29 February 2008
28 February 2008
I haven't said anything to date about the City's stultifyingly stupid and misguided plan to rezone 125th Street. But a recent article in the New York Times, which featured a mind-blowingly narrow-minded comment by the Department of City Planning deeply inappropriate chairwoman, Amanda Burden, has compelled me to weigh in. So here goes: The plan is stultifyingly stupid and misguided.
Surprised I think it's a bad idea? Yeah, I didn't think so. But, call me naive—I am surprised that somebody, anybody could think this was a good idea. The African-American community of Harlem sticks it out through thick and (mostly) thin, remaining in place so as to hold on to its history and heritage in the once-glorious, but long-blighted neighborhood, and how does the City repay them? By opening the gate to blue-chip development. Bring in those office towers, where the locals won't be able to rent space! Bring in those condos, where the locals can't afford to live! Tear down the low-scale buildings, some part of the landscape for 100 years, and cast the open, airy street in darkness!
Why is glass, steel, office space and luxury housing this administration's answer to every city planning "problem." Is there no other way to revitalize a neighborhood? Must every neighborhood look like a place where Bloomberg could work and live? Are anonymous condo complexes more attractive than brownstones, however tumbledown? Is an anodyne doorman lobby better than a bumptious bodega?
To Burden's mind, probably so. Which brings us to that very telling comment of hers. She told the Times that "The idea that the street needed development hit her, she said, when she attended a recent Roberta Flack concert at the Apollo with a friend who works on the street. After the concert ended, Ms. Burden said, she asked her friend where they should eat. `Downtown,' the friend replied. "There should be a million different eateries around there, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to frame and control growth on 125th Street. The energy on the street is just remarkable, and it’s got to stay that way."
I'd be embarrassed for her if I weren't so furious. Dining choices? For upper-crust twits? That is a reason to overhaul a street, to irrevocably change its personality, erase the legacy of a people who have lived and died there for a century? You know what? If I had gone to that Roberta Flack concert and was hungry afterwards, I would have known where to eat. I would have known where to go. Anyone who knew the first thing about Harlem would have. The place may not have had white tablecloths or a snooty hostess or careful lighting, but it would have had good food, some of it of a kind you can't find the better of anywhere in the City. Sylvia's, Amy Ruth's, Rao's and Patsy's, just to begin with the legendary places. There is wonderful Senegalese food to be found. A Zagat's will tell you about plenty more.
Much Jean-Georges open something on old 125 for Harlem to past muster?
Wait a minute! It's all coming together now. Mayor Mike likes Subway sandwiches and Cheeze-Its. The Parks Department doesn't like the Red Hook Ballfields food vendors. Burden doesn't think there is anything to eat in Harlem. It's all so clear! The Bloombergians hate good food! No wonder they're so miserable.
The world is now safe from the Rat-Squirrel House. Relatively, anyway. Some time yesterday or today some construction types hemmed in the Cobble Hill hazard. It's not a shed, per se; it's scaffolding. As seen above, the first floor surrounded by a green wooden box of scaffolding on top of blue metal poles and capped with a sprawling plywood bowl the shape of a giant catcher's mitt—all the better to catch the cornice and air-conditioner when they fall.
And that cornice is going to fall, boy! The arrival of the scaffolding seems to have given the sad building the permission to let it all hang out, with the cornice noticeably sagged further southward. I give it ten days before a big chunks drops down.
Well, whaddaya know. What I reported turned out to be true. Construction did begin at Chumley's on Monday, just list owner Steve Shlopak said. Eater posted evidence of the activity and the sight cheers my heart. I think the predicted opening date of May is pretty damn optimistic, but at least the building's not sitting there silent.
27 February 2008
Just posting this for fun. I eat meat, but even this butcher window gives me the willies. Pig toes? Baby goats? Eeesh! Gotta hand it to them, though, for flying their true colors. They're butchers, and no two ways about it.
Don't now how I missed it all these years, but today, as I stood at the intersection of Ninth and 42nd, this sign hit my eyes like a bullet.
The sign just reeks of "Lost Weekend" and "Taxi Driver" and every other film every made of the seedy side of New York City. The old Pepsi logo, the block-lettered "Hotel," the sign small of it and the fact it swings forlornly in the wind—all beautiful. The hotel in question is the Elk Hotel, a flophouse. The sign hangs on the Eighth Avenue side, and one has to imagine it's there for drunks trying to getting to their room who can't figure out why somebody moved the door. Oh, I just love the sign. Love it, love it.
26 February 2008
What's going on with 143 Spring Street, the home some time ago of the barbeque place Tennessee Mountain, but the home lately of absolutely nothing?
The Crocs company—the Boulder, Colorado-based outfit that makes a ton of really popular, ugly shoes—bought the building back in the summer of 2006. One would think Crocs would have the money to open the location, or at least keep it up. But look at it. It's falling apart. The paint is chipped, the facade and windows are defiled with graffiti, windows are broken. I took a picture of it at this time last year and it was in significantly better shape. This is a historic, landmark building in one of the City's most visible landmark districts and it's just going to pot.
Some joker named William J. Rockwell Architect LL has filed a lot of papers lately with the DOB lately to begin a lot of construction work, but I don't see anything going on. I guess that's what happens when your landlord is in Longmont, Colorado.
143 Spring Street
Ur-New Yorkiness can be found in the most unlikely of places, so you have to keep you eyes and mind open. Strip malls would seem to be a product of suburbia and the enemy or urban authenticity. But the Skyview Shopping Mall in Riverdale rebukes that notion.
Why? Well, perhaps because, judging from its appearance, it was built back in the early '60s and was thus an early example of strip-mall architecture, when builders still strove to create something with a modicum of character. But mainly because it is filled with with mom-and-pop businesses that seem to have rented out their spaces the day the mall opened. (The black-and-white photo below testifies that at least two of the shops—the pharmacy and the deli—were indeed part of the mall when it began.)
There is a (kosher) Dunkin' Donuts here, and a Food Emporium. Beyond that, however, there's a pharmacy and a card store that your grandmother could have recognized as what a pharmacy and a card store should look like, exhibiting no advertising or sales techniques that were invented after World War II. Anchoring the mall are three well-established kosher businesses. (Skyview is a kosher wonderland, in fact; fully three-quarters of the stores have rabbinical supervision.) These are Skyview Wine & Spirits, which is renowned for having the best selection of kosher wine in New York City; Gruenenbaum's, a bakery with a small lunch place in the back (it has other locations elsewhere); and Skyview Glatt Kosher Deli, one of the last good real New York Delis left in the city. The last two also boast nifty signs.
The whole mall bristles with character and brassy Gotham integrity. You wouldn't find it anywhere else.
25 February 2008
There's been a lot of ire addressed at the aggressive, Williamburg, Robert Scarano creation known as the "Finger Building," called such because (I presume) of its shape and the way it sticks out like a sore thumb (or finger) in the middle of the block, and, also, because it is figuratively giving the finger to its low-slung neighbors.
I'm no Finger Building apologist. But a walk through Soho recently recalled to my memory that it is possible for a finger building to bring beauty to a community. Look at this long slender number on the south side of Broome Street, near Broadway. Now that's a finger you could welcome into the neighborhood! The architect, one John T. Williams, adhered to the cast-iron character of the area when he built the thing in 1895, and, since the building would be so prominent, endeavored to make it as attractive as possible, from foot to crown. There are only three windows across on the Broadway side, but 26 on the Broome side; the contrast is quite striking, as is the large, oxidized cornice on top.
In one respect, however, Soho's 19th-century finger building is similar to Williamsburg's 21st-century finger building—its architect was a jerk. Williams was not only an architect but a developer, and he didn't give a tinker's damn what the public thought. According to the New York Times:
In the 1890's he was involved in a controversy with Phillips' Presbyterian Church at the northeast corner of 73d Street and Madison Avenue. Williams decided to build a private stable for his own use next to the church, and he was subjected to a storm of editorial and public condemnation. Stable builders in such situations generally retreated, but Williams remained unmoved, refusing even to meet with the church's architects.
Oh, well. At least he left behind a gorgeous building, not a piece of crapiteture.
The Rat Squirrel House on Kane Street in Cobble Hill is in a state of stasis since being shut down and roped off a couple of weeks ago. A promised wooden shed to cover the eyesore and public hazard has not arrived, even as increased media attention has.
New York 1, whose presence Lost City reported on Feb. 14, ran its story on the tumble-down landmark last week. The story contained a few interesting pieces of information. Landlady Arlene Karlsen owes the Department of Buildings $130,000 in fines, "but the city has compelled her neither to pay up nor to move out." The DOB lamely told NY1 that "they had to allow her the opportunity to make repairs." This, four years after the fines began. The DOB did, however, issue an "Emergency" violation on Feb. 20. Not sure what that means, if anything.
Not that I'm complaining, but no mention whatsoever in the article of Lost City, the site where they first learned about the Rat Squirrel House. But what can you expect from a reporter with the name of Lindley Pless?
And you wake up, you try to face the world with a cheerful mood, you browse through the news of the day—and you find another great chunk of New York is chucked into the dustbin.
Just yesterday, I was bidding farewell to Cafe La Fortuna on the Upper West Side. This morning, the Brooklyn Eagle tells me Armando's, an anchor of Brooklyn Heights' Montague Street will be closing March 16 after 72 ever-lovin', blue-eyed years.
We can't blame the landlord this time, because the restaurant owner is the landlord. Peter Byros, who's owned the one-time Sinatra haunt for the last 27 years, has decided to redevelop the property, and has already rented out the space to another eatery. This place isn't just some old Italian joint. It's a real slice of Brooklyn history. The Dodgers used to eat there after the game. Norman Mailer ate there. Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller reportedly dined there when Miller lived in Brooklyn Heights. (Monroe is commemorated on the walls with several photos and one not-altogether cheesy oil painting.)
A waiter said the place will become a sandwich shop, serving panini and such, with no bar.
Almost as sad as losing the restaurant is losing the great neon sign—the last on the strip and one of the best in the city, with its mix of blue, red and green light, slightly Deco lettering and illustration of a lobster.
Cafe La Fortuna did not forget its most famous patron on its last day in business. On Sunday, capacity crowds listening to "Mind Games" on the stereo and watched a series of short films featuring Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the Upper West Side's small flat-screen television.
There was barely room to breathe at the small 71st Street cafe, which recently decided to pack it in after rents skyrocketed and one of the two owners died. Dozens packed the two rooms of small wooden tables, while a line ran out the door. By their bohemian, somewhat older, slightly mangy look, the customers appeared to be died-in-the-wool Upper West Siders, the kind of well-read, left-leaning people who used to dominate the neighborhood before the yuppies and richies moved in over the past decade. Unsmiling counter staff were busy fixing endless orders of salads and pastries. One man of unknown affiliation was filming the scene, presumedly for the news. Others (like moi) made due with digital cameras. Everyone seemed to know that something special was passing into history.
In the window, the sole remaining owner, Vincent Urward (whose co-owner wife had passed), posted a sign which began "Cafe La Fortuna has become another casualty of an out of control real estate market." That's "out of control," not healthy, not robust, not vigorous; call it what it is. "[We wish] to acknowledge no animosity toward any single landlord." That's all right, Vince; I'll acknowledge him: New landlord, you suck. May you choke on every new dollar you get from your new tenant, and may the scolding phantasm of John Lennon haunt your sleep.
22 February 2008
I was in the Village recently and thought I'd swing by the wreck of Chumley's to mope over the tragedy of it all for a while. To my surprise, I found the door leading to the speakeasy's secret courtyard back entrance open, so I went in to cast my eyes on the long-unseen wooden door.
As I loitered there, I was surprised by the sudden entrance of a man who asked if I was looking for Chumley's. "May," he said. Huh? "It will open in May. Work begins on Monday." Assuming he was a neighbor, I asked if that's what he had heard from the owner. "I am the owner," he said. Egads! This was Steve Shlopak.
Shlopak has name a lot of dates for the reopening in the past: October, Thanksgiving, etc. But the mention of Monday as a start-work date was very specific and set my heart a-fluttering with newfound hope. Let's hope there's some truth in it.
City Room reports that the charming Upper West Side Cafe La Fortuna, which was a favorite of John Lennon and Yoko Ono back in the day, will close on Sunday.
The 30-year-old cafe lost its kind, ungreedy landlord three years ago. He kept the rent low for the owners' sake. (Can you imagine?) No such luck with the new landlord. That made things tough. Then, in January, Alice Urwand, the wife part of the husband-and-wife team that ran the place, died. Her spouse Vincent decided it was time to pack it in.
The cafe, on W. 71st Street, has only been in operation since 1976, but it feels somehow eternal. It is small, with brick walls, a black tin ceiling and small tables. They only take cash. Sadly, I only visited this place for the first time last year. I'll try to make it there one more time this weekend.
It seems only last year when we were all breathing a sigh of relief with the reopening of the classic Carroll Gardens Monteleone bakery as the Monteleone and Cammareri bakery, after the former sat shuttered for many months and the latter for several years. Well, actually it was just last year.
But now it appears that the future of wonderful mecca of crusty bread and miniature pastries may be in question again. A realty company is listing the bakery as up for sale. The listing read "FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITY TO OWN A PIECE OF BROOKLYN’S HISTORY!!!
In the Heart of Carroll Gardens, a Well-Established Pastry Shop is Up For Grabs!" A quick call confirmed it was Monteleone, and whoever came up with the $550,000 asking price (which includes a lot of baking equipment) could keep it as a bakery or change it into anything they want. Sigh.
20 February 2008
I guess I knew the Broadway Inn had to go sometime—it was just too cheap and too small to survive in today's Times Square, and was part of a block that has been falling down address by address—but somehow I missed it's actual exit.
I walked by its location at the southeast corner of 46th and Eighth today and found the doorway boarded up. Looked like it had been that way for some time. The Broadway Inn was a small hotel used mainly by bargain-seeking tourists looking to see a few shows and lower tier theatre professionals. The rooms were small, but clean and inexpensive. The lobby, which was on the second floor, had a twee charm to it; the place was more like a bed and breakfast than anything.
The old eatery and bar JR's used to be part of the same building. On the 45th Street side of the block is where the low-rent restaurants Barrymore's and Sam's used to be. Rumors have been flying around for years that this end of the block is to be torn down so that another large hotel, possibly one with a theatre inside, might be erected. Something's up, that's for sure, because the businesses keep closing and nothing's coming in to replace them. The Shubert Organization is thought to be involved somehow, since they own or owned a number of the properties that now lay dormant. The whole thing's a big freakin' mystery that's sure to end badly.
Paid a call on the Edison Cafe—aka The Polish Tea Room—for the usual bowl of matzo ball soup, and noticed a brighter, cleaner vibe to the whole place. Sure enough, the diner is in the midst of a paint job. The peach-pink walls have been replaced by a calmer, soothing, creamy tan. The intricate scroll work has been kept white. It looks like the painters paid a great deal of attention to detail and I applaud their work. The place looks swell and hasn't lost an ounce of its character.
The day I visited, the lunch traffic was brisk. I mean the place was packed. No wonder, since there is virtually nowhere else to go in the neighborhood for a good, cheap lunch anymore.
Like cockroaches, chain stores will make a home in any nook or cranny where they see an opening.
This tiny Dunkin' Donuts is on a semi-subterranean level of the 50th Street subway stop on the 1 line. What makes its presence so galling is this where the old Siberia bar used to be. Siberia was a deliciously gritty, grungy hole-in-the-wall dive that had a particularly cool vibe because it was hidden from view, and known only to those who knew it. The owners claimed the space used to be a gathering of old KGB types. From spies to sprinkles; not much of an evolution.
19 February 2008
Cable Channel 12 appears to have been the first to have brought the saga of the Rat Squirrel House to the TV screens. I didn't see the item, because—luddite that I am—I don't have cable, but a helpful reporter at the station sent me the text. It read:
(02/19/08) COBBLE HILL - Neighbors are upset over shingles flying off a roof and plenty of squirrels and pigeons in a vacated Cobble Hill home.
The city slapped a vacate order last week on 149 Kane St., which has landmark status. Residents say it's been a long time coming.
"With the roof open and water coming through the building, what's on the sides of the home can be affected," said neighbor Anthony DiGuglielmo.
According to residents, the owner, who reportedly lived in the rundown brownstone as recently as last week, often got defensive when they suggested that she make repairs.
Neighbors hope the situation will improve now that the Department of Buildings has stepped in.
There's a video out there that you fine folks in cable-land can access. I like the tidbit about the landlord getting defensive. I wonder where she's gone to, or if, maybe, she's still in there. I wouldn't be surprised.
In the meantime, Monday was a rainy day—always bad news for Rat Squirrel House, which has a mighty porous roof. The cornice visibly drooped closer to the ground. It might be my imagination, but I feel the entire building has aged markedly in the week since the Fire Department and Department of Building came down on it's head. It is now almost romantic in its decrepitude.
Still, public safety must be taken into consideration. So, please, DOB, get that shed out here to cover up the ruin. And please take that air conditioner out of the second-floor window. That baby is coming down any minute now.
The streets of New York City are some visually multifarious that, whenever a condo-tower-in-the making or a gleaming fast food sign offends your eyes, soon enough something, however small, comes along to delight them.
In from of a Clinton Street home near Cobble Hill Park, some considerate and slightly eccentric homeowner has constructed a tiny model of the City around the property's street-tree plot. It's made of blonde wood and metal and is easy to miss, since it very much resembles a low-lying fence. Look closely, however, and you'll see the profile of the Brooklyn Bridge out front and a familiar skyline to the north side, including the Chrysler and the Empire State and a couple others I'm not sure of. It makes me smile every time I pass it.
It's the odd way "Espresso" curls around the corner of the sign, as if the maker hadn't quite judged correctly for space, that makes this a New York sign full of character. The white letters on black look helps, too.
18 February 2008
In the middle of semi-swanky, old-world-charm Tiffany Place in Cobble Hill, on a wall some 100 feet away from the street, are hung on the gray bricks that replaced a onetime window two unusual, incongruous masks. You have to have a keen eye to notice them. The female mask is quite comely; it would be at home on top the proscenium of any old theatre. The male mask, meanwhile, is a fright; a Halloween-worthy visage with jug ears, a high forehead and deep-set eyes. They make for an unseemly couple. Toward the right is a third mask, a bright yellow, leonine godhead of some kind.
What it's all about, I've got not idea. Bound to creep you out if they catch you off guard some night, though.
What really gets to us preservation-minded folks is not so much the intentional ruination of our City's culture by the real estate interests, but the frequent occasions in which great old things are just randomly, stupidly, thoughtlessly obliterated.
The Coney Island B&B Carousel sign is a particularly egregious case in point. The carousel itself isn't there anymore, but it's in the process of being restored. The old sign advertising the attraction has remained, meanwhile, a happy reminder of fun days gone by. Well, no more. Gowanus Lounge reports that some idiot steamrolled over the sign with a paint roller, rendering the entire surface the most putrid shade of tan. What a profane piece of rank vandalism! That sign was one of the few things left on Surf Avenue worth setting your eyes on.
(Thanks to Captain Nemo for the pictures.)
17 February 2008
15 February 2008
The Landmarks Commission has learned how to fuck up in a new way.
Not only do they ignore buildings and districts that should be landmarked, they now consider buidlings that have no right to the status of preserved, treasure buidling. The Commission "is expected on Tuesday to schedule a hearing on whether to designate Silver Towers/University Village, a concrete complex designed by I. M. Pei that was part of Robert Moses’s vast urban renewal program, as a historic landmark," wrote City Room.
I mean look at them. Look at them!! This is modern architecture at its cold, faceless, soulless worst! I don't care is I.M Pei is famous and has a cool-looking name, and put that glass pyramid in the middle of The Louvre, this is crap work, and particularly egregious in that it's in the middle of the Village. The bodegas on either side on my block are more worthy.
What the hell it this?
According to the Brooklyn Paper, the Red Hook Ballfield vendors met at Red Hook Park with members of the Parks Department for a "tour for prospective bidders," to make their intention that they want to return to their longstanding location next summer clear. They were the only ones there. But that doesn't mean they don't have competition! There are already "two unidentified groups [who] will also bid to run the thriving weekend food market."
I'm sorry, what? They're anonymous? This is OK, that the bidders can be secretive, back room entities vying for use of a public park, while the vendors expose themselves to every sling and arrow? It's OK that the other bidders don't even do the vendors and the Parks Dept. the courtesy of showing up? That smacks of rank arrogance and an assurance that they will win this (very expensive) battle.
The Parks Department has behaved like utter and complete scum in this whole affair. It's so patently clear that they never intended to give the vendors a fair shake and some deal was made with a large food concern way before the whole process began. I say, if anyone other than the vendors wins the bid, the boycott begins here.
And there's the sad fact that one vendor will definitely not return. "Victor Rojas, the ceviche man whose stand was usually the furthest west on Bay Street," wrote the Voice, "has decided to bow out already because of financial concerns." He was one of the best.
News from Queens and Brooklyn indicates the City will soon be losing two of its more authentic Italian red sauce joints.
Over at Queens Crap, a readers post news that Salerno's in Richmond Hill may be gone for good. The restaurant has been around for more than 70 years, and was a location in "Goodfellas." The door has a sign saying "closed for renovations," but word on the street is otherwise, and no one is answering the phone.
Over in Carroll Gardens, meanwhile, Casa Rosa on Court and Carroll Streets is on the market. They're asking $3.3 million for the building and lot, and, with that prime location (right near the park, lots of foot traffic and services), they'll get it. The building's been around for at least 100 years, and most of that time its been a restaurant, though not always the Casa Rosa, which is a fairly recent place. For a time, it appears, it was a pool parlor, which is cool. The DOC site shows that while the address has incurred quite a few DOB violations over the last 25 years, all of them have been dismissed. Hmmm.
I'd be sad to see Casa Rosa go. Not that it's such great food, but it's one of the last red-sauce, old-style places that were once so prevalent in Carroll Gardens and are redolent of the neighborhood's history. If it vanishes, that only leaves The Red Rose on Smith, really. And, I suppose, Marco Polo, though that's a much fancier affair, and who knows what's going on with that place these days.
The photo's courtesy of Pardon Me For Asking.
I didn't expect folks to be so interested in the sad midtown block that used to be Tin Pan Alley. Just goes to show, you never know. Anyway, here a few more images of the doors that once led to the more powerful and popular (and historically influential) music publishers in the world.
No. 51 is where Paul Dresser Publishing was. No. 49 is where M. Witmark & Songs was located.
14 February 2008
Something's afoot at 340 Court, the large property near Union Street that was recently sold by Long Island College Hospital to the Clarett Group, and where a lot of asbestos was being carted out recently. Some workers were rapidly putting up a six-foot wooden fence-cum-barrier around the project. A construction fence, I assume. Hm. Maybe they're going to star tearing down the thing soon? Anyway, makes is awful hard to see what's going on in there now.
It happened again. I was walking by the forlorn, cordoned-off Rat Squirrel house on Kane Street in Cobble Hill and institutional folks were on the premises conducting official business. Somebody up there wants me to record the sad demise of this landmarked edifice.
This time is was a member of the media—a cameraman for NY1, who said a story on the house would be seen on the channel next week. He still had some legwork to do and, no, he had not talked to the woman who lives inside. Can it be long before the Dailies cover the story?
As for the owner, she'll have to leave her crumbling red-brick bungalow soon. The Department of Building slapped a "Vacate" notice on the door. I learned more of the building's sad history from locals. It has long had a serious termite problem, one so bad that the bugs spread the walls and beams of the building to the left. No wonder the thing's falling down; it's eaten out inside.
13 February 2008
The land on which this Starbucks now sits, at the southeast corner of Broadway and 43rd, once carried the Barrett House Hotel, where future playwright Eugene O'Neill was born on Oct. 16, 1888. If was only right he should be born in a Broadway hotel. His father was the actor James O'Neill, a once promising talent who became a hack, throwing away his career by performing the same money-making play, "The Count of Monte Cristo," across the nation, year after year. He was, in fact, playing the part in New York when Eugene was born.
The Barrett was only five years old when the O'Neills took a room. It was opened by two brothers, William C and Hooper C. Barrett. William died suddenly of blood poisoning following an operation in 1893. He was 46. By 1901, Hooper had lost control of the hotel and become a bankrupt. Hooper died in 1936.
The Barrett later became the Cadillac Hotel. There was a fire in its restaurant in 1937. The next year, there was a small fire of "undetermined origin" in a linen closet. Sounds like someone wanted to burn the hotel down. The eight-story building was finally razed in 1940. At the time, it was called "old" and a neighborhood "landmark." If Eugene O'Neill cared, he was still alive to see his birthplace come down.