Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Sign Blitz

Before & after sign removal at Fifth & 9th

The calls to 311 started to pick up steam about a year ago.
They were complaints about an arcane New York City statute requiring special permits for businesses to hang signs or awnings larger than six square feet.
The caller — or callers — was clearly targeting certain commercial strips, making complaints in batches, as on Nov. 26, when calls came in reporting 25 businesses along a two-block stretch of Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The businesses did not have a license for their signs, the complaints said.
But it wasn’t just a couple of days of calls, city data shows. In Brooklyn, the hardest-hit borough, 234 calls about illegal signage were made to New York City’s help line in November — compared with 23 the same month last year. And the calls are still coming in.  (NY Times)

There have been almost 2,000 complaints about illegal signs called in to 311 this year.  The majority of them concern businesses in Brooklyn, with store owners in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge particularly hard hit.  Owners have received Department of Building fines of up to $20,000, and forced to take down their signs and awnings, many of which were erected long before the current store owners set up business.  The heavy fines have sent a wave of panic among small business owners, many of whom are taking preemptive action by removing their signs to avoid being reported to 311 and subsequently fined.

While many store signs technically require city permits, in order to ensure they are safe, this doesn't appear to have been a DOB priority until the unusually large number of complaints required investigation.  But just exactly who is calling in to make the complaints, and why, remains a source of speculation. Could it be sign companies?  Could it be connected to a City-led revenue drive?  Some store owners feel the complaints may reflect racial bias.

Those affected by the fines are asking for a fairer system of enforcement, with reduced penalties, and advance warnings on bringing signs into compliance.  With the support of other City Council members, Rafael Espinal is calling for legislation to put a moratorium on the current surge of fines:

Espinal’s bill now being negotiated between the Council and the administration calls for those who have paid the fine to receive waived permit fees, and expedited permit process for the new sign. There is also discussion for assistance in paying for the new signs. For those that have yet to pay, they will only have to pay 25% of the base fine. There will be a year long moratorium on the Department of Buildings (DOB) issuing of any business awning or sign violations, and an interagency task force established to better coordinate educational outreach.   (King's County Politics)

There's empty space above the grocery store at Fifth & 9th Street today.  The store was hit with fines in recent weeks, and a worker there told me they're fighting the violation in court.  The current scale of fines is unduly punitive to small businesses, who often operate with on paper thin profit margins.  Let's give them a fairer chance to keep afloat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Hard Candy

Fall marched doggedly along, marked by one domestic calamity after another.  And now it's almost Christmas.  What better to welcome it in than this old seasonal favourite.  Thanks, Dolly!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pay More

Payless (as in the discount shoe store) just pulled off the prank of the century. In an experiment that set out to prove shoppers will pay top dollar just for a label, the brand opened an extremely fake boutique called Palessi and invited a group of influencers to come shop the brand's new styles. But wait for it—all of the "designer" Palessi shoes were just $20 kicks from Payless.

...One influencer paid $645 for a pair of Payless shoes that range from just $19.99-$39.99. Others marveled at the quality of the shoes, and were quoted as describing the Payless designs as, "Just stunning. Elegant, sophisticated.  (Elle)

A great stunt!  In the real world, Payless filed for bankruptcy last year, and closed over 900 stores.

First, its core business was crippled by weak mall traffic and competition from larger retailers. Second, private equity firms acquired Payless’ parent company in 2012 for $2 billion and left the chain drowning in debt. Payless’ bankruptcy filing listed liabilities between $1 billion to $10 billion, compared to just $500 million to $1 billion in assets.

Despite restructuring agreements, stores continue to close, including the one above at Fifth & 10th.  With Fabco closing earlier in the fall, it's the last budget shoe store on this part of Fifth.  Several years ago, I looked at the shoe store history of Fifth between 10th & 22nd Streets, once a mecca for footwear.  With Payless on the way out, I did a little amateurish research on its building's retail history.

The first business reference I could find for 472 was for sewing workshops, with an 1872 ad for jobs in a third-floor loft.  By the 1890s there was a shoe store - M. & B.M. Carlile's - at 472, operating next door to Zeitz and Tarshis credit clothing store, which had moved from a location above 9th Street.  By the 1930s Zeitz was gone, and Tarshes, sporting a changed vowel, was at 472.  In 1933 a Tarshes publicity stunt involved Hardeen, brother of the late Harry Houdini.

Brooklyn Eagle, 24th March, 1933

Did Hardeen escape the box?  Oh come on Eagle! - I could find no account of the outcome.

As a credit clothing business, Tarshes, like Payless, targeted a lower income customer.  Here's a (DoF) shot of the building in the early 1940s, right around the time the El was removed.

Towards the end of the decade Tarshes became Uneeda Credit store, and a few years later Peggy Ann clothes took over.  If you lived around here between the 50s and 80s, you might remember what replaced Peggy Ann.  To me it's a mystery.  In the 1980s there was a store called National here, but the fuzzy tax photo won't reveal the nature of its wares.  There was a shoe store next door at 468 (Classy? Classic?) later demolished to make way for Rite Aid.

Thursday, November 29, 2018


Sanitation Salvage, Troubled Garbage Hauler, Surrenders Operating License (ProPublica)
In recent months, ProPublica has reported on Sanitation Salvage’s troubled record of labor and safety violations, including involvement of its workers in two deaths. ProPublica and Voice of America revealed that Sanitation Salvage workers lied to the authorities about one of the fatal crashes, which resulted in the death of a 21-year-old off-the-books worker in November 2017. The two company employees on the truck that ran over the worker, an African immigrant named Mouctar Diallo, told the police that the dead man was an unknown homeless man who had jumped aboard the truck. In April, the same driver was involved in a second crash in which 72-year-old Leo Clarke was killed while crossing the street.

Meet the Politician Fighting to Make Cash-Free Caf├ęs Illegal (Grub Street)
"When I was growing up, I remember the embarrassment that surrounded the use of food stamps. We live in a society where it’s not enough to stigmatize poverty; we are also going to stigmatize the means with which poor people pay for goods and services."

Remembering Ricky Jay (New Yorker)
Deborah Baron, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, where Jay lives, once invited him to a New Year’s Eve dinner party at her home. About a dozen other people attended. Well past midnight, everyone gathered around a coffee table as Jay, at Baron’s request, did closeup card magic. When he had performed several dazzling illusions and seemed ready to retire, a guest named Mort said, “Come on, Ricky. Why don’t you do something truly amazing?”
Baron recalls that at that moment “the look in Ricky’s eyes was, like, ‘Mort—you have just fucked with the wrong person.’ ”

130,000 Photographs by Andy Warhol Are Now Available Online, Courtesy of Stanford University (Open Culture)
Dig deep, and you’ll find the oddest things, like Andy Warhol running in Central Park for charity with Grace Jones and photographer Gordon Parks. Whatever Andy did, whoever he happened to do it with—and a stranger cast of characters you will not find—it’s all in this huge photo archive somewhere.

A Working Class Kid | Wayne Waterson’s Images of Hackney during the 1970s & 80s (British Culture Archive)
My name is Wayne Waterson. I was born in 1958 by Victoria Park, in 1963 my family and I picked up sticks and moved to Hackney where I went to school and lived for the next 50 years.
After leaving Shoreditch Comprehensive I worked at all those jobs you do when from a working class background with no A levels and little or no prospects, factory work, the print trade, shops, market stalls etc.
I began taking photos at the age of 14 and loved it for the sense of freedom it gave me, I also idolised David Bailey for he was a working class kid who had made it and made something out of himself. This inspired me and in the late 1980s I applied to do a photography course.

All the women players: cross-gender Shakespeare – in pictures (Guardian)
Kathryn Hunter is about to play the RSC’s first Lady Timon of Athens and next year the Globe is staging Richard II with a company of women of colour. Here’s a look back at some of the many actresses who have taken major male roles in Shakespeare’s play.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On Sixteenth

DOF 1940s tax photograph

In the nineteenth-century there was a moving business at 325 16th Street.  The family company appears to have been founded by Daniel Morrison in the '40s or '50s.  His sons inherited the business, and by January of 1880 son James Morrison assumed sole ownership.  Later that month the "old-established" business was advertised for sale, though it's not clear if a sale took place.  In August 1901 James Morrison died of injuries sustained in a trolley accident and the following month the stable building on the property - "five stalls and yard" - were listed to let. 

By the 1940s, at the time the photograph above was taken, Vital Machine Tool Co. operated here.  Help Wanted ads offer "highest rates" for toolmakers and lathe hands.

Sanborn maps from the 1880s shows wooden stable buildings at the rear of 325 & 327, but by 1903 a larger brick stable building has replaced the stable behind 325 (presumably the back house still standing today) and a narrow wooden building runs the from the front of the 327 lot all the way back to the wooden stable.

DOF tax photo, 1980s

The general look of the buildings in this 1980s photograph is similar to that of the 1940s.  The cornice and the little front entry of the wooden house are still there, but the house is boarded up on the ground floor.  It's seen better days.  By the 2000s, the front house and the side building have acquired aluminum facades, but the house's cornice has survived.

The place has quite a different look today.  325 and 327 have been combined and given a period look, albeit in that of-the-moment grey and black.  According to the plans the wooden buildings on the two lots have become a two-family.

I walked through the new driveway to look at the back house.  There are still quite a number of them round here and I like ferreting them out.  I often dream of living in a place with a back house - it seems like a perfect, secretive set-up.  I'm guessing the compound here will be rather more de luxe than anything I have in mind.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

About Daylight

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife. The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of one precise shade- owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up at various times- this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt. Indeed, partly lying on it as the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me.
                                                                                     Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851

Monday, November 19, 2018

In Every Dream Home ...

"But home oh sweet home
It's only a saying
From bell push to faucet
In smart town apartment
The cottage is pretty
The main house a palace
Penthouse perfection
But what goes on
What to do there
Better pray there"

I wasn't an Aaron's shopper, but I knew people who got decent discounts on department store prices there.  It had a miniature, more sedate, Century 21 feel.  A real garment store. And everyone loved the Aaron's slogan, painted on the siding overlooking the parking lot.

In 2004 Aaron's appeared in the tourist guide Suzy Gershman's Born to Shop New York: The Ultimate Guide for Travelers Who Love to Shop.

The store, at Fifth & 17th, closed in 2007 after a forty-year run. The parking lot gave way to an apartment building - the Aaron.  The store space, still in the family, was advertised for lease over the years and appeared to be rented every so often. It got a renovation earlier this year, and there was speculation about what it would be used for next.  Maybe an arts space?  Maybe another chain?  Now we know.  It's become a sales office for an Adam America/CGI Strategies condo building on Fourth Avenue: Arbor Eighteen.  Construction won't be finished until some time next year but you can order ahead.  No prices disclosed without registering. If you want to look up the building on the DOB site its commercial address - 185 18th ("on the greener side of Brooklyn") - won't get you anywhere. You'll have better luck at 609 Fourth, though there are various other obsolete lots pertaining to the property.

Isaac & Stern Architects designed the beautifully crafted facade of the building featuring a custom Arctic Gray brick. The wellness-oriented interiors were designed by the renowned Paris Forino, whose work includes the Gem Hotel in Chelsea. Arbor Eighteen will offer a mixture of 73 homes ranging from studios to three-bedroom residences ... Residences feature massive windows and ceiling heights from 9’ to 10’9" (and) custom 7.5” wide rustic white oak flooring.

Don't forget the yoga studio, meditation room, infrared sauna, library (with fireplace!), lounge, billiards area, kids' playroom, private dining room, Zen Garden, pet spa ... and more!  Feeling any hot flashes yet?

Arbor Eighteen is also ideally situated near some of Brooklyn’s best parks, including Prospect Park and the 478-acre Greenwood Cemetery. Those parks inspired the three incredibly unique outdoor space at Arbor 18, as well as the building's unprecedented amenity package, which emphasizes healthy living.

I was told there'll be a model apartment on view at the sales office, and that the building will be used as a showroom for other developer/realtor offerings down the line.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


I can't precisely date it, but from around the late nineteen-sixties to the eighties my mother worked on a quilt made from leftover scraps of fabric. While some of them may have been bought as remaindered pieces from a habadashery or two, most of them came from home. Outgrown or discarded items of clothing were the primary source.  She completed a quilt big enough to cover a queen or king sized bed (terms she'd have never used) but didn't finish the job by putting it together with a backing.  It could have been her weakening eyesight that put a stop to things - some of the needlework looks a little shaky in patches  Or it could have been confusion in her later years that made the task too daunting.

She gave the quilt to me shortly before she died, and I kept it in a wooden chest for the next couple of decades. Every so often I'd take it out and look at it.  The patterned pieces that I loved the best belonged to the childhood clothes she'd sewn for me: cotton summer dresses and pairs of shorts.  The dresses were simply made; to be honest I didn't appreciate them at the time.  I'd didn't like dresses much anyway and I'd rather have had the clothes shop-bought.  Now I try to trace their provenance:  the garment, the summer, the house that we lived in. There are other fabrics that matter.  I can't recall their origins but I know them. They're lodged in the senses.

I never mastered the domestic arts.  Certainly my mother never tried to teach me.  They seemed like drudgery, or a means of filling time best spent in other, more exciting ways.  Perhaps my mother thought so too.  I remember the evenings I watched her picking up the quilting, working a few more hexagons together.  It looked exhausting.  Today it's a wonder.

This summer I finally enlisted the help of a local artist and dressmaker to put the quilt together.  She did a beautiful job.  I think my mother would be very happy.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Eighth Street

Department of Records Tax Photo (1939 - 41)

With the Thomas Aquinas parochial school down at the bottom of 8th Street, the street's closed off for play time. It's the middle of the day; the shadows are short.  A man in a long white tradesman's apron strides briskly across the street.  He's just passed a guy who's carrying a kid indifferently, low on the body & horizontal.  The story's frozen at the billowing apron, the flailing legs, and the hand reaching into the jacket pocket for a quarter or a smoke.  The crease of a sleeve or a trouser leg are sharp in the sunlight but the faces are undefined.  Their business is none of ours.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


Reyes Deli & Grocery & E-Z Laundry Cleaners.  As far as I know, no-one there has "taco" or "spin cycle" tattooed on their hands.  The Reyes food is good.

Gowanus Reaches New Culinary Heights With First Michelin-Starred Restaurant
I hope that it helps to grow the neighborhood and lets people know that they can follow their dreams out here,” said Claro’s chef, T.J. Steele, who has the word “Taco” tattooed on his hand. (WSJ)

Supercharging the Gentrification of Sunset Park (Gotham Gazette)
Industry City and Eighth Avenue Center’s rezonings will undoubtedly catalyze transformative neighborhood change. Augmented by Opportunity Zones, Sunset Park is facing a potential financial superstorm that will supercharge gentrification and displace the multi-racial, multi-ethnic working class populations and small businesses including industrial businesses that have long defined this neighborhood.

If you want to see where the NYC Opportunity Zones are situated (Amazon is headed for an LIC one), look here.
The Opportunity Zone Program in New York State
New York State is participating in the new Opportunity Zone community development program, offered through the Tax Cuts and Job Acts of 2017. The federal program encourages private investment in low-income urban and rural communities. Based on analyses by Empire State Development (ESD), New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), New York State Department of State (DOS) and the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), New York State has recommended 514 census tracts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for designation as Opportunity Zones. 

720,000 New York City tax photos from 1940 are now digitized so you can find your building online (6sqft)
The New York City Department of Records & Information Services has released 720,000 digitized images made from the original negatives, meaning that a photograph of every building in the city that was standing at the time is now available to look up online.

The Christmas elves again!
Ex-NYPD cop on trial for bribery says he didn’t have sex with hooker on plane (Post)
Prosecutors say Reichberg and Rechnitz teamed up in 2008 to bribe public officials and several cops, including Grant, who then helped them by going easy on arrested friends, fixing traffic tickets, expediting gun permits and resolving their private disputes.

Who's not sighing with relief that they're not up for jury duty right now?  But the combo of terror & levity is riveting.
Juror sobs after being picked for El Chapo’s trial (Post)
Jury selection was lively, with one potential juror getting the ax after he’d asked for the kingpin’s autograph, saying he was a “fan.”
Another man was tossed because he was worried he could be identified by his sandwich order, the “el Chapo,” while another was dismissed for being too easily identifiable as a Michael Jackson impersonator. Another six were tossed from the pool because they feared for their safety.

An Old-School New York Art-World Rivalry Makes a Comeback with Andy Warhol and John Ashbery Exhibits (Vanity Fair)
Ashbery is best known for his poems, but he was also a revered art critic and collector, and throughout the 60s and 70s became an integral member of the bohemian, hyperintellectual set of artists and poets collectively referred to as the New York School. Ashbery was a fixture in this urbane, multi-lingual scene, whose members often congregated at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and included poets Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch, as well as expressionists such as Jane Freilicher, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Rivers. Works by Freilicher, Porter, and Rivers—who would often gift paintings to Ashbery to thank him for positive reviews—have made their way into Kasmin’s show. Helen Frankenthaler gifted him a painting as well, and it now hangs in the show, though at one point she had awkwardly tried to buy it back.

Last screening of Ruth Kaaserer's documentary Gwendolyn tonight, at Anthology Film Archives
“Ruth Kaaserer enters an athletic environment that has little to do with the familiar images of muscle building, grinding workouts, and sweat. More restrained and graceful scenes were rarely seen at a gym. GWENDOLYN pays the same direct attention to the everyday life of this unusual woman: visits to the doctor, life with her much younger husband Charlie, conversations with her son about what writing and sewing have in common. Sometimes there’s no choice – the seams must be unstitched.”
 Gwendolyn Trailer from Taskovski Films on Vimeo.

So Long, Max Levitas (Spitalfields Life)
Max Levitas spoke of being at the centre of a definitive moment in the history of the East End in 1936 when three hundred thousand people came together to form a human chain – in the face of three thousand fascists with an escort of ten thousand police –  to assert the nature of the territory as a place where Fascism and racism are unacceptable. It was a watershed in resistance to Fascism in Europe and the slogan that echoed around Stepney and Whitechapel that day was “No paseran” – from the Spanish Civil War – “They shall not pass.”

Monday, November 5, 2018


If you have taken this rubble for my past
raking through it for fragments you could sell
know that I long ago moved on
deeper into the heart of the matter

If you think you can grasp me, think again:
my story flows in more than one direction
a delta springing from the riverbed
with its five fingers spread

                                             Adrienne Rich

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Halloween Store

Neergaard Pharmacy (454)

Jasmine's Floral Designs (543)

Brooklyn Master Barbershop (393)

KC Tasty Deli and Grill (402)

Fama Party Center (268 14th)

H J Laundromat (565)

Park Slope Hardware (593)

Judy Unisex (521)

Lina Cuts and something more (699)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


HPD Releases "Speculation Watch List" to Fight Displacement in NYC Neighborhoods
The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) joined Council Member Ritchie Torres and the Stabilizing NYC Coalition to announce the release of the “Speculation Watch List,” which identifies recently sold rent-regulated buildings where potentially predatory investment may put tenants at risk. The City is making this information available so that tenants and tenant advocates can see another indication of where tenant harassment may occur. The list was announced as part of the Predatory Equity bill, which was signed into law earlier this year.

I'm still confused about 237 11th Street's presence on the list.  A new, high-end, rental building, with no affordable housing units, where 2BR apartments are listed for $4-5K per month?

We’re Partnering With ProPublica On Election Coverage – Let’s Tell The Stories (Bklyner)
We have partnered with ProPublica on our election issues coverage, leading up and throughout the day on election day, to report on any irregularities. We’ve already covered electioneering in the Senate race, potential issues with Ballots being two separate pages, and the fact that translation services will yet again be stationed behind the 100-foot electioneering line, affecting those most in need of help.

The Home Reporter To Make Epic Endorsement For Golden (Bklyner)
The Home Reporter, for the first time in more than six decades, is throwing their support behind a local political candidate and they’re siding with the boss’ friend — State Sen. Marty Golden.
Charles “Chuck” F. Otey, long-time Southern Brooklynite and Golden associate, was crowned the new Executive Editor of the paper during a meeting last night, according to sources. Those sources say Otey suggested the publication break with tradition and endorse Golden.

Exploring the wilds of the Bronx’s Hutchinson River (Curbed)
There are only about a dozen places in the Bronx where the public could, if it wanted to, reach the banks of the Hutchinson River. Most of these access points involve pushing through a hole in a fence, or bushwhacking down overgrown paths, or trekking through flooded salt marshes. Perhaps because of its isolation, the Hutchinson River is now facing several existential threats.

The hills have eyes (Rag-Picking History)
The hills that encircle Greater Manchester on two sides are the city’s implacable edges; indeed, the boundaries of the urban region extend, in places, right up to their summit ridges – the highest point, at 472m, being Blackstone Edge above Littleborough. By day, walkers leave the city in search of succour; at night, from their summits, the city seems like a fairyland, a twinkling paradise of promise. Those hills are also places where the city’s more unpleasant realities are consigned to oblivion – unseen because out here we feel distanced from them. Yet, as flood and fire show us, those hills are still very much connected to the urban region – ramparts that return both succour and savagery to the city at their feet.

‘Inventing New Ways to Be’ (New York Review of Books)
Although Adrienne Rich (1929–2012) never considered herself an epic poet, it’s hard to think of a more apposite definition of her vast and varied oeuvre than the phrase with which Ezra Pound summed up his concept of the modernist epic (speaking, in his case, of The Cantos): “a poem containing history.” Scholars looking to chart the development of America in the six decades spanned by Rich’s career will discover in her work an intermeshing of poetry and history more extensive and searching than that to be found in any of her contemporaries.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Home Sweet Home

I like to get out to see what's going on with Halloween decorations.  I realize that what I like about them best is the context.  It's the yards and porches where the ghosts and monsters do their stuff that pull the whole thing off. 

On every street, the ghoulish and domestic worlds co-mingle.

Monday, October 29, 2018

South from 14th, on Fourth




The fence is up at 257 13th, along with a rendering of a new four-family.  The house was sold in March for $2.25M. There are no approved construction plans on record at the DOB as yet.  A man who was passing by as I took photographs told me there'd been two fires at the building recently.  I hadn't heard about this, though I remembered in the summer there'd been two fires in the space of a few weeks at a house on 11th.  Whatever the circumstances, the house had lost its aluminum siding, You could catch a glimpse of the clapboards behind the (is this what you call them?) furring strips.