Friday, August 29, 2014

Over the City Line

I got out of town yesterday.  I took a Metro North train thirty five minutes out of Grand Central to Yonkers, and spent the afternoon walking around the Getty Square downtown, strolling the boardwalk, and stopping by a cafe, dawdling over views of the water and the Palisades.  I got the best kind of tour, from a family member who lives there.

Yonkers is the fourth biggest city in New York State, after NYC, Buffalo & Rochester.  It is both urban and suburban in nature, covering a wide geographical area, and evoking a varied sense of place. In 1894 Yonkers had the chance to join a consolidated New York City, along with Kings, Queens & Richmond County.  The people of Yonkers declined the opportunity, just as later, the prospect of a subway connection to the Bronx was met with distaste.  Yonkers has suffered the effects of industrial decline just like many American cities, and also been scarred by its infamous civic history of racism.  But it's too easy for an outsider to rely on stereotypes about the city, which lead tony Yonkers college Sarah Lawrence to deny its real address, putting itself in Bronxville rather than its true location.  Too bad.  There's a lot more to the city than many imagine, with its wide range of income and ethnicity, burgeoning arts community, and (still) affordable housing options for people priced out of neighboring New York City.  Visit, and you'll find a city with a vastly different demographic from its 90% white population forty years ago.  Today Yonkers is 35% Hispanic and 18% African American, and has seen an influx of many different immigrant groups.  If its downtown problems seem all too typically post-industrial, with high rates of poverty and urban blight, it also has a stunning (if precarious) post-industrial architectural legacy: a vast array of nineteenth and early twentieth century industrial, mercantile and civic architecture, along with earlier historic buildings, like Philipse Manor Hall, which dates back to 1682.  And its riverfront location is both a glorious blessing - forging its identity and being, just simply, stunningly beautiful - and an amenity that developers can't resist taking advantage of.  The public spaces by the water are a great resource for all citizens, but there's always a price to pay.  The waterfront already has its share of high rise apartment buildings, but clearly there's a move inward, with all the attendant issues of displacement and destruction.

We walked along Buena Vista Avenue, a lower income area tucked just above the newer river apartments, and saw graceful Victorians, some the worse for wear, and some lovingly tended, with fine old porches and mansard roofs, and the prospect of clear Hudson views. We stopped at a community garden, bustling with local kids, and chatted to the garden director. We also noticed the number of For Sale signs and feared for the future of the avenue. Later digging around revealed multiple-lot development listings.

In the center of Getty Square, across from Philips Hall, a parking lot was recently removed ("daylighted") to uncover a buried section of the Saw Mill River.  Imagine such a thing! - like Joni Mitchell's song in reverse! Running water always draws people in, and it was nice to see people standing in the park, looking down at the fish, reading about the river's path, and chatting to strangers about what they saw.  It was amazing to think that a river had been right there, under the concrete, all along!.  Everywhere there are possibilities.


Thursday, August 28, 2014


Another development site, at Fourth Avenue &15th (Brownstoner)

Birthday Music - WKCR

Today's the second day of the annual three day, non-stop WKCR birthday bash for Lester Young (August 27th) and Charlie Parker (August 29th).  Yesterday you could hear 24 hours of Prez, and tomorrow there'll be non-stop Bird.  Today you get a mix of the two jazz greats.  It's beautiful listening!

The MTA Speaks Once More


The MTA has issued another statement, to South Slope News, concerning the status of repairs at the Fourth/9th subway station.

Much of the work at 4th/9th Ave Station is specialty metal work along with finishing the tower brick work. The work is progressing and their projected completion is the 4th quarter of 2014.  NYCT staff is monitoring the progress of the work and if necessary will pursue other approaches should the work fall behind again.
Other approaches?  This sounds vaguely sinister.  I've spent a lot of time hanging out at this station over the years, and seem to have accumulated a somewhat obsessive number of photographs of the place, including pictures taken at the start of the renovations in January, 2011.  By now, I have little faith in the shifting completion dates the MTA grudgingly issues from time to time.  I can only rely once more on the words of Second World War poet Keith Douglas, always appropriate for these institutional fiascos.

"To live without hope is the best form of insurance.  It does not mean to live hopelessly."

Found in Yonkers

Through a window of Philipse Manor Hall

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Basis Independent Brooklyn ("The Best Schools In America Have Arrived in Brooklyn!) opens in Red Hook in three weeks! Will the building be ready for the new school year? Here's how things looked last Friday ...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Fun

Though the season is winding down, let's keep the summer spirit going with this Katrina Thomas photograph of would-be mayor John Lindsay and a teenage Liza Minnelli entertaining a beach crowd in 1965.  Now that's what I call a campaign!

Museum of the City of New York

Folded Sunsets

I've been enjoying looking at the digital collection of the Museum of the City of New York.  This Alfred C. Loonam picture, taken around 1940, at Third and 56th, marks the point I've got to in Part 1 of my 9th Street through Sunset Park walking tour.  It depicts what I believe is the unfinished Moses Gowanus Parkway, the narrower, pre-Expressway elevated roadway built on the structure of the old Third Avenue El.

Lewis Mumford wrote of the Moses project, in a 1959 New Yorker:

"At the very moment that we have torn down our elevated railways, because of their spoilage of urban space, our highway engineers are using vast sums of public money to restore the same nuisance in an even noisier and more insistent formBut what is Brooklyn to the highway engineer - except a place to go through rapidly, at whatever necessary sacrifice of peace and amenity by its inhabitants?" 

I'm going slowly.  I think I'll walk as far as 65th Street, which is more or less the boundary between Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, though I have toyed with the idea of stopping at 59th, the Brooklyn/New Utrecht divide. Then it's off heading east to loop from Fifth to Ninth Avenues in the opposite direction, back north. I'm not exactly speeding along here, but if you do this too quickly you a) stop really looking at your surroundings, and b) forget what you've seen.  And as I've learned a bit more about the history of the streets I've visited, I've become driven to go back to blocks I've previously walked.  There's always more than you thought you knew, or saw, and nothing remains the same.   The look of a block, the faces of a community, the you that walked a year ago and the you that walks today.  The rustle of dollars in the all cash deals that tear down, build up, drive out, and the rustling shifts in the layers of history that form a neighborhood's identity.  Some change is beautiful, and some very ugly indeed.  I wanted to say I'd walked each street at least once, over a year or so, even if I happily fall back to more aimless meandering.  A silly plan probably, but a strangely satisfying one. And I'm almost halfway there.

Monday, August 25, 2014

This is Fake

Yesterday a number of these signs went up around the perimeter of 724 Fifth Avenue, the old White Eagle Tavern construction site.  As I passed by, a concerned neighbor was editing the signs to explain that these were not issued by the NYPD and/or DOT.  Presumably they've been put there by the construction company "working" (well, not in recent months...) there. She also drew my attention to the curious dates on the sign.  May?   The state of this site has caused a lot of safety concerns for nearby residents in recent years.

Back at 33rd

A week ago, I was looking at 816 and 817 Fifth Avenue (33rd Street) - semi detached properties that each consist of two attached houses (four apartments).  Yes, I know that sounds confusing.  There are six such properties on the block.  Since I wrote about them, I realized I'd overlooked 819 Fifth , that had been on the market since the spring, at $1,498,000, and yesterday the corner building, 814, was listed for sale at $1,350,000.  So four out of the six buildings are up for sale, and one of the sellers owns another of the remaining two. All 25 foot lots.



Here's the block looking north.  Notice the apartment building on the next block.

You have to wonder what's in the works.

Another small mystery here lies in the plaques on 816 and 817:

I've been looking online for any mention of Welsh Court, but have come up with nothing.  I'll look some more.  The fact that Woodrow & Roosevelt Courts are nearby, and of similar vintage, makes me wonder if there was originally a common courtyard at the back of the buildings.

Talking of Woodrow Court, No. 1, is getting some horizontal and vertical enlargement that certainly upsets the balance of the little group of houses.

Never Stop Improving

Battle Done

Sunday afternoon, Fifth Avenue

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Safe with Bill?

The mayoral connection is now a part of realtorspeak!  Behold this listing for 465 - 467 Sixth Avenue, a notoriously dodgy stretch of crime-ridden Park Slope.  Asking price - $5,200,000.

Excellent rental property or convert into one magnificent mansion. This property is also in a very secure block of Park Slope, as it sits 1.5 blocks away from NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio's home. Close to F/R subway trains, supermarkets, and great schools. MUST SEE...MUST BUY!! These two gems will not last long.  Call today!

These two gems have floated around on the market since last year, with an option at one point to buy them separately or together.  467 was sold two months ago for $2,400,00, but now the two are back on the market together & "must be sold as a package."  Will the new deBlasio safety sweetener speed a deal?

Donut Family Photo

Coney Island

Saturday, August 23, 2014

In The Development Pipeline

We live surrounded by construction sites.  On the home front it's been twenty months since work began next door.  It's still ongoing.  And on block after block after block you'll see a demolition site, an empty lot, a dumpster, an excavator, a cement block monster rising slowly above low-rise brick or wooden houses.

Fifth Avenue in the teens and twenties is a whirlwind of activity.  Corners are prime.  Between Prospect Avenue and 25th, I counted eleven corners where there are either construction/excavation/repair activities (some of them stalled), permits posted for work, or property either recently sold or currently for sale. And of course there's plenty more activity mid-blocks.

Walking home the other day, I saw that fences were up at the corner of Fifth and 24th (in front of the S. Batrouni Auto Service station, and next to the Citgo gas station) with a permit in place for tank removal and shoring.  Does this presage bigger plans?  A block south, a smaller auto repair business, at 732 Fifth, is on the market.

"732 5th Avenue features 25' of frontage on 5th Avenue. This site is zoned R6A with a 3.0 FAR. Under the current zoning a developer could build approximately 7,500 square feet as-of-right. There is an Inclusionary Housing bonus which would allow additional square footage. There is an existing 2,500 SF industrial building on the property that will be delivered vacant. The property is located along in the highly desirable Park Slope South neighborhood, with many new construction projects in the development pipeline. "

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Septet of Churches

Even in the borough of churches, seven within three blocks seems like pretty good going.  At 5205 Fourth near 53rd,  the Templo de La Alabanza, formerly the Coliseum movie theater (see Montrose Morris's Brownstoner piece on the theater).  The Coliseum closed in 1992.

At the north-west corner of Fourth & 54th, two churches sit side by side.  These are the Sunset Park Community Church and the Iglesia Adventista del Septimo Deo de Bay Ridge.

The Community Church came into being in 1996, when Christ to the Community combined with Salem Gospel Tabernacle (formerly the Salem Scandinavian Pentecostal Assembly).  The Salem congregation moved to its current address, formerly home to B'nai Jacob, in the 40s.
Across the street from these two churches on the NE corner is the Iglesia La Luz Del Mundo, and south of them, below 54th, St. Jacobi Evangelican Lutheran.  St. Jacobi's congregation was originally German, and founded a church at this site in 1909.  Today its congregation is primarily English, Spanish and Chinese speaking. St. Jacobi offered significant space for Occupy Sandy relief efforts.


At 55th Street, just west of Fourth, the Emmanuel Pentacostal Church.

and on 55th east of Fourth, in a small brick building, Manna.

At 56th & Fourth, the Bethelship Norwegian United Methodist Church (founded as the Mariners' Methodist Episcopal Church in 1874), which moved to this spot in 1949, via Red Hook and Carroll Gardens.  Prior to the establishment of the church, the Bethel Ship mission, moored at Pier 11, in Brooklyn, ministered in an evangelical and social mission capacity to sailors and newly arrived immigrants, from the 1840s to the 1870s.  Sunset Park is well known for its Scandinavian roots, but you can read an interesting article about the Scandinavian waterfront communities farther north in Brooklyn in this Carroll Gardens Patch article written in 2011.

Bethelship Norwegian United Methodist

Musical Chairs: Store Move Update

Last week I noticed that Hair Fair by Alberto was leaving its spot at 684 Fifth for premises across the street.  Turns out they're moving to 681 Fifth, where the current tenants are Danny's Tailoring & Dry Cleaning.  The note in Danny's window had me worried, because this is a great business, terrific for repairs & alterations.  One of the ladies inside told me that they would be staying in the neighborhood, though the details seemed uncertain.  I hope this works out - Danny's is just the kind of family business we need to keep around here.

A Hair Fair sign in Danny's window yesterday.  Danny's own sign above the store is already gone.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Now You See It

With a sleight of hand only the MTA can master, work is done & undone in an instant.  The subway sign put up on Tuesday

has been and gone, as if it were merely a figment of the imagination!



Pacific Street Library Handicapped by Lack of Funds - Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sounds like more PR for another run to sell the historic Carnegie library, with the usual doom-laden picture of the building's condition.  If the BPL could restore the Park Slope branch, which serves a significantly higher-income population, they should be able to fix some of the (often exaggerated) issues at Pacific. See more of the pitch here.

And on a disturbing development that includes the privatization of library space, (including a bid to take over 25% of the Red Hook branch), read this piece on the "non profit real estate organization" Spaceworks:
Spaceworks and its Privatizing Grab of the Libraries - Noticing New York

Our library trustees ought to be on guard to protect our libraries as institutions.  Shouldn’t they be fending off dismantling of the institution?  One thing the Mayor, the Comptroller, the Speaker of the City Council and the Borough Presidents can all do ... is appoint representatives to the library boards who, leveling a critical and discerning eye, will shun no-bid contracts with the likes of Spaceworks and will send packing this Bloomberg-created privatefirm that is spending public money to privatize public space.

If you haven't already done so, join in and sign the most recent Citizens Defending Libraries petition to save our libraries from development greed.  Before it's too late.


Second Avenue/53rd St.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Other Way Around

Ah - the beautiful water views from the Brooklyn Bridge Park!  And there I was, perversely, watching the trucks go by.

Back on High Street, a Mercedes competes with a Hatzolah Moments bus with painted-over windows.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Many thanks to for posting about a Voices of New York article on CUNY professor Tarry Hum, and her recently published book,  Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.  From the English translation of the article:

In Hum’s view, gentrification brought on by the robust real estate market is the biggest problem Sunset Park is facing. It has started to squeeze out the Latino and Chinese working families who cannot afford to rent in the neighborhood, let alone buy a home. Small businesses are also moving out because of quickly increasing property taxes and commercial rents. “It is similar to what’s happening in Manhattan’s Chinatown,” she said.
Hum has concerns about the scorching real estate market in recent years, especially the projects launched by Chinese developers. She said the high-rise buildings and sprawling projects will turn Sunset Park into another Flushing, and they don’t fit in the working class-dominated neighborhood.  “Rezoning for real estate developers to build high-rise buildings will further boost prices. It may be a good thing for business people. But for the working families living here, it means losing another neighborhood they call home. Neighborhoods that are affordable for the working class are fewer and fewer in the city,” said Hum.
Going west to Sunset Park's waterfront, here's a Fast Company piece on the Industry City Mister Sunday parties, and the business forces behind the carousing:
In New York City, parties like Mister Sunday, along with upscale flea markets, artisanal food events like Smorgasburg, and art events have long signaled the coming wave of gentrification to once-crumbling industrial backwaters like Williamsburg, Bushwick, Long Island City, Gowanus, and now, Sunset Park. A hip, young set willing to push the boundaries into once-unloved neighborhoods (my bold print) in search of bigger spaces, creative freedom, and ultimately cheaper rent is always part of the equation of gentrification. But so are the savvy real-estate developers who follow their every move, ready to pour accelerant on the process...
(Industry City developer) Kimball makes no bones that he’s leveraging artists and their events to create a savvy buzz around the development in a way that no printed marketing material or ad buys ever could. 

Good Signs

Renovation work at 4th & 9th St is still chugging along, past the (latest) MTA official completion date, but there's one good piece of news to report today.  The old illuminated obelisk IND signs are repaired, and going back up above the Fourth Avenue & 10th Street entrances.  The ones on the avenue were in particularly bad shape.  These are lovely details of the original 1930s construction, and should look beautiful at night.  Rays of light in the tortuous saga of the station's makeover.

Here are a couple of pictures from several years ago.

10th Street (western side), 2010

4th Avenue (eastern side), 2012

I'm pretty sure I have a couple of better pictures of the signs, but will have to do some digging around.

Gissel's Beauty Salon

53rd Street, Sunset Park

Monday, August 18, 2014

Real Estate Monday

Real Estate Monday faded quietly away over the summer, occasionally appearing as Real Estate Tuesday, and then absent altogether.  I guess it's due to a change in my day-to-day schedule, and a dog appearing around the place, gradually finding its hairy place in the household.  New routines are not yet in place.  Much as I've enjoyed the summer, I always look forward to September, which feels like the real, organized, start of the year.  So with fall on the horizon, Real Estate Monday is back, casting an amateurish eye on the mysteries of Brooklyn property sales.

Let's start with a recent sale, not in the prime brownstone heart of Park Slope, but on its less fancy fringes.  329 12th Street, inevitably listed by lazy brokers as built in 1901 but clearly evident on the 1886 Robinson Atlas (and probably built as early as the 1870s), has just sold for $1,790,000 (list price $1,995,000).  This is a modestly sized three-storey vinyl-clad house, originally quite shallow in depth (under 30 feet?), but extended somewhat in recent years.  In 2006 it sold for $680,000. Nearby 325 sold for $1.9 million early in the year (previously sold for $670,000 in 2011), and 321 has just come on the market at $1,690,000.

If you want something swishier, you could try a three bedroom condo on 21st Street , in the beautiful old St. John's parochial school, which is on the market for a mind-boggling $2,899,000.  What resident living around here even a few years ago would have envisioned a price like this?
For around the same price as the 21st Street condo, you could still buy a whole building, 260 8th Street which featured on a Real Estate Monday post last November!  It's come down (massively) in price since then, from $2,999,000 to $2,949,000, and has acquired a name, The Post House.  A perfect name considering its location next to the parking lot of the Van Brunt P.O. (McDonald's back yard nestles on the other side.)  Here's a shot taken in fall of '13.

Further south, on Fifth and 33rd, across from the Sylvan Waters of the cemetery, two adjacent properties are for sale. Most of the block between 33rd & 34th is taken up by semi-detached two-storey, two-family houses, and 816 and 817 are currently on the market for $1,275,000 each.

What's unusual about these, is that each lot contains two adjoined houses (816, 816A, & 817, 817A), In the street view above, the house on the corner gives you an idea of the buildings' shape.

 817 5th Avenue (Block 685 Lot 38) is a two family brick on a 25 x32 lot size / 20 x29 building size. It is comprised of 2 1 bedroom apartments. 817A 5th Avenue (Block 685 Lot 138) is a two family brick on a 25 x68 lot size / 20 x29 building size. It is comprised of 2 1 bedroom apartments. Combined the two buildings make up a 25 x100 lot and the building size is 20 x58 deep. There is one common boiler for both properties. All units are free market, month to month tenancy and may be delivered vacant at closing. The property is a short stroll to the 36th Street Express train, shopping and all amenities. R6B zoning allows for an additional 2,680 buildable square feet that may be added to the existing structure. 816 / 816a / 817 / 817a 5th Avenue may be sold as a package deal. The properties combined make up 8 residential units on a 50 x100 lot with 10,000 buildable square feet.

I've always been intrigued by these buildings, which are not too far from the lovely Woodrow & Roosevelt Courts.  But I imagine the combo deal here, with that 50 foot wide lot, will be an irresistible development magnet.