Friday, March 30, 2018

Spring & All

... Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter.  All about them
the cold, familiar wind-

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined-
It quickens:  clarity, outline of leaf ...

     from  Spring and All (By the road to the contagious hospital) - William Carlos Williams

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Under the Tracks


In the 1940's, when Ann Greco and her older sister Fran were growing up on 10th Street, they used to play in a park across the street from their house. 

 ''Oh, it was beautiful,'' Ms. Greco recalled. ''We had handball in front, we had shuffleboard, we had horseshoes, we had basketball and swings, we had monkey bars and slides. There was a park house on a mound, and a fellow that took care of the park.''  (NY Times)

I just noticed new signs at Third and 10th Street, the site of the old Under the Tracks playground.  The playground was closed in the 1990's after debris fell from the viaduct, and the ground was declared unstable.  In 1996, Under the Tracks was renamed in memory of Fran Brady.  Brady, a local resident, fought long and hard to maintain the neglected playground and eventually won capital funding to upgrade it.  Sadly, she did not live long enough to see her dreams realized. Despite her tireless efforts, plans to re-open the playground were delayed by the pace of MTA repair work at the site.  The site has languished for years.

In 2000, the NY Times ran a story on the playground.  At that time there was a budget of almost $1M earmarked to rehabilitate the park, and Parks Commissioner Henry Stern declared the project to be "still on track."

Under the Tracks remained closed.

In 2011, after fierce community opposition, CB6 rejected the Lower East Side Ecology Center's plan to turn the playground site into a temporary compost mixing center.  A reasonable-enough plan, it seems, but residents feared the compost center might become a permanent project.

The organization would have operated under the oversight of the Parks Department, which has said the agreement would be just one year. Board member Pauline Blake said the area has suffered a host of problems, and should not be expected to warmly accept the mixing facility. From crime to rats, Blake said, this section of Park Slope has had enough. “To take the playground away from them for any ecological project would be criminal,” Blake said. Member Anthony Pugliese put it this way, saying, “Parks [are] at stake here. This is a business…this is not people saving the world here.”

Under the Tracks stayed shut.  Occasionally you might have glimpsed a rabbit there, snuffling in the dirt and weeds, an escapee from the colony back of the next-door tire shop.  The rabbits and their owner were removed, the tire shop changed its name (Mexico became AM), and still the playground awaited its rebirth.  New Gowanus residents could never have guessed a playground had ever existed in such an unlikely location, though it was one of many slivers of parks and playground that came into being during the city's massive infrastructure changes of the Moses era.  It was an older cousin of the finger parks that line the Prospect Expressway.

In the last couple of years there's been talk of bringing the playground back, and even installing those old Kentile letters there.  Maintenance work on the viaduct itself appears to be complete, and recently there's been work going on underneath it, all the way from Fourth to Second, but as yet (like the station itself) it's unfinished.  Perhaps the new signs heralds some real playground action?  The timing seems right, what with the rezoning process cranking into full gear.  Strategic sweetener or not (and possibly I'm just too cynical), how nice it would be to see Fran Brady's tireless efforts finally rewarded.  Let the children play!

Later - well I guess NOT.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Fiber-Optic Sidewalk Santa


Too many.  I've fallen far behind in trying to account for the wooden houses that are disappearing round here.  It's strictly the luck of the draw these days.  257 13th, just below Fifth Avenue, has just received its marching orders, with no indication yet of what's to take its place.  It's a pre-1880 building.  In its early days, news of its inhabitants indicate a genteel residence.  "Progressive euchre" card parties & birthday celebrations get mentions in the Eagle.  A recital notice appears in 1891,


and in August of 1893 we learn that the same Professor Simpson is vacationing in "the Orange Mountains."  A Simpson with a different first name writes in to the Eagle a couple of years later to express his thanks to neighbors who took his family in when a fire broke out on nearby Fifth Avenue.

A rental listing from 1901 suggests quiet tenants are required.

It's not clear how long the Simpsons lived at 257. There's a doctor's office at the house by the 1930's.  In 1938 an ad is placed in the Eagle for a white housekeeper (sleep-in).  A sour note.  Around this time there's a beauty parlor on site as well.  A good name & a job title here, and a frisson of allure.

In 1944 a doctor at this address is suspended for involvement in a Workers' Comp. kickback racket.  Perhaps the propriety is fraying at the edges.

Monday, March 26, 2018


'Women Who Walked Ahead' at Green-Wood Cemetery (Brooklyn Eagle)
The cemetery will host a special trolley tour on March 31 called “Women Who Walked Ahead” and will visit the graves, both marked and unmarked, of the forgotten women who hold notable places in New York City’s history.
The tour will feature women pioneers in science, arts and activism who led inspiring lives, according to the tour’s leader Allison Meier. Despite their influence, many of these women’s stories may not be found in history books.

Rendering Revealed For New Development Replacing Historic 4th Ave Church (Bklyner)
The Church of the Redeemer stood at the site for 150 years until it closed in 2010 when its owner, the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, decided it was too pricey to repair the deteriorating structure. The Church was purchased by the Jackson Group for $20 million in 2014 and demolished in 2016.
Adam America Real Estate purchased the site from the Jackson Group for $36 million in 2017. YIMBY estimates units will be priced at approximately $1M to $3M for units measuring about 1,000 square feet.

She-Weld, a Woman-Owned Metal Shop, Reopens in Red Hook After Original Location Flooded by  Sandy (NY1)
A woman-owned welding studio in Brooklyn teaches its students all about metalwork.
Marsha Tratten doesn't only teach classes at She-Weld, but also creates sculptures, kitchen accessories, and trashcans used on some of the streets of Red Hook.
This studio is a new location for She-Weld, after their previous location was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
"We're really excited to have this new place," said owner Marsha Trattner. "We're doing workshops, we're doing school visual arts classes, we're making commission work, so it's a really full service."
Classes at She-Weld are open to anyone, with or without experience.

Call for Proposals: Urban Wild Writer Residency (Urban Omnibus)
Urban Omnibus announces a new opportunity for an Urban Wild Writer in partnership with NYC Parks and the Freshkills Park Alliance. Thoreau explored wilderness in earshot of a commuter train and walking distance from his mother’s house. Rachel Carson plumbed the biodiversity of suburbia. We seek a writer to explore and interpret the contemporary urban landscape where highways meet gas wells, herons, and kayakers.

Left in the Dark: How the MTA Is Failing to Keep Up With New York City’s Changing Economy (Office of NYC City Comptroller Scott Stringer)
Nurses and home health aides. Bank tellers and baristas. Shopkeepers and cashiers. Security guards and janitors. Waiters and cooks. Concierges and tour guides. Barbers and tailors. Musicians and actors. Ushers and ticket takers. Freight and dock workers.
For many of New York’s service sector workers, the traditional Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 work week holds little bearing.  While others are just rolling out of bed, they are opening up shops, loading and unloading goods, staffing front desks, or caring for patients. Later in the evenings—long after others have gone home—they are locking up stores and restaurants, vacuuming and dishwashing, and finishing up in the dressing room.

Ann Lovett: Death of a ‘strong, kick-ass girl’(Irish Times)
“I remember being outside the church when the hearse arrived . . . I remember when they were taking the coffin out of the hearse, there was a collective gasp . . . Usually at a removal, you’d hear a mumble of people talking. But apart from that gasp, there was silence. What could anyone say?”
Nuala Ledwith, who lived three miles outside Granard, Co Longford, at the time, is talking about the removal of Ann Lovett and her stillborn son to St Mary’s Church in Granard on Thursday, February 2nd, 1984. Two days previously, Ann Lovett had died after giving birth in the grotto adjoining St Mary’s. She was 15. The repercussions of her death continue to resonate powerfully in Irish society, more than three decades later.

A Walk Through Time In Spitalfields Market (Spitalfields Life)
In Adam Tuck’s composites, the people in the present inhabit the same space as those of the past, making occasional surreal visual connections as if they sense each others presence or as if the monochrome images were memories fading from sight. For the most part – according to the logic of these images – the market workers are too absorbed in their work to be concerned with time travellers from the future, while many of the shoppers and office workers cast their eyes around aimlessly, unaware of the spectres from the past that surround them. Yet most telling are comparisons in demeanour, which speak of self-possession and purpose – and, in this comparison, those in the past are seen to inhabit the place while those in the present are merely passing through.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Coming Soon

Condo marketing has commenced at 225 14th Street. Let's remember that common caveat, the legal disclaimer:

"Square footage exceeds the usable floor area ... The unit layout, square footage and dimensions are approximate and subject to normal construction variances and tolerances ... " And so on.

The bells and whistles are in place - Bosch appliances, Bardiglio marble, Watermark fixtures, Duravit baths & sinks. TBH, plebeian that I am, I only recognize Bosch here.  Amenities include a fitness studio, a lobby lounge, a cyber doorman, and - a new one to me - a "children's creativity room." Poor creativity, how it toils in the service of capital.

Starting price for the three and four bedroom boutique apartments is $1.67M.

Renderings & more info here.

Below: the buildings replaced by condos - 225-229 14th Street.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Along the Hard Crest of the Snowdrift

Along the hard crest of the snowdrift
to my white, mysterious house,
both of us quiet now,
keeping silent as we walk.
And sweeter than any song
this dream we now complete—
the trembling of branches we brush against,
the soft ringing of your spurs.

            Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), translated by Jane Kenyon

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Just came across several old snaps of Coney Island.  Taken either 1984 or '85.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hyatt Street

Courtside, down from Empire Bail Bonds & the Not Guilty Deli & Luncheonette - the Gavel Grill, and Hyatt Cards and Gift.  Stationeries, film, and paperback books.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Off Fourth

The Practice

William Carlos Williams with his sons, Paul and William, and his mother, circa 1918 - Beinecke Library, Yale, Special Collections

"And it is the actual words, as we hear them spoken under all circumstances, which contain it.  It is actually there, in the life before us, every minute that we are listening, a rarest element - not in our imaginations but there, there in fact.  It is that essence which is hidden in the very words which are going in at our ears and from which we must recover underlying meaning as realistically as we recover metal out of ore ...

... The poem springs from the half-spoken words of such patients as the physician sees from day-to-day. He observes it in the peculiar, actual conformations in which life is hid.  Humbly, he presents himself before it and by long practice he strives as best as he can to to interpret the manner of its speech.  In that the secret lies.  This, in the end, comes perhaps to be the occupation of the physician after a lifetime of careful listening."

                                                            from The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams

Sunday, March 18, 2018


Offshore Wind, Onshore Justice (Gotham Gazette)
At UPROSE, a community-based organization in Sunset Park that advocates for sustainable economic development and environmental justice, our advocacy for climate justice is rooted in our struggles against displacement—displacement by rising waters and rising costs of living. The Climate Justice Alliance is a national collaborative of over 50 community-based and support organizations working to forge a scalable, and socio-economically just transition away from an extractive economy and towards local living economies.
Together, we are calling for the creation of new offshore wind manufacturing and logistics jobs on New York City’s waterfront to strengthen neighborhood resilience and make the case against re-zonings that irreversibly impair our capacity to address climate change locally.

‘The Trains Are Slower Because They Slowed the Trains Down’ (Village Voice)
Internal MTA documents show everything we thought we knew about subway delays was wrong.

Another Hammer For the IMBY Toolbox (IMBY)
There are so many new architecturally related  online applications available to us keyboard voyeurs it's hard to keep au courant.  If you're literally still hiding in the bushes, old school, this NY City Parks Capital Project Tracker will allow you to keep an eye on the cities shrubbery from your darkened saferoom. Quit venturing outside sans sunscreen. Go forth and ride the waves of government transparency from your waterbeds, my dear 400lb readers.

Amazon Go Might Kill More Than Just Supermarkets (CityLab)
Supermarkets are community anchors. Amazon’s “just walk out” version embodies a disconcerting social transformation.

Who Maps the World? (CityLab)
Too often, men. And money. But a team of OpenStreetMap users is working to draw new cartographic lines, making maps that more accurately—and equitably—reflect our space.

99 Snapshots (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)
99 Snapshots is a documentary project about people I met and photographed in 1999. I met them on sidewalks and in places of business in each of Manhattan’s many neighborhoods. I am now re-photographing and interviewing as many of the 300+ original people as I can find, seeking details about who they were in ’99, who they are now, and their thoughts on multiple topics including New York but also big ones like life and the passage of time. Because I encountered the people in 1999 randomly, the group as a whole reflects demographic diversity. I aim to turn this into a book and a documentary film.  Michael Berman

Maeve Brennan: On the Life of a Great Irish Writer, and its Sad End (Lit Hub)
Yesterday afternoon, as I walked along Forty-second Street directly across from Bryant Park, I saw a three-cornered shadow on the pavement in the angle where two walls meet. I didn’t step on the shadow, but I stood a minute in the thin winter sunlight and looked at it. I recognized it at once. It was exactly the same shadow that used to fall on the cement part of our garden in Dublin, more than fifty-five years ago.

More on the red-tailed hawks love triangle in Tompkins Square Park - Christo's busy! (Laura Goggin Photography)

Viscountess Boudica’s St Patrick’s Day (Spitalfields Life)
On St Patrick’s Day, we celebrate our dearly beloved Viscountess Boudica of Bethnal Green who once entertained us with her seasonal frolics and capers but is now exiled to Uttoxeter

Harry Permutt, Master Goldsmith (Spitalfields Life)
At eighty-two years old, Harry Permutt believes he is the oldest working goldsmith in Hatton Garden. As the grandson of immigrants who made their lives in Petticoat Lane at the beginning of the last century and as one who has learnt his skills over more than sixty years in the Clerkenwell jewellery trade – working his way up to become a master goldsmith – Harry carries an astonishing collection of stories and a rare depth of historical perspective.

Early Sound Footage Of New York City, 1928 (Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina)

Saturday, March 17, 2018


I walked up 20th Street and stopped to look up at the Al-Noor Halal live poultry building.  Not for the first time.  I'm a little obsessed with this building, but I've never been able to find out much about it.  In the nineteenth-century, there was a wooden house here, set at the back of the lot.  A brick building is shown on a 1903 map, and it's the same shape as the building standing here today.  Given those beautiful birds on the facade, it must have always been a poultry market.  There are no certificate of occupancy records at the DOB, and ACRIS records only trace ownership back to the 1980s.  From ACRIS you can see the transition from Jewish to Asian to Muslim owners, but I don't know who owned the property before Minnie Dinerman.

It was a good time to look at the building.  The shutters were down and the street was quiet.  The guys across the street were closing up the warehouse for the day.  You can't take pictures of a live bird market when it's open.  I know too well.  I've been inside the market on Third and talked to some of the workers there - they were friendly, but still, of course, cameras no way.  But here, at this time of day, there was no problem.  As I was standing taking pictures, I heard a voice behind me.  "So you like those birds too?"  I turned around, and a smiling, middle aged woman was standing there too.  Like me, she told me, she liked to look up when walking, delighted in the lesser-known landmarks of the neighborhood. All those funny little signs and dates and embellishments. 

We talked about all the new construction, and thoughts of moving on.  We were about the same age, though she was Brooklyn born & bred. She said her kids were grown and her mother - settled in a new place - had lived long enough to make her dream concert at the Barclay Center - Barbra Streisand!  Was it time for her to head down South - so much cheaper, and a whole host of family there?  Really, though, how could she leave after over fifty years?  I laughed - I'd only be leaving the city in a casket or an urn.  Hopefully neither but by that point it's beyond your control.  We talked for a bit, exchanged names, the ages of the kids, the numbers of the streets we lived on. The sun was going down, turning white brick and aluminium pink. It was time to get going. "We're doin' good, aren't we?" she asked as she headed off home.  We're doing the best we can.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

No Objection to the Country

and waitress, or take care of children, by a respectable
young girl; no objection to go to the country; best city
references.  Please call to-morrow at 138 Ninth st,
near Second av.
                     Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Wednesday, 9th July. 1879

Monday, March 12, 2018

Brooklyn's Millionaire Recluse

Louisa Herle lived alone, with her money and her yipping dog, in what had once been a mansion and had become a shambles.
When they found her dead body on Oct. 31st. last, in the shabby, disintegrating brownstone house at 292 12th St., they found, also, cobwebs, and a fortune - and mystery upon mystery.  There was the mystery of her death and the mystery of what had happened to her will, if she left a will. And there was the basic mystery of her life.
It was a life full of contradictions.  They were more or less the contradictions of the wealthy recluse, of the miser.  She had been a rich woman for years, and for years before she died, at the age of 82, she lived the skimping life of the poor.  She had money, money, money - a fortune somewhere between one million and two - and she was afraid of being robbed.  But she kept thousands of dollars in rolls under the kitchen linoleum, in wads stuffed into holes in the walls, in curious, strange places all over the house. 
                                                                               Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 7th, 1935

The Eagle describes Herle in her later years as a "crotchety," miserly recluse, who slept at all hours of the day and night. It describes a life thwarted and twisted by controlling men, a life which could, in kinder circumstances, have allowed her to be quite "another sort of person." Though the scale of her wealth is remarkable, the tale of her diminished life is not an uncommon one.

Herle's father was a baker who came to the States in the 1830's.  According to the Eagle article, Jacob Herle became a successful business man; in addition to the bakery business, he also worked in real estate. His story is a stereotypical one of immigrant success. In the early years, life seems to have been harsh, and rigorous.  Herle and his wife had nine children, but only three - Louisa and her brothers George and Robert - survived childhood.  Little Louisa had scant schooling, and after working for a while "sewing eyes on stuffed dogs," and dressmaking, helped out in the family bakery. But business prospered.  Louisa's life became replete with creature comforts, including many fine dresses, and a piano. She was described as an attractive and vivacious young woman.  By all accounts Jacob Herle was a controlling father, and forbade her from seeing a suitor she had fallen in love with.  After her father's death, her brother George took the reins. The family must by then have moved to their "new mansion" on 12th Street. The house is referred to in another Eagle story as dating back to the Civil War, but that must have been a wooden house, built prior to the brownstone.  By the time the "mansion" was built, Louisa, if her given age was correct, must have been in her thirties. George, a confirmed bachelor, thrifty, and disappointed in love, wanted to keep his sister at home as the housekeeper, and quashed the attentions of her subsequent suitors.  These included one Robert Schmitt, a retired silver-plater described as "aristocratic" looking.  Louisa and Robert became engaged, and Robert's attentions grew amorous. George put a stop to their relationship.

None of the three Herle children ever married, and Louisa outlived her brothers.  In 1919, when Louisa was in her sixties, Robert Schmitt, still attentive (to her charms or to her money?), proposed to her again, but she turned him down on account of their advanced age.  Or so the story goes.

Louisa Herle became a shrewd businesswoman after her brother's death.  She studied hard to learn the family business.  By the end of her life the bakery was long gone, but she had fat bank accounts and considerable number of real estate holdings. She owned a number of local storefront properties. Initially, at least, she was a sociable woman, friendly with her neighbors, but as she aged, though she maintained some friendships, her life became more solitary, and she grew more fearful of the outside world, worried that she might be attacked or poisoned.  She lived in just a couple of rooms in the house; most of it was left abandoned.  She skimped on food. Her habits became more eccentric.  According to the neighbors (a font of gossipy tidbits) she turned her dresses inside out when cleaning house, to keep the outer sides presentable, but sometimes forgot to turn them right side out again when she went outside.  Even in her old age, she still received marriage proposals, but recognized the motives behind them.  She turned them all down.  She kept her money close, and spent little, when she could, according to the Eagle, have lived "with all the extravagance available to a Prince of Wales."

Louisa and Robert Schmitt remained in touch until Schmitt's death in the spring of 1934, months before her own.  According to the garrulous neighbors, Louisa wore diamond earrings at his funeral "which she had not worn before nor since," and after the funeral declared that she had buried her sweetheart:

"I should have married him. I loved him but George wouldn't let me.  Now it is too late.  I always listened to George and wasn't I the fool!  Of course George was good to me.  He used to treat me once a week - with coffee and cake on Fulton Street."   

That George - what a guy.  It's a mystery though, why Louisa didn't marry Robert Schmitt in later years.  Had she grown too cynical, too consumed by avarice to gamble on happiness? Was the chance of a better life gone?  We'll never know the answer. Louise Herle was buried in a silver casket, in the family plot at Evergreen Cemetery.  The Eagle reported that 100 people attended the funeral.

Louisa Herle's death and the mysteries surrounding her will became something of a cause célèbre, in New York and beyond. The Eagle published a number of stories about the house, the money, and the many claims on the fortune. Wealth, death, thwarted romance, a retreat from society - it was all good press. A series of articles covered the search for money in the house on 12th Street. The cause of her death was queried; there were suggestions of foul play.  There's plenty of lurid excitement.

The house on 12th Street still stands.  It looks unremarkable enough, a rare brownstone on a block that is mostly brick and frame.  In recent years 292 has looked as shabby as it might have been in Louisa's last years.  Or maybe more so.  You'd hardly have thought of it as a mansion.  For a while it stood empty. It was sold a year ago for almost $2M, and is getting a renovation.  As the walls and ceilings were ripped apart, over a century of plaster dust spread in a cloud from the windows and doors.  Maybe fragments of currency too.  The dust billowed, as if the spirits of the old house were leaving the building too.  Are there any faint wisps of the Herles and their successors still lingering there?

Saturday, March 10, 2018


As Columbia University moves into Manhattanville, its industrial past is erased (Nathan Kensinger, Curbed)
“You know how you watch a termite eat the lumber? At first it looks like nothing, and then you turn around, and it’s all gone. That’s what this feels like"

The Death and Life of a Great American Building (Jeremiah Moss, NY Review of Books)
The moment you step inside the St. Denis you feel its energy. Again and again, the people here describe it as “human,” as if the building itself were warm and alive, an entity animated by a soul. It is rich with residue. And if you talk to enough tenants, you will hear ghost stories.

Returning this weekend & nextA Tale of 17th-Century Witchcraft Staged in NYC’s Oldest House (Hyperallergic)
As the family in this farmhouse, along with two visiting priests, examined the afflictions that kept their daughter bedridden, other conflicts about faith, relationships, and possession emerged. Audience members could decide whom to follow, discovering perhaps that the father may be poisoning the young woman and causing her fits (played with Exorcist-like contortions by Rae Haas), or that the younger priest (an unnervingly dogmatic Brian Lore Evans) may be the most dangerous, with the absolute conviction of his belief in the devil’s presence.

A Small Town Kept Walmart Out. Now It Faces Amazon. (CityLab)
“If you were going to pick a place years ago that would still support small businesses, and shop downtown first, I would have said Greenfield would be that place,” Jessica Mullins, the owner of World Eye, told me. But her store’s sales were down significantly last year. Several customers who were once reliable shoppers now come in and find out about new books and games, take a picture of them, and then buy the products online, where they’re cheaper. It’s a practice called “showrooming,” and while the executives running big legacy retailers are the ones who most publicly lament it, it can hurt smaller shops too. “People are getting on Amazon and they’re not getting off,” Mullins said.

Geoffrey Fletcher Among The Meths Men (Spitalfields Life)
There is a curious camaraderie among the meths men, perhaps the only attractive quality a conventional observer would allow them. It is a ghostly solidarity, the fag end of what is called co-operation, citizenship, the team spirit or any other of those names used commonly to cover up the true nature of the forms of society.
... Brick Lane is marvellous, a melting pot of all the nationalities that grew from the loins of Adam, greasy, feverish Brick Lane, the Bond St for the people of the abyss.

The Birth of London’s 1950s Bohemian Coffee Bars (Open Culture)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Child Activists of 1949

"A committee of children today circulated petitions among the neighbors calling on Mayor O'Dwyer for protection on "Death End Street" - the block alongside Gowanus Playground on 34th St., between 3d and 4th Aves."   Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 2nd, 1949

Redemption Song

The potent combination of Marley, Cash, and Strummer

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


I've lived below 9th Street for over thirty years.  In fact, I've always thought of 9th Street as right where my neighborhood begins.  Whenever I return from parts north, I always get that feeling of home when I cross its boundaries.  And it's a fine border, a hub of activity from people coming to or from the train, or bus, or on foot, from every direction.  There's nothing pretty about Fifth and 9th except the people.  By some quirk of fate, or its very unremarkable features, Fifth & 9th has stayed immune from any fancy makeover. It's anchored by basics: the bank, the grocery, the discount store.  A convenience store & good Halal stand.  Along with the new there are old familiar faces: Connie, our resident diva panhandling in Chase, the sock vendor, the guys selling empanadas down the block, the bleary-eyed drinker outside Smith's, the occasional fiery street preacher.  Schoolkids, stroller moms, shoppers, and hangers-around. There's a diversity here long gone in most of what you'd call Park Slope today. You're still as likely to hear Spanish here as English.  Fifth and 9th is for everyone, on everyone's route. It's the best of us.

But it's not a safe crossroads. Just in the last year or two, we've had cars careening onto the sidewalk and crashing into corner stores. A pedestrian was mown down by a speeding car. Yesterday two more lives were lost - two little children, crossing the street with their mothers.  Their deaths broke everybody's hearts, and all day I've seen crowds gathered around the makeshift memorial outside of Chase.  The mix of the groups that gather here is the only thing that can possibly console on a day like today.  All of us together: black, white, brown, young, old. In these fractious times, we're easily divided, and quick to lay the blame or stereotype each other - the NIMBY curmudgeon, the self-absorbed millennial, the showy newcomer, the elderly has-been.  But here by the memorial, everyone feels united.  Everyone feels the same shock at the senseless deaths of such young kids.  It could have been any of us.  Any of our children, or our children's children. And everyone I hear or speak to is angry that the drivers who speed through our streets are still, after all this time, getting away with murder.  Everyone wants real justice, now.

Throughout the day the memorial grows bigger, as people stop to light candles, drop off flowers or toys, or simply draw together for comfort.  Mothers and children stand, wordless.  Decades of deaths and injuries, and near-misses - both here at 9th & on nearby blocks - are recalled.  A couple of people remember there used to be a toy store where the bank now stands.  It seems fitting in the saddest way. With a storm coming in, someone remarks that the rain and snow will wash away the cards and roses and little plush bears by morning.  

How many more memorials must it take?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

House Calls

It's funny how insistently objects lie waiting for you.  I'd had William Carlos Williams on my mind, and was looking for a volume of his poems that I had.  Small, blue, library binding. I could picture it perfectly.  I could smell it too.  I love the intimacy of books, how well you get to know them.  How, in your mind, you can picture their location on a shelf, just the way when, thumbing through a book for a passage, you can find it by your focus on just the right part of a page. "Top left, top left," your instinct whispers, and there it is. These things stick in your head.

But the book wouldn't be found.  It wasn't in its regular spot. I hunted up and down, throughout the house, but couldn't find it anywhere, and the more I looked, the more anxious I became.  I had to remind myself to calm down, and let it be.  The poems would return when they wanted to.  Instead, another Williams work presented itself - The Doctor Stories, a New Directions book compiled by Robert Coles.  I'd been given it twenty-five years ago, and though I'd loved reading it, I don't think I'd looked at it for a couple of decades.  It was that time again.  I put it aside, ready.

Later in the week I found myself in Dumbo.  I'm not in Dumbo much. It's such a peculiar mix of absolute beauty and numbing sterility I can hardly bear it.  But there I was anyway, and after a couple of stiff shots of bridge and water I walked over to powerHouse Books.  They have a nice collection, but it's on the small side.  I thought I was only browsing - I had a bunch of books in line at home - but there on a table was just what I didn't know I needed.  House Calls with William Carlos Williams MD

It's not a new book.  It was published in 2008 by powerHouse.  It's a compilation of poems, prose, and photographs.  As a young medical student, in the 1950's, Robert Coles was lucky enough to get to know Williams, who invited him to join him on his doctor's rounds in the northern towns close to his home in Rutherford, New Jersey.  Coles intersperses memories of their road trips and house calls with extracts of prose and poems by Williams.  He recalls Williams' advice, as doctor and as poet, on how to develop an eye, that instinct that every detail matters:

Often, before we began "house calls," (as he called them), Dr. Williams was quick to tell his young listener to "look around, let your eyes take in the neighborhood - the homes, the stores, the people and places, there waiting to tell you, show you something."  It was as if to this traveling and now talking "doc" (as he wanted to be called by the "folks" in whose homes he came - "Doc Bill" or often "Doc W," not Doctor Williams), there were voices out there, in buildings as well as individuals, having their always available say, if only we "passers-by"would willingly "give them a hear. let them get to you."

Contemporary photographs by Thomas Roma accompany the text, and I can't recall a more sympathetic collaboration.  With Coles' assistance Roma re-traced the routes Coles and Williams traveled together, and his pictures - exquisite in mood and tone - capture the same spirit and beauty of the blue-collar people and streets that student and doctor saw half-a-century earlier.  It's all in the eye.

- Say it, no ideas but in things -
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees

bent, forked by preconception and accident -
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained -
secret - into the body of the light!

                                     from Paterson, Book 1

I could slip this narrow book into my pocket and carry it always.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Building Affordability

Last month the city released a map showing all the affordable housing that has been created or preserved during Mayor de Blasio's time in office. The map includes affordable units in the works. As you can see if you look on the map, affordable housing on our part of Fourth Avenue is decidedly thin on the ground.  There are three sites between 9th Street and 36th Street indicating new affordable units :

635 Fourth (at 19th) - 19 units (a lottery opened last fall)
541 Fourth (at 15th) - 27 units (nowhere near complete and currently under a partial SWO)
487 Fourth (12th) - 8 units (stalled site, with no construction yet underway)

Of the three sites, 487 Fourth is the most troubling.  Plans were first filed for housing here in 2011.  In 2014 the city property was formally turned over to Mercy Home Housing.  Community Board 6's newsletter Sixth Sense included details of the housing plans:

Congratulations Sister Kay Crumlish, and the entire Mercy Home family! It's been nearly 2 decades in the making and on February 5th, they finally closed on the HPD property at 12th Street and 4th Avenue. This former community garden site will be developed as a home for 8-10 frail developmentally disabled adults and will include space for a future community garden too. Win-win.

A banner went up at the site:

Since then, little has happened.  The site was cleared but no excavation/foundation work has taken place.  Work in Progress signs are gone, along with the green construction fences.  A new, chain-link fence has been erected.

One strange quirk is that there are three addresses involved with this site. One, 220 Fourth, was shown on a sign in 2015, in more promising days (see below).

But if you type in this address at the DOB, you find this:


If you type in 487 Fourth, the number listed on the affordability map, the records stop in 2014.  The most complete records can be found by typing in 215 12th, an invalid address that the map situates a block down on the other side of the street.  Go figure.

There are so many mysteries here.  Without an official explanation re the delay, here are several on-the-street stories I've been told.

1.  A dispute with an adjacent property on Fourth Avenue caused lengthy delays.

2.  The ground is contaminated.  (There was a gas station here in earlier years, and after it closed a community garden was established.  The garden was eventually closed because the site was (ahem) toxic.)

3.  Mercy Homes has run out of money for construction.

I would LOVE to see more affordable housing on Fourth Avenue, and I would LOVE to see the housing at Fourth & 12th completed.  Just what's happening here? There's a critical shortage of housing for disabled youths who age out of the system at 21.  Many end up languishing in group homes far from their families, often housed with residents considerably older than them, and with few recreational opportunities nearby.  Even in the best of circumstances, housing for kids like these can be inappropriate.

If building at 487 Fourth is completed, that will make 54 new units of affordable housing created on Fourth (9th through to the 30's) since 2014.  We'll take what we can get, but weighed in the balance, how does this number compare with units lost - the small three-families lost along the avenue to luxury housing, and others on side streets peripheral to the action?  Of course, prices would have risen around here with or without the explosion of new housing on Fourth, but the "reinvention" of Fourth, with an initial rezoning that included no mandates for affordable housing (a mistake since acknowledged by local pols.) had a huge impact on the area - decreasing diversity, rapidly inflating housing prices, overcrowding schools and public transportation, overburdening a creaky sewage system, & creating a bleak, inhospitable streetscape.  And little gained in the process.

At the Fourth and 12th building site, a vestige of the old community garden (2016)

Don't Litter

“You might as well take all your own literature and everyone else's and toss it into one of those big garbage trucks of the Sanitation Department, so long as the people with the top-cream minds and 
the "finer" sensibilities use those minds and sensibilities not to make themselves more humane human beings than the average person, but merely as means of ducking responsibility toward a better understanding of their fellow men, except theoretically— which doesn't mean a God damned thing.”
                                                                                                         William Carlos Williams - Paterson 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Portrait of Mr Pink

Filmmaker Helena Appio has just posted her beautiful, 1997 documentary short, A Portrait of Mr. Pink, on Youtube. She posted it in memory of her subject, Brenton Samuel Pink, who died last year.  In the film, Lewisham resident & householder Mr. Pink, reflecting on his life, declared that it had been "majestic." Yes.

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Under Trump, the Great Gowanus Canal Superfund Cleanup Gets More Uncertain (WNYC)
The almost two-mile long waterway snakes through three Brooklyn neighborhoods, posing an “unacceptable ecological and human health risk,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which declared it a national Superfund site in 2010.
But that long-awaited cleanup is launching just as the E.P.A. under Trump moves toward a more industry-friendly approach, according to former E.P.A. employees and local activists monitoring the massive project.

SL Green, Kushner are selling their Gowanus development site to a familiar face
(The Real Deal)
The two companies bought the 140,000-square-foot parcel at 175-225 3rd Street, across the street from Whole Foods, for $70 million in 2014. One source told Crain’s that RFR is rumored to be paying $120 million. SL Green owns 95 percent of the property and Kushner the small minority stake.
Observers expect the city to rezone Gowanus, potentially making the site a lot more valuable. But Kushner’s ownership stake, and the firm’s ties to the White House, could have complicated matters.

Why Isn’t de Blasio Doing More About the Buses? (Village Voice)
If the mayor really wants to help the city’s underserved residents, he should look no further than our roadways.

The rise and fall of the American SRO: When America's Basic Housing Unit Was a Bed, Not a House (CityLab)
In New York, an 1892 guide to the city claimed that when it came to housing,  "Every individual caprice and purse can find something to suit." 

Gunman opens fire on mob-linked Brooklyn restaurant, leaves bullet holes in façade (NYDN)
"In 2008, restaurant owner Joseph (Marco Polo) Chirico, a reputed Gambino soldier, was busted in a sweeping mob indictment ... Then-Borough President Marty Markowitz and his predecessor, Howard Golden, wrote letters of support on his behalf."

New York Needs Gordon Matta-Clark Now More Than Ever (CityLab)
A new retrospective at the Bronx Museum highlights the legendary artist’s ability to bring disparate communities together in the spirit of radical creation.

Spring & Summer Programs at Freshkills Park 

March News & Programs - American Littoral Society

The Love Triangle: Dora's Return to Tompkins Square Park (Laura Goggin Photography)

The Amsterdam School: Expressionism and Experimentation (Municipal Dreams)
Municipal Dreams travels abroad for the first time this week, thanks to this fascinating account by Ben Austwick of pioneering social housing in Amsterdam.  

East End Snowmen Of Yesteryear (Spitalfields Life)
While languishing in my bed with a chill these past few days, I have been watching the snow falling outside and recalling the transient souls of those long-gone East End snowmen of yesteryear that I was able immortalise with my camera

The Map: London, 1851: The landmarks of Victorian London, stitched onto a fashionable leather glove (History Today)