Thursday, May 31, 2018

Whitman's Birthday

Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? as every one is immortal,
I know it is wonderful . . . . but my eyesight is equally wonderful . . . . and how I was 
conceived in my mother's womb is equally wonderful,
And how I was not palpable once but am now . . . . and was born on the last day of 
May 1819 . . . . and passed from a babe in the creeping trance of three summers 
and three winters to articulate and walk . . . . are all equally wonderful.

And that I grew six feet high . . . . and that I have become a man thirty-six years old 
in 1855 . . . . and that I am here anyhow—are all equally wonderful;
And that my soul embraces you this hour, and we affect each other without ever 
seeing each other, and never perhaps to see each other, is every bit as 
And that I can think such thoughts as these is just as wonderful,
And that I can remind you, and you think them and know them to be true is just as 
                                                              Leaves of Grass, 1855

Today is the 199th anniversary of Walt Whitman's birth, and his spirit is still lodged in every atom of the city. Who better than Whitman to celebrate the spirit of the loafer, or the brush of bodies in a crowded street?  Who better than Whitman to voice our purest democratic impulses, our physical longings, our tenderness of feeling for the strangers around us?  Who whispers in our ear, sees what we see, hears what we hear as we walk the streets by day or by night? When we cross a bridge or take a ferry, who comes along for the ride? He's there on the buses and the subways too. Looking in through that Broadway window, isn't that Whitman right at our shoulder?  At a pitched-roof frame house, down by the water, isn't that Whitman at the door?  Whitman is New York. He may be known as America's poet, but really, we know he belongs to us.

But history has not been kind to the actual New York buildings where Whitman worked and lived.  Most were either demolished or forgotten.  One of the forgotten got a lucky break.

In 1995, Paul Berman, writing for The New Yorker, described the detective process by which Whitman's Brooklyn home of 1855 - the year the first edition of Leaves of Grass was published - was rescued from obscurity.

"... we turned to “Smith’s Brooklyn Directory, for the Year Ending May 1st, 1856,” a sort of telephone book for the pre-telephone age, which did contain a listing for “Whitman, Walter, h. Ryerson st. north of Myrtle av.” In the Brooklyn City Registry, we got hold of a microfilm of the old quill-written title deed to the Ryerson Street house and lot, which was held for a time by Louisa Whitman, Walt’s mother. And, with these several researches in hand, plus the findings of a real-estate-titles searcher who went into the archives to investigate the current deeds and the very arcane history of Myrtle Avenue and its official width (which has in fact changed, by a full twenty-five feet, but only on the side away from Ryerson Street), I can affirm that Whitman’s home from long ago is, today, the address known as 99 Ryerson Street. It is the tawny wooden house in the middle of the block. The one with a top story that was surely added later on. The house with a modern red concrete stoop and a bright-white door."

It's such an exciting article.  What triumph to have found the house, hiding in plain sight for a century and a half.  And a house with such literary pedigree.  But it's still not safe, and the City's record of preserving buildings associated with Whitman is not encouraging. In 1961, the Cranberry Street building where Whitman printed the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass was demolished, despite a campaign that involved literary luminaries such as Arthur Miller & Marianne Moore.  Late last year the Landmarks Preservation Committee rejected a proposal to landmark 99 Ryerson Street, deeming the house too altered over time, and Whitman's stay there too brief to accord it significance.

While acknowledging Whitman’s significance, LPC cited his birthplace in Long Island and his final residence in Camden as sites that “retain integrity to the periods they are associated with Walt Whitman, and are available to the public to visit.”
Furthermore, LPC wrote, “in the 20th century, an additional story was added to the building and it has been re-sided, substantially altering its appearance since the brief period of association with the Whitman family.” Despite alterations, a bit of the original Greek Revival style doorway is still visible surrounding the front door.

However, the LPC did express an openness to re-evaluation, and Brad Vogel, who spearheaded the landmarking campaign, has not given up the fight.  He has broadened the campaign's support base, and questioned the LPC's "overemphasis on architectural purity rather than on cultural and historical associations — both of which are permissible bases for landmarking under the NYC Landmarks Law."

Last week, the City Council's LGBT Caucus, along with Council Member Laurie Cumbo (whose district includes Ryerson Street) wrote to the LPC to make a case for protecting the building.  Here's the letter.

May 21, 2018

Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor North
New York, NY 10007

Re: Walt Whitman House 99 Ryerson Street, Brooklyn

Dear Chair Srinivasan and Commissioners:

We are writing to urge you to designate the Walt Whitman House a landmark.

Although altered, this house is one of only two known extant sites (the other being Pfaff’s saloon in
Manhattan), and the only residence, in New York City associated with the great American poet. It is also one of the earliest extant buildings in the city associated with someone who today would be considered an LGBTQ individual.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), often proclaimed America’s greatest poet, lived mostly in Brooklyn and Manhattan between 1823 and 1862. Whitman was intimately associated with Brooklyn, where he worked as an editor, journalist, and writer, and lived in at least 15 different residences.

Whitman lived in this house between May 1, 1855, and May 1, 1856, with his family, including his mother Louisa, father Walt Sr. (who died here in July 1855), and his four brothers. The Whitmans were the first owner-occupants of the recently completed building.

Whitman lived in this house when the first edition of his epochal first collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, was finished, and published and for sale in Brooklyn in June 1855. It was also while living here that he received his first favorable reviews of the work, which launched his new career as a poet.

Today, Leaves is considered one of the most important American works ever written.

The significance of Whitman and his residence to world culture cannot be understated. Needless to say, as one of the first Americans to express same-sex desire in literature, Whitman has a special place in LGBTQ history and designating the house would help address the dearth of landmarked LGBTQ sites.

Sincerely, Corey Johnson, Speaker, NYC Council,  Daniel Dromm, Chair, LGBT Caucus,  Laurie A. Cumbo, Majority Leader, NYC Council,  Ritchie Torres, Council Member, 15th District, Carlos Menchaca, Council Member, 38th District, Jimmy Van Bramer, Council Member, 26th District

cc: Sarah Carroll Executive Director, Ali Rasoulinejad,  Director of Community and Intergovernmental Affairs

Let's hope the LPC listens. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have 99 Ryerson landmarked by this time next year, Whitman's two-hundredth?  Let's keep it standing. What it looks like hardly matters by now, and overly bureaucratic LPC burdens shouldn't be imposed upon its owners.  Buildings change over time, and are imbued with the spirit of each succession of residents.  Whitman is there, but so are all the others who called it home. I swear he wouldn't give a damn about its appearance, but he would love everyone who lived there after him.  It's the heart of the place that matters.

"All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it."

99 Ryerson (above, center)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Opening at Tabla Rasa

Gregory Frux. Rail Pier, Oil on panel

An exhibition of works by Brooklyn artist Greg Frux will be opening at Sunset Park's Tabla Rasa Gallery on Sunday, June 3rd:

Tabla Rasa Gallery is pleased to present BROOKLYN PLEIN AIR, a solo exhibition of works by Gregory Frux.  Mr. Frux's detailed depictions of the local waterfront, brownstone streetscapes, and Prospect Park landscapes, quietly reveal a painter of passionate observation with a deep sense of longing for his hometown Brooklyn.

In addition to an opening day "meet and greet artist's reception" on Sunday, June 3,from 
2:30 - 4:30 pm, there will be a panel discussion on Saturday, June 9, at 3:00 pm, "I'm from Brooklyn.  What are you looking at?" with Michael David Gordon, actor playwright, musician, Ash Hayes, interdisciplinary artist, model, Philip Kaplan, author, playwright and Larry Racioppo, photographer, as well as a film screening of Waterways of Hope, an environmental film by Robert DiMaio including a talkback with the director on Saturday, June 16 at 3:00 pm.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wood to "Brick"


The brick look (above left)

A frame house gets a renovation that includes a brick facade.  Even on an upscale block that's almost entirely composed of pretty wooden houses, we find the brick-brings-more-bucks play. I'm partial to variety - paint your house parrot green for all I care.  I like the different kinds of coverings wooden houses have endured over the years, just as I like them looking (something) like their old, original selves.  I like the 101 ways a patch of dirt or concrete up front reveals an owner's love or indifference. 
But there's no sentiment here. This is all formula. A wooden house will be reborn as a brick townhome.  It's got a new black cornice, and I wouldn't be surprised if the white brickwork ends up going dark grey.  Dark grey is today's mustard!

Monday, May 28, 2018


Proposal revealed for new public park on the Gowanus Canal’s Salt Lot (6sqft)
The Salt Lot is a triangular piece of land just south of the point at which all three branches of the Gowanus Canal meet. The city-owned site hosts a NYC Compost Project facility, as well as the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s nursery and educational facilities. However, the EPA has mandated a new four-million-gallon retention tank be placed there to manage combined sewer overflow. Gowanus by Design (GbD) saw this new infrastructure requirement as a catalyst for sparking conversation about much needed public urban space in the area. They’ve therefore created a conceptual proposal for the Gowanus Salt Lot Public Park, which includes three buildings constructed with materials that reference the Canal’s industrial history, along with sloping hills and wetlands.


Two Trees completes Gowanus assemblage with $62M deal (The Real Deal)
The city is likely to rezone Gowanus in the near future, and developer Domain Companies recently bought two sites in the neighborhood — 420 Carroll Street for $47.5 million and 545 Sackett Street for $26.5 million — with an eye on building a larger project.
However, Marks said Two Trees does not seem to be following this strategy and noted that Lowe’s has a long-term lease on the Second Avenue site. He described the assemblage as a very long-term investment and said that the company’s short-term plans likely just involve leasing to commercial tenants.

Fast Forward: The Plan to Modernize New York City Transit (MTA)

40 Years of Chronicling the Unnoticed (NY Times)
Mostly, I was assigned to the Metro staff, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The Times explains the world, but I always felt that Metro qualified as its pulse. Covering the billowing activity across the miscellaneity of the five boroughs was never tiresome, never trite. Some reporters relish traveling to Novosibirsk or Malacca. I liked Canarsie. I liked Bayside. They were local. I liked being local.

Prince Street Girls (Magnum)
The Prince Street Girls series ultimately captured the transience of youth. Only two years later the same girls are photographed casually smoking cigarettes at Manhattan Beach, midriffs proudly displayed in their ever-shrinking crop tops. Espadrilles replace trainers, and lipstick, gum. They are now nubile teenagers, as their self conscious posturing in Meiselas’s portraits suggests. Reflecting on their budding sexuality, Meiselas writes: “In the early seventies there was little discussion about the dominance of a sexualized culture or the influence of advertising, so who were they imitating?” Maybe they were posing to impress each other. They were still in their awkward little bodies trying to find themselves.”

Weegee the Famous, the Voyeur and Exhibitionist (New Yorker)
Bonanos describes the Speed Graphic camera—even now, still part of the Daily News logo—as being “tough as anything, built mostly from machined aluminum and steel.” It was the only press credential Fellig needed at murders and fires, where, after leaving Acme, in 1934, he continued to show up with a manic freelancing zeal. A couple of years later, he was living in a room at 5 Centre Market Place, with no hot water but with a handful of books, among them “Live Alone and Like It” and “The Sex Life of the Unmarried Adult.” He decorated the place with his own published photographs—“like taxidermied heads on a hunter’s wall,” as Bonanos puts it. 

The Spectacular Personal Mythology of Rammellzee (New Yorker)
His generation grew up after urban flight had devastated New York’s finances and infrastructure. Ramm channelled the chaos into a spectacular personal mythology, drawn from philology, astrophysics, and medieval history. He was obsessed with a story of Gothic monks whose lettering grew so ornate that the bishops found it unreadable and banned the technique. The monks’ work wasn’t so different from the increasingly abstract styles of graffiti writing, which turned a name into something mysterious and unrecognizable. Ramm developed a philosophy, Gothic Futurism, and an artistic approach that he called Ikonoklast Panzerism: “Ikonoklast” because he was a “symbol destroyer,” abolishing age-old standards of language and meaning; “Panzer” because this symbolic warfare involved arming all the letters of the alphabet, so that they might liberate themselves. 

Derelict London - Toilets (Derelict London)
After 15 years of running this Derelict London website I am still stumbling across lots of closed down toilets. A BBC report in 2016 said at least 1782 facilities have closed across the UK in the last decade (disclosed after a Freedom of Information request).
Gradually a few are being regenerated but not as public toilets.

Dog Days At Club Row (Spitalfields Life)
In Club Row itself are to be found bicycles, tyres, an occasional motor bike or a superannuated taxi. The police are frequently seen about here looking for “unofficial goods”. Chance St sells furniture and “junk”, Sclater St is a nest of singing birds, rabbits, white mice, guinea pigs and their proper nourishment. In the Street of Wirelesses the air is heavy with crooning, and Cheshire St is clamorous with “Dutch auctions”, or demonstrating remarkable inventions like the World’s Smallest Darning Loom (“Stop your missus hating you … now you can say ‘you might darn this potato, dear, while I have shave’ … and she’ll do it before you’ve wiped the soap off!”).

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Lost Signs of Eastern Parkway

I took these photographs a few years back, on rides to & from work.  Were the signs still around?

Dorothy's (South Carolina) Kitchen, formerly a pharmacy, is a pharmacy once more. Rx has regained its life's purpose!  Maybe the Soul Food & the Ribs are still up top in hiding - the structure of the sign is still the same - but odds are they're wiped out.

Charter is out of sight, but as it's painted on the wall itself, it has a better chance of survival.  I like to think it's undercover.

There's another sign I ought to check on. Don't Let Your Colon Dig Your Grave. That one will have to wait.

Oh what the hell.  Here it is.  And it's gone too.  Remember to get those check-ups.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

New Rental Building at Fourth & 11th Changes Hands for $81M

The rental apartment building at 237 11th Street (formerly known by a 470 Fourth address) has been sold.  It was developed by the Adam America/Slate team, and leasing began last summer.  Now it has been bought by Trinity Place Holdings for $81M. 

The building stands 12 stories tall and contains 105 units, and leasing started in August, according to Trinity. The residential portion of the building is now about 63 percent leased, and the property includes 6,264 square feet of retail as well, part of which is leased to Starbucks.
Trinity purchased the building from Adam America Real Estate, Slate Property Group and Naveh Schuster. Matthew Messinger’s firm financed its acquisition with a $67.8 million loan, although this has not yet appeared in property records. Trinity did not immediately respond to a request for comment about which institution the loan was from.  (The Real Deal)

I've written a number of posts about 237 11th/470 Fourth, dating back as far as 2014.  Adam America/Slate have been active in the neighborhood, both in new construction on Fourth, & the acquisition of older rental buildings. You can find a few links back here & here.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Walking the Dog

I can't say I ever want to walk the dog last thing at night but once we're out, especially on nights like this, the rhythm sets in. A fifteen, twenty minute round is all it takes to put the day to bed.  The dog sets the pace, stopping at the usual corners to sniff and lift his leg and piss. We're in no hurry in the heat. We’re both on automatic, except if one of us scents or spots a raccoon - a flicker of drama catching us out of one dream state & into another.  Always this time of night the closing of the shutters & the garbage hauler pick ups, and always the random snatches of conversation.  A teen on a stoop, into his phone: "I mean I love you more than the fucking world," & a graying couple by the subway stairs (on Trump): "But what do we do about the man?" We're almost home when we pass a mother & a child, sitting on a bench outside a store. It's just the night for it. The boy is four or five, with cheeks like pillows. He's curled right into her; she only belongs to him.  It's her birthday, and he's singing to her softly in Spanish.  It's still May, but it's already summer.

Tree Pit

Flowers, candle wax, jar.  Early morning, Seventh Avenue by Green-Wood Cemetery

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Brooklyn Bridge, Opened May 24, 1883

Insistently through sleep - a tide of voices - 
They meet you listening midway in your dream,
The long, tired sounds, fog-insulated noises:
Gongs in white surplices, beshrouded wails,
Far strum of fog horns ... signals dispersed in veils.

And then a truck will lumber past the wharves
As winch engines begin throbbing on some deck;
Or a drunken stevedore's howl and thud below
Comes echoing alley-upward through dim snow.

And if they take your sleep away sometimes
They give it back again. Soft sleeves of sound
Attend the darkling harbor, the pillowed bay;
Somewhere out there in blankness steam 

                                     Hart Crane, from The Bridge (1930)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Street Fair

A lot of people don't like street fairs.  Take this online comment.

"In terms of not-that-controversial but entirely inconsequential topics, I offer this after walking a few blocks of the 5th Ave. street fair in Brooklyn today: NYC street fairs are all uniformly terrible and should be rethought from the ground up or just eliminated entirely."

I get at least some of the criticism.  The same old vendors at every fair bring a uniform glut of sausage and funnel cakes and hokey t-shirt stands.  The live music is a mixed bag - I'll admit to growing tired of the Brit revival band in front of Smith's.  But familiarity breeds affection as well as contempt.  It wouldn't be a street fair without the smell of grease and sugar, and judging by the dancing at Fifth & 9th, some people still enjoy another 19th Nervous Breakdown.  And really, who's so severe as to find fault with a bouncy castle or King Kong?  There are plenty of local businesses in the mix too, for whom the fair brings a yearly revenue boost, and there's often food outside the standard fairground staples.

It's not just the eats and the music. It's the street and the crowd. Just as a fall of snow disrupts the rule of keeping to the sidewalks, so a street fair gives the beleaguered pedestrian a change of perspective.  An (illusory) taste of transgression!  All the familiar markers change too, & stores become backdrops.  As well as walking in the middle of the avenue, I like the sidewalk's shift too. Relinquishing its normal role, it offers a back of the scene view of things.

Don't take a street fair too seriously - other people are having fun. Too much good taste is definitely bad for you, but cheesiness & excess calories every once in a while won't kill you.  Stay for half a dozen blocks, or walk a mile or more.  And don't worry.  It'll all be back to normal in the morning.                                               

Monday, May 21, 2018

In the Sun

27th Avenue, no. 805, Astoria, Long Island City, Queens
Berenice Abbott - May, 1937 (NYPL)

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Russo demo crew at 217 9th


Bella Donna, 2011

Brooklyn home collapse rattles neighbors, sparks evacuations (Daily News)

Former CB6 Manager Forged Papers To Give Himself Raises, DA Says (Patch)
The former district manager for Community Board 6, who resigned last year after being accused of stalking his ex-girlfriend, is now facing charges that he forged signatures of board members to give himself unauthorized pay raises.
Craig Hammerman, 53, was hit with a 17-count indictment on Monday for giving himself more than $38,000 in raises over a two year period by forging his manager's approval on documents, Brooklyn's District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced.

NYC’s ‘participatory budgeting’ procedure doles out millions, though few actually vote (Eagle)
Voting was conducted over nine days during the spring at sites overseen by trained poll workers. Voters could also make their selections online or through LinkNYC sidewalk kiosks after verifying their identity.
Nonetheless, the program suffers from low voter turnout.
In Lander’s District 39, which includes the relatively well-educated and empowered citizens of Cobble Hill, Gowanus and Park Slope, just 6,000 residents voted out of roughly 127,650 eligible voters over the age of 10. That’s a turnout rate of just 4.7 percent — compatred to a low 8 percent in the 2016 federal primary election, 35 percent in the presidential primary, and 62 percent in the November General Election, according to Gotham Gazette.

In Staten Island, a remote wilderness is threatened by encroaching development: Touring the urban wilds of the Sharrotts Shoreline on Staten Island’s southern end (Nathan Kensinger at Curbed)
On the South Shore of Staten Island, where Tappen’s Creek flows into the Arthur Kill, a remote wilderness has taken root on forgotten land. Deer and woodchucks wander through forests filled with abandoned cars; geese and ducks paddle around marshlands littered with engine blocks; and ospreys nest in a boat graveyard.
This is the Sharrotts Shoreline, a unique maritime habitat that has somehow managed to thrive, even after decades of neglect. Isolated and almost inaccessible, the secluded coastline here is part of the rural neighborhood of Charleston, where the narrow roads are lined with Victorian homes, ancient cemeteries, and active horse stables. There are no signs or public paths connecting this community to its shoreline, which is perhaps one reason why the wildlife here has flourished.

Foamland Security: Ferry Riders Say de Blasio’s Subsidies Spare Them Subway Trauma (Voice)
Each of the existing SBS routes carries more passengers alone than the ferry system in total. Some individual SBS routes, such as the Bx12 (15,576,377 annual riders) or the M15 (14,128,504) carry orders of magnitude more New Yorkers per year than the entire ferry system.

The Gentrification of Canal Street (NY Times) Re-edited after publication, with a fresh title, but still a read & wince Times piece ...
“Personally, I love the grittiness of it,” said Ms. Standefer, who likened Canal Street to the area around NoMad, where she and Mr. Alesch designed the Ace Hotel. “Both have this thriving, high-low energy.”

Beloved Street-Fashion Photographer Bill Cunningham Is Getting a Career-Spanning Museum Retrospective (artnet)
The show will be on view (at The New York Historical Society) from June through September, drawing to a close just in time for New York Fashion Week and the highly anticipated publication of Cunningham’s secret memoir, Fashion Climbing, discovered by his loved ones after his death.

Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford – review (Guardian)
Gayford deploys Bacon’s voice to brilliant effect, and you hang on to every word, from his conviction that he wanted his pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, leaving a trace of human presence “as a snail leaves its slime”, to his sudden, hungry observation, made one sunny day in Soho, that a horizontal shadow “eats into the figure, like a disease”.

Hamlet, thy name is woman: Why Michelle Terry's Globe is staging post-gender Shakespeare (Guardian)
“We have at our disposal a canon and a body of work that is essentially about the human being,” explains Terry, summing up her approach to the plays and to the casting of them. “There are no character descriptions in Shakespeare. There is nothing prescriptive about who can and should play what. Our job as actors is to offer up the impression of a person’s character in all its complexities and ambiguities.”
This then offers up the possibility of alternative ways of looking at the world. “For me,” Terry says, “that is what Shakespeare was doing within the limiting constraints that he was writing in. We don’t have those constraints anymore.

The Last Derelict House In Spitalfields (Spitalfields Life)
Of all the old houses in Spitalfields I know, this is the one that has most retained its soul. The house holds its own silence and the din of the contemporary world is drowned out by it.

Friday, May 18, 2018

On 9th Street

Here are some shots of 217 9th Street.  Amongst the crowd of burly men assessing the scene, or simply schmoozing on the sidewalk, we think we spotted a lone woman, familiar figure on the demolition scene Marie Grasso.  If not her 'twas her doppelganger.  Bystanders, including myself, were transfixed by the scene, & all of us hoping the demo would get done good & quick, to let the people on either side to get back in their buildings.  A DOB honcho was keeping the timeline for this on a strictly "no comment" level.

Building Collapse at 217 9th

Updated 5/18:

Demolition plans were filed for 217 9th Street a week ago. On Thursday night, the building partially collapsed.  Fortunately the building was vacant and there were no injuries, but a number of nearby neighbors have been evacuated from their homes. More to follow.

By coincidence, I wrote a post on the house yesterday, which was posted today. It references an earlier post from 2015, which included the following:

The building last changed hands almost twenty years ago, and is being developed by its longtime owner. According to a story in The Daily News, in 2010 Mr. Singh and his wife, Thackoordai, were indicted on fraud charges. 

 A couple who own $12 million worth of real estate conned Medicaid into accepting their application and received $9,000 in free medical care, the Brooklyn district attorney charged Wednesday. 
Praim (Roger) Singh, 55, and his wife, Thackoordai Singh, 55, who own 16 properties in Brooklyn, face a minimum of seven years in prison. 
They are charged with falsifying their Medicaid applications - claiming they did not own any property, businesses or bank accounts and subsisted solely on Praim Singh's $225weekly salary.                                                                                                                                          (Daily News)

In recent years, Mr. Singh appears to have sold at least some of his many properties.

The post I wrote yesterday:

Back in 2015 plans were filed for a new building at 217 9th, one of the last grand wooden houses on 9th Street between Third & Fifth Avenues. The plans were disapproved and the old house remained.  Now a demolition application has been processed, so it looks like new building plans are may be on the way again.

Since 2015, the north side of the block has seen some changes.  Houses at 227-233 9th (two brick, two frame) were demolished, and a seven-story apartment building is currently under construction.  Closer to Third, a rental building has risen.  There's that de rigueur Kentile sign again.

Another Supermarket Gone

At the end of last year I noticed that the Bravo supermarket space was up for lease.  Bravo has remained open since then, but will be closing at the end of the month. The owner of the store is retiring, and there's no word on what business will be coming in next.  I doubt it will be a supermarket.

Bravo is a New York-based company. Most of its stores are in the New York area (especially Brooklyn & Queens) and in Florida. It caters especially to Latino shoppers. There are a couple of other Bravos not too far away in Sunset Park.  But with the area ever more wealthy and white, with rents increasing and land turned over for development, this kind of mid-sized market is vanishing.  Emporium, at Fifth & 7th, is still around, and has shifted a little to cater to newer shoppers; the hot lunch table has gone and some of the items are slightly more upmarket.  But it's still a regular, unpretentious kind of store, still skewed towards an older, less affluent, residential base.

The shelves are starting to empty at Bravo.  All the packaged items are selling at a 50% discount - an excellent deal for thrifty shoppers and those on a budget.  But you'll carry your bargains home with a heavy heart.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Plans filed on 23rd

Update on 303-305 23rd Street.

Plans have been filed for a four-story, eleven unit building, with a 303 23rd Street address.  The architect on record is Manhattan based Marin Architects.  The 50 ft. tall, 20,000 sq. ft. building, standing on a 78 ft. lot, will, according to NY YIMBY, include car & bicycle parking, & a recreation room.

Bliss Street

I like taking pictures through windows too.  It's always a gamble, so the pleasure's all the sweeter when the smear of the glass is just fine for that one bright moment passing Bliss Street on a summer afternoon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Road Trip

I don't know much about Walter Silver (1923 - 1998) other than that he taught at The School of Visual Arts, and also worked as a commercial photographer.  The New York Public Library has over a thousand of his photographs in its digital collection.

The bulk of the photographs date from the 1950s - mostly pictures taken in New York, but also shots of London, Barcelona & Paris.  The New York pictures reveal a life lived at the center of the New York art world: casual, familiar pictures of studios, apartments & galleries, & the artists & writers who lived & worked in them. De Koonings, Rauschenberg, Frankenthaler, Rivers, Hartigan, Schuyler, O'Hara, Koch, et al.  The Downtown streets are represented too - clusters of street kids, dozing cats, men in hats at restaurant counters, laborers on building sites, elderly women - carefully dressed - sitting alone on sidewalk benches, waiting. 

70s pictures show billboards & graffiti, and a group from the 80s - maybe my favorites - suddenly leap into color. These color pictures are taken during bus trips.

Some of them are urban shots & others quit the city for the highway, passing tattoo parlors, parking lots, railroad cars & hitchhikers, fields & sunsets.  There's a transient beauty in this kind of photograph, taken at a light, in a jam, or on a pit stop.  You could be right there on the bus yourself, looking out the window, watching the miles go by.  The country comes right through.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018



The grey house at 197 23rd Street disappeared a couple of years ago.  There's a three-story plus penthouse there today.  Now it's the turn of 199 (at right).  On the filed demolitions at the DOB, the same owner is listed for both buildings.  199 looks pretty much the same today, minus its larger awning.  Both the buildings above were/are wooden, with stone & brick veneers, though 199 only got its front done.   In 1913 a resident of 199, Michael Parella, claimed to have been robbed in a nearby saloon.

Monday, May 14, 2018


I'd stood upon the elevated platform at Astoria Boulevard heaps of times but never saw the narrow slice of landscape where the bridge appears until the other day. And I wouldn't have seen it then unless it was pointed out to me.  There it was, in faint blue, wedged in with traffic lanes, three rowhousess, a strip of modern windows & a brick red fire escape.  It's easy to miss with all the visual mayhem going on - the limbs & skywards arrow, & the APE APE APE. And loudest of all the Realty 2000 T .  You're a kid on a sugar rush as your eyes zoom around the canvas, but if you can slow things down you can look more peacefully at ducts and vents and chimney tops and the soothing side of the apartment building -soft and brown and restful.  And then you're on the move again.    

Friday, May 11, 2018



How Riders Won the Fight for Better Buses in New York City (CitiLab)
After years of ringing the alarms, it looks as if engaged riders have convinced this massive transit agency to dedicate serious resources to a failing system. Now they’ll be waiting, and fighting, to see the results.

Mayor's BQX streetcar left out of city budget - omission of Brooklyn-Queens project pushes it back a year amid questions about feasibility (Crain's)
A 16-mile streetcar service proposed for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront is unfunded in the Economic Development Corp.'s proposed budget, suggesting that preliminary planning might not begin for at least a year—should the city ever move forward with the project.

Anthology Film Archives – 2018 Village Awardee (Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation)
There is simply nothing like Anthology Film Archives (AFA) in NYC or anywhere else in the world in terms of its sole focus on the art and culture of avant-garde film. It was founded in 1970 when Lithuanian émigré and artist Jonas Mekas and four other film devotees envisioned a permanent home for independent films. The organization’s original home was at The Public Theater. Three moves later, in 1988, it arrived at its present Second Avenue location. This building was a municipal courthouse and jail designed by architect Alfred Hopkins, built 1917-19 in the Renaissance Revival style. As Manhattan’s 3rd District courthouse, it was known as the Essex Market Courthouse.

Author Talk:"When Brooklyn Was Queer" with Hugh Ryan (BPL)
In this illuminating talk, journalist and curator Hugh Ryan will discuss the ways in which, for more than a century, the waterfront spaces in Brooklyn supported Brooklyn's queer community - providing work, entertainment, and anonymity.  From Coney Island to Red Hook - the Navy Yard to Brooklyn Heights, these areas offered a sense of freedom and belonging not found anywhere else in the borough.

Paul Gardner’s Collection (Spitalfields Life)
You will recall that I have written about Paul Gardner, the fourth generation paper bag seller, quite a few times in these pages. Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen is the longest established family business in Spitalfields, trading in the same building for one hundred and forty years, and acquiring a unique assembly of heirlooms.
... Paul told me that if he were a paper bag, he would be a brown paper bag because they are his bestsellers – multi-purpose bags, and the ones he has made most money out of over the years. So it is entirely appropriate that when Spitalfields Life Contributing Artist Lucinda Rogers drew her portrait of Paul in his shop a few years back, she drew it on brown paper. Now it hangs in pride of place high up on the wall behind the counter.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Replacement Hardware

It's always a comfort to slip into Julius Knipl territory.  Even on busy West 17th a business can defy the decades. Barry Supply Company: Replacement Hardware Specialists - music to my ears.  Look at that blue & candy colored lettering, with types of parts supplied inside lined up in jaunty slant formation.  Hardware poetry: kitchen drawer guides, shower door rollers, window balances, obsolete parts.  The parts themselves, serviceably illustrated, are a little obscure to those outside the trade, and this is as it should be.  There's nothing I like better than the arcane languages of specialized businesses & amateur (or scholarly) obsessions.  You have to be in the know.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

From the Train

Senior graffiti or the hand of a transit obsessive?  Or both.  Or neither.  But even if it's pure coincidence, a nice touch at the Astoria-Ditmars station, which served both the IRT/BRT (BMT) lines until 1949, when IRT service was discontinued.  There are other details to enjoy here too.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


I just missed a shot of the Food Nation truck.  While some spot birds, it seems my fate's to look up to the sky & catch Food Nation as it slogs along the BQE/Gowanus, & here it was again, but this time on the Triborough, almost at eye-level.  Was there a message here?

Back on Randall's Island I took perverse delight in catching a glimpse of the Moses lair.

With his power, Robert Moses built himself an empire.
     The capital of this empire was out of public sight - a squat gray building crouching so unobtrusively below the Randall's Island toll plaza of the Triborough Bridge that most of the motorists who drove through the toll booths never even knew that the building existed.  And most of them were ignorant also of the existence of the empire.
     But those whose interest in geography centered on the map of power knew of its existence very well. They realized that although theoretically it was only a creature of the city, it had in fact become an autonomous sovereign state.
                                                                           Robert Caro, The Power Broker

This week's New Yorker Radio Hour features Colm Tóibín interviewing Caro.  It's a superb interview with Tóibín urbane & insightful, & Caro discussing his two biographical subjects - Moses & Lyndon B. Johnson - with a storyteller's art.  Caro's pleasure here is evident - "best interview I've ever had," he remarks at the end.  A big part of the listener's pleasure lies in Caro's voice.  For me it's the voice of the city itself. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

What Playground?

Well that was short-lived.  The recently installed playground signs under the Culvert Viaduct, at Third & 10th, have vanished!

Late March


We'll see if the Parks Department has an answer ...

Update - 5/11:

"Thank you for writing to NYC Parks regarding the property formerly designated as Fran Brady Under the Tracks Playground.

The property has always been owned by the MTA, although Parks was allowed to use it up until the 1990s as a playground. When the MTA began work on the F-train viaduct, its use as parkland was ended and it is no longer under Parks’ jurisdiction, nor will it be in the future. The MTA-owned site has been used for storage and in their operations.

Any signage that staff may have temporarily affixed to the perimeter of this property was provided in error.

Best regards,

NYC Help"

Update, 10/18: I forgot to add this.  At a Gowanus zoning meeting later in the year, Council Member Lander stated that the sign was a fake, presumably put there as some sort of prank.  An impressive facsimile, if that's the case.  I'd love to know who's responsible.  

Friday, May 4, 2018



De Blasio Moves to Bring Safe Injection Sites to New York City (Daily News)
If the plan proceeds, sites would open as a one-year pilot program in up to four locations — Gowanus in Brooklyn, Midtown West and Washington Heights in Manhattan, and Longwood in the Bronx. There are currently needle exchanges at each proposed site. The injection facilities would be run by the nonprofit Research for a Safer New York, and would not get city money.

Cash Cash or Lights Out (Walkers in the City)
In her book, she (Viv Albertine) talks a lot about her mother, who was born in 1919, and about the ladies of her mother’s age and the limitations they had to live with even as smart people who wanted to live life to the brim. She wrote about how after her mother divorced her father, just not having to do all his laundry and cook for him felt like tremendous luxuries to her. And how, when Viv was a kid, her mother would take her and her sister to the seaside for a whole day and let them do everything they wanted with all the money she’d saved for it, and then tell them that they’d had so much fun that they’d actually managed to cram a whole two-week vacation into that day, and she was so convincing that they believed her. Reading that, I thought, yes, that way of thinking is really the secret, isn’t it.

Scenes Unseen: The Summer of ’78 (NY Times)
Like the starlight that travels millions of years before we see it, the four little boys stand in their underpants at Coney Island on an August day in 1978, and it is only now, in a found photograph, that we behold them.  The ocean has not quite left their hair. Four decades later, they are still flexing their muscles, still just about 10-going-on-11.
... Until now, none of these images have ever been displayed or published. A selection of them are here and in a special print section. More will be on view from May 3 through June 14 at the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park, 830 Fifth Avenue, near 64th Street.

Can Cities Make Us Better Citizens? (New Yorker)
Sennett likes “grim.” He also likes “difficulty,” “complexity,” and “friction.” His critique of the effect of digital devices on the city, apart from the fact that they are “individualizing machines,” is that apps like Google Maps make the city too user-friendly, too “friction-free.” If you think that the role of a designer, whether of software or of city streets, is to make those things easier to use, Sennett would disagree. He sees “encounters with resistance” as crucial to learning any craft, even the craft of dwelling. Getting lost is how we learn.

100 Years Ago: France in the Final Year of World War I (The Atlantic)
The American photographer Lewis Hine is perhaps most famous for his compelling images of child labor across the United States in the early 20th century. In 1918, Hine was hired by the American Red Cross to document their work in Europe, as they provided aid to wounded soldiers and refugees affected by World War I. The photographs were also intended to drum up support for the Red Cross, and appeal to an American audience back home who had grown weary of the war, even as it crawled toward a close. Hine traveled across France, photographing refugee families, orphaned children, wounded and shell-shocked soldiers, the nurses and volunteers who cared for them all, the ruined buildings they fled, and the temporary homes they filled.

This Film Series Undercuts the Macho Mythology of Seventies Moviemaking in America (Village Voice)
Men like Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Schrader are constantly credited with defining a generation of rebellious auteurs who broke free of the studio system to revitalize cinema in Seventies America. But BAM (the programmer is Jesse Trussell) is countering this narrative, bringing into focus the era’s sidelined female trailblazers through 42 of their titles. Their work stands against the brand of macho bravado in which such New Hollywood classics as Easy Rider reveled — and is all the more subversive for it. It’s fascinating, too, to discover their influence on much-beloved scenes of the future, whether it’s the fake-orgasms banter of 1977’s First Love, predating the iconic comic fodder of When Harry Met Sally, or the struggling artist–meets–awkward moments shtick that Girlfriends nailed way before the likes of Girls and Frances Ha.

Olivia Laing: 'There's no book I love more than Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature' (Guardian)
I can’t remember now how Jarman entered our world. A late-night TV screening of Edward II? Kitty was immediately obsessed. She’d watch and rewatch his films in her room, his most unlikely and fervent fan, bewitched in particular by the scene of Gaveston and Edward dancing together in their prison, two boys in pyjamas moving to the sound of Annie Lennox singing “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”.
It was the books that did it for me. Returning to Modern Nature recently I was astounded to see how thoroughly my adult life was founded in its pages. It was here I developed a sense of what it meant to be an artist, to be political, even how to plant a garden (playfully, stubbornly, ignoring boundaries, collaborating freely).

Charles Chusseau-Flaviens, Photographer (Spitalfields Life)
Photographer Charles Chusseau-Flaviens came to London from Paris and took these pictures, reproduced courtesy of George Eastman House, before the First World War – mostly likely in 1911. This date is suggested by his photograph of the proclamation of the coronation of George V which took place in that year. Very little is known of Chusseau-Flaviens except he founded one of the world’s first picture agencies, located at 46 Rue Bayen,  and he operated through the last decade of the nineteenth and first decade of the twentieth century. Although their origin is an enigma, Chusseau-Flaviens’ photographs of London and especially of Petticoat Lane constitute a rare and surprisingly intimate vision of a lost world.