Monday, October 15, 2018

Work Left Undone

I was cleaning under the stove when I found the fortune.  It must have been there years.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Open House NYC (1)

I finally got to visit the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, on West 44th Street.  The Society has been at this address since 1899, when it acquired the recently built, Renaissance Revival building.  The building was subsequently redesigned in 1903 to integrate Beaux Arts design features. It hasn't changed much since then.

The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, was founded on November 17, 1785, by 22 men who gathered in Walter Heyer's public-house on Pine Street in Lower Manhattan. The aims of the General Society were to provide cultural, educational and social services to families of skilled craftsmen. The General Society during this early period celebrated the mutuality and centrality of the craft community. (Wikipedia)

Early in the nineteenth century the Society opened one of the city's first free schools, and in 1858 the Mechanics Institute began offering free vocational training in a variety of trades.  It still operates today, providing free training in plumbing, HVAC Systems, Electrical Tech, Construction Project Management & AutoCAD.  Andrew Dykes of local lumber yard Dykes studied here.

The Society library, founded in 1820, is the second oldest in the city.  It started out as the Apprentices' Library, and while it continues to provide vocational resources it also has an eclectic collection of general reading.  It holds fiction & non-fiction books - some surprisingly up-to-date material here -  and older, more arcane reading.  Its archives date back to the eighteenth-century.  The library, which might have one of the grandest reading rooms in the city, still has its old wooden card-file cabinets, though they serve only a historical function now.  It's open to the public, and a general $50 membership (less for students & seniors) offers borrowing privileges, archive access and various program discounts.  The layout of the library books is something of a mystery, with no signs indicating subject matter.  You need to be an old hand to figure it out, or a seasoned browser whose reading pleasures are fueled by chance as much as purpose.

The Society also has a lock collection, and runs a lecture series throughout the year.  Tuesday, October 30th: Why Unions Still Matter.

If you're in Midtown with time on your hands, drop in.  It's a beautiful building. There's definitely an institutional, preserved in aspic kind of feeling as you enter the building.  As you dust off a book that might last have been read a century ago. Nothing's simple though. Look at a picture of the graduating class, - a wonderfully diverse group, with a growing number of women in the class - & you see the present. The mission endures.

By Hammer and Hand all Arts do Stand

(Open House New York)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Theme of the Week

I met more sewer men in the last ten days that I could ever have previously imagined. I asked them a lot of naive questions. I gained a great respect for the grueling work that sewer men perform. I got to look into the bowels of the street and see the infrastructure we take for granted.  I like that sort of thing. The infrastructure's perilously old.  I watched a camera travel down a sewer line; it creeps you out a bit, is far too like a colonoscopy for comfort.  I'm thinking more on what & how much of the what goes down the drain.  (The colonoscopy thing again, and the sheer waste.) Too many people asked us too often if we'd taken out utility insurance.  Reader, we did not. You should.

Monday, October 8, 2018


Fugitive’s plunge into toxic Gowanus Canal was a terrible decision (Post)
Once in Brooklyn, Stuart’s accused of robbing Bay Ridge shop Mist Tobacco while brandishing a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol on Oct. 1.
He allegedly made off with $50 cash and Newport cigarettes, and was spotted by a security guard at the Gowanus-area Whole Foods.
Cops found Stuart “sitting on a park bench” staring out over the oily waters, and approached.
But the spooked Stuart ran for the tainted channel, and was apprehended “in the canal,” court papers say.

Brooklyn DA indicts 5 in asbestos and false permits scheme (The Real Deal)
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez indicted five New Yorkers on Wednesday in an alleged asbestos removal scheme at a luxury duplex renovation in the Greenwood neighborhood of Brooklyn.
The accused include expediter Scott Schnall, who was previously “banned for life” by the Department of Buildings, after it found Schnall had “regularly used his professional filing privileges to try to circumvent the zoning resolution and construction codes.”
According to the DA, Schnall and four others conspired to conceal the existence of asbestos at 816-817 Fifth Avenue before applying for construction work permits.

Pleasantries in Greenwood Heights (Corcoran)
There’s a palpable sense of community in Greenwood Heights; residents know one another by name and shop owners issue pleasantries at first glance. Once primarily residential, Greenwood Heights has evolved into an even more energetic space. Cute cafés and boutiques dot Sixth Avenue, where even the development of more and more businesses hasn’t quelled the intimate, close-knit community feel.
Greenwood Heights real estate is a burgeoning business due to the plentiful homes and apartments in development. Homebuyers will find that Greenwood Heights condos for sale are quite modern, and even luxurious. Although new, the developments fit in well with the area’s long-standing single and multi-family homes, and wooden-framed row houses. 

'I'm Doing My Workout,' Mayor Tells Homeless Woman Seeking Help (Park Slope Patch)
Mayor Bill de Blasio was stretched out in butterfly position at the Park Slope YMCA when a homeless woman asked him to provide more housing for people like her.
"I'm doing my workout," video shows de Blasio telling the 72-year-old woman before he stands up and walks away. "I can't do this now."

Checking in on NYC’s ambitious homeless shelter overhaul, 18 months later (Curbed)
The mayor promised to “turn the tide” on homelessness—but how successful has the initiative been?

Desire paths: the illicit trails that defy the urban planners (Guardian)
According to some urban planning experts, Broadway was New York City’s earliest desire line, following as it does the Native American-made Wickquasgeck Path, which is thought to have been the shortest route between pre-colonial settlements in Manhattan that avoided swamps and hills. Broadway is the only remaining one path, according to Marini, that “wasn’t wiped out by the European grid being overlaid on it”.

Joginder Singh’s Boy (Spitalfields Life)
Spitalfields Life Books will be publishing A Modest Living, Memoirs of Cockney Sikh by Suresh Singh in October. Here is the fourth instalment and further excerpts will follow over coming weeks.
In this first London Sikh biography, Suresh tells the story of his family who have lived in their house in Princelet St for nearly seventy years, longer I believe than any other family in Spitalfields. In the book, chapters of biography are alternated with a series of Sikh recipes by Jagir Kaur, Suresh’s wife.

William Blake Illustrates Pioneering Feminist and Philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft’s Children’s Book of Moral Education (Brain Pickings)
Four years before she ignited the dawn of feminism with her epoch-making 1792 book Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the pioneering British philosopher and political theorist Mary Wollstonecraft (April 27, 1759–September 10, 1797) set out to change the fabric of society at the loom: She decided to write a children’s book of allegorical stories inviting young readers to contemplate questions of moral philosophy. At the heart of her vision was an insistence on the value of girls’ education as a counterpoint and challenge to Rousseau’s seminal 1762 book Émile, or Treatise on Education, which focused on the education of boys and reflected the era’s dominant ethos that women are to be educated only in order to make desirable wives and good conversation companions for their husbands.

Friday, October 5, 2018

At Abraham & Strauss

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 2, 1901

And at the Knickerbocker Theater, Broadway, October 1900

NYPL Digital Collections

Thursday, October 4, 2018

RIP Ms Colombia


Ms Colombia, a colorful and beloved figure in the Jackson Heights LGBT community, has been found dead, Council Member Daniel Dromm has announced.
Ms Colombia, whose birth name was Osvaldo Gomez, was found dead in the waters off Jacob Riis Park, Dromm’s office said. No foul play is currently suspected, although the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has yet to determine the cause of her death.  (Jackson Heights Post)

There will be a memorial vigil for Ms. Colombia tomorrow at 7 pm at the Jackson Heights Post Office, 37th Avenue & 78th Street

Thursday, September 27, 2018


I didn't have time yesterday to visit the Nicola Hicks exhibition in Chelsea. I only got to look through the gallery door, but I swore to myself I'd be back again today. And so it was.  The gallery is dimly lit, the figures sharp in monochrome. And the presence of their shadows - like pools of dark energy - is as potent as their physical forms.  Familiars.  Shape-shifters, the figures stand in a world before animal & human were split apart.  How facile such distinction.  They belong to the first stories.  Not the safe ones, but the ones that only a child is fresh enough to know as true.

Here are the beasts. Here they come padding back again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Nicola Hicks (Flowers Gallery, 529 W. 20th)

This book will take you back to a vanished Brooklyn (Post)
Flipping through his new book “Brooklyn Before: Photographs 1971-1983” (Three Hills), out now, you’ll find working-class families — many of them Italian-American, Irish-American and Puerto Rican — gathering after church, kids playing on sidewalks, children celebrating their First Communion, tie-clad candy-shop owners, old people hanging out on stoops. The book includes 128 photos, alongside essays by writer Tom Robbins and art critic Julia Van Haaften. Together, they paint a moving portrait of a vanished world.

One year after Maria, the Puerto Rican diaspora charts a new path forward (Grist)
Again and again, speakers at the event called for for the island’s people to be able to chart their own future — and escape the federal government’s grip.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the Latino community-based organization in Brooklyn, UPROSE, paid respect to a resistance she says is building within the island. She called its members “the people who are making sure that Puerto Rico is there 50 years from now, 100 years from now, and that we are an independent, sovereign nation.”

The Prostitution Empire and the Former N.Y.P.D. Detective, Always One Step Ahead of the Law (NY Times)
The women’s pictures appeared on and other sites notorious in the sex trafficking world. Selfies, grinning and topless. “I’m a fun, flirty, sexy & bubbly girl who just wants to hang out and have some fun,” one ad read.
She listed her location: an apartment on Fourth Avenue near 11th Street in Brooklyn, on the border between Gowanus and Park Slope (below, left of the Rain Forest Relaxation spa).

On the Front Lines of Feminism: Classic Articles, Essays, and Poetic Extravaganzas From the Voice Archives (Village Voice Archives)
From “Battling” Bella Abzug writing a guest column about the Equal Rights Amendment to Ellen Willis’s always-cogent essays on all things female and beyond, as well as Vivian Gornick’s deep dives into feminine consciousness and Jill Johnston’s legendary stream-of-the-id poem-speech, the Voice has always provided a forum for feminist theory, joy, outrage, and debate. 
The newsprint may be yellowed, but the ideas and arguments remain timely in this gallery from the Voice archives.

Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away — A Review of Fred Herzog: Modern Color (National Gallery of Canada)
In the new book, Fred Herzog: Modern Color, the photographer’s masterful use of colour is on full display. A quintessential mid-20th-century street photographer, Herzog captures daylit streets crammed with shop signs and people. At night, the neon lights of a gloriously gaudy Vancouver float in the darkness like fireflies in pitch. Open lots with wrecked and decaying automobiles sit cheek by jowl with down-at-heel businesses on forgotten street corners. Industrial sites acquire strange beauty in their very ugliness — informed by the knowledge that they, too, are relics of an age before towering skyscrapers and condo canyons.  More Herzog here.

Rainy city stories (rag-picking history)
In dismal late-autumn light, those five wet days seemed locked in a strange timezone – my experience of the city was all interiors, punctuated by dashes between buildings or steamed-up buses, umbrella always at hand. Outside, the rain stained the city’s brick and concrete buildings with ribbons of water; it gathered in every available hollow, and dribbled incessantly from lintels and eaves. For that seemingly interminable period, it was as if the solid architecture of the city had been blurred into the smudges of paint seen in the work of Adolph Valette, teacher of L S Lowry – the city liquified into atmosphere; water everywhere. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Brooklyn Before

"But back in 1972, when I rented an apartment on 15th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, a few blocks from my family's first home, which was demolished in 1954 for the construction of the Prospect Expressway, my neighbors and I had no idea of the changes to come.  I went about my work as a photographer and, at home, converted the bedroom to a darkroom and the living room to a small studio for portraits and still lifes.  Although I worked as an assistant in a Manhattan photo studio, I became a street photographer long before I knew what that phrase meant.  I took frequent walks with my camera from Prospect Park to Green-Wood Cemetery to Sunset Park and photographed religious processions, political parades, and street fairs in South Brooklyn."
                                                                                                                             Larry Racioppo

Brooklyn Before: Photographs, 1971 - 1983, by Larry Racioppo, was published earlier this month.  If you live around here, whatever you want to call the neighborhood you live in, you'll want to buy it.  Maybe it will summon the familiar, the streets and faces you recall from decades back.  Maybe you'll hardly recognize the place - the people, the stores, the traffic of the streets. Either way, the book matters. You have to look. Here in the replacement city it's easy to forget who and what went before, and not every neighborhood's blessed by a testament.  In Brooklyn Before, we have one. 

You can find the book nearby, in local bookstores (the preferable way to go), and you can, of course, order it online.  In tandem with the book's publication, an exhibition of Racioppo's work will open at the Tabla Rasa Gallery on September 29th.  The show will run through October 27th. There'll be a reception & book-signing at the gallery this Saturday, from 3 - 5 p.m.

Tabla Rasa Gallery
224 48 Street
(between 2nd & 3rd Avenues)
Brooklyn, NY 11220
718. 833-9100

Sage House News, the Cornell University Press blog, currently features an essay by Racioppo on how he got started as a photographer.

To see more of his work, the Brooklyn Collection at the BPL's Central Branch, is currently showing Larry Racioppo: A Retrospective through December 29, 2018.  The Brooklyn Collection holds hundreds of Racioppo's photographs in its archives. The show features photographs from several of his Brooklyn-based projects; these include Brooklyn Churches, Theatres, Coney Island and Prospect Park. The exhibition also displays photographic equipment, books, ephemera and archival material from his career.

Boy in the Street with Chalk Drawing, 15th Street, 1976
Credit: Larry Racioppo

Thursday, September 20, 2018

New Building for 21st


An application has been filed for a four-story, four-unit building at 332-334 21st Street.  332-334 were sold for $3M.

The double lot has been vacant for several years.  Prior to that, there was a small house to the rear of the lot at 334, and a garage/shed at the rear of 332. The rest of the space was taken up with junked cars, a boat and an ephemeral mix of trash. The house, which became damaged by fire, was occupied until 2013 when according to local accounts, an elderly woman living in the basement was evicted.


A house at 334 is indicated on a map of 1880, when the block was still mostly empty lots. The Eagle gives us only wisps of information on early occupants at 332 & 334. The names of William Artz & G.C. Pabst appear at 332, and at 334 John Clark (marriage) and Thomas Mulligan (death). In 1933 the Eagle runs an ad for a 3-piece velour parlor suite, $10, (A-1 condition).  334 21st Street- call HUguenot-4-3230.  At the same address, in 1947, sixteen-year old Thomas Kennedy was listed in "fair condition" at Methodist, after being "Shot in Back by Pal  While Assembling Rifle."

Tax photo, 1980s

A couple of years ago, a woman on the block told me she was hoping the lot would be built on soon.  It was rife with raccoons.  She also spoke about the block and that ever-fluid & contentious topic  - neighborhood names & boundaries.

It was quieter, safer now, but local dramas were always better than TV.  By far.  With no prompt from me, the topic of neighborhood names came up.  These days, the lady said, it was South Slope to 23rd, & Greenwood Heights to the mid 30s, but when she was growing up it was Park Slope straight to Sunset Park.  


More info from UPROSE here.

"Hurricane Maria landed on a legacy of austerity, neglect and colonialism in Puerto Rico and opened the floodgate to those who prosper on the pain and loss of people of color - those responsible for climate change. Climate Justice is the resistance to a history of extraction of land and labor in the Global South. We know this is a fight for our survival and we are ready."
                                                                                             Elizabeth Yeampierre

New York City Neighborhood Data Profiles (Furman Center)
Neighborhood data is critical for understanding local housing and demographic trends, identifying community needs, and informing policy conversations. The NYU Furman Center's New York City Neighborhood Data Profiles are a one-stop platform for viewing and downloading neighborhood indicators, providing an in-depth look at demographic, housing market, land use, and neighborhood services indicators for the city’s 59 community districts.

Commercial rent control bill to get October hearing (Crain's)
A hearing on a hotly-debated piece of legislation could determine who is really in control of city policy—Mayor Bill de Blasio or Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
The City Council confirmed to Crain's that its Committee on Small Business will hold a hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act near the close of October. Often described as "commercial rent control," the bill would entitle any commercial tenant who has complied with the terms of their lease to a 10-year renewal and the right to force the negotiations into binding arbitration if the new terms are contested.

Coming to Grips With the Two-Decade Deluge of LLC Money into New York’s Democracy (City Limits)
The 22-year-old “LLC loophole” has been a bête noire for government-reform advocates for years because it gives these companies the same rights as people. In fact, it allows firms to wield far more power than individual donors by using affiliated LLCs to write multiple checks to candidates. What’s more, while the beneficial owners of the LLCs make themselves known to the candidates themselves, the structures are so opaque that they are often impossible to penetrate for the voting public. New York’s LLC loophole—similar ones exist in five other states—defeats a basic function of the modern campaign-finance system, which is to make the source of candidates’ money transparent.

Who’s Left Covering Brooklyn With the Big Newspapers in Retreat? (Atlantic)
When the New York Daily News laid off half of its newsroom in late July, the retreat from the outer boroughs by the city’s great daily newspapers was more or less complete. And it didn’t stop there. At the end of August, the legendary alternative weekly The Village Voice shuttered publication online—it had closed its print operation last year. Digital news organizations have proved equally vulnerable, because sustainable ad revenues online have been almost as elusive as rapidly disappearing print advertising.

CNG Acquisition Means Less Local News For Bay Ridge and Sunset Park (Bklyner)
BAY RIDGE – On September 7, 2018, Schneps Communications bought Community News Group and associated properties, making them the largest owner of community weeklies in the city.  This comes on the heels of Schneps having sold Brooklyn Reporter to the Brooklyn Eagle in May of 2018. They had shed Brokelyn even faster from the acquisition of Blank Slate (publisher of Brownstoner) in February of 2017.
A non-compete from the Brooklyn Reporter sale bars the new entity from covering the same ground as their old paper, Josh Schneps confirmed.
All this just means that Bay Ridge and Sunset Park will have fewer reporters covering the area, at least for a good while.

How Smart Should a City Be? Toronto Is Finding Out (CityLab)
A data-driven “neighborhood of the future” masterminded by a Google corporate sibling, the Quayside project could be a milestone in digital-age city-building. But after a year of scandal in Silicon Valley, questions about privacy and security remain.

Business of the Month — Casa Magazines, 22 Eighth Avenue (Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation)
It is small and cramped with over 3,000 magazines stacked all the way to the ceiling. The best sellers are lain flat on the lower ledges, while a broad array of quotidian and esoteric titles from all over the world are displayed on racks and shelves packed to the ceiling. But Mohammed and his staff know where every single title is. And if they do not carry it, which would be a surprise, Mohammed is glad to order it for you or even ship it.  The daily tabloids and international papers are also on hand, along with gum, and batteries, and other daily basics.

America Is Alive and Well at Paradise Alley (Punch)
Since 1993, the neighborhood has shifted starkly. Scattered around Northern Boulevard are some of the borough’s best Korean barbecue restaurants. Just south of the Alley is a Hindu Temple and west are Mongolian, Shanghainese, Cantonese and Hunan restaurants. Fitzmaurice recalls that with the arrival of the Asian population, the neighborhood became safer, cleaner. “You never know who’s going to show up. Some nights it’s all Hispanic men. Last Thursday, it was all Korean.”
In a city that’s become increasingly expensive and homogenized, aesthetically and culturally speaking, Paradise Alley feels like an oasis of New York camaraderie—a place reflective and welcoming of its neighborhood’s vibrant, shifting population.

The schedule for next month's Open House New York has just been revealed.  This is a not-to-miss event.  Plan your weekend now.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Topping Out

The place is flush with red white blue & gray. Gray's the default for upscale flip-job brick three-families, & closer to the sky the flags are flying from construction sites. Sometimes the two merge.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Dance

I spent the day at the shore.  I went to a Russian supermarket and bought candy & disturbing mini sausages called TV Sticks.  On the avenue sidewalk, right in front of Starbucks, a man was passed out. Someone called an ambulance & a woman knelt to comfort him.  A crowd gathered. The EMS guys knew him as a regular.  Their faces were weary but they weren't unkind.  As they led him to the ambulance, someone shouted, "His hat! his hat!" & they picked it from the ground, dusted it off a bit, & jammed it on his head.  It was drink, the crowd nodded, looking important.  A man who couldn't speak tried to explain more about the situation.  His gestures were grand, and very exciting, but almost impossible to understand.  The sidewalk outside Starbucks stank, the crowd observed, & several of us wrinkled our noses. The drama over & the stench unbearable, the crowd dispersed. How stupidly we gather sometimes. Just down the street a couple were sitting at the curb between two parked cars.  The woman got up, unsteadily, and crouching over in the street, tried to get her partner's boots back onto his sockless feet. He was laughing and this wasn't helping much. The woman was pissed. There were panhandlers on the sidewalk all the way along Brighton Beach Avenue.  Some of them looked in desperate shape. 

Up on the boardwalk the sun was dipping & everything was sentimental.  It got you too easily, you knew, it suckered you in, but who could resist it?  At least the boardwalk didn't deal in age discrimination.  It gilded us all.  An elderly woman in a dripping swimsuit was toweling herself; her dimpled thighs pink with cold.  There were ocean gazers and boardwalk shufflers and a cute little kid in a plastic pushcar holding an ice cream, just starting out.  A couple selling Christian books and frilly dolls and flip flops were dancing together in front of their stand. Middle-aged teenagers. They made me think of the Leonard Cohen song, & of Miss Coney Island, dancing on demand & always reminding us. Don't Postpone Joy.

Friday, September 14, 2018

BQE Discount

Whenever we're at Humboldt & Meeker, crossing to McGuinness, there's a moment of suspense.  Will the little shingled house with the BQE Liquor sign (the liquor store itself is round the corner) still be standing?  I haven't seen it for several months, but fingers crossed it's made it into fall.   I wanted to get an elevated shot (the only good thing about the BQE are views) but the best I could get was a Google vintage 2014 & the angle I was hoping for was hidden by this damn truck. It's not such a bad truck really, especially when set in front of New York's Finest needs all of New York's finest (we're still hoping for them), & the French Products add a certain frisson to the scene. 

Here's the blurry best I could manage.

And from the ground, several years earlier. 

Cheers to the old place. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

City for Sale

It's a bitter night, with snow on the way.  It's quiet in the grocery store, just one customer at a table. Up front, two little girls are standing at a shelf, facing a candle wrapped in cellophane. They're playing birthdays.  It's a sweet little game, and they sing so softly, then all of a sudden their interest vanishes. The game is a dull old thing.  It's time to run, & they hit the aisles, screaming with pleasure.  It's fun to watch them letting off steam, but oh, now they've gone too far.  It's time to leave, and they're sent to the back, each with a concha and a cup of milky coffee in hand.

719 & 720-722 Fifth are currently listed for sale for $10.95M. 720-722 were previously occupied by the Guerrero Food Center. The space was divided into two in 2014, and since then it's been occupied by Danny's Tailoring (which moved from 681, two blocks north)) and the Puebla de Los Angeles grocery store.  I've had countless clothes altered or repaired at Danny's, and often stop by to place an order at the grocery store. The food's good. These two define the essence of a family business.  I always like seeing the kids around the place, and have sometimes lingered there, drawing pictures with a restless store-bound toddler, or, (on request & with permission), taken pictures of the schoolgirls playing outside.  This part of Fifth is still peaceful, hospitable to children chalking on the sidewalk, or lost in a game with a doll or a superhero.  Jane Jacobs would recognize it with a smile. It's quiet enough for little kids to play out front alone, with a store door open & someone nearby keeping a watchful eye.  The sidewalk isn't a means of getting from A to B; the sidewalk's home.

This is the city we love.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Breaking Through

I love these cigarette-card ciclistas, staring down time with sturdy bare limbs and a jaunty contempt for the camera.  How easily duped we are by the stiff poses of history, by a slow shutter leaving the subject far behind, inscrutable and out of reach.  "Old-fashioned". These girls have made it to the twenty-first century intact, as fresh and insolent now as then.  Look how alive they are in mind and body, altogether of the moment, brimming with health.  Nothing will hold them back.

Arents Cigarette Cards (NYPL Digital Collections)