Thursday, September 29, 2016

Corner Activity

Another auto business lot is up for sale. S. Batrouni, at 740 Fifth (24th), is on the market at $4.25M "as is". The repair shop was formerly a Mobil Gas station, and the site was once part of Pitbladdo Monument Works, one of the many stonemason & florist businesses that flourished in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  A couple of years ago I noticed excavation in the forecourt, and what looked like gas tank removal, and I guessed a sale was imminent.  As is commonplace by now, I've been unable to locate better pictures of Batrouni in my carelessly kept photo archives - will keep searching.  Hence the grim Google shot above. All I could find of my own was one of this car under wraps on the premises last year.  Ominous skies.

Batrouni is right next to another auto business/gas station, and across 25th is the Weir greenhouse, now owned by Green-Wood Cemetery, & still under renovation.  At nearby 734/6 a six-story Boaz Gilad residential development is on the way (plans were approved this spring).  The warehouse at this address has recently been demolished.

724 Fifth, on the site of the old White Eagle Tavern, appears ready for occupancy - not sure if any apartments are listed yet. In the trash-filled back yard of the adjoining building, I saw a bevy of lively rats doing their thing.

It's impossible to know what will replace Batrouni, but one can be pretty certain it won't be another auto business.  There's plenty of boring activity (the excavation kind) going on right now, as those hot corner sites continue to be in high demand.  Viz.:

Fourth & Prospect (former gas station site still on the market)

Fourth at 179 22nd (81-unit apartment building - plans filed)


A VR Archive for the Vanishing Haunted House Ride (Hyperallergic)

No-one told CB6 leader about planned Formula E race in Red Hook (Brooklyn Paper)
“It would be insane to think it’s not fantastic because it will bring people here,” said Triciann Botta, who owns Italian wine store Botta di Vino on Van Brunt Street. “It would be great if somehow they knew that I have their celebratory champagne over here.”

Rivington House buyers Slate/Adam America get $41M loan for their development at Fourth Avenue & 15th (their third project within four blocks of Fourth Avenue); still qualify for 421A tax abatement (The Real Deal)

Brooklyn Players: BQX May Make Brooklyn a Winner (Commercial Observer)
“Dumbo has the densest creative worker population per square foot,” Asher Abehsera, the chief executive officer of LIVWRK, said at Commercial Observer’s “Brooklyn Renaissance” panel this morning.
... Abehsera chimed in to advocate for the connector so visitors from Queens would no longer have to cut through Manhattan to reach Brooklyn. He also stressed the need for better schools in the borough, as more families move in and the boundaries of Park Slope keep expanding.”

The Making of a Steinway Grand Piano, From Start to Finish (Open Culture)

'Working' Then and Now: Studs Terkel's Book Interviews Resurface as Audio Project (NPR)

Astoria Characters: The 86 Year-Old Boy with the Skateboard (Huffington Post)

Arthur Russell: Vanished into Music (BBC)
The writer Olivia Laing presents an imaginative portrait of Arthur Russell.
Arthur Russell was a cellist, a composer, a songwriter and a disco auteur. He was active in the New York downtown scene of the 1970s and was a frequent collaborator with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass. Although extremely prolific, his inability to finish projects is often cited as part of the reason that very little of his music was released during his lifetime.
When Arthur Russell died in 1992 his Village Voice obituary read, "Arthur's songs were so personal that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music."

Out now: Free 14-track album of re-imagined London Underground field recordings (Cities and Memory)

Ken Loach's film I, Daniel Blake playing at this year's NY Film Festival - hoping general release comes soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

At 27th

I just came across these Eagle photographs of Fourth Avenue at 27th Street. They were taken in 1909, before the BMT subway line ran along the avenue, bringing with it an apartment building construction boom. A boom then meant buildings in the mostly three-to-five-story range, still allowing residents plenty of skies and views.  In 1909 this stretch of Fourth was half-empty.  PS 172, at 29th, had not arrived on the avenue, though it appears on the 1916 Hyde map of the area.  The (wooden) Norwegian Lutheran church is marked on maps before and after these photographs (1903 and 1916). If you look at pictures of the same views taken over a century later, the scale of buildings is similar, and many of the same buildings remain, including the two wooden buildings prominently featured in the 1909 southward-looking shot. They looked very handsome back then. Looking north today, you can see a Best Western at 26th, and out of the frame at 30th, another hotel is rising.  There are plenty of hotels around here - a surplus of beds built perhaps with other uses factored in? - but the luxury apartment building boom is several blocks north. It will get here soon.

Looking south (1909 and 2016)

Looking north (1909 & 2016)

Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn - E.B. Hyde, 1903 (NYPL)

Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn - E.B. Hyde, 1916 (NYPL)


from the city Panorama, Queens Museum

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Black Dragon

I was happy to make the acquaintance of Courtney "Black Dragon" King yesterday.  King does commercial work painting storefront windows in various Brooklyn neighborhoods - Bay Ridge, Park Slope & Coney Island - and I stopped to chat as he was touching up the window of Peppino's, on Fifth.  His real love is for his personal artwork, & his specialty is portraits of historical and cultural icons. Haile Selassie, Tupac Shakur, Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson & Bob Marley have all appeared in his paintings.  He also designs t-shirts, and will paint portraits on commission.  King hails from Jamaica, and worked for many years traveling the world as a sailor & bar keeper on cruise ship lines, but these days he's a land-lubber, settled in Coney Island.

On Thursday, King will be exhibiting his work at the Coney Island Library, from 6:00 to 7:45 pm. The library is at 1901 Mermaid Avenue, just four blocks from the Stillwell Avenue subway stop.  For more information, you can contact King at the number shown on the flyer (below): 347-628-0138.

Beba's Jumps In

Mezini, around on Fifth since  2013, became La Royale in January (or so), and now it's got another new name and another new sign: Beba's La Royale!  There's some rather lively music making its way onto the street, and there's a new bench out front -signs, perhaps, of an effort to shed the restaurant's clandestine ways.  We've almost developed an affection for this mystery spot.

At the Laundromat

Monday, September 26, 2016

On 11th

Just up the block from the Ennis playground, demolition has been approved for 156 11th, a three-storey frame building that appears to be in poor structural condition & has an open Failure to Maintain violation from 2013.  The building was purchased by 156 11th Street LLC in 2014, for $600,000.  Nearby 147 was demolished last month.

New Looks for Ennis

The Ennis Playground (11th/12th between Second & Third) is likely to be getting a major upgrade. The Parks Department submitted plans to Community Board 6 park committee last week, and the committee will vote on the proposal after a public comment period (Gowanus Patch).   The plans include artificial turf, gardens, better drainage, & upgraded ball courts & playground equipment. According to DNAinfo, the Parks Department stated that construction on the $2.5M renovation would not be expected to begin until 2018, & the playground would be closed for a year during the work.

The wait will be worth it, said Community Board 6 parks committee chair Glenn Kelly.
"It's magnificent," Kelly said of the plan. "They really packed a lot of features into a pretty small space that I think will serve the community well."
The existing park is a "drab and boring" space that works as a quick lunch break spot for local workers but doesn't beckon to families with children or seniors, Kelly said. The renovation will turn the park into more of a neighborhood amenity, he said.
"I can imagine that many people in the community didn't go this park because it wasn't very inviting," Kelly said. "This is going to be their park now." (DNAinfo)

The playground is on the stark side, but I see it enjoyed by children & adults alike, albeit fairly lightly, and I've seen kids having a ball with all that space (almost) to themselves.  Its light use might be more a consequence of its location (next to the sanitation garage & a busy manufacturing corridor) rather than of its appearance.  It's a nice little playground, and some upgrades will be great, but even landscaping is not going to make its situation bucolic. DNA notes that the Gowanus Alliance is hoping to work with the Sanitation Department to rid the sidewalk of parked sanitation trucks, which "are smelly and attract rats," but it will be hard to please everyone in this rapidly changing neighborhood, and the trucks, when resting at their base, don't have many options in terms of parking, without blocking street traffic altogether. The sanmen are not going anywhere, and are much needed.

Here's a diagram of the proposed playground (NYC Parks via Gowanus Patch)

For the past year, Ennis Playground was home to Michael Clyde Johnson's temporary "lounge" & planting "parklet", which was funded by Brad Lander.

Small shifts in the streetscape.

The old Square Stores awning was losing its letters, & now a new one is in place.  No change in the lettering above.  The bottom picture shows a slice of the storefront in the 1980's.

The weather has shifted, and it's never too early to bring out those Halloween decorations.  What's more terrifying here - the ghoul in the window of a house on 11th, or the fact that the building - a small brick rowhouse - got a higher-end expansion & shot up in price from a $1.4M purchase in March '14 to a $4M sale this spring?  Terrors indeed.

On Fifth

Friday, September 23, 2016

Maintenance Art

Yesterday I finally got over to the Mierle Laderman Ukeles Maintenance Art exhibition at the Queens Museum. It covers almost fifty years of her work, all built upon her breakthrough manifesto of 1969, in which she found & celebrated art in the 'menial' labor of cleaning and saw in it dignity, creativity, & aesthetic & societal value. There should be no boundaries, she felt, between art and the day-to-day routines of manual work, and such work was as important as any other profession. Over the course of her artistic career she has explored "maintenance" in a variety of contexts, including motherhood and office cleaning, and she has collaborated on projects in international settings, but she is best known for her work as artist-in-residence at the New York Sanitation Department.

“People didn’t understand why I was so interested in one municipal department, especially this one, which really got no respect, especially back then,” she said. “But I felt like it was perfect, conceptually and practically. For me, the Sanitation Department was like the major leagues.”
                                                                                                                               (NY Times)

Ukeles' work with the DSNY has taken many forms, from a famous, early performance that involved shaking hands with sanitation workers throughout the city, personally thanking them for their service, to elaborate vehicle ballets, and long-term (ongoing) re-creation at the vast Fresh Kills landfill park.  It centers around respect, empowerment & ecological sustainability.

I have something of a sanitation fixation myself - albeit in a minor, not in the least bit creative form. Living near a sanitation garage is a big plus for me, & a trip to the SIMS recycling center in Sunset Park is cause for celebration.  I've collected the names of independent garbage contractors with peculiarly obsessive pleasure, & guiltily enjoy seeing the big rig lit-up trucks roaring round the streets at night, even though I know their company track records are often dire.  A sanman once tipped me off when I was hunting for discarded Christmas trees in springtime (long story) & I traveled far into Queens to the side of a highway to find a discarded tree.  Robin Nagle's Picking Up has a prominent place in my city books collection - a wonderful work! - & I'm disappointed, and irrationally surprised that few people I know share my interest.

The Ukeles show was something of a pilgrimage.

Four Women, the World & an Ice Cream Truck

Thursday, September 22, 2016

New NYC Displacement Alert Map

The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development has just released an interactive city-wide Displacement Alert Project Map:

The Displacement Alert Project Map mined several public databases to include more than 96,400 residential properties with more than three apartments that met at least one of three conditions: The building was sold in 2015, had obtained a work permit from the city’s Department of Buildings since 2013 or contained at least one rent-regulated unit since 2007.

.. Housing activists said the information was meant to help tenant organizers identify buildings where tenants may be most vulnerable to landlord harassment and to help prevent illegal evictions. The data may also help city officials identify patterns and guide public policy to preserve the existing affordable housing stock, the activists said. (New York Times)

Demo Time

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


From the BQE

Sunset Park's Tacos El Rancho Wins Top Prize at Vendy Awards (DNAinfo)

Feds Probe De Blasio Fundraiser Whose Engineering Firm Won Big Contracts (including for Gowanus Canal work) (DNAinfo)

NYC construction accidents on the rise for fourth straight year (The Real Deal)

Taylor Mac: how a 24-hour pop odyssey redefines American history - brilliant performances currently running at St Ann's Warehouse (Guardian)

New York's Next Climate & Community Protections (Gotham Gazette)

Di Fara building sold on "burgeoning" Avenue J, but pizzeria will remain (Commercial Observer)

Illegal Conversions & South Brooklyn's Affordable Housing Crisis (Gotham Gazette)

The bartender at the Grand Central Oyster Bar has been soothing commuters for 34 years (Crain's)

"Swan Song for 345 17 St"

Abe Hammer, Brooklyn Eagle, 1955 (BPL, Brooklyn Collection)

On verso: "In the path of the Prospect Expressway."
Five boys in front on entrance of brick apartment house at 345 Seventeenth Street, two playing guitars; iron fence along front; three garbage cans on sidewalk in right foreground, and sign, "For sale," etc. attached to wall at left of doorway.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

At the Museum?

Yesterday I noticed an ad on Loopnet showing the Morbid Anatomy Museum space up for rent, noting three years left on the current lease  The ad has disappeared when I checked back today, so maybe it was just a listing error.  The Museum seems to have become a popular spot on the Gowanus arts scene, though it's still a biggish spot to lease in a hot real estate market.  I really enjoyed the original incarnation of the Museum best - its modest, taxidermy spot at arts center Proteus Gowanus - and enjoyed pretty much everything about Proteus, which had a kind of free-form, intelligent creativity that followed its own path, and never felt in the least in thrall to commercial demands.  To me, Proteus Gowanus was an ideal place to explore, and you always left it feeling inspired.

Almost There

In the park, there's finally rain, and it's starting  to smell like fall.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Coignet up Close


The Coignet Building, at the corner of Third & 3rd, has been a local landmark since the 1870's. In its original condition, its ornate facade served to advertise the pioneering techniques of the Coignet Stone Company, which invented a form of concrete that could be modeled to give the appearance of natural stone. The company had a short business run, and closed for good in the 1880's. The building was taken over by the Brooklyn Improvement Society, and eventually sold in the 1950's. Here'a a tax photo of the building from 1939, which a gives us a rather faded (and grainy) look at its original appearance.

At some point after the sale, the Coignet Building acquired a brick veneer (see top), a look that many local residents have known it by for half a century or so.  It served as headquarters for a variety of other businesses over the years, and I seem to remember it occupied into the 1980's, but by the time the land it stood on was bought by Whole Foods, in 2005, it had been empty for decades. Whole Foods agreed to stabilize the building & undertake an external renovation, which was completed this year. but the interior still awaits major renovations. It has been for sale since 2013. The building was given Landmark status in 2006, and in April the the facade renovation received a NY Landmarks Conservancy Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award. (See Brownstoner for a timeline of the building's history.)

Brooklyn Eagle (April, 2016)

When the new, old look of the building was revealed, the effect was quite jarring.  It's exciting to see its original design, but the it has the ghostly, artificial look of a place that is quite without function.  It might have been dreamed into being.  This sense of its unreality is enhanced by its Third Street stairway that ends above street level.  You can look, but never enter.  If you look at the facade close-up, it's a roughshod affair, and this too gives the structure an air of pretense.  I don't know how sharply defined the detail was on the original facade, but the concrete work today looks pitted and sloppy.  It reminds you of a building encrusted in so many layers of paint that its fine ornamentation is evident only in vague outline.  I didn't have my better camera when I took the pictures below, but you still get the idea.

The Coignet Building is an important part of Gowanus history, and its imposing structure fully merits preservation.  It's inevitable, I suppose, that its renovated looks would startle, even in the best of circumstances, but one can only wish facade-work had been undertaken with more sensitivity.   Award worthy?  I'm not so sure.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ruthie's Neighborhood Barber Shop

It's always a pleasure to walk by Ruthie's Neighborhood Barber Shop, at St. Marks & Sixth, which has been in business for twenty years.  Here's a short film about Ruthie and her one-chair shop. Beautiful.

Sixth & Expressway

A film shoot sign for the upcoming TV legal drama Bull. Hoping the title isn't prophetic ...