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.

Monday, August 5, 2019


Not many vertical full-floor additions to frame houses round here. There'd better be some serious structural reinforcement.

Here's the house in the 1980s, pre-vinyl, with a brick-panel asphalt facade, and an original porch.

And here (center) is the house in the 1940s.  It's probably covered in clapboard, but it's hard to be sure. The cornice is still there, and the porch has wooden, decorative fencing, as do the neighboring buildings. Its twin next door looks pretty good; those fishtail shingles could be wooden or (by then) asphalt.  I like a good shingle..

Friday, August 2, 2019

Out Back

And here we are again,  a few blocks south.  From the living room window, trees of heaven, tangled vines, a line heavy with laundry.  The backs of the buildings have none of those front-of-the-house airs.  Who the hell cares? They dress down, show their age; patches of asphalt shingles crumble, showing the clapboards lying underneath.  A canopy covers almost all a yard and brings the inside out for the season.  It's August.  Everything relaxes.  Enjoy it while you can.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Covering the Small Stuff

Update: 7/25:

We make a correction - the War is ramped up, with a big bold corner sign.  Yes!!

Back in 2017 it looked like Harbor Fitness might be expanding into the space occupied by a vintage clothing store, a sally perhaps in the Fitness War with newly opened right-across-the-street Crunch.

Since 2017, business at the Crunch building, 555, doesn't appear to have been as successful as its owners might have hoped.  Longstanding paint company Sherwin-Williams took up one of the ground-floor retail spaces, but the other ground-floor space has remained vacant. 555 was put up for sale last year, though no sale is on record.  The sale ad revealed the rents in the building, unusually high for the area. You can read more about Crunch on Fifth here.

There are plans for medical offices in part of the 544-50 retail space on Fifth, but no gym expansion evident on this side as yet.    From DOB records it appears there'll be medical offices in at least part of the retail space at 544 - 50 Fifth.

Back in 2012 I noticed a great old Sherwin-Williams sign in Borough Park.

Sherwin-Williams Paints Cover The Earth.  Look at that paint go!

On the Move

Swallowtail mad for the parsley and cypress vine today.  It's been busy in the garden for the past few days, and it's almost impossible to catch it still.  Even the sad phone cam pics can't mask its beauty.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Let Us Pray for You

Where was the singing coming from?  I heard it blocks away and finally saw the members of the Pentacostal Roca de Seguridad out on the sidewalk.  Their building was put on the market a few years ago, but it looked like the church had managed to keep it.  I swung back to the corner half an hour later to see if I could take a picture or two up close, only to find it empty.  I'd missed at least a couple of opportunities.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Aaron Rose's Coney Island

Aaron Rose  (Museum of the City of New York)

"July is here, and so, for many, is beach season. Aaron Rose, who made his art-world d├ębut in his late fifties, at the 1997 Whitney Biennial, spent three summers in the early nineteen-sixties photographing the beaches of Coney Island. Shooting inconspicuously with a 35-mm. Leica, Rose caught his subjects unawares, and, in the process, captured the sweaty languor of New York City’s most iconic summer attraction."  (New Yorker)