few forlorn vans in circulation, touting dog-eared remaindered books around the borough's streets.  The horror.

More Library News

In addition to the planned closure & relocation of the Business Library (see yesterday's post), the BPL has announced a similar fate for the Pacific branch (Daily News)

The two libraries on the block, the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific branch in Boerum Hill, are in need of crippling repair costs the system can’t afford, a BPL official said.
The Brooklyn Heights branch on Cadman Plaza West would be sold to a developer as early as next year, keeping a smaller version of the library on the ground floor and building apartments over the existing complex.
Plans also call for the building that houses the Pacific branch on Fourth Ave. to be sold, with the library moving to a planned building in the newly-created Brooklyn Cultural District.

I can't say I've spent much time in the Business Library, but I love the old Pacific branch.  Opened in 1904, this was the first Carnegie library in Brooklyn.  Architecturally, it's a gem, with its semi-circular design, balconies, and original entrance hall.  In contrast to the bland updated Park Slope branch at 9th Street, teeming with strollers & screens, but light on books themselves, it's a place that radiates warmth, perfect for settling down to read a book others have held and enjoyed before you.  To feel the hushed history of printed pages.
This branch was saved from demolition in the 70s.  What's next?

Cleaners (Service & Standard)

Of course I came back to Fourth to check out the Narrows Coffee Shop, which was closed on my last visit. I was not disappointed! This is the best kind of local cafe. A standard breakfast with homefries et al, & coffee, for under five dollars, & nothing else on the menu much more expensive - about half the price of many run-of-the-mill city diners. A real weekend scene of regulars, with plenty of joking around & gossip, but still a friendly place for the casual visitor. Nothing especially beautiful about the interior, but a nice all-purpose unfussiness, with the feel of a place that hasn't changed much over the years. It felt like the staff had been together a long time: a cook at the grill & a couple of waiters, and an elderly waitress sitting at the counter, who got up slowly to clear an occasional table, or meet and greet a regular, but seemed mostly there as a symbol of long standing service, & to spread about her a kindly spirit of place. A sweetheart in woollens & slacks.  This is the best.

Narrows Coffee Shop
10001 Fourth Avenue

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Library Links

Bohemian treasures at the Jefferson Market Library's Greenwich Village Collection (Vanishing New York)

Proposed relocation of BPL Business Library & sale of building to developer (Brooklyn Daily Eagle) .

BPL President and CEO Linda Johnson told the Wall Street Journal that $230 million in deferred maintenance throughout the system is an "albatross around our neck."
"It's bad," Johnson said. "The condition in our libraries varies from mediocre to poor."
To the extent that branches are closed instead of repaired, some of that liability would evaporate.
Johnson told the Journal that some library real estate could be sold or leased to developers, although she declined to elaborate. Revenue from real estate deals might be directed to branch relocation or digital expansion.
The Brooklyn Heights branch, adjacent to the 19-story One Pierrepont Plaza, sits on one of the few available development sites in Brooklyn Heights and is outside the restrictive Brooklyn Heights Historic District."

Narrows Animal Hospital Cat

Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking A Bit Shaky, But Kringlers Holding Promise

Some newer businesses on Fifth below 9th are looking a little uneasy. Walking home from work today I found that

the new pizza place (next to horrid Dunkin' & the S & P made-over glass box) is to be Tommy's Famous Cheesesteaks & Pizza!

Too many offers here to inspire retail confidence, I fear. I admit that I commented on La Dolce's unattractive store sign when it first open (& I still think it's ugly) but I've probably bought more rum babas (on request) here any of its other customers, & have to say the people that work here are lovely.  Classic old-school style bakeries do not fare well in this neck of the woods (see below).

A forlorn looking fro-yo store still lacking a sign.

Well this one isn't exactly recent ... but it hasn't even opened yet. Mezini Restaurant Corporation leased this retail space (11th/12th) in January 2010, and is still teasing us with the promise of its "fine dining & elegant lounge."   Tantalizing, indeed. How much longer must we wait?

On the subject of Italian bakeries, the Sweet Treasures bakery at Fifth & Prospect, which opened last April ( and made a mean lard bread), closed earlier in the month, and will become a second Leske's bakery (Brooklyn Paper). Sweet Treasures was a venture of the Guzzo family, who had formerly operated Princess Bake Shop in Sunset Park. Leske's, a Scandinavian bakery on Fifth & 76th in Bay Ridge, suffered its own business woes in 2011, but re-opened last year, and is set to expand its empire.  Before Sweet Treasures, the space housed another bakery, which had been in business around a hundred years.  Old or even newer style bakeries don't have it so easy in the city any more, but I hope Leske's marzipan cakes & kringler do the trick.   Good luck!

Shoe & Watch Repair

It looks like this repair shop is a converted garage. Key cutting, shoes repaired & custom made, watch work, zippers, handbags. The non-disposable world of craftsmanship and small, essential goods.  And you can always rely on a shoe repair business for some good, handpainted signs. Cortelyou off Coney Island Avenue.



Saturday, January 26, 2013

Grocery Store Demise (Underhill & Sterling)

Next to one of my favorite laundromat storefronts, the 2-Way Launder Center (which keeps odd hours but is still open), the Espinal grocery store is no more. It closed down late last year. A few doors over from the Blue Marble ice cream shop , it will surely be transformed into something perfectly sleek and tasteful.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Suspect in 2010 killing at Fifth & 12th escapes from custody at 78th precinct (CBS news)
Update (1/25):  ... and arrested in the Bronx this afternoon (Gothamist)

But soft, what light ...

Ah yes - 314 12th Street. The story of this development site has been dragging on for years, and its squalid progress has been chronicled by bloggers such as IMBY, and the late Bob Guskind (how I miss Gowanus Lounge) as far back as 2008. From Gowanus Lounge in January '09:

We firmly believe that developer blight is going to emerge as one of the THE issues of 2009. We’re talking about construction sites that are either abandoned or left to fester for so long that they become ugly, dangerous to the community and a kick in the ass to quality of life. So, we’re starting a new GL Series today called Blight Me, in which we’re going to be featuring properties that in some way royally f*ck up life for their neighbors and neighborhoods.

In my own amateurish way I've had also my eye on 314 over the years, and have posted about it several times. Here's how it looked almost a year ago, and last fall, when it was listed at over $4 million dollars, though in truth that's pretty much how it's looked since at least 2010. Sold as a teardown in 2007, demolition & "construction" at this site has gone on for SIX YEARS, with stacks of complaints & violations along the way. In the last month or two though, there's been a flurry of activity: viz, the upgrade of the Juliet balcony (which must comprise the 9 square feet of outdoor space listed for one of the apartments), the addition of window boxes, some trim painting, and a cornice (of sorts) topping the brick portion of the building. Can we call this a huge improvement? I think not.

In the spirit of 314 construction, here's Act 2, Scene 2 of Romeo & Juliet. The balcony scene.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I'm not the first person to notice these new metal benches appearing on sidewalks all over the city. Many of them are adjacent to bus-stops. Without protection from the elements, sitting on one seems like a bleak business. Take this bench on Fifth just past Prospect Avenue. Who'd want to perch close to traffic, with the roar of expressway traffic thundering beneath you, and the winds whistling along the canyon? The views are good up here, I'm the first to admit, but not so hot if you're sitting down. Instead you'd be looking enviously at the riders on the other side who have a shelter. The seats appear to come in two versions, with (deluxe) & without (standard) backs, and while neither of them look comfortable, one wonders why some sites get the better model. Visitors to the cemetery, a few blocks south, merit the the deluxe bench, set back from the road & and apparently connected to graver (sorry) matters than bus travel. It seems a bit unfair. The poor sods waiting for the 63 at Prospect (a Beckett-like destiny if ever there was one) must settle for standard, and stop being so damn spineless.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Food Walk

I went to Union Square for a couple of things, & couldn't decide whether to head straight home, or go wandering. I got on the R without really knowing where I'd get off. Then I thought "Nordic Delicacies!", so off to Bay Ridge it was. I thought it was on Third in the 60s, but wasn't entirely sure. We would see. The R was very quiet, until a man with Tourette's (?) got on, and let out a series of deep growls. After a bit he added a counterpart: growl, followed by high-pitched muttering, followed by growl. Most people studiously ignored him, but there were a few snickers. I was straining to hear what he was muttering about, but the only part I could make out was a careful catalogue of food groups. "Melons, apples, bananas, pineapples, grapes ... those are the fruits... Grrroooowwwl! .... Carrots, peppers, onions, cabbage, leeks ... those are the vegetables .... Grrrooowwwl! .... Muffins, pastries, cookies, doughnuts, pies ... those are the baked goods ... Grrrooowwwl!" He got off at the stop I would have got off at too, had I been going home, but I had to go to Nordic.
It wasn't too hard to find the store, and when I went in I was the only customer. Most of the menu was in Norwegian, and I was too shy to ask for translations. I couldn't remember what I'd wanted to buy when I looked at their website, and was completely thrown by the likes of Spekepolse, Kompe Raspeboller, Kransekaker. I ended up with fish cakes. I decided to take the bus back home, but when I reached Fifth, I thought maybe I should go to Hinsch's one last time, so I walked south to 86th. Hinsch's was quite busy, but it was a little sad in there. There was a guest book for people to sign, and customers were sharing memories. They have (still "have" a little longer) the best staff in there, and my BLT might have been caviar for the attention I got.

I could have got on a 63, but didn't. It was too nice out. Instead, I walked further down Fifth towards the Verrazano.   Fifth merged into Fourth. The late afternoon light shone upon locksmiths & hardware stores tenderly. A good number of the stores were closed though, including the Narrows Coffee Shop, in a fine old wooden building with a brick facade.  What a lovely sight, with bridge in the background, and sun catching details of the shop's cornice. And that W in Narrows?  As good a letter in a sign as you can hope for.  Too bad the place was closed for the day, but I was just relieved it wasn't closed for good. I found out later that they keep early hours here - shut by 3 on Saturdays & 4 on weekdays - but it's only a bus ride away, so I know I'll be back.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Life Partners

Across from me on the F train, two ladies in their sixties.  Twins, I guess, but not identical.  I loved the way they dressed alike:  tan zippered jackets, crocheted scarves, thick turquoise leggings, & black sneakers trimmed and laced in pink.  They held matching handbags, and each wore a deep pink sweater & a tiny, heart shaped pendant.  Each had a red knitted cap, high on her head, & these ( & the leggings) gave the pair a gnomish cast.  An F train fairy tale. One of the sisters, on sitting down, tucked in her chin & closed her eyes, with a certain motherly resignation.  The other one was fidgety.  A bit of a toddler.  She was heavier than her sister, with more of a fondness for jewlery, with big, shiny rings on each hand, and on one wrist, a dozen or more bangles.  She couldn't stop fingering them.  Her clothes were grubby, and the scarf had started to unravel.  She wore corrective glasses.  Behind them, one eye was scrunched closed, and the other - magnified - was huge and accusatory.  A giant, angry wink.  She shifted position.  Patted her bag. Stretched out her fingers & admired the rings.  Turned the bangles.  Turned her wrist.  Looked around.  Winked at riders. Winked at me watching her.  Patted the bangles. Turned to her sister: as still as stone, face tight-lipped & impassive.  Long practised in the art of denying attention.  Lost in her own, ride-long dreams, & not to be disturbed at any cost.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Court Street

Behind the police department.  The van had quite a clutter of stuff inside, including an X Men package.

The cobbled Court Street runs for seven blocks between Washington & Hudson.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Several more Hoboken signs I enjoyed.

and the old sign from the former Hotel Victor at 77 Hudson Place.  The hotel, opened in 1916,  catered largely to shipworkers, and its basement housed a speakeasy during Prohibition. Until last year the bar in the building was Hobson's Choice, and now it's become ... the Hotel Victor Bar & Grill.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Yesterday I hopped on the Path, & spent the afternoon in Hoboken.  On Washington, I passed by this store, and was sorry to find it closed.  Unlike many of the businesses in the city, though, this one was not a victim of Sandy, but had instead reached the end of the family line. Schnackenberg's opened on Hoboken's Washington Street in 1931, and the luncheonette closed last fall, when Dorothy Novak, one of the daughters of the original owners, Dora & Henry Schnackenberg, retired. It will reopen under new management in the spring, and will be leased from the family, who still live in the building. Apparently, the interior & menu will be minimally changed.

Here's a film from 1989, featuring Dora Van Dyken (Schnackenberg) & her longtime helper, Helen Firehock, and you can also read an oral history chapbook , from an interview with Dora's daughter Betty Silvani.

Ape Link

More on disappearing gorillas, & a handy price guide (Be the BQE)

I'm tempted to start saving.

Washington Street, Hoboken

Friday, January 11, 2013


Local business owner robbed and killed on 18th Street (Concerned Citizens Of Greenwood Heights)

A profile of the Polish Meat Market Jubilat, on Fifth Avenue (NY Times), with a tragically ironic opening paragraph:
Jubilat Provisions is just a few blocks south of Park Slope, in an area that is gentrifying rapidly, but the Polish market’s low-slung stretch of Fifth Avenue cornered by expressways still feels like the Brooklyn noir of Pete Hamill and Tim McLoughlin, a place where, not too long ago, one could stumble upon a body.

Both the addresses given in the stories above are in that nebulous area now called Greenwood Heights, (between the expressway & 36th) though many older residents living as far south as the cemetery, say, would count still themselves Park Slopers, and the area south of that would have been Sunset Park. 

Hinsch's, on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge since 1949, closed, re-opened, and to close again in March (Brownstoner)

Old-school Bay Ridge luncheonette and ice cream parlor Hinsch’s will close in March, according to Brooklyn Daily. It already closed once in 2011, but then was bought by new owners and reopened. Co-owner Roger Desmond, who grew up in the area, said high costs of doing business and changing tastes doomed the diner. “The area no longer supports this kind of establishment,” said Desmond. “Bay Ridge is more of a fast food kind of place now. Hinsch’s is passé, I guess.”

And just closed, the New St Clair Coffee Shop, established 1920, at the corner of Smith & Atlantic (Brownstoner). 
I was there just before Christmas, and the place was packed with weekend diners, but the building had been for sale for some time.

Empty Lots

We thought that demolition next door was taking place within a month or so, but have been told it'll more likely be in spring, with excavation/construction close (hmm) behind. This business has been hanging over our heads so long now, and we've alternated so frequently between sanguine & desperate moods, it'll almost be a relief when the process begins.  Imagining what could happen is a miserable business, though reality may trump our pre-dawn powers of projection.  We shall see.  I have taken to looking out for survivors.  These ones on Sixth are still standing, long after next-door demolition.  Different construction, and maybe not such Siamese siblings as ours, but still offering a glimmer of hope.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Breaking News!

This is huge. Our on-the-spot investigative reporter at Be the BQE  has followed up on his post-Sandy story of the missing auto-auction ape.  Some weeks back he speculated that the primate was a victim of the storm, and today's update proves him to be correct.  I'm still reeling at the news: the old Gowanus ape missing, its name disclosed (Pithicos!),  & pictures of the new inflatable.  Too much to take in all at once. I need a drink.

Last Call on Fulton

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Best New Poets of 2012

I'm sorry I missed a celebratory reading at BookCourt tonight, to showcase the Best New Poets of 2012. I was happy to see Dan Meltz has been chosen as one of the poets, and was one of the readers. I worked with Dan at Columbia University Press many years ago & he was the best kind of co-worker - smart, well-read, talky, funny, gossipy, self-effacing.  And a wonderful writer. Dan, I remember some of your stories back then, & the old Upper West Side SRO days. Congratulations!

"Daniel Meltz is a technical writer at Google. As a younger man he taught geometry to the deaf and WordPerfect to the blind. He lives in midtown between a beauty parlor and a nail salon. His work has been published in American Poetry Review, upstreet, Mudfish, Audio Zine, Assisi, Temenos, FortyOunceBachelors, Columbia Review, Lana Turner and CrossConnect."

Station Updates

Smith & 9th Station to re-open by April.  Completion of construction "targeted" for June. (Carroll Gardens Patch).  Well, as deadlines come and go, I'm not holding my breath.  I can't wait to stand on the platform there & take in the views though.  It looks like the boarded up platform windows will be opened up, though that seems too good to be true.
I wonder when the Fourth Ave. renovation work will be complete, and when the retail spaces will be leased out?  Please - a newstand, & a no-nonsense coffee shop.  Something with a counter would be grand. The interior of the main subway entrance looks pretty much its same nicotine-hued self, which is just fine by me, but I wonder if it's going to get a last-minute tarting up? It doesn't exactly shout "Renovation!"  Whatever else, keep the tiled signs, and don't mess with the walkway that overlooks the entrance.  I've spend so many mornings at this station that my feelings are entirely proprietary.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sol Yurick, Author of The Warriors

Sol Yurick, 1925 - 2013. Guardian obituary here.

"Despite the critical success of Elia Kazan's harsh film On the Waterfront and the romantic ethnic ghettos of West Side Story, Yurick felt that writers were ignoring the city's streets. He wanted to bring night-time New York, after the shoppers and men in grey-flannel suits went home to the suburbs, back to the centre of culture."

Fifth & 23rd

I like this 1917 photograph of Fifth & 23rd Street.  At the corner, the Jas. J. Kennedy Cafe (India Wharf High Grade Lager & Beer), and farther up 23rd, in the same building, the 9th District Magistrates Court.  This is right across from Guerrero's Food Center & diagonally across from the old White Eagle Tavern.

You can just make out a man in a hat and topcoat loafing under the Beer part of the sign. The Jas. J. Kennnedy premises are much more imposing than the two storey Magistrates Court, with its modest little hanging sign and white walls.  What looks like a carved wooden entrance has almost a cottagey feel.

Photographs from the Brooklyn Visual Heritage site

Here's the corner today.

Kennedy's is now Express Coffee Shop. Lighter colored brick shows where the corner entrance and a side doorway have been modified. There's a faint line along the brickwork about the same height as the bar sign. There are a couple of new windows punched out (bathrooms?) & a couple of others have changed their size, but the building looks much the same.