Friday, June 30, 2017


(In the latest of our visits to Third Avenue we visit the 3rd Avenue Junk Shop. All photographs, unless otherwise indicated, are by Larry Racioppo.  You can also find this post on Brooklynology, the Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection blog.)

The volume of business at the yard varies. On some days the scrap comes in as soon as the shutters roll up, and the place remains busy until closing. On others, things are quieter. Business is "spotty," says owner Dominick Palmiotto.

Business here boomed from the 30's to the 70's, when the shipyards on the waterfront were still active. In those days Palmiotto’s would send trucks down to the piers to pick up an abundance of metals. Todd’s, Bush Terminal, and Bethlehem Steel were all humming. Now the scrap is brought to the yard.

Most of the metal comes from licensed electricians, plumbers and roofers. Sometimes you’ll see guys along Third, on foot, or bicycle, hauling loads of scrap in supermarket shopping carts. Their metal isn't taken here. They're usually heading toward the Gowanus Canal, for 6th Street Scrap or Benson Scrap on Smith Street. Larry Racioppo has been photographing individual scrappers along 3rd Avenue for several years. Here are two images from his city-wide photography project. (You can see more here )



Palmiotto is still involved with the cart work, though he’s keeping it lighter these days.  At 83, he’s an active presence, and as sharp as they come.

At quieter times of the day, Palmiotto is holed up in his office, a metal shed inside the warehouse. Often he's in there with his younger partner, Johnny Giardina, but much of the time he's alone. Time hangs heavy these days, after the death earlier in the year of his wife, Jadwiga.  They were married fifty-one years, and Palmiotto describes her lovingly - "a real doll," "a natural redhead." He brings out a photo; you can see she was a beauty.  He tells me how they got together; they'd met once before, but the real start of things was a chance sighting through a Manhattan restaurant window – Palmiotto on the sidewalk & Jadwiga, working as a waitress, inside.  Their eyes met, they got to talking, and the waitress got off duty right after the lunch rush.  That was it.

The warehouse was built by Palmiotto’s father, in 1948, but the business is older than that.  It was first located across the avenue, at 21st, and dealt in metal, rags and paper.  In those days there were a couple of scrap or junk yards on every block of Third, Palmiotto says. His father set up shop in 1935, but several years later the place was seized by eminent domain, to make way for the Gowanus Parkway.  Palmiotto has worked in scrap since he was a kid, helping his dad.  A stint in the forces during the Korea War led to training in air conditioning and refrigeration, courtesy of the G.I. Bill, but he stayed active in the family business. He took it over in 1986.  Altogether, he’s put in 67 years here. Today he comes in to the business from a home in Midwood, but he's lived in a cluster of Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, and Kings Highway.  He's a shrewd businessman, and owns a number of properties.  You’d guess he doesn’t really need to put the hours and the physical effort into working here on Third, but it keeps him in the game, and he’s not one for idling.  He reads widely, and has traveled.  He's studied lexicography, and can speak four languages, five if you include the disappearing tongue of early twentieth-century Brooklynese.

Johnny (photograph by One More Folded Sunset)

Johnny Giardina is a longtimer too.  He’s been at the junk yard since he was twenty-four, and before that he worked at his uncle’s auto-salvage business right next door.  He started there at sixteen.  The business, long closed, is remembered by all the old-timers on the avenue.  It was featured in a 1980 documentary, Jon Alpert’s Third Avenue: Only the Strong Survive, which looked at the 1970’s Third Avenues of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan.  The three Brooklyn scenes in the film feature Sonny and Eddie, father and son at the auto salvage, the Lopez family in Sunset Park and the societal gulf between the religiously observant factory worker father and his streetwise kids, and the Pascones, an elderly Gowanus couple trying to decide whether to sell up and leave their home and barber shop.  Sonny’s son, Eddie, and his brother-in-law Michael demonstrate the wilder side of the salvage/chop shop business, and are shown cruising the streets at night for cars.  A later scene shows Eddie entering the prison system.

Johnny recalls a very different Third when he was young, with tractor trailers idling in a whole lane of traffic as they waited to get to onto the piers.

Department of Finance 1980's tax photograph

Like Palmiotto, Johnny’s old enough to remember the myriad of auto and scrap businesses that thrived on the avenue, along with the attendant bars and restaurants that served the waterfront workers: the Gold Mine, Marine Tavern, Hatch 5, Moscarella’s, The Riverboat, and many others.  And also a busy prostitution scene ("all kinds").  “Everything’s gone now,” he says, and it’s true, the older businesses are thin on the ground.  Farther south, there’s Frankel’s shoe and clothing store, which must set the record for longevity, having been on Third Avenue since an astonishing 1890, but Palmiotto is the elder statesman on this stretch.  I’d give anything to see the avenue he saw as a child in the 1930’s.  This was a real industry city.

James "Duke" Baines came to work here after the closure of the iron foundry at Third and 24th, which stood right by the site of Viking Iron, also torn down by Moses in the late '30's.  He’s been with Palmiotto for a decade. He says the scrap business is slower these days, due to a soft Chinese market.  The price of copper has dipped.  It's solitary work much of the time, but Duke says he likes it that way.  He grew up in East New York and Brownsville, and left the city for a while to live upstate, in Binghamton. He says a lot of his neighbors are moving there, and to other areas outside the city - it's just too expensive here these days.  He said the scene in Binghamton had gotten a little crazy, and anyway, he missed New York, so he was glad to come home.

The metals most often bought are copper, brass and aluminum, all of them non-ferrous. Sometimes there's monel, a mixture of copper and nickel

Copper's the prize though.  A box of copper wiring Duke has stripped lies in a heap ready for resale. It’s straw to gold.



The shop's a Vulcan's cave of metal and grease. Heaped on the floor are the spoils of industry: cogs and spools, grilles and panels, guttering and beaten drums. Ducts and cables coil loosely among them or hang from beams along with rope and shovels.  At the heart of the shop, there’s a scale that's borne decades of scrap, and with it, weighed the history of waterfront manufacturing.

At the end of a day's business, the carts lie empty.  Their frames are bent, and their canvas is shredded and sagging, like the rigging and sails of a fleet that has seen hard use.

Each stain and tear and dent transforms the carts. Over the decades of loading and unloading, they become raw sculptural forms. On one, the pattern of oil dapples the canvas.  On another, it saturates vast areas of fabric.  Each cart, listing this way and that, has taken a different kind of beating.  This is the art of endurance.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Two from Queens

Because Big just isn't enough any more.

Spotless New Image (sent by my trusty Astoria correspondent)

Spotless will have to be added to my lists of carting company favorites, (here's another) and goodness, they needs some serious updating.  What, no M & G or Mr T ("Let's Talk Trash")?  Spotless is a real keeper, with its spouting toilet, desperately fleeing garbage can (he'll never get away!) and that unlikely verdant landscape, with a pre-9/11 New York City (seen from the Jersey side) spread Oz-like on the horizon.  There's so much going on here, both visually and metaphorically, I almost feel my head exploding.  A gem.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Last month I noticed that the Batrouni auto center site, at Fifth & 24th, was still on the market. Here's a P.L.Sperr photo of the corner, taken in 1941, after the El was taken down.

Monday, June 26, 2017


The auction date got moved to June, with a minimum starting bid of $850,000.  Apparently it's in contract.

With vision and your architect bring this attached single family home back and realize a great return on investment. Located between 5th and 6th Aves. on 15th St. this 1300 sqft home has great potential for a buyer with both the vision and means...
...The lot is 14.25 X 100. With 3 floors (garden, parlor and 2nd floor) and a stand up attic.

"Vision" not once but twice.  I think I lack the acumen insisted here.  For me the word has other connotations.

There's not much in the Eagle archives for 264, but in 1899 next-door twin 262, "a two story and basement frame dwelling," was listed for auction.  It sold for $1,350.  The same address is listed in a WANTED - SITUATIONS - Female advertisement of 1908.

The houses appear on the Bromley & Robinson City of Brooklyn Atlas of 1880.  I don't know the year they were built.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Lost Lease: Heading South

Like next door 540, 538 is getting the 4 floor- plus-penthouse vertical & horizontal enlargement treatment.  Well actually, 540 was completely demolished, and the new building slid by as an enlargement. Somehow the DOB found this situation unremarkable.

Friday, June 23, 2017


I was talking to Farouk Elsebaie a couple of weeks ago.  He said many people have told him how much they love the look of his storefront.  I love it too.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


It is just a quality of beauty that
It comes and it goes.  We are contented with the ocean's
Being that way, and summer, winter, fall, and
Spring also leave and return.  
                           Kenneth Koch - "On Beauty"

In the city archaeology might mean years not centuries.  Or even minutes!  An older sign store sign hides under a newer, vinyl awning. Queen in Bazaar is still skulking under Dreamy's!  A mural appears, lights up a block for a year or two, then gets a coat of paint, or a replacement vista. If you get distracted, turn your head for an instant, you'll miss an arrival or departure.  You'll need a third eye to track it all.

Over a decade ago, if you looked in the right places, you might have seen visions in gold in the most unlikely corners.  You'd have to have been on them fast - most lasted only for a matter of months. And it might depend on where you walked.  Do you like entrance ramps, overpasses, the underbelly of expressways?  The more monolithic the setting, the more a shot of beauty radiates.  Is that a golden rule?

Our stealthy artist struck far and wide, with thirty pieces in the city.  It's the ones close by that tantalize the most.  I thought I was observant, but I missed almost all of them - except for those footprint impressions at Fourth and Prospect. For years I'd wondered how they got there.  

Suddenly all was revealed. In cryptic emails (some in verse) and archived photographs, back they came.  In miniature, and on the screen instead of on the streets.  But still gleaming.

"Yes I did those footprints. They were in gold metallic aluminum about 2 feet long. I thought of it as turning the highway into a foot path. You could sort of see them from about 15 blocks away. I loved that. The city took them down maybe after 4-5 months (considered graffiti) but they left the adhesive so you had a ghostlike petroglyph. I liked that."

There were four pieces on Third Avenue, but it's hard to find traces of them now. If you travel along the Gowanus Expressway, around 28th Street, you'll see the old sail factory building next to the VFW Post.  It's owned by CBS.  Today it's painted over in brown.

A few years ago though, if, like me, you were prone to enjoying expressway views, you could've caught a creature with gold and silver scales. Piscis or hominum?  If you were stuck in traffic, you could have made it out more clearly, but by 2013 or so it was fading, with barely a shimmer left.  I try to pin down a glimpse on Google Earth, but even there you flicker in and out of the decade, retrieving a year and then, zooming in and out of picture and date, doomed to search and search again to bring it back.

Down on the ground though, in 2007, it's easier to reel in. Here's the fish-man, bright & shining.  What perfect chance he landed in a maritime home.

The fish-man lasted longer than his peers on the expressway, who were removed more quickly.  

"I had so much fun with my project. 2 or 3 minutes of adrenaline as I set up and climbed my ladder worrying about being busted.....and then I stopped worrying. I figured anyone seeing an older man do this would think "it must be something official." I love getting away with stuff.

...I did the third avenue pieces anonymously. Anything on highway property turns out to be considered graffiti which is why the city took them down. I put pieces at elevation because it'd be harder to steal them. And I made the pieces in parts so that someone who stole them would have to do a lot of work.."

Close by Rossman's, the discount fruit & veg. store at 26th.  I find nothing left.

"About 3 foot high heads attached on the water side of the BQE about two blocks up and two blocks down from the discount grocers there (maybe 36 pieces in all) lasted about 3 months then the city took them down."

At Third and Hamilton, close to the home of Sandy victim Pithecus, the beloved blue ape of the auto-auction yard, you can still find traces of gastropods.  

"Good Hunting. Yes. Snails up the entrance ramp in two groups....about 20. I only have a pic of the lower group. And right around the corner on third ave facing 4th avenue were the sperm and eggs....ahh ...memory lane. and up the street with the tire store along the highway to 4th ave were the "sweating bricks."

It's jammed at the expressway ramp, and hardly a place to linger.  This makes me all the more impressed by how these little guys got here. They set the perfect pace. Here's what's left of the upper group of snails.

Here's the lower group, newly installed, in all its glory.

As for any traces of the sperm and eggs today, they're hidden under a 2016 Boa Mistura mural.

And the sweating bricks?  I couldn't find even a droplet of perspiration. The only light was the sun on the avenue as the Google van drove by ten years ago.  

"I started the series thinking I would make a name for myself but something happened. I started thinking by piece #2 or 3 that it would be better for me to walk away and leave them anonymous...... sort of nice to just be anonymous and see what happens."

(Photographs of original installation pieces copyright of The Artist.  Other photographs by One More ...etc. & Google.)

Monday, June 19, 2017


With a SWO order at 657- 665 Fifth in effect since March of 2015, and a good portion of the building a shell, it's a little surprising that retail space here is still being listed for rent. 

"Prime corner retail opportunity with Ownership installing brand new, all-glass facade at Ownership's expense. Located on the corner of 19th Street and 5th Avenue, 657 offers the largest contiguous retail frontage in the South Slope submarket.
... South Slope, which extends from Ninth Street to 20th street, from Fourth Ave to Prospect Park boarders (sic) Park Slope, Prospect Park, Gowanus and Windsor Terrace. South Slope which is characterized by its cozy mixture of turn of the century homes and multi-unit apartment buildings is currently home to a dearth of development projects."

March 2017