Wednesday, November 6, 2019

B-Ball NYC

"For those who have crashed their skulls against poles, chain link fences, and concrete after taking it to the butter, and have gotten up and kept playing"

                                                 from "For Those Who Know ... the Playground" - Bobbito Garcia

Larry Racioppo's newest book, B-BALL NYC is a great tribute to the game here in New York. Basketball played city-wide, from Hunts Point to East New York, from Sunset Park to Staten Island, in a playground or a gym, or anywhere a wall or a fence or a branch of a tree can accommodate a makeshift hoop.  Along with its cousin soccer (as played in the cities of the world where nobody calls it that), a game where a ball and the wobbly painted lines of goalposts are all you need by way of equipment, basketball belongs to everyone.

Players are largely absent from the book. The sidewalks & scrappy lots and & rain-slicked schoolyards are mostly caught in between games, when the kids are elsewhere.  But their spirits are ever present.  Generations of them. The photographs span forty years of street ball dreams.

Tomorrow night there'll be a B-BALL NYC exhibition opening and book signing at the Brooklyn Arts Council, in DUMBO.  Details below.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

13th Street, 1982

Here's a film worth seeing. In tandem with the Undesign the Redline interactive installation currently at the Art Mobile in Thomas Green Park, the Fifth Avenue Committee will be showing the 1982 Erik Lewis documentary Where Can I Live - A Story of Gentrification on October 26th. The film examines the harassment and displacement of working-class Black and Brown Park Slope tenants in the early 1980s. Its main focus is on a group of 13th Street residents fighting to protect their homes and their community. The film was shot just as the Ansonia Clock Factory was being redeveloped as co-operative housing, as were a number of smaller multi-family rental buildings, and as landlords & developers were emptying buildings as fast as they could to maximize rents & property conversions.

Where Can I Live reminds us of just how much more diverse Park Slope used to be - both racially & economically.  A neighborhood that loses that diversity is always a diminished one.

The film will be shown at 12:30 at 621 Degraw Street, home of the Fifth Avenue Committee. You can also watch it online, on Vimeo.  A word of warning: the online film has a very uneven sound quality, making some parts of it inaudible.  I imagine the screening at FAC will have overcome those issues.

Where Can I Live - A Story of Gentrification from Erik Lewis on Vimeo.

Looks like this film is no longer available, but here's a link to regional libraries that have copies either on VHS tape or on DVD.

Friday, September 27, 2019


I noticed these signs at the Lopez Bistro last week.  The Lopez bakery appeared in the neighborhood at Fifth & 8th back in 2005, and moved down to Fifth and 19th five years later, expanding to offer restaurant food as well as baked goods.  It became a well-loved local staple, with more of a cafe/diner feel than a bistro. Checking on the dates of their arrival/move surprised me a bit - it felt like they'd been around much longer.  They'll be missed.

Friday, September 6, 2019

In September

What's sweeter than a cherry ice at summer's end? The sun's still hot, but days are shortening, as summer dips into the fall.  And coming home from the train, there on the block, is the ice cart.  The luck of it! To buy an ice for a couple of bucks, and take it only steps away, and sit to eat it on the sidewalk by your door.  To spoon it in its concentrated cold before it melts, with movements both rapid and precise. By the end of it all your mouth's stained red. The ice is gone and you're the cherry flavor now.

Truth be told, the carts are easy enough to find, and stick around well beyond summer, or even fall.  I've eaten cherry ices in Detective Joseph Mayrose Park in winter, when the weather turned mild enough.  It's pretty great to eat a cherry ice outside round Christmas.  If you don't think about it too much.  But the ones in September are the best, so loaded with sentiment, what with the year turning and another birthday gone, and everything speeding up beyond control.  Eat them as slowly as you can.  But hurry. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


The dog reacted badly to the move.  Familiar streets walked from a different home base confused and frightened him.  He refused to turn up certain blocks and one time slipped his collar and bolted.  The prospect of walks set him panting and trembling.  When it was time to go out, he hid.

He's much better now.  The panting and the trembling has gone.  Indoors, he lounges rather than skulks.  When we're out, he still wants to set his own, seemingly arbitrary routes, but is easily coaxed to compromise.  It's as though he's resetting his place in a tilted world, mapping the design of his new old territory.

I'm the same, minus the trauma.  I find I don't miss the old house a bit.  I love this geographic rearrangement.  What's your immediate neighborhood?  Five, ten, twenty blocks?  Even a short move changes the radius, and sets a lot of the regular walks into reverse.  The angles are all different.  Even a street you've walked thousands of times is new again.  For that, and this shift in the altogether right direction, thanks.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Another wooden house getting an extra floor.  Are there fewer demolitions & more (substantial) alterations these days, at least on smaller parcels?  At any rate, this naff, extra-floor-on-wooden house stuff is getting to be a thing.

An 80s tax photo shows the original structure looking much the same as it does today,

but in the 40s it's quite different.  There's a store on the first floor, the old, original cornice is still there, and wild, two-tone asphalt shingles cover the building.  Early twentieth-century psychedelic!

In July of 1915 four-year-old Eleanor Maggie fell from a fire-escape back of the house with barely a bruise to show for it.

Monday, August 12, 2019



Demolition plans have been filed for the warehouse and adjoining rear structures at 114 - 118 15th Street, between Fourth & Third, but new residential building has not yet got the go-ahead.  Plans for a five-story, twenty unit building were disapproved in June.  Though modified, the warehouse building at right is likely the same one standing in the 1940s (see below). Where the warehouse stands today there was once a mixed-use building, that in 1903 included a store (unspecified), and a beauty parlor.  A 1920s Eagle help ad lists a need for a man to drive a "wet wash wagon" and the People's Wet Wash is mentioned in a later, 1930s ad. By the 1940s "mangle room girls" are required at the Hop Wah Wet Wash business at the same address.

In the 1940s there were still two wooden houses taking up the 116 and 118 lots.

116 15th

118 15th

118th is a curious looking building.  There are pass-through doors, easily identified at right, but the boarded-up portion at the left of the building is hard to figure out.  In 1896, the Eagle ran a story on the release of Dr. Thomas Gallagher, imprisoned in London on a charge of "complicity in dynamite plots, " and the attempts of his Brooklyn family to raise the money to bring him back home.

120 & 122 15th are still standing, and both have entrances to their back yards; the one at 120 is a narrow side entrance, but the one at 122 is a substantial pass-through. A 1903 map indicates stable buildings at the rear of both buildings.  An Eagle ad from 1892 describes the store space at 122 as the "best candy, stationary, cigar and variety store for sale in Brooklyn," and mentions its proximity to Public School 40.  The 15th Street school was originally a wooden building, housing the primary section of PS 40, before a brick structure replaced it, and connected to the brick school building on the 16th Street side. The school no longer stands.

If the store had stayed in business at the same address for thirty-six years, 122 15th would date to at least as early as the mid-1840s.  But the earliest map I could find that shows a house on the lot is from the 1890s. Maybe the candy business moved from another location.

By the 1940s, 122 is still presented as a great spot for a luncheonette or candy store, and the school is still mentioned for its market potential.

In 1946 several men were arraigned on charges of operating an illegal still at 122.  A 500-gallon still was found on the premises.

The store space at 122 is still occupied, albeit in a sleepy kind of way, its windows revealing old paintings and photographs, cameras and dolls and antique scales.  I'm pretty sure there's another kind of business - framing? - operating here too.   It's one of those places with irregular hours that I've passed countless times & always meant to visit, but never have.  Time to get moving.

122 and 120 15th 

(All black & white photographs from the DOF Tax Photos Collection)

Update: Interesting news came in about Dr. Gallagher and those dynamite plots.  More shortly!

An interesting Tweet by Joshua Mullenite (thank you!) identified Dr. Gallagher as a dynamitard, and included a link to a London Review of Books review by John Horgan, written in 1983:

A secret Clan na Gael memorandum exactly a century ago, two years after the inauguration of the 1881 Fenian bombing campaign in London and Liverpool, vowed to ‘carry on an incessant and perpetual warfare with the power of England in public and in secret’. That warfare has been intermittent rather than incessant: but the Christmas bombing in London offers devastating evidence of its durability.
The dynamitards, as the Fenians were known by their frequently frustrated opponents in the intelligence services, were capitalising on a new technology – the invention of high explosives.

Though the term dynamitard was commonly associated with Fenian activists, in the States at least it was used more broadly for any political/revolutionary bombing or bomb-making activity at the turn of the century.  The Eagle, for example, employs the term to reference "dynamitards from Italy," and suggests "Wallsall dynamitards" were manufacturing bombs to be used by Berlin "revolutionists and anarchists."

According to the Eagle story on Gallagher, his brother-in-law, Mr M. Connolly, resident at 118 15th Street, claimed that he was "satisfied, personally, that the doctor never had the slightest connection with any plot to blow up the English house of parliament or any other buildings in Great Britain," but this sounds like a rote response, and the doctor would certainly have found Fenian dynamitard sympathizers close at hand. Consider the description of this meeting at Columbia Hall in January of 1884: "No Such Thing as Honorable Warfare- How England Herself Used Dynamite. Three Hundred Thousand Irishmen Ready to Adopt Scientific Means for Fighting the Enemy" (Eagle).

Is there a body of research on Brooklyn dynamatrists?  I'd love to find out more on the South Brooklyn connection.