Wednesday, April 30, 2014

No ifs, ands or buts ...

Continuing the run of older businesses along Astoria Boulevard, here's Butts Realty, one block up from the Buccaneer at 94th.  The sign says Butts was founded in 1958, but their website says 1953.  Either way, it's good to see it's been around for over sixty years. And that blue sign's a beaut.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Most Wanted Men

We went to the Queens Museum this weekend, to check out the Warhol exhibition 13 Most Wanted Men: Andy Warhol & the 1964 World's Fair.  We went by way of Astoria Boulevard and there at 90th Street was the Fair Cinema, looking past its best, but with a marquee as brave as you could hope for.
                             First Run in Queens
                             2 Top Hits R
                             New Shows Su nday&Thur
Though we were running late, my fellow riders were all too used to my need to jump out of the car when something in particular caught my eye.  I'm used to being out with a camera on foot, so rushing past places fast can drive me crazy.  I was in a hurry this time though, and I wish I'd had time for better pictures.

And stupidly, I didn't even think of the Flushing connection until I got home that evening.  According to Cinema Treasures, the movie theater opened in 1939, named in honor of the World's Fair of that year.  Sharing the fate of many other theaters, it became a porn house by the 70s, when apparently its name changed for a while (a brilliant touch) to Adult Fair.  Cinema Treasures reports that it switched over to purely Bollywood & Kung Fu movies in recent years, though abundant comments at the site suggest that there's still an active gay porn scene, with a screening room & booths at the back of the house.  Comments seem generally quite positive, though one person sniffily claimed that the Kings Highway cinema was a classier joint.

The Fair itself is quite a trip, but the 1930s building complex it's set in - encompassing a whole block - is extraordinary. What a group of businesses!  And what year is it here?  At north, the Fair Food Market (Italian-American Grocery, H.I.6-2776), which looks long, long closed.

Next door: Stella D'Argento Ristorante (Northern Italian Cuisine). Stella's, with its nice looping cursive sign up top, seems frozen in time from the 70s at least..  It's been shut for several years and a note at the door says that it's closed for renovation until January 2015. Will the renovation ever come? A lone Yelp commenter in 2009 claimed that his family used to run the place, but that it had "gone to shit" since then. Still, Yelp is hardly what you'd call a reliable source of information.

At the other side of the theater, beyond several shuttered stores, the Evangelistic Church of Christ of the Apostolic Faith.

Partners in time a block along, the neo-Tudor Cozy Cabin strip joint (Show Girls Daily) rubs shoulders (or something) with a big slab of a Jehovah's Witness Hall .  Another unholy alliance.  And at 93rd, the Buccaneer Inn, which gets overwhelmingly positive reviews, & looks like a diner well worth getting to know.

Monday, April 28, 2014

From Home Depot

A good collection of man-centric signs here.  These include: Surveillance Cameras - Sales & Installation, Truck Lettering, Eurotek Flooring  ("We Give You More Then the Other Guys") with up to 55% off Garbage Bags, Fancy Dom Bathtub & Tile, Christmas Trees ($20 & up), a plethora of junk & garbage disposal ads, and my personal favorite, Bad Apple Bail Bonds.

Real Estate Monday

I hadn't paid much attention to this sign until a few days ago. 580-582 Fifth, with 47 feet of street frontage, closed in February for $1,653,000 to 580 5th LLC.  According to Real Estate Weekly, "the transaction required negotiating the waiver of a tenant’s right of first refusal."

Over on Atlantic, where it seems half the avenue is up for grabs, 472-474 Atlantic (at Nevins) recently went into contract at an unspecified price.  The listing price at Massey Knakal was 17 million.  This irregularly shaped 16,000 sq. ft. site offers frontage on Atlantic, Pacific & Nevins.  I'm sure that a sale here will result in a lost Atlantis.  The Super Wash Center will be but a memory.

Still for sale, the Horseman Antiques building, at 351 Atlantic, for $15,900,000.  The Halstead listing describes the property as "ideal for a moderate size retailer or possibly redevelopment as it will be delivered vacant."  Horseman, which owns the building, has been around on the avenue since 1962.   

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dusk, Flushing Meadows

As night settles in, a boy tosses a blow-up globe.  It never rises very far, and is always sent backwards, over his head. The boy turns round again and again to retrieve it.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Vienna, Queens

A good find sent in recently.  A study in ochre.  A Mitteleuropean moment on 11th.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A sign just went up for a new business coming to the corner of Fourth and 10th. This was formerly home to the West Indian Slope Cafe, which closed late last year, after a couple of years of serving delicious but under-appreciated food. I'm still thinking of that
ackee & saltfish. I hope that the "breadfruit" in the cafe name promises more West Indian food to come.

Meanwhile Table 87 Gowanus , an outpost of a pizza restaurant in Brooklyn Heights, is set to open at Third and 10th soon (or is it actually open already?) and has applied for a sidewalk cafe license.  Imagine the response you'd have got pitching the concept of al fresco dining on Third merely a few years back.  The times, the times.

Two Worlds

Hotels continue to rise on 39th street.  Between 4th and 5th there's already a Days Inn, and up the block from it the spacey Hotel 459 takes shape.  There are three more hotels higher up 39th and a Comfort Inn over on 38th.  This latest addition seems to be a fancier looking number than the others, though it's often hard to tell from construction fence pictures.  The hotels on this block flank the Center for Family Life and the Resource Training & Counseling Center, organizations that have been active in Sunset Park for decades, offering a variety of services such as substance abuse counseling, after school education, ESOL classes, job search help,, family counseling, and advocacy.
The rendering of 459 up there on the fence puts a convertible up front & nothing but sky behind the hotel.  There's no sign of next door neighbors and nothing of the block's mixed-style, mixed- use setting.  The real street is hardly so serene - it's too busy getting on with ordinary life. This is a firehouse and bus route block, with plenty of traffic.  Along with the social service buildings and residential housing (mixed frame and brick) there's a range of businesses: immigration law offices, auto centers, deli, cafe, Chinese takeout, Domino's & TD bank down at Fourth.  The Clean Rite/Pawn Rite laundry and pawnshop directly faces 459, so guests may find this comes in handy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Here There Be Tygers

Brooklynology, the wonderful Brooklyn Collection blog, had a great two-part piece last month on the history of the Prospect Park Zoo.  You can read it here and here.  The articles mostly focus on the zoo's early history, but also touch on its more troubled times in the 20s, & its general state of ruin by the 70s and 80s.  The most dramatic & tragic story of the zoo's declining years (unmentioned in the articles) was probably the 1987 mauling & death of a child who climbed into the polar bear enclosure after-hours.

Two polar bears mauled and killed an 11-year-old boy who climbed a fence at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn with two friends last night and then sneaked into the polar bear enclosure.
Four police officers shot and killed both of the bears as the animals tugged at the dead boy's body, said the city's Parks Commissioner, Henry J. Stern. The police said it took 20 blasts from 12-gauge shotguns firing rifled slugs and six bullets from a .38-caliber revolver to bring down the animals, which stood 8 feet tall and weighed more than 900 pounds.
A police spokesman, Officer Peter O'Donnell, said the dead boy and two other boys scaled an outside fence shortly before 7 P.M. The 11-acre zoo had been closed for hours. The boys intended to go wading in the moat that is just inside the enclosure where the bears were sleeping. (NY Times)

The zoo was closed for renovations the following year, and reborn in 1993 as the Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center.  Happier days for both man and beast.

Over the last few days, I've been exploring the film clips newly released from the British Pathe archives, and there's plenty of New York-related material.  Here's footage of tiger cubs & mother at the Brooklyn zoo in 1948.

This is the zoo in its Robert Moses era, looking horribly bare to today's viewer, though the zookeeper and her wicker-basket scale are splendidly stylish.   I remember the zoo looking equally stark in the 80s.

Held, Held & Held

De-branded on Fourth

With every corporate sign expunged, the home of the Happy Meal awaits the wrecking ball.  No great love lost here, except perhaps for the sense of scale.  Pretty soon, the view of 275 will change to this,

and blend in with the other big boys of Brooklyn Boulevard.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Real Estate Monday: All Work Guaranteed

 146 Fifth Avenue is currently on the market for $4,700,000.  As usual around here, proximity to Barclay Center is a selling point.

Corner Property. Walking Distance To Barclay Center And Atlantic Center Mall. Store On Street Level And Three 3Br Apartments Above. No Tenant Has Lease, Rents Are Projected.

Even though the signs say Luis TV Repairs, the business operating here today is Danny's Electronics & Computer Service.  I'd keep that old hand-paintage signage too, with its fine colors and print styles, the "At Home Service" feature and the reference to that entertainment dinosaur T-VCR.  And I really love the gentleman (Luis himself?) who, besuited, behatted and bowtied, is dashing into action, bag in hand.   At the front of the store the bag is marked TV Sales,

& around the side on Douglass it's TV Repair.

You won't get new signs to beat the style of these.
Danny's would like to stay on here, but the future is uncertain.  The sales listing gives a projected rent of $11,000 per month in an expenses rundown, but there's no telling what the actual rent will become.  I hope they get the chance to stick around.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rally to Save Bishop Ford

Also on April 28th, a 1:00 p.m. rally at Bishop Ford High School, to help save it from closure in June.

Bishop Ford High School to Close (Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

Coming to PBS this Month

Great news.  Word from director Amy Nicholson that Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride, which ran at the IFC last summer, will be airing on PBS on April 28th:

"The Bloomberg administration’s many large-scale rezonings have completely transformed neighborhoods like Downtown Brooklyn, Chelsea and Williamsburg, leaving many New Yorkers wondering how they ended up living in a luxury city full of glass towers and national retail chains. Megaprojects like Hudson Yards and Willets Point promise more of the same.

A story about greed, politics and the land grab of the century, ZIPPER chronicles the battle over one of the last bastions of an unfettered New York. On a small rented lot in the heart of Coney Island’s gritty amusement district, Eddie Miranda proudly operates a 38-year-old carnival contraption called the Zipper. When a real estate battle brews between an opportunistic developer and the Bloomberg administration, Eddie and his ride - along with many of Coney Island’s eclectic small businesses - are forced to leave.

 Through interviews with top-level city officials, famed developer Joe Sitt of Thor Equities, and the carnies themselves, Zipper examines the high-stakes power struggle that plays out in the media for over four years. The billionaires at the center of the conflict lock horns when the City denounces the developer’s glitzy vision of condos and shopping and, ironically, hatches its own grand scheme to transform the area with the promise of housing and retail.

Can a reinvented Coney Island remain “The People’s Playground?” With a new city administration now in place, will the affordable housing that was a central argument for change ever get built? Does the selling of Coney Island as a brand ultimately sanitize its spirit? Be it an affront to history or simply the path of progress, ZIPPER examines the high cost of economic development. In an increasingly corporate landscape where authenticity is often sacrificed in the interest of growth, the Zipper may be just the beginning of what is lost."

Do take time to watch it, and tell your family & friends to see it too. Like many other viewers, I'll be catching it for the second time, and carrying thoughts of it with me when I head on down to the boardwalk over the coming months. The film's an insistent reminder of what matters, and what's all too easily lost.

ZIPPER: CONEY ISLAND'S LAST WILD RIDE airs Monday, April 28th at 10:00pm (Cablevision 13/713, Time Warner 13/713, Comcast (NJ) 240 (CT) 237, RCN 613, Patriot Media 165, and Verizon Fios 513.)

Living at the P.O.?

I was walking along Fourth Avenue yesterday, approaching 15th Street, when I saw a building detail I'd never noticed before.  In a row of three brick apartment houses, all of similar construction, the central building, 542, seemed to have had its cornice replaced by this:

Perhaps the Post Office inscription is a little hard to make out.  But what is it doing here?  I've found no mention of a post office ever existing at this address, only a couple of references to an accidental fall and a "trifling" fire in 1909,  and a resident a decade earlier delinquent in the payment of club fees.  Could it be just be an incongruous replacement for a lost original? Just a handy P.O. relic filling in? I suspect that could be it.  Oh for some research lackeys to put to work.  This one will have to wait for a while.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday

Customers line up outside the Fifth Avenue Polish store Jubilat Provisions.

Further north, the congregation of Holy Family & St. Thomas Aquinas make the Stations of the Cross, with prayers spoken in Spanish, English and Polish.


Better by far these rabbits in the window of Sahadi's than the ones I saw at El Badia Halal Live Poultry (Second at 40th).

Nose to the glass, I saw a crate crammed with twenty or more hopeful creatures in new spring coats, all twitches and bright stares & clambers for top spot. Babies all.  Below them, a mass of hens were hunkered down in witless resignation.   I tried not to focus on the dim shapes further back,  As per live-market usual, a man came out to rail against photographs, so all I have is these bales of hay on an icy sidewalk.  Just as well, just as well.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Back to 635

Yesterday's post concerned 635 Fourth, home to the Seafarers International Union and currently listed for sale at $24,500,000, with approved development plans in place.  I neglected to mention that 635 4th Avenue Holdings LLC bought the property from the Seafarers Union just four months earlier, for a trifling $10,000,000.   Quite a bump. (Update: No sale took place.)

I was looking around for picture of 635 in earlier days, and struck gold.  From a series of 1910 photographs chronicling the Fourth Ave. subway construction, this one, from 19th Street looking north, shows 635 (at right) in statelier days.

Brooklyn Visual Gallery

And here's 635 today:

In the sixties  farmworker Ed Chiera passed this way, sent East to New York by Cesar Chavez to gather support for a national boycott of California grapes:

So, in February 1968, we left Delano for New York in a caravan of a few beat up cars, circa
1950s, and an old donated yellow school bus, which ran okay but lacked a heater to keep us
warm in the winter ride across the country. Stopping each night at cities along the way, we
rode for seven days, wrapped in blankets, eating cold sandwiches of salami, cheese, and
peanut butter and jelly, yelling ¡Viva la Huelga! ¡Viva César Chávez!, and singing many rounds
of De Colores and Huelga en General to keep us warm. Cesar had sent Fred ahead of us via air
to make arrangements for the organizers to live at the Seafarers International Union
headquarters and dormitory in Brooklyn.

However, Chiera didn't stay at 635.  SIU sources seem to indicate 675 Fourth (20th/21st) as the original union headquarters, & ACRIS records suggest a move two blocks south in the early 90s.  675 is (was) a much grander building.  Here's another picture from 1910.

The Seafarers Union was founded in 1938, so the building (at left) clearly pre-dates union presence.  It also looks very much like a school building, so its transition is mysterious.  Anyhow, it's a school now - Al-Noor -- and like 635, it lost its looks over the years.

As a side-note, if you happen to be passing this way, drop in at the great Al-Noor Halal Deli across the avenue. The deli name is a little misleading: it's really a diner, especially busy at lunchtime when it caters to a (mostly male) crowd of nearby workers. The food is cheap, the servings big, and the atmosphere friendly.

Update - 6/25/15
After receiving Virginia's lovely comments (see below) I did a little more digging around, and found footage of the bar she recalled.  It's contained in an early Stanley Kubrick documentary, The Seafarers.  You can find it here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Real Estate Monday

A cool $24,500,000 price tag for a development lot at 635 Fourth Avenue (19th Street) - home to a branch of the Seafarers International Union of North America - with approved plans in place for an 89,500 buildable sq. ft. site.  This translates into a 12 storey building of up to 91 units, with parking, commercial & a small community space & 6 - 12 units of affordable housing.

Ideally situated just south of Park Slope, Greenwood Heights shares many of the same amenities while representing its own unique character and sense of community. The R subway line is 2 blocks away at Prospect Avenue with direct access to the Barclays Center, Downtown Brooklyn in 10 minutes. In the immediate area, you will find Industry City, with their creative work space and big box retail and 5th Avenue, with its café’s, restaurants and boutique stores. With rents exceeding $50/SF this offering represents a significant and clear point of entry into the ever-growing Brooklyn market. (Massey Knakal)

And talking of the Barclays Center, here are the dismal remains of Bergen Tile on Flatbush, glimpsed through construction fencing. The arena looms over the site, and the old yellow house to the rear appear in an optical illusion to be perched on a pile of rubble.  Not an illusion really.

Next door to the wooden house, a couple are up on the roof, legs dangling, enjoying the spring sun.