Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Freshness Guaranteed

The tail-end of winter is fickle.  Out today, at lunchtime, the weather had a bitter, blustery nip about it, and even in a coat & scarf I was cold.  Home & out again fifteen minutes later it was all spring all the time.  How did the sun pull it off?  The kids bursting out of middle school had spring fever all right.  Jackets off, they were loud, flirty and aching for liberty. 

Along the edge of the cemetery, the dog nosed in sidewalk piles of leaves.  I remember when there were junked cars and mounds of other garbage dumped at the perimeter.  It's a lot cleaner now, but still kind of trashy.  Delivery boxes, and takeout containers, tires and miniature liquor bottles, somebody's supermarket shopping cart and remnants of blown away gravestone flowers.

I've spent most of the last few months walking around without my better camera, relying instead on the phone. Weather & circumstances have conspired against me, and I never seem to be traveling light.  Spring, I hope, will free up the time to watch and wander. 

"Freshness guaranteed"

Monday, March 18, 2019

569 Sixth

Insurance maps of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century indicate extensions to the rear of the building and stables at the rear of the lot.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 1913

Brooklyn Daily Eagle,  August 1932

DOF Brooklyn Tax Photograph (1939-1941)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Coming Soon!

Curbed just ran a piece on new apartments coming on the market this spring.  Three of them are nearby.  119 units.  No inclusionary housing.

The Luna (Happy Living Development), at 225 9th Street, is just off Fourth, just down from the old Catene's deli. Thirty nine units, with amenities that include "a lounge, pet spa, outdoor terrace, and kid’s room."

575 Fourth (Daten Group), nestling up to the Prospect Expressway, with 70 apartments.

"There’s a ground-floor “backyard” with seating and a dog run, and a roof deck with its own private “villas” for residents."

This one's been in the works since 2015, with a change in developer along the way.

The Bentyn (Happy Living again!), at 488 Fourth, with ten apartments on offer, appears to be the closest to completion.

"Uniquely situated where the vibrant community of Gowanus and the classic beauty of Park Slope converge, Bentyn marries clean contemporary aesthetics with thoughtful, curated finishes."

You decide.

To heighten that feeling of "Brooklyn living from a fresh perspective,"the rendering on the Bentyn website has added a cornice and a snappy new entrance to the building next door (at left), and removed its current entrance along with the awning.  And sadly no glimpse of Danny's.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Blink and

A corner grocery at Fourth & 11th closed a while back, and now the space is getting a makeover.  With the vinyl awning of the last business gone, older grocery/delicatessen signs have emerged in the panels above the store's windows.

The building itself - a mixed-use apartment building with a corner store - was constructed at the end of the nineteenth-century, between 1888 and 1898, and is of conventional design for the period.  Buildings like these are solid, handsome staples of the city's streets, but we usually take them for granted.  They're functional.  We have priorities.  We're unlikely to glance at their exteriors as we hurry in for milk or beer or cigarettes.  And besides, many of their original features have long gone into hiding.  I'd passed this building many times before today, and admired the delicate decorations around the upper floor corner windows but I don't think I'd ever really looked at the outside of the store before today. The disappearance of the awning seemed to reveal not just the older window signs but also details of the entryway.  Or maybe the details were always there and I'd never noticed.

It's a funny business, the timing involved in catching a landscape's minor shifts & turns. They're there, they're gone again, in a week, a day, an hour.  We're onto them. We're looking the other way, or lost in thought, or staring at a stupid screen.  I like to think I'm observant - I'm greedy as a magpie for shiny details - but mostly it's luck.  I like it that way.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Coming & Going

Coming.  A boxing club and a bar called Young Ethel's.

Going.  Far, far away, in the Center Slope on Seventh, the Clay Pot is closing. Founded in Park Slope's hippier, brownstone 'pioneering' years, the store originally sold the owners' hand-crafted pottery and later offered a broader range of high-end jewelry and gifts.  It had a loyal customer base over the decades. The Times ran an Amy Sohn take on the closure, inevitably designed to ruffle local feathers & generate comments.  I wasn't a Clay Pot shopper myself - I barely ever go up Seventh that far & it's not the kind of place for me anyway - but I read the comments with a certain interest.  They were a mixed bag: many expressing sadness and fond memories, a few more negative, and others weighing in on the neighborhood's history, its boundaries & the changing retail scene on Seventh.  One made me laugh a little:

"First Smith St, then 5th Ave, then Vanderbilt and Washington Aves and now Flatbush Ave have all changed dramatically - for the better - in that time. There is a edge, bustle and vibrancy on these streets that has driven out the grungy, rundown and scary feel they had in the past. The only part left like that now is 5th Ave below 9th St."

I'm not sure when this Times reader last ventured out on Fifth below 9th, but it's rather a drastic vision.  Bypassing the grungy & the rundown (I don't have the energy) to the scary: really? In 2019? I've lived around here over thirty years.  And as soon as I cross Fifth & 9th street heading south, I know I'm home.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Near Flatbush

Heading up Fifth on the B63 I passed the wooden building that used to be Paul's fruit & vegetable store. Paul's closed in 2015 to become the unremarkable Brooklyn Market & Deli, & I hadn't paid it much attention since then.  These days it's Lickers N Sniffers Pet Services, a doggy daycare/grooming/pet sitting/dog walking center.  A very of-the-moment urban service niche.


Here are a couple of views from several years ago.



The upper section of the facade has barely changed at all in recent decades, but it once sported a wall of glass windows upstairs, where the second-floor space was also used as retail.

The Department of Records tax photographs shown above, taken between 1939 and 1941, show Paul's as Stutmann and Grannemann's Scandinavian Food Center, a "certified delicatessen."On one side of the Food Center you can see O'Connors Bar and Grill (1931 - 2011) with a fancier facade than is evident in its Grill-less 1980s years. Was the original building was replaced or merely altered? O'Connor's - down at heel and infinitely charismatic at the end - was succeeded by the expanded sports bar McMahon's around 2014. On the other side of the Food Center the photograph shows a plumbing and roofing business.

A decade later the deli is Stutmann's alone & the roofing & plumbing business has been replaced by a fruit & vegetable store.  As always in the city, the streetscape is never static.  A part of the fruit and vegetable store's sign - "Mohawk" - is visible, reminding one that this part of Fifth was close to Little Caughnawaga, a thriving community of Mohawk ironworkers and their families from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monday, February 18, 2019

Retail Life

Remember when ads like these and their audio versions were a staple on the TV and the radio?  When Dr Zizmor & his local pals were commercial kings of the subway?  Without a (subway-fold please) paper or a book to read, without the conversation of a friend or a casual exchange with a stranger, before the rider traveled lost, head down, in screen world, you were more alert to your surroundings.  Part of it was a rider's safety instinct, but mostly it was the sheer pleasure of eyeing your fellow New Yorkers, and listening to their conversations.  Inevitably though, there were lulls when all that was left was a queasy contemplation of the subway ads.  They had a kind of wan, hypnotic charm.

The locals ads don't have much of a presence on the subway any more.  It costs too much.  And out on the street it ain't so easy either. The pressures of online shopping and high rents and the presence of mega-stores affect the viability of chains both national and local, along with independent businesses.  There are plenty of vacancies.  I walked along Fifth from 9th to 23rd the other day and counted around forty stores either vacant or closing shortly.

After the recent death of its Queens-born founder, Neil Patron, Petland Discounts is closing its tri-state stores. Our local Petland, at Fifth & 13th, will be one of them. The Times ran a piece on the closures earlier this month.

Staff and customers at Petland Discounts stores in Brooklyn on Friday acted as though the closings were all but certain. The fish tanks’ bubbles were still roiling and the cockatiels kept chirping, but the people were glum.
Tatiana Vazquez, the Park Slope store’s manager, said she had known about her store’s impending closure for about a week.
She said Petland Discounts was struggling to compete with online retailers. Fish food priced $13 at her store, she said, could sell for $5 at the pet store site

There's a closing sale at the Park Slope store, and a steady stream of shoppers coming in.  The staff are keeping a brave face, but it's a sad scene.  You can hardly blame shoppers for wanting to save money when budgets are tight, but the more we shop online the less we support the stores in our neighborhood, and the job security of our neighbors. If you order your groceries Fresh Direct, or your purchases come to you most of the time via UPS or Fed-Ex you're a big part of the problem.  And you also miss out on the small, day-to-day exchanges that make city living such a pleasure. The city's a web of connections, beaded with light, and delicately woven. Train lines, bridges, firemen, store clerks, shoppers, panhandlers, rich, poor, old, young.  Without our mutual care and support, the city's nothing at all.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


Greschler's Hardware has been a fixture on Fifth since 1919, so amidst all the closures on Fifth it's good to know that it's marking its centennial with an expansion next door into the space last occupied by medical offices.


Saturday, February 16, 2019


I was sorry to find out that the Puebla de Los Angeles grocery store recently closed.  The building it inhabited, 722 Fifth, was put up for sale last year, along with next-door 720, and 719 across the street, at just under $10M.  An ad listed four retail units and 21 rent-stabilized apartments "with future rent growth potential."  Keep an eye on those rents. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Mlle. Lavallière in her boudoir in a characteristic pose - The Theatre, Vol. XIV, 1911

Ève Lavallière (born Eugénie Fenoglio) had planned a tour of the United States but never made it. She did get into the American papers though. She had quite a life. Born into chaotic & violent family circumstances in 1866 - her father shot her mother dead & then killed himself - she rose to become a star of the French stage, with a career that spanned from the 1890s to World War I.  While she took both light and tragic roles, she was most famous for the comic ones.  Lavallière became fabulously wealthy and had a string of lovers and patrons. Towards the end of her career, when she was in her mid-forties, she had her hair cut short by society hairdresser Antoine de Paris. It's said the new style was to make her look younger for an ingénue part but whatever the reason the style caused a stir.  She was the first French actress to wear a bob.

A Theater interview of 1911 suggests an off-stage sensibility more Bohemian than Belle Époque:

Sitting there, clad in a dainty old-rose kimono, shedding a hint of sadness, because of ill-health and the anxiety of a serious operation drawing near, the actress looked more some interpreter of mysterious Maeterlinckian princesses ... than the most witty, daring, fantastic comedienne of the French stage.  The small dark head, the waving hair, a suggestion of red in it, worn short like some Roman or Grecian boys, the oval face, alive with sensibility and sensitiveness, and an earnest, serious intelligence, the eyes very large, of a deep and beautiful brown, with heavy lashes, deep set and luminous, of an almost tragic intensity ...

A few years later Lavallière's stage career was over.  In 1917, exhausted & in a state of crisis, she retreated to a chateau near Tours, along with her personal companion, Leonia Delbecq.  Under the influence of a local priest, Father Chesteigner, she apparently underwent a religious conversion, and along with Leonia adopted a life of prayer, missionary work and meditation.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 26 December, 1926

She died in 1929.

If you look online for Lavallière today most of the initial search results come from Catholic websites; she's still a poster child for bad girl-gone-good, an irredeemably wanton soul who even entreated Satan to restore her looks miraculously drawn to the light.  Books of period vintage offer a similar angle, and many of them draw on a particular image.

The woman remains stubbornly opaque, locked into a role that runs too perfect an arc, more stylized and sentimental than her stage performances.  And how, we wonder, was the directorial control divided between the Church & Lavallière herself?  I'd love to see a (deconstructed) film version.

Monday, February 11, 2019


The warmer weather brought a winter thaw at Green-Wood, and water dripped down the cemetery walls on 23rd Street.  Next time I walked by the thermometer had dipped again and icicles were hanging from the stonework crevices.  They weren't very big - half a dozen inches at most - and they snapped off easily.  Perfect little winter daggers, here for the deed at hand and gone again.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Playing at the Montauk Theater, January 1901

NYPL Digital Collections

Maude Adams looks the scion of the Bonaparte-Hapsburg union to the life. One never thinks of her as a woman from the beginning of the play to its sad last scene. In every pictorial and superficial attribute her portrayal is flawless. Not a gesture or a pose is out of place or awkward. She wears her garments as if used to them all her life. The mask is a fine study, and the play of features is surprisingly varied and effective, while the young artist’s integrity of purpose, her dramatic aptitude, and sympathy shine through all the performance, and her own uncommon personal charm is continuously exerted.  (NY Times)

The Montauk Theater opened at 585-7 Fulton Street in 1895.

A decade later it was forced to make way for the construction of the Flatbush Extension & the theater building was moved to nearby Livingston, at Hanover Place. 

In 1907 the theater moved again to a spot on Flatbush Avenue Extension right across from its original location.  It had a series of owners, names & renovations over the next thirty years or so, ending as Billy Minsky's Brooklyn Burlesque.  It was demolished in 1940.

Adams, who started her stage career as a child, became one of the most successful and highly paid actresses of her time.  Her most popular role was the lead in J.M.Barrie's dramatization of Peter Pan. She retired from the stage in 1918, but returned to acting for a number of years in the 1930s.  She collaborated with General Electric and Eastman on improvements in stage lighting and color photography, and headed the drama department at Stephens College in Missouri.  She died in 1953, and was buried next to the grave of her longtime companion Louise Boynton.