Monday, June 29, 2015

Now You See It

From the B61 this week a blurry, almost ghostly, summer shot of the corner building where the Botanica de la Milagrosa used to be.  Botanicas are thinner on the ground these days.  Whenever I pass the corner, I look to see if the old signs are there, expecting to see some higher-end replacement business.  Present still, they resonate - symbols of another, lost order.

537 was sold a year ago, and the retail space is for lease.   At the Massey Knakal website, the image is crisper altogether than my smudgy through-the-window bus-ride shot.  Botanica shopped clean away.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fiction Links

Great news: An interview with writer Romy Ashby, whose novel, Stink, has just been published (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)

Center for Fiction sells up and moves to that other Center for Fiction, the new downtown Brooklyn (Eagle)
Rose told us he expects construction will be completed in summer 2017 on his development, whose new name is Brooklyn Cultural District: Apartments (BCD:A). 
It had been called EyeBAM — a reference to Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, which was one of the two cultural institutions that originally planned to move to the building.    
Science Gallery International was the second cultural institution that was originally going take space there but also decided not to do so. 
Rose's company bought the development site from the city for $1 in exchange for making 40 percent of the project's apartments affordable without city subsidies, he said. The purchase closed in May, he added. 
Twenty percent of the units will be for low-income residents earning 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), and 20 percent will be for middle-income tenants earning 130% of AMI. Sixty percent will be market-rate units.

64th & 18th (Home of the Jo Jo, King of the Sausage)

I had to go back to 18th for a slice at J & V Pizzeria, Home of the Jo Jo.  I just opted for a regular slice - very decent indeed - though I know that the Pizza Authorities extol the grandma, Sicilian, and the fresh mozzarella.  There's steady window service, a counter with seats up front, and a nice back room, with some fine-looking furniture whose decade I can't quite place.  Sixties? Seventies?  While I was there the owner and an employee were putting up LED lights, to the accompaniment of groans from people at the front. "It's too bright!!" But the owner was pleased with the results.  "These will last for ten years - they'll outlast me."  I asked about the mural on the back wall, and he claimed it was worth two and a half grand, though he'd picked it up, apparently, for twenty-five bucks.  He'd got it at an auction in Queens. The back room was empty when I first sat down, and I was going to get a mural shot before I left, but by the time I was finishing my slice some schoolkids trickled in, followed by a bald-headed, broad-shouldered guy in a God Bless America shirt.  He sat right in front of me, and his solid, immutable presence signaled the end to my picture-taking whimsy.

J & V's is rated right up there for Bensonhurst pizza, and right across the street there's Bari Pork Store, King of the Sausage.  Double the pleasure. There's a N stop there on the block - another of those grand old ruins like the New Utrecht station.  In this case Improving Non-Stop seems a little premature, perhaps.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sooner or Later (15th)

March '15

Brownstoner just posted a piece on the little wooden house at 139 15th Street, which is slated (again) for demolition, and has plans dating back to 2011 for the typical four-storey + penthouse number.

The building is attached to an identical frame house, which has not sold recently and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. The pair were likely built in the mid-19th century.

I'm especially fond of these two buildings, sitting in the shadow of that ugly rental building on the corner of 15th.  Remember its glorious advertising pitch?

548 4th, the most eagerly anticipated rentals from your favorite local developer passionately committed to sustainable building practices... are finally here. . ..Reaching higher by several stories than its neighbors, 548 4th has made a wonderful bedfellow of that glorious, brilliant ball in the sky. A calm dawn will accentuate breathtaking panoramas of the Brooklyn Manhattan skylines reflected of the surface of the East River and Brooklyn Harbor. One struggles to adequately describe the sunsets with just words in a gorgeous living environment where polarized shades are a must. ...Amenity packed and stress-free Brooklyn living with a rock-star worthy view.  Come and see for yourself how moonlight plays off of the new Freedom Tower and make 584 Fourth Ave, Park Slope Brooklyn your new home.

It's boomtown all along Fourth, but the 15th corner seems especially active. 139 has been empty for years, but its next-door neighbor is still occupied.  At some point during the winter I stopped to chat to an elderly man (not the occupant) who was clearing the sidewalk there.  A long-time resident, he despaired of the way the neighborhood was going. He told me that the owner of 137 would be selling too, and soon, to the same developers at 139.  If this is true, I'm guessing there'll be new plans filed, for a bigger building.  This wooden pair - small, working-class homes - have survived a hundred and fifty years or more to find their beauty and historic value outstripped by land value  and FAR space.  The little brick pair a block over, on 16th, will likely suffer a similar fate. The post-Bloomberg climate is too harsh for this species.  Places like this must be either torn down for high-price rentals or condos, or pumped up on steroids -extended up and out - so a nice pair or lawyers or marketing consultants can live with a couple of kids in tow, in a tricked-out three thousand square feet (sub)urban castle.  


Fourth and 15th
Around 15th

Quiet Time

A few sleepy blocks of 65th, from McDonald to Bay Parkway. It was hot, and dry, and half the stores were closed, as if it were siesta time.  The very stores themselves might have been dreams.

Cupola Samarkanda II, right by the P station.  "Plov was hard and couldn't even eat it."
Pianoland, side by side with the funeral home, & Poseidon Marine Surveys, next door to the storefront St Joasaph Belgarod Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
S & B Intellect tutoring services, and the P.Iuni tailor shop. Both shuttered up, but the tailor's window bearing a slightly hopeful note.
Y.E.S. Driving School!
The Sicilian Soccer and Billiards Renting and Repairs Corp. Say it.
The thrifty convenience of Discount Liquors, right across from Economy Plumbing.
1st New York Business Center - first in some other New York altogether - over the street from the Shampooch Dog Beauty Salon.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Sterling Town Equities Moves in on 21st

More condos on the way for 21st between Fourth & Fifth.  186-190 21st - a two-storey building and adjacent lot - have just been bought, all cash, for six million dollars.  The buyer is Sterling Town Equities. The deal was brokered by CPEX

“We continue to see demand for development sites along the 4th Avenue corridor,” said Sean R. Kelly, Esq. of CPEX, in a prepared statement. 
Mr. Kelly and colleagues represented the seller,186-190 St LLC (the LLC is represented by Edward B. Saffran, Esq.). CPEX also procured the buyer, who was not represented by a broker, in the all-cash transaction. 
“With a lack of condominium inventory in Brooklyn and an abundance of luxury condominiums priced above $2,000 per square foot coming to market in Manhattan, developers have regained confidence in the Brooklyn condo market,” added Mr. Kelly. 
The building is zoned for a maximum floor area ratio of 2.0, allowing for a total of approximately 20,034 buildable square feet.  (Commercial Observer)

No lack of condo inventory around here, unfortunately, and no demand for development from local residents. But alas, we residents have no say in these matters. The Observer article has the building dating to 1931, but a 2013 application (disapproved) to convert the building from commercial to mixed-use still lists the buildings as wood-frame structures, hardly likely for a 1930s building. But perhaps this is just murky or incompetent record-keeping. The most recent C of O on record dates to 1912 (wood-frame buildings housing an "eating and drinking place,") but there's also a demolition permit on record dated 1968. Are the wooden buildings lurking somewhere beneath a larger and more recent-looking edifice? Or are they gone entirely? I know not. Whatever building originally existed at 190, next door, seems to have been demolished long ago.

A century ago, 186 was the scene of a widely-covered crime story. On November 19th, 1910, eight year old Giuseppe Longo, who lived at the building with his family, was abducted from in front of his home, and a $15,000 ransom was demanded for his safe return. Another local child, Michael Rizzo, of 720 Fifth, was taken at the same time and also held for ransom. On December 8th the children were recovered, from rooms in a tenement on East 63rd Street, and a lengthy Eagle account of the suspects' arraignment in a packed courtroom the following day is heavy on drama and sentiment.

Mrs Longo has become gray since her boy was stolen from her.  As she stroked his head she talked to the reporters.
"You don't know,"she said, pathetically.  "Twenty days he was away. My little Joe.  Every day I have been waiting. In the morning, no little Joe to dress. after school no little Joe, when we went to bed no little Joe.  I wanted to kill myself.  And they cut his hair and sent me some of it, telling me that they would cut off his head if we did not pay money.  See where they cut the hair from?" And Mrs. Longo pulled the dark hair apart to show where the scissors had rudely trimmed off some of his dark locks.
"Do you wonder that I wanted to kill myself?" asked Mrs. Longo.  "They have not treated him well.  He was fat, and had fat cheeks when they took him.  Look at him now."
The little fellow was still well nourished and rosy cheeked, but the mother said that he was much thinner than when he was taken.

A mere twelve days later Marie Rappa was convicted of kidnapping, and the NY Times found "something suggestive of the proverbial  'Jersey justice' "in the rapidity of this conviction.  A co-defendent, Stanislao Pattenza, was found guilty shortly thereafter.  A later Times article, written on December 21st, around the time of sentencing, records Judge Fawcett's words to Pattenza.

You were the brains, the leader, the acknowledged chief of the Black Handers.  You and the others lived on the fruits of your dastardly crimes of kidnapping, bomb-throwing, and blackmail. Your society during the past few years has caused a reign of terror among the good people of your race in this city.  Criminals of your class should never have been admitted to the country.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


I took a walk on 18th Ave. - McDonald to New Utrecht, El to El, Borough Park to Bensonhurst and back.   Truth be told, I went a couple of blocks farther, to Cropsey Ave.

As I swung around, I found myself behind a heavy-set woman and her heavy-set adolescent son, shuffling laboriously along 18th.  The woman was wearing a medical boot, and just above the ankle on her other leg a tattooed angel with red-inked wings was about to take flight.  She (the woman, not the angel) was talking on the phone. "And he said he was bored out of his mind!"  She laughed derisively.  " 'You'd better get used to that one, honey!' I told him."   This was too dispiriting.  And the walking was too slow-paced.  I overtook the pair of them, and turned in to the New Dyker diner.  A tiny place, but with plenty of counter seats, and friendly as they come.  I took my BLT to go, and heading past Achievers Realty and the New Utrecht Reformed Church, made my way to Milestone Park.  I was last here three or four years back, and the scene was just the same: seniors whooping it up at cards and mahjong.  Well, the Chinese card players were having a jolly, rowdy time, but the mahjong players (all male) were more contentious, practically spitting with sour, Russian invective.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Direct Drive

We do complete auto repair and body work, and computerized diagnostics. transmissions, engines, breaks, suspension, insurance claims: collisions. towing, free towing for collision.been in this location for 12 years.ASE certified. air conditioning and heating

There's a For Sale sign on the building, at 18th Ave. and 53rd St.  I hope it doesn't mean this splendid business sign will be disappearing any time soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

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

Walt Whitman, realtor's lackey

We get stacks of mail from realtors.  Barely literate All Cash! letters stuffed in mismatched envelopes, low-level unctuous appeals from sharks (the Dolphins of the realty waters), and glossy brochures from the high-end operators:  the pictures of houses sold Over Asking Price!, the boasts of a realtor's staging prowess.  They're a bit of a laugh (well sort of, not really), and get thrown in the trash, pronto.  They're evil stuff.  But just the other day a high-end realtor managed to trump them all with his latest tactic: pimping out Walt Whitman to make a buck!

"Every home has a story ... and knowing yours could increase its value." (Corcoran)

This is sleazy on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. A few thoughts:

1. 99 Ryerson, blessed neither by landmark status nor even a sodding historic marker, is not for sale. Is the owner of the house aware that Corcoran is using it to try and whip up business?

2. While laudible that our realtor here is a "history buff", his passion appears less authentic when expressed in the context of real estate mailings. Well, I think so, anyway. And let's have some accuracy. The Whitman family moved into 99 Ryerson in May of 1855 (Whitman's father died a couple of months later), and Walt brought the first printed copies of Leaves of Grass back to the house in early summer. He may have done some editing at 99 but the work was essentially written already.

3. Of course, the worst thing of all is the use of Whitman himself in this realty escapade. Whitman, of all people!  Sensualist, loafer, "caresser of life," lover of the common man.  This Whitman, reduced to a Corcoran icon?

 "This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."
                                                                                from Preface to Leaves of Grass (1855)

For shame, Corcoran, for shame.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Changes at 16th

No more body work or psychic readings in the tea leaves for 578 Fifth. The building, which sold in April for $1,486,000, is now all set for demolition.  No building plans on file as yet.

The Brook pharmacy and medical space, at 580-582, sold last year for $1,653,000.  One might have thought that there'd be demo on the cards here too, but apparently not right now.  Brook has shrunk to half its former size, and the space at 582 is under conversion for a new use:


On 61st

Monday, June 15, 2015

Coming & Going on Fifth

Goodbye Santa!

Iron Station, a new bar at Fifth and 21st, opened a few days ago.   Southern themed, the bar is heavy on cocktails, and offers a selection of  Little Bites (Janet's Chex Mix, Tater Tots with Spicy Duke's Mayo, Whiskey Krispie Treats, and more).  A snacks-for-adult-tots menu. This place seems primed for the Fifth Ave. bar-crawl crowd.

And leaving soon, after twenty-plus years on the avenue, the 99c store at 542 (15th).  This one used to occupy space at 540 as well, before the one storey building there was illegally demolished, making way for its charmless replacement (retail space available there right now!!!). You can be sniffy about 99 cent stores, but they're an economic reality for plenty of New Yorkers.  As rents rise though, 99 centers fall, and cocktails trump toilet rolls.  This particular one was never a favorite of mine - I like the 16th Street bargains a block south, where I've scored many a deal - but you had to love the ritual Dressing of the Mannequin.  Farewell, versatile store model, farewell.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Port-of-Call

The readership of this blog is modest, to say the least, so it's always exciting when a comment comes, out of the blue, with a personal connection to a place or person I've written about. This week I was delighted to get a message from Virginia Maksymowicz, concerning a post I wrote on the former Seafarer's International Union buildings on Fourth Avenue:

My father, Henry "Hank" Maksymowicz, a former USN Chief Petty Officer, was the bartender at the Seafarer's Union when it was at 675 Fourth Avenue. 

Sometimes, when I was a little girl, he would take me to the bar on Saturday mornings when he would have to take inventory. I remember that the bar itself was in the shape of a boat, with a mermaid in the front. He would make me a "Shirley Temple," which I would sip while looking up at that mermaid. I also remember how he "tricked" me at Christmastime. Rather than mailing my letter to Santa and risk its getting lost by the USPS, he convinced me to hand it directly to him. He said that one of his seafarer friends sailed to the North Pole on an icebreaker every November; he would hand-deliver it for me! 
He died from lung cancer on January 6, 1965. When the funeral procession left St. Patrick's Church, on its way to the National Cemetery on Long Island, it made a slow pass in front of the Seafarer's Union.

This really brought the place to life in a beautiful way,  and I felt had to go to work and find out more about it.  I knew that the Union was founded in 1938, that its first home on Fourth was at 675, and that it moved to 635 in the early 90s.  An Islamic school, Al Noor, is now housed at 675.  In 2014 the Seafarer's Union sold its premises at 635 to a developer (yes, apartments on the way, of course) and moved to New Jersey.

I had guessed that the building at 675 was a school before it became the Union building, and this was confirmed by a Montrose Morris piece on the building that I read on Brownstoner earlier this year. MM, a local historian with serious chops, revealed that the building, built in 1886, was designed as a public school, PS 60, and operated as such until 1941, when it was sold at auction.  It was used for light manufacturing purposes until 1949, when the Seafarer's Union purchased it.  The Union moved in, from their Manhattan headquarters on Beaver Street, in fall of '51.  In her article, Morris references a splendid, rich-in-detail Brooklyn Eagle story of September '51.  According to the Eagle, renovations and refitting at 675 cost a cool million, and facilities included a huge hiring-hall, a high-tech cafeteria (open to the public), a school for seamen, recreational facilities, the Sea Chest supplies store, and the bar our commenter recalled so lovingly:

Sure to be a popular gathering spot when the Union Hall opens, is the Port-of-Call Bar, which will be shaped like a ship with a figurehead of oak at one end.  This talisman will be a composite of emblems on Viking ships studied from four authentic Viking figurines in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Eagle deemed the place "a palace," "the latest thing in union halls,"with "everything for sailors but the ocean."

It was great to read the Montrose Morris piece back in the spring, and to catch up with the Eagle story today.  I also looked at the Union's own site, and news stories with a more political slant, but its history is far too rich and complex for a superficial read   I'd be a fool to dip my toes in that water without more time and serious, scholarly attention. And besides, I had that bar on my mind!

And then I found it!  The gods of the internet brought me Stanley Kubrick's early documentary, The Seafarers, shot for the Union in 1953, with almost all of it filmed right there on location, on Fourth. It's very much a promo film, but it's nicely shot, with great opening shots of area rooftops, of men in suits striding from the waterfront, suitcases in hand, of the crowds in the hiring-hall, and especially of sailors' faces.  Close-ups of faces, all shapes, and ages. Men of the seafaring past. And yes, there was the Port-of-Call.  It appears around the nine minute mark.