Thursday, November 30, 2017


One more reason I love to go to Porto Rico Importing. 

The Other Fifth

I spent a couple of days last weekend looking for wedding clothes.  A cheerless endeavor.  It's bad enough looking for the regular stuff when you're demographically conflicted.  If I had the cash I'd opt for some fabulous high-end style - maybe a Commes des Garçons pick at somewhere like Tokyo Seven - but instead I trawl the lower-price second-hand/vintage options, and the best-of-the-worst middleish high-street retail.  The real finds only appear by chance. If you're trying too hard they'll always lie low - they're perverse that way.  This time, with the pressure on, there was no eureka moment and I was forced to settle.  Maybe I could work my dull buys into something better if I found the right accessories, I tried to convince myself.  How dull that sounded.

Walking along with my less than thrilling haul, an older woman of a certain age, a woman with the looks of a minor (down-at-heel) society dame, paused as she passed me by and cried, "How wonderful to see you again!  You look marvelous!."  I'm getting kind of down-at-heel myself these days, but of course her words were a little flattering.  And of course I tagged her as nuts, confusing me perhaps for some old East-side pal of hers.  Given my looks, though, it was hardly likely. I felt a bit sorry for her. Her graying bob was windswept and the cashmere coat had seen better days.  I even felt a tinge of mis-matched companionship, the two of us adrift in the Black Friday tide of ravenous shoppers. Thirty percent off every thin, shoddy item!! Buy, buy, buy!

Then I remembered that a year or so back I'd run into a woman rather like her on the same stretch of Fifth.  Could it be the same person? She'd stopped me with a compliment and tried to entice me with a reading of some sort, and I'd quickly walked away.  If I'd wanted a reading it wasn't with her. I had better options. If this was the same reading grifter, why hadn't she tried it on again?  Perhaps this time she'd marked me, mid-spiel, as less of an easy target?  Was it the way I was dressed, the way I walked?  Or was I more of a victim, spared out of kindness? Or maybe, at the end of a long chilly day, she was tired, had lost the energy to try and see the thing through, and was heading home to put her feet up, drain a glass of something cheap and rough and on the rocks, to ease the nerves and usher in the evening's slow release into oblivion.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Brooklyn Electeds Pay Tribute to Edwin Ajacalon and Call on Albany to Prevent Deadly Speeding (Streetsblog NYC)

Brooklynites hold vigil for Sunset teen killed while biking (Brooklyn Reporter)

At Brooklyn Criminal Court yesterday: Legal Aid Lawyers Stage Walkout After Yet Another ICE Court Arrest (Village Voice)

Why Greenpeace Supports a Just Recovery in Puerto Rico (Greenpeace)
... This first brigade includes representatives from CJA, Greenpeace USA, Uprose, Movement Generation and the PR Resiliency Fund. ‘Our Power Puerto Rico’ has 25 partners and growing across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Organizacion Boricua is also a member of Via Campesina and works with communities and family farmers in rural areas across Puerto Rico, including youth and women collectives working to transform food sovereignty of the island.

Don't believe the BQX Hype: Why some surprising people are really not into the BQX (
From urban planning and tech corners, there's resistance to a proposed streetcar that would otherwise seem to make transportation easier and faster.

Now at the Museum of the City of New York: Mod New York - Fashion Takes a Trip (MCNY)

For his birthday, local writer and bartender extraordinaire Rosie Schaap's Letter of Recommendation: William Blake’s Grave (NY Times)

London mayor to draw up charter regulating pseudo-public space (Guardian)
Sadiq Khan will set out responsibilities for owners of public spaces after Guardian investigation which uncovered growing corporate control of parks and squares

At the cafe of my dreams! Maria Pellicci, The Meatball Queen Of Bethnal Green (Spitalfields Life)

Failed By The State: The Struggle in the Shadow of Grenfell (Part 1) (Youtube)

Britain on Film: Our lives. Our stories. 1,000s of films, preserved. 120 years of British life, many unseen for decades. Discover. Watch. Share. (British Film Institute)

British Library Sounds (Sounds)
Listen to a selection from the British Library’s extensive collections of unique sound recordings, which come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Community Vigil in Memory of Edwin Ajacalon

Edwin Ajacalon (Daily News)

Via Gotham Gazette:

Ajacalon was killed at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street. Some news stories state that the driver of the BMW that struck the teenager had the green light as he drove through the intersection, but reports also indicate that he was speeding.  According to the Daily News, the police stated today that the driver is likely to face charges, but these may be only be related to his leaving the scene of the crime.

Our hearts go out to Edwin's family and friends, both here in Brooklyn and back home in Guatemala.

Fourth & 32nd

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Trivia: Or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716)

In the postlapsarian lansdscape of the metropolis, with its 'winding alleys' and 'long perplexing Lanes' as well as is 'spacious Streets', the poet's ambition, in an almost oxymoronic formulation, is to 'securely stray'.  The Old French verb 'to stray'. which was once thought to derive from the Latin noun strata, meaning 'street', signifies movement that escapes confinement or control, and hints in addition at moral deviance.  But this pedestrian proposes, paradoxically, to remain safe and free from apprehension in thus erring or straying. It is a difficult and delicate equilibrium to achieve, and it is only possible with the guidance of Trivia, the Roman goddess of crossroads.  At one point (John) Gay refers to her as his 'vagrant Muse'.  She is the patron saint of psychogeographers.

                                                                                    Matthew Beaumon -  Nightwalking

Thursday, November 23, 2017


I brought the ragamuffins back for Thanksgiving.  Here they are again.

More Depression-era P.L.Sperr.  This time he's taking pictures of Thanksgiving Ragamuffins, precursors to the Halloween trick-or-treaters.  The year is 1933.

Greenwich Village

Christopher Street

Hudson Street

Hudson Street

Hudson Street & "Village Monmartre Apache Girls"

Near Columbus Circle, and 61st Street

Columbus Circle, Staten Island

Sperr refers to one set of girls in the photographs as "boys, of course," and it looks like there are plenty of other cross-dressing ragamuffins here. And maybe a cross-dressing girl or two. Of the boys at left in the last picture he writes, "these ragamuffins really are colored" - a depressing acknowledgement of the number of ragamuffins appearing in blackface.  In his photographic notes, Sperr refers to the African-American and later Puerto Rican neighborhood of San Juan Hill, destroyed & displaced to make way for Lincoln Center just two decades later. I haven't included any pictures of blackface ragamuffins - they have no place here -  but you can see more of Sperr's ragamuffin pictures in the NYPL Digital Collection archives.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Aesthetics of being a Road

(Hommage à Rilke)

It is long since you were a lane.
Now you leave off being a street
And don't become a highway yet.
You are cautious
But cautiously exploring what it might be
To be wider than you were before
And go further, and be less familiar with trees.

                                               Kenneth Koch

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Seasonal Bliss

If Neergaard decided to ditch the other Christmas decorations & leave the window just like this, I'd be content.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"In the Heart of the Gowanus"


Just over a year ago, there was talk of a Stop & Shop taking over the Hamilton Plaza space previously occupied by Pathmark, an exciting prospect for those who missed the affordability and convenience of the former supermarket, and lamented the loss of jobs the closure had caused.  But no replacement appeared.  Now the owners, Joyland Management, are leasing the whole warehouse space - 70,000 square feet - along with the 100,000 sq.ft. parking lot.  Though the leases of two newer businesses, Retro Fitness and gin-maker 21st Century Spirits, are indicated as good through 2026 and 2023, the leases of the smaller, older stores - two fast-food chain stores and the liquor store, are not specified.

We'd still like to see a fair-priced supermarket back, especially one that offered fresh produce, a broad range of international and regional groceries, and full-service meat and fish counters.  Both the soon-to-be-closed Fifth Avenue Key Food, and Pathmark provide(d) food to a diverse economic and cultural customer-base. That means more than providing a token few shelves of Goya products.  It means all kinds of foods that are familiar and comforting, foods that feed souls as well as stomachs.

At the other end of the supermarket scale, the Bravo supermarket premises, at Fifth and 16th, are currently listed for lease.

Rare one of a kind extra large space. Currently used as a supermarket. Most uses considered.

Right now Bravo is still open. Its lease expires at the end of February.

Earlier: Joyland

Early Sunday Morning after Rain

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Plans filed for new building at Fourth Ave. & 20th Street (NY YIMBY)
Mixed-use, ten-story building (health care center, retail stores on first floor)
34 apartments
No inclusionary housing
Fitness center in basement

One more year left for Hank's Saloon (Bedford & Bowery).  We wrote about the bar & its Mohawk history back in 2011. 

This year's Worst NYC Landlord list has just been released. It includes buildings in Sunset Park (5416-5422 Fourth Avenue) owned by Silvershore Properties. Watch the press conference here.

The Independent Subway’s Unacknowledged Masterpiece - the incompletely renovated Fourth Avenue Station (Splice Today)

Letters of Edna Welthorpe - alter-ego of dramatist Joe Orton

Syd Shelton's East-Enders (Spitalfields Life).  From one city to another - I want to give a big shout-out for this beautiful, sensitively-written blog about London's East-End.  It's an absolute joy to read.

Rock Against Racism: the Syd Shelton images that define an era (Guardian)

One of Us is a 2017 documentary feature film that chronicles the lives of three ex-Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn. The film was directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who also created the documentary Jesus Camp.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Maintenance Art

What a delight to get my copy signed by Mierle Laderman Ukeles at the City Reliquary Trash! exhibition.  I'll treasure it all the more.

New Plans Filed for 643-5 Fifth

New plans have been filed for a six-story mixed-use building at 643-5 Fifth Avenue.  Nine residential units are included. The properties were acquired in '14 by 5th Ave Condos LLC for $4,250,000, and later put back on the market for $7,000,000, but apparently there were no takers.  Plans for a seven-story building were disapproved in spring of '16. 


Here's a picture of the 18th/19th block of Fifth, taken in 1941 by Percy Loomis Sperr (NYPL Digital Collections).  You can see 643-45 with their original woodwork, and farther down, the original matching looks of the Hutwelker building and the 657 Fifth furniture warehouse.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Produce, Boots ,& Automobiles

In recent years Sunset Park's Third Avenue has seen a rapid overturn of property. Especially on the northern stretch of Third, close to the waterfront, land is hot.

Recent arrivals and newly sold holdings along the water include the Lafarge Cement Terminal, the Sunset Industrial Park, the SIMS Municipal Recycling Center, the Liberty View Industrial Plaza, and Industry City (part of the original Bush Terminal, now being developed by major shareholder Jamestown Properties).  The Ferrara Brothers concrete company will be moving here from its Hoyt Street location in two or three years (right at the spot pictured above), after decades of leasing the land it once owned, which was seized by eminent domain in the '70's.  
                                                                                                              (One More Folded Sunset)

Smaller businesses are shifting too.  The warehouse at Third & 26th, home to Rossman Farms, is on the market, to be delivered empty, or with the storage basement leased to the current owners.  The discount fruit & vegetable store, known for its unbeatable budget prices, has been open on Third since 1990, with the building used purely for wholesale storage prior to that. The owners have another store on Avenue M.

Rossman's from under the Gowanus (2014)

A couple of blocks north of Rossman's, a corner lot currently occupied by the Lopez Byway autoshop is also up for sale:

Amazing Development Opportunity. This 110 Ft X 25 Ft Lot Is Currently Being Used As A Car Repair Shop And Garage, But Will Be Delivered Completely Vacant, And Without Equipment. You Can Build An Office Building, A Hotel, A Warehouse, Or A Residential Building. Drive By There, Check Out The Site. Please Don’t Speak To Workers Inside The Repair Shop. 

As the sign attests, Lopez has been on Third for decades.

Another sub-Gowanus view (2014)

A little farther south on Third, at 40th, the legendary shoe and work-clothes outfitters Frankel's will be gone by the end of the month, relocating closer to the owner's home in Jersey.  Frankel's hopped over the avenue to its current location when Robert Moses put the Parkway in, but it's been around since 1890 - an impressive run.  Third-generation owner Marty Frankel will be holding on to the building, but at 76, it's time to leave Sunset Park.

More and more, old-time locals come in and tell him their landlord has sold their building and they're getting evicted, moving to Pennsylvania or some other state. The neighborhood is changing again. A nearby Costco has taken a bite out of Frankel's -- "It hurts. Costco gets all the deals" -- and the newcomers to the neighborhood haven't helped.
"Hipsters ...They try on twenty pairs of shoes, but they won't buy here because the store doesn't look nice. They like to take pictures of my barcodes, though, and then buy the shoes online."  
                                                                                                       (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)


Wednesday, November 15, 2017


I've been trying to wrangle my past into submission. I have a rag-taggle collection of photographs, documents, letters and other ephemera - carelessly curated & hardly amounting to much.  Other than a good number of books, the sum of my early years is on the thin side.  Recently I came across a shot from a Carte D'Assistance, circa 1983, and the person who looked out from the photograph was barely recognizable.  Was that really me? Where had the decades gone? I spent the rest of the day purging my closet of useless garments, dying my hair, and buying a (s/h) men's winter jacket. Hooded, sturdy, and well-equipped with pockets, it will see me through all but the coldest winter days. That thick, extra skin will come in handy.


If you grew up, as I did, with parents who had lived through the Depression, you took it as a given that everything you had could be mended or reused: socks darned, stock boiled, fat rendered, remnants of fabric quilted, slivers of soap reconstituted, worn woolens unraveled and re-knitted, food composted or fed to the chickens and pigs, shoes resoled, appliances mended until they finally, for you at least, gave up the ghost.  As a child, I lived on the cusp of change; the age of disposability was dawning, bright, shiny and plastic-wrapped, while at the same time, the rag and bone man still rode the streets with his horse and cart, and Gypsies called by to sharpen knives, mend pots and pans, and take the metal even my parents no longer found a function for.  Even as a child I was torn between the pleasure of the old ways and the lure of the New Advertised World.  I sometimes chafed at my older parents’ thrift, finding it excessive and even embarrassing.  Today they'd be domestic recycling role models.

I’m pretty sure they never once said the word “recycling” though.  The art of re-use was simply a reflex.  The number of things you had was smaller, and you knew its value, both for yourself and your family, and when you’d exhausted an object’s use, it moved on to those who could still make a living by it.  In the world of material karma, second, third, or fourth lives abounded.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

As then, so now

"The ragpicker requires little capital, so his name is legion. A basket and stick with a thin end are his implements; the whole vast city his field of operations; liberty his license; the wastefulness of humanity his opportunity." 
(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 13th, 1888)

Sunday, November 12, 2017


The cold hits. The best of all patties & curry goat roti. Tequila. Kojak reruns.
The reruns stand up remarkably well.  Telly Savalas has still got class, and the dialog is still snappy.

Last Rites for a Dead Priest (1973)

Well, look, I know you longer than he did, and I never met a man on this island that didn't need a million dollars.
And the way he tried was to talk you into turnin' yourself in.
Which got me three years in the joint instead of five.
Was that nothin'? You try it one time.
Look, if you wanna go back to being an altar boy, do it.
But do it after tomorrow, huh? I mean, at least be a rich altar boy.
Hey, come on.
This is Gabe, huh? You know, I seen you nights when Father Ambrosio wouldn't have recognized you.
Huh? [Siren Wailing] Lieutenant, what brings you out on a night like this? Would you believe I missed you? I wanna know why a small-time pickpocket was killed.
Well, it was nothing he had on him.
He had 18 bucks, five wristwatches, a solid gold cigarette lighter, and would you believe it 34 stolen credit cards.
Yeah, I believe it.
You know, 20 years ago, he had the fastest hands on Broadway.
I was proud of him.
Choo-Choo would go into Madison Square Garden.
He'd empty every pocket, and still catch the main event.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Plans Filed for Charter School at 17th Street

Plans have been filed for an eight-story charter school at 156 17th Street (Third/Fourth)
The lease has been signed by Prospect Charter School,with the address listed the Fort Hamilton Parkway location of the Windsor Terrace Middle School & Brooklyn Prospect High School.  Prospect Charter is a consortium of four Brooklyn charter schools, with another in the works in Danbury, Connecticut. The new school will be replacing a marble & granite business.

Without wading into the whole charter school question, this seems like a lousy location for a school. 17th is an especially busy traffic corridor, with a constant stream of traffic connecting to the Prospect Expressway one block up.  In terms of pedestrian safety, and the inevitable additional congestion, it's an especially poor choice.


NYC Trash: Past, Present and Future - photographer Larry Racioppo shares a glimpse of his work photographing "Trash" in Brooklyn and NYC (Brooklyn Public Library)

Mel Rosenthal, Photographer Who Captured the Bronx, Dies at 77 (NY Times)

At the Museum of the City of New York: New exhibit explores 50 years of public art in New York City (Architects Newspaper)

What will it take to bring Spring Creek back to life? Looking at the past and future of a denigrated waterway on Brooklyn’s outer edge (Nathan Kensinger at Curbed)

Brooklyn Jury Finds 5Pointz Developer Illegally Destroyed Graffiti (NY Times)

Joseph Rodriguez’s El Barrio in the ’80s (NY Times)

Green Point Projects Debuts an Exhibition of Two Polish Modernists, Abakanowicz and Markowski (Hyperallergic)

Cracks in the city: Manchester alleyways (Rag-Picking History)

Upon The Fear Of Reptilian Creatures (Spitalfields Life)

Terence Davies’s Liverpool (Psychogeographic Review)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


Closed stops and service maintenance are the bane of the weekend rider. Getting somewhere fast, you're screwed. A simple trip from A to B will likely mean a forward or a backward shunt on D or E or F.  Elevated, with no deadline to meet, I'm in heaven. The N's so slow the views are narcotic and the dullness of the glass on the windows and the doors makes the colors of the outside world placid and restrained.  The edge is off the city. Each rooftop takes its own sweet time arriving and departing. Each piece of the sky lingers in my head longer.  I could dream up here til Monday.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Sound & Vision

I used to post songs from time to time, and the mood is upon me again. When I was 13, I ran into David (Spiders in tow) at a hotel in England where my family was staying for my brother's wedding. I guess they were in the middle of a Ziggy tour. This was a huge deal to an awkward, introverted teenager. I got to talk to him briefly - he was very, very kind. It's a bit of a cliché to look back & say an event was a life-changer. But for a kid exiled to a dull provincial town, it was a life-saver. The songs are always with you.



Screenshots from The Seafarers (1953), directed by Stanley Kubrick

How nice it is to report on Brooklyn native Virginia Maksymowicz's reunion with a mermaid. Two years ago Maksymowicz, an artist and art professor currently living in Philadelphia, wrote in and described fond memories of the Seafarers International Union headquarters on Fourth Avenue (now the Al Noor School) where her father Hank tended bar. The bar, the Port O' Call, was something quite out of the ordinary.

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.

With a little digging around, I found a film about the Union headquarters, directed by none other than Stanley Kubrick.  The union-sponsored documentary, The Seafarers, is hardly one of Kubrick's great art works, but it gives a fascinating picture of the place, shortly after its lavish refitting, and reflects a time when the waterfront piers were still active with ships, sailors and longshoremen.  Best of all, the film reveals the Port O' Call in its glory days.

Screenshots from The Seafarers (1953), directed by Stanley Kubrick

In the early 1990's the Union moved a block north to smaller premises at Fourth & 19th Street, where it remained until 2014, when the building was sold.  The Seafarer's Union moved to New Jersey. We wondered what had happened to the bar during this time. Was it still intact, and most important, what had become of the mermaid?

While Virginia was working on figuring this out, she sent me a picture from 1964. Here she is in the bar (at left).  Her father took the photograph.

Shortly after this she sent me good news, a letter from Mark A. Clements, the Content Curator of the Seafarers International Union. Here's part of it:

I had a hunch as to the correct answer to your question, but I just needed to confirm it: the figurehead was relocated in 1984 to the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center(for Maritime training)in Piney Point, Maryland. It can still be found there today, at the Mooney Pub/Anchor Bar located in the Center’s hotel. As with its original placement in Brooklyn, it’s on the prow of a boat-shaped bar.

When she sent me this, two years ago, I kidded about a road trip to Maryland, and lo & behold, it finally happened!  Last week she wrote to me again:

A few weeks ago, my husband and I made a visit to Piney Point, MD and visited the mermaid!
Needless to say, I got a bit teary-eyed, since I hadn’t seen her since my father died. One of the seafarers told me that they had disassembled the bar in Brooklyn and moved it to Paul Hall. Amazingly, it was impossible to find any evidence to that effect. Everything, including the mermaid, looked great!

Over fifty years later, another picture with the mermaid.

Thank you so much, Virginia, for writing in and keeping me up to date with the story as it evolved. It's a beautiful one, and I'm so glad to have been able to share it - a piece of personal history, and a piece of the history of the neighborhood. This kind of story is one of the best rewards of keeping a blog.

Of course, one story leads to another, and a year later a reader from Texas sought my help with another Seafarers mystery.  You can read about it here.  Right now I'm involved in yet another local detective story.  More to follow (I hope).

A Shirt I'd Like to Own

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Candy Says

Back by popular demand because I always come back to this. I mean it's only been on here twice before so let's just do it again.  Anohni & Lou Reed?  A match made in heaven.

Support the Workers at DNAinfo & Gothamist

I'm used to regularly checking my email and online for the latest DNAinfo & Gothamist stories, so it's a shock to be without them since the sites were suddenly closed down earlier this week.  Especially DNAinfo, often the only source for truly local & reliable news.  With both the Times and the News having reduced local coverage in recent years, we're really heading into darkness.  If you're as concerned as I am about the loss of DNAinfo, and the darker implications of dwindlng local press coverage, please join a rally of support tomorrow, in City Hall Park.

When billionaire owner Joe Ricketts shut down the sites, the archives disappeared too.  Fortunately they've been restored.  You can find the DNAinfo archives here.