28 September 2006

Singer Mowing Machine

Read today in the "Power Plays" blog in the Village Voice about the skullduggery of developer Gregg Singer, who's been a busy little beaver lately gnawing off the ornamental work on the lovely old P.S. 64 schoolhouse in the East Village. Why he's doing it and how he's doing it are tales in chutzpah and cultural criminality that know no equal. I couldn't begin to explain the nitty gritty of it all as well as the Voice, so I'm just going to reprint the "Power Plays" item here in full. Read and wonder at the vileness of the feckless real estate capitalist mindset:

"You have to hand it to developer Gregg Singer. Last week he took out a full-page ad on the back of The Villager blaming local politicians for the looming "eyesore" of P.S. 64.

""Old P.S. 64 stands as an eyesore in your neighborhood because of inaction on the part of your representatives," begins the open letter to East Village residents signed by 9th and 10th Street LLC, the development corporation Singer formed. "Some of them have decided that the best thing for this community is to fight the owners, and keep the building vacant and deteriorating, rather than develop it to benefit the people in the community."

"No matter that it was those same representatives who lobbied to landmark the old school, while Singer is actively wrecking it.

"On the morning of September 11, no less, Singer dispatched a demolition crew to resume stripping the facade of the century-old former elementary school. (He had to take a break last month after being cited for insufficient scaffolding.)

"Now neighbors wake to the sound of his workers gnawing at the building like industrial woodpeckers. To date, the crew has managed to destroy eight of the 11 ornate dormer windows on the 10th Street side of the school.

"So it takes some chutzpa to blame others for P.S. 64's "unsightly" condition.

"That said, Singer has a point--local pols have been lame in spelling out what should or could happen with the building, given the nature of the owner they're dealing with.

"By suing the city for $100 million, Singer has thus far only succeeded in giving Bloomberg officials an excuse not to deal with him.

"Now chopping at the building has given East Village council rep Rosie Mendez an excuse not to deal with him.

"Singer has accused former City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez and now Mendez of discouraging groups from leasing space in the building--charges they both deny. Regardless, there are plenty of arts and social service groups that would go in there now, if Singer would give them a decent price.

"Singer says he can no longer "afford" to so so. Perhaps that's because he spent so much money hiring no fewer than four leading PR firms (Howard Rubenstein, hello?) and four different law firms (including Giuliani's ex-chief of staff Randy Mastro, who can't come cheap) to plead his case, even as he simultaneously managed to alienate anyone in office who might have helped him.

"All of which makes it seem like he's just been maneuvering himself into the victim's seat all along.

"According to the estimate on the permit application, the denuding of P.S. 64 alone is costing Singer $600,000.

"In the backpage ad (which features a rendering of the still intact 9th Street side of P.S. 64), Singer continues to insist that replacing the school with a 19-story dorm would be a financial windfall for the neighborhood. Never mind that there are already numerous other megadorms in the area, or that many in the Village resent the notion of their neighborhood being turned into a university plantation.

"One wonders whether the city's strategy at this point is simply to let Singer continue cutting off his nose to spite his face, with the hope that his facade demolition campaign will succeed only in depreciating the value of his property.

"The facade work permit—approved before the building was landmarked—expires on October 25. Unless he hires an even bigger crew, it seems unlikely that Singer will finish stripping off all the terra cotta and limestone detail from the building, which he says he needs to do in order to challenge the building's landmark designation in court.

"And City Hall is pushing forward a comprehensive rezoning plan for the East Village that would likely nix Singer's high-rise dorm anyway.

"Meanwhile, over the past month, Mendez and staff from the area's other elected representatives have been meeting with community activists to brainstorm a “realistic, market-driven plan” for restoring the old school as a community facility.

"They've asked development consultants to help come up with an alternative that is both economically viable yet still provides some measure of the social and arts programming that was lost with the eviction of CHARAS/El Bohio, the Latino community center that occupied the old school for 20 years before Singer purchased it.

"Part of that effort, says one insider, involves putting a "realistic price tag" on the building—rather than the inflated $51 million to $87 million figure Singer has been floating (recall that he bought it for a mere $3.15 million back in 1998)—as well as a "realistic assessment" of what it would take to renovate and sustain the place.

"So it's wrong to say that Mendez and the other reps are sitting on their hands. One just questions why they didn't get this real before the building was landmarked, let alone before Singer started jackhammering."

A Tale of Two Pizzas

Midwood and East Harlem.

Unless you live there or have a very specific errand to run, they're not neighborhoods you regularly make a beeline for. Well, I had a specific errand the other weekend, and that errand was called: pizza consumption. East Harlem is the home of Patsy's, one of the old masters in the New York Pizza Hall of Fame. Midwood is where you'll find DiFara's, a corner pizzeria many call the best in the city.

I had recently made a pilgrimage to Grimaldi's (an offshoot of Patsy's), and—having already patronized Totonno's, John's and Lombardi's—decided it was time to knock a couple more classic pie palaces off my "to do" list.

Patsy's is on First Avenue and 118th, surrounding by a whole bunch of "not much." The area (like many in New York) used to be heavily Italian, but now the only remnants of those days are a barber, a bakery, celebrity ghetto Rao's, and Patsy's. The green-painted façade looks very much like it probably did decades ago and the inside, while more expansive than it once was (Patsy's takes up three storefronts) is appealingly minimal: tin ceilings, wooden table and chairs, etc.

I ate at a Patsy's extension in Chelsea a couple months back and had adequate pizza. I'd like to report that the pies at the original address are head and shoulders above its same-named brethren (as has always been the case with John's—home base Bleeker Street is the best). Alas, such was not the case. If I'd encountered this pizza in Milwaukee or Savannah or wherever, I'd be half over the moon. It's fine, old-fashioned, Neapolitan pizza. But this is New York, pizza center of the U.S, and Patsy's is supposed to be up there at the top. But that fact is I'd rate almost all of the above-mentioned pizzerias above it. Grimaldi's, in particular, is still fresh in my memory, and it's creations had far more character and flavor.

DiFara's, on Avenue J and 15th Street, is a very different case. The humble corner store is again one of the last remainders of vibrant Italian neighborhood. Midwood is now largely Hasidic, with Kosher stores left and right (including quite a few selling that sad, near-tasteless culinary specimen: Kosher pizza).

This is artisinal pizza. Each pie is put together by old Dominick DeMarco himself. (Last spring, when he was in the hospital, he shut down the shop rather than have anyone else assemble the pizzas.) Watching him at work is half the treat of visiting the place, which opens at 11 AM and is pretty backed up by noon, even on a weekday. The key appears to be three cheeses, freshly prepared. Once the dough is formed and the piquant, fruity tomato sauce spread, Dominic grabs a grater and runs a lump of mozzarella against is, let the plump chunks of cheese drop onto the pizza. He then does the same with the much more expensive buffalo mozzarella (or, more correctly, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana), the cheese they use in Naples and something almost never seen in a typical New York streetside pizzeria. Finally, he grinds up a block of romano, right then and there, and spreads it over the pizza. After that, he takes a bunch of basil with biggest leaves I've ever seen (he grows it in the window), and, with a scissors, snips at the ends until a sufficient amount has fallen on the pie. Then, in the oven it goes and he begins again. It's pure poetry. The waiting hungry just stand and stare in wonder. No one complains that it takes too long. It's too good a show.

The slice itself betrays all those fresh flavors when eaten. It is fragrant and savory, a riot of tantalizing flavors, and on the greasy side as New York pizzas go. (This is not a criticism; grease should be so tasty.) He offers interesting toppings like marinated porcini mushrooms and zucchini blossoms, but go with the plain slice first. The Sicilian is also worth checking out. There's a big menu advertising pasta dishes and heros. Can't imagine who orders those when such pizza is on offer.

27 September 2006

Evil Has a Name

Thanks goes out today to the New York Times, which has provided me at long last with the names of the villians who tore down McHale's bar so that Manhattan might have more desperately needed luxury residences. Longtime readers might recall that McHale's demise was the reason this blog was born. But at the time, none of the articles written about the place could find out who has bought the property and was tearing it down.

Remember these names: S.J.P. Residential; chairman and chief executive Steven J. Pozycki; and his cohort Allen F. Goldman. They live in infamy.

The devil's minions work out of Parsippany, and old Goldman has an interesting pedigree. Before joining S.J.P., he jumped ship at Applied Development, who head, Joseph Barry, was indicted in fall 2003 on 16 charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud. But Goldman has nothing to do with that. However, he is responsible for this pre-McHale's deal quote: "Steve Pozycki and SJP have really developed an outstanding reputation for being sensitive to the community."

Yeah. Good thing they came around and sensed the overwhelming vibe that the theatre community really wanted that rotten old McHale's mashed to a pulp. Who needs a $5 beer when you're just aching for a $1 million condo?

Meatpacking District, Sans Meat

The Meatpacking District has never been my "scene," as they say. In my 18 years in New York, that social mileau has always been about clubs and the nite spots you go to after trolling those clubs. And I was never a club man, even in my (not too distant) youth. But, I've always liked the general feel of the place, the zig-zag of crumbling, cobble-stone street, the peculiar street names, the grungy meat wholesalers, the lonely, dead-end aura. It was unique.

I haven't been there in years—aside from an occasional dinner as Pastis or Markt (sue me—I like frites)—mainly because of what I hear about the district, that it's become overrun with the bridge and tunnel crowd and trendoids racing to keep up with an every increasing number of dance joints. If I want to drink until I fall down, I'll do it where I'm less likely to land in a puddle of cow blood. So it's not surprising to see that Gawker has spent much of the week detailing how the neighborhood is officially ruined. In particular, Markt and Western Beef—one of the few remaining buisnesses that gave the area its name—are moving out to make way for "410 West 14th Street," a three-story retail box with all the charm and character a bunch of glass and concrete can muster.

Which brings up an interesting New York phenomenon. That is, the tendency of developers to move into hot neighborhoods and remove the thing that made them hot in the first place, while all the time believing the nabe will stay hot in the same way. Soho is full of art galleries and artists? Move in with Pottery Barns and Apple stores until all those artists are chased away to Chelsea, Williamsburg and beyond! Brooklyn has a low-key, low-slung, neighborhoody feel that's hip and cool? Get in there with as many faceless CVSs and Rite Aids as you can until it looks like outer Akron!

And so, the Meatpacking District don't pack meat no more, no more, it's dont pack meat no more. Maybe Carey buses can soon start shipping in tourists to shop. We're a three-industry town, folks: restaurants, retail, residences. We don't make anything here except money.

25 September 2006

It's Called Saturation

Oh, my God, there's still hope for a good life in New York, isn't there?

What am I talking about? Starbucks franchises are closing, that's what. A few weeks back, there was word that a branch off Washington Square shut it doors. Now there news that an outlet at 102nd and Broadway is not more. Can it be that the hydra-heading corporation has finally reached the saturation point in this old city of ours? Oh, please, please, please, please, let it continue. Let it continue, God, oh, please!

In related news, Starbucks recently closed all of its shops in Tel Aviv blaming ''operational challenges.'' So, maybe that war was good for something.

Good Idea—Now Try It Over Here

According to the fine folk at Curbed, Corcoran broker Wendy Maitland is throwing a celebrity-ridden—Julianne Moore, Matt Dillon, Marisa Tomei, Naomi Watts, Hillary Swank, Drew Barrymore, etc.—$1,000-per-plate dinner to raise money to fight poverty and AIDS in a Rwandan village.

Good idea. Now, if only Maitland would do her bit to fight poverty here in Gotham by quitting her profession and leaving town.

Egan the Destroyer

A helpful reader informs Lost City that Cardinal Egan and the Archdiocese of New York are not only trying to demolish St. Brigid in the East Village by Our Lady of Vilnius on Broome Street. The pastor of the church was informed on July 31.

Said house of worship is a Lithuanian church that was established in 1906. It's a one story, yellow-brick affair with red doors that sits near Varick and Hudson. There used to be a Lithuanian community there, but it was dispersed when housing was torn down in 1927 to build the Holland Tunnel. (Thanks, Robert Moses.) Egan has said worshipers could go to another Lithuanian congregation in Brooklyn, but that one, it turns out, is in Maspeth, which is well known to all New Yorkers as The Neighborhood That Mass Trasportation Forgot.

The problem is similar to that at Brigid—the church needs repairs and the Church won't pony up the dough. Four winters ago, shifting temperatures caused some of the four trusses supporting the church’s roof to crack. Engineers took a look and prescribed steel cables. Otherwise, the roof would collapse. No cables were proffered. Now services and functions are held in the basement, which ain't so grand.

It sounds like a tough, colorful place. It's first pastor, Father Shistokasa, was a longshoreman who worked the docks at night and ministered by day. The current one, Father Eugene Sawicki, smokes cigars. Egan says he hasn't sold the property, but who knows how long that will be the case. Trump's building an uglirific tower down the block.

The helpful reader has started a blog to help stop the madness. The address is www.ausrosvartunyc.blogspot.com.

21 September 2006

Domino to Fall?

There's a campaign on right now to save the hulking old Domino Sugar Factory in Williamburg, which was built back in 1884, and ceased producing the sweet stuff a few years back. Unsurprisingly, some developers want to fill it to the brim with—guess what?—condos. But locals are resisting and petitioning the Landmarks Commission for help. The campaign to save it has an unlikely ally in slippery City Council Member David Yassky, who did a mighty fine job last year overturning the landmark status of another 19th century Brooklyn warehouse, 184 Kent. He also wants to save the parts of the Greenpoint Terminal Market that didn't go down in ashes in last May's huge conflgration and the McCarren pool, the huge WPA swimming hole that nobody uses for swimming anymore.

Yassky's letter said that, as Williamsburg and Greenpoint “change and evolve, it is increasingly important that we work to preserve our ties to the past." If it sounds like disingenuous politican bullshit, that's because it is. Dude's got an election coming up. And he's probably guessing that the save-Domino fight doesn't stand a chance of a sugar cube over a bunsen burner in this market. The place is a factory, after all, and factories just don't set up shop in the five boroughs anymore. If it's not carved up into luxury residences, it will sit there empty, just taunted developers with its potential land value. And developers don't like to be taunted.

Also, this is the Landmarks Commission we're talking about, those political lapdogs who'll roll over on anything if the pressure gets to be too much. Their current leadership would give up the Flatiron Building.

20 September 2006

Forgotten By Whom?

In this week's Time Out New York, with the cover story "Forgotten New York," the editors list in a sidebar a collection of past Gotham Paris Hiltons—that is, folks who were all the talk once upon a time, but whose names now draw a blank.

It's a peculiar selection. Journalists are often said to write the first version of history, but for historians, the TONY editors sure have short memories. Among the people whom they say have faded from public memory are actors Edwin Forrest and Laurette Taylor, tycoon and bon vivant "Diamond Jim" Brady (that's the ruddy-faced glutton at the right), disgraced quiz show contestant Charles Van Doren and scandal-ridden '80s pol Donald Manes.

Huh? Maybe I'm not your average Joe—I know too much useless history for that—but these are hardly non-entities. Any theatre fan knows Taylor and Forrest and what they were famous for. Manes and Van Doren were the subject of fairly recent movies ("City Hall" and "Quiz Show"). And any given dolt knows the name "Diamond Jim" Brady, even if they're not sure exactly why they know it.

19 September 2006

The Book Mart and the Billionaires

An article in the New York Times today about the dire straits the Gotham Book Mart has gotten into made this reader's head spin. Only in the world of New York real estate can trouble take such a byzantine form.

Let's take the simple things first. Andreas Brown, the owner of the GBM, owes $500,000 in back rent, taxes and the like. OK. Because of this, his landlords are trying to evict him. Right. Those landlords are Leonard Lauder, the billionaire of the Lauder cosmetics fortune, and Edmondo Schwartz, a real estate developer (who is not identified specifically as a billionaire, so let's play it safe and call him a millionaire).

But, wait. Lauder and Schwartz are apparently the same secret duo that snatched Brown's fat out of the fire two years ago by buying a $5.2 million townhouse at 16 E. 46th Street and letting GBM move in and lease the space a year after Brown sold the Mart's original home a block to the north. Wha? Who? These are the good souls that saved Gotham Book Mart, but now they're the guys kicking it out onto the sidewalk? What happened? Did they have a fit of humanity and are now back to their old selves?

OK, before you feel sorry for these poor bilked little moneymen and the half a mil they lack to line their pockets, consider two important words. One: billionaire. Lauper is a friggin' billionaire. That means billions of dollars. Does he really need that $500,000 thou? And Two: lease. These two save their friend and his treasured shop by buying a townhouse and THEN LEASING IT TO HIM?! Hey, jackasses—you're plutocrats! Don't show your generosity and friendship by being a nickle-and-dime landlord. Just GIVE Brown the building. He's 73, and trying to keep an irreplacable business alive.

Bet you guys dock your kids' allowance when certain chores are left undone.

Puff Smokes Nat Sherman

This is shaping up to be a horrendous week for classic Manhattan stores.

First Gotham Book Mart closes shop in a rent battle, now cigar king Nat Sherman is being forced out. The owner of the tobacco emporium's building on West 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue—where Sherman, the most prominent tobacconist in the city, has been for decades—want them out, humidor and all, in hopes (Hopes! Not even a definite plan!) that a super-classy chain like Louis Vuitton or Giorgio Armani will want the corner space.

Who's to blame? Well, the scumbag landlords, or course, yes. Always blame them. Kick them into the gutter if you see them coming down the street. (Oh, wait! They already LIVE in the gutter. I forgot!) But also Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy, aka P. Diddy, aka Born Jackass who gets my vote for the most useless, vacant, why-is-he-a-star of the century. The mogul of everything and nothing opened a Sean John flagship two years ago on Fifth and 41st. Now everyone thinks the area's going to become a fashion hot spot. (There's an irony here. Aren't Diddy and his rapper pals always photographed with big, whopping cigars sticking out of their mugs?)

Poor old Nat Sherman—which is still family-owned, bless its heart—has to get out by late spring 2007. But there's good news. According to reports, the store is close to signing a lease at 12 E. 42nd St., between Madison and Fifth avenues, just a hop, skip and a jump from their current digs. My money's on Nat Sherman being around long after the last Sean Combs branch goes the way of the automat.

18 September 2006

No City for Wise Men

We're on code red of the cultural threat color systemhere in New York City. The New York Sun reported today that the one and only Gotham Book Mart has closed its doors, posting a sign that says "The landlord has legal possession of these premises pursuant to warrant of Civil Court." Translation: the Mart is overdue in its rent and the landlord WANTS HIS MONEY!!!

It feels like the mid-90s, doesn't it? Remember a decade ago, when the toppling of classic, independent book stores in New York rose to crisis level. Shakespeare and Co., Books & Co., The New York City Book Store, Scribner's, Coliseum—they were dropping like flies. Folks wringed their hands and nobody did a damn thing about it. (Coliseum eventually reopened on 42nd Street.) The ink-letting seemed to have been stemmed in recent years, possibly because Barnes & Noble couldn't figure out where else to open a store in Manhattan.

Through it all Gotham Book Mart stood firm on W. 47th Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, though it, too, went through a rent scare of its own and eventually had to move to a new space in 16 E. 46th Street (where the former H.P. Kraus antiquarian bookstore once lived.) It was hard to imagine Gotham going. More than any other New York book emporium, the 86-year-old place is drenched in literary history, a haunt of such writers as Auden, Gorey, Updike and Miller. The photographs on the wall told it all. It deserved landmark status, but, of course, good old capitalistic America doesn't hand out honors like that to mere stores. If they can't make it, then a Sephora can. Law of the jungle.

In a perfect world, landlords would be honored to have such a tenant, and charge them nothing just for the boasting rights of strutting around town saying a New York cultural treasure was housed in one of their buildings. But in the real world, it's not surprising a landlord would fail to be impressed by the Book Mart. They can't read, after all. Except for leases, and those they have their lawyers read to them.

My guess is that the store never survived the move and regulars didn't know where to find it. Many habitues complained for years that it should abandon its place on 47th, where it was the only business not directly involved in or catering to the Diamond District business. I liked it there. It was such an anomoly, so weirdly situated, like finding a shoe repair shop on Madison Avenue. A very New York bit of surrealism.

Its digs on 46th Street were fine, but possessed of much less dingy, tumbledown charm. The Sun article says the owner Andreas Brown is "in negotiations." Somebody step up and pay this guy's bill, please!

14 September 2006

And Another One Falls...

The music club graveyard grows more crowded. In addition to CBGB, whose days are numbered, The Village Voice tells us that The Continental, just up the street on Third Avenue and St. Mark's, will shut down this weekend and reopen as a bar adorned with not a stage, but a boring old wide-screen TV.

The Continental possessed far less notoriety than CBGB (The Spin Doctors, not the Ramones, started there) and has been around for only half as long (15 years). But it did have an equally kooky owner. Name of Trigger. Handle-bar moustache. Always wore one of those wide pointed Chinese coolie hats, like he'd just returned from laying rails out west.

In case anyone's worried, the McDonald's next to the Continental, and the Starbuck's across the street are not in danger and will remain in business.

New York sucks.

13 September 2006


It looks like CBGB, the punk rock shrine on the Bowery, which has been fighting for it life in the press for more than a year now, will not prevail. Halloween is the closing date, according to most accounts. So, if you want to feel edgy, or at least grungy, and stare at the stage where The Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie and Telvision once stood, or staggered, and where much lousier bands have held sway in recent decades, better go soon.

The reason for its death is the usual one: a rent dispute with its landlord, the Bowery Residents Committe, which is run by one Muzzy Rosenblatt—a colorful New Yawky name just suited to face off against CBGB's owner, Hilly Crystal. Hilly vs. Muzzy. You can't make this stuff up.

I wish it weren't so—if any place ranks as a musical landmark in the city, it's this dank hole—but I'm not as sad as I thought I'd be, for two reasons. One: rock palaces always have a clock ticking somewhere in the corner. Max's Kansas City, The Bottom Line, Studio 54, etc. The shelf life is brief. They live while the music they specialize in is vital, and die quickly after. It has to be that way, because nothing is sadder or more ridiculous that a rock club that stays open for tradition's sake. CBGB lasted longer than most, but even its supporters agree its prime rounded the bend somewhere in the early '80s. It's been riding on it laurels and t-shirt sales ever since.

The second reason is Hilly. I don't know him well, but everything I've seen and every quote I've read suggests this is a man who can precede you into a revolving door and come out the other side behind you. He comes off as a shyster, lying and cheating his way through life, plying yet another con so he can slide through another day. It's hard to support CBGB when Crystal is it's public face. It's also hard to root against Bowery Residents' Committee, which is actually a nonprofit that provides housing and social services to the homeless. (Even if their wish to increase the rent more than three times to $50,000 a month proves nonprofits can be greedheads as good as the best of them.)

Appropriately enough, given his penchant for selling merchandise, Crystal has said he may reopen CBGB's in, of all place, Vegas.

P.S.—I saw a kid in my son's kindergarten class wearing a CBGB t-shirt. It already seems very retro.

12 September 2006

Ballad of the Sad Cafe

I was trolling Lexington Avenue the other day and noticed that the old Skyline diner had bitten the dust, replaced by a branch of the weird new health-conscious, program-your-own-sandwich, badly named Starwich chain.

Skyline what now? Right. This appears to be a completely unmourned eatery, though it sat at the southeast corner of Lex and 75th Street for 45 years. Nothing was written about its passing (that I could find) and a search of the web contains barely a mention and a single, one-line review, on DineSite.com: "Visit Skyline Café and you'll get a leisure place that serves a Chinese cuisine." Hmm.

So, maybe people don't care about this one. But I'm a little sad to see it go. It was so odd. You'd know the place if you saw it because of the peculiar, vaguely Swiss architectural. A ponderous, filligreed, brown metal, circular awning (now painted dull green) loomed over the corner entrance, like the cornice over a brownstone. (I first mistook the place for an old-style pharmacy; that's the vibe it gave off.) And inside there was a line of window seating almost completely sealed off from the rest of the restaurant by a wall (a feature Starwich retained). Furthermore, the official name of the place is the charmingly redundant Skyline Restaurant Cafe.

Can't find out much more about the history of the place. But it's memory is not entirely erased. The word Skyline in gold letters is still inbedded in the sidewalk outside the door.

05 September 2006

School as Cathedral

I dropped my son off at P.S. 29 in Brooklyn for his first day at Kindergarten. Approaching the monolithic buidling, I was reminded of my childhood elementary school, which took up an entire city block, when you took the playgrounds and all into account. It was a school with a capital "S."

P.S. 29 is a grand old, blocky brick building that rises about six stories up. It was built at a time when civic leaders obviously regarded schools as being as important as churches, and assigned them appropriately impressive, permanent-feeling architecture. They were not faceless buildings, made on the cheap and sandwiched between other structures. They stood alone, air on all sides, so that the surrounding neighborhood could gaze upon then from all sides and see them more than a block away. Their presence said, "I'm important. I'm a hub of the neighborhood. What goes on in here is significant."

It's healthy, I think, for kids to go to such buildings, and for parents to visit them. You can't help but take the place seriously, and be proud to go there.

I visited my old elementary school recently. It's been converted into condos. Funny, because that's been happening to churches a lot, too.

01 September 2006

Losing Your Voice

The city is not only diminished when it loses a great buidling or a classic restaurant. It also slips a notch when a great byline is snuffed out.

New Times Media, the bare-knuckled knuckleheads out of Phoenix who have taken over the alt weekly of alk weeklies, The Village Voice (or, "The Village Fucking Voice," as Mark Jacobson puts it in his current colorful New York magazine feature), have axed another eight staffers. And, to show once more that they're big men and not afraid of kicking Voice legends down the stairs, they have axed Robert Christgau, one of the more distinctive rock critics in history and a Voice presence since 1969. His capsule reviews are veritable haikus of critical concision. Few people are so skilled at nailing an artist just right in under 50 words.

With Christgau gone, it's hard to imagine there's anyone else left from the Old Voice that the Phoenix boys consider sacred. Even Nat Hentoff must be freshening up his resume. It's all a dirty shame. I'm not a Voice lover—not in recent years, anyway—but it was one of the last places in American journalism where the writer and his/her individual voice was still important.