31 August 2009

Not Even Restaurants for the Rich Survive New Richie-Rich New York

What hope is there for New York's more modest restaurants and bars when a chi-chi institution like Café des Artistes can't hack it?

The New York Times reported the grim news today that the old-style, Upper West Side slice of elegance decided during its August vacation never to reopen. Reasons given were "steady losses and a union lawsuit" and "tough competition from illustrious restaurants in the neighborhood, including Picholine on West 64th Street, Jean Georges at the Trump International Hotel and Daniel Boulud’s Bar Boulud on Broadway." “It’s a very sad day for us,” said Jenifer Lang, whose husband, George Lang, has owned the restaurant since 1975. “It’s a death in the family.”

One of the most romantic dining spots in the city, it was perhaps best known for its host, George Lang, who bought it in 1975, and the famous murals of dancing nymphs. It always stuck by its guns, serving the same dishes the restaurant had done well by in the past.

It does not appear that the Lang family had much of a choice:

Mrs. Lang, 58, said that the restaurant’s business had been hurt by the economic crash but that its problems ran deeper. Café des Artistes was unionized, and she said the restaurant paid about $250,000 a year to cover its employees’ health and pension benefits, an amount she said the restaurant struggled to cover. Mrs. Lang also said the couple, whose home is half a block from the restaurant, put in $2 million of their own money to keep it running over the last 10 years.

“It makes it difficult to run a restaurant most of the time,” Mrs. Lang said of the union benefits. “When the economy is down, it makes it impossible.”

The final straw, Mrs. Lang said, was a lawsuit recently filed against the restaurant by the union demanding past benefit assessments.

Bill Granfield, president of Local 100 of Unite Here, the union representing the cafe’s 50-odd employees, said the restaurant had fallen behind on its payments for medical insurance and welfare funds, forcing the union to demand payment in court. He also said workers in 2003 took a pay cut and agreed to switch to a cheaper medical plan to ease the restaurant’s financial pressures.

“And here we are six years later, facing what might’ve been inevitable,” said Mr. Granfield. “We think Mr. Lang is a great figure in the restaurant industry, a great person, and it’s a great restaurant. But it feels like time passed it by a while ago.”

There has been a restaurant in the space since 1917. Howard Chandler Christy painted its walls in the ’30s. The murals belong to the Hotel des Artistes. Their fate is unknown. I'm guessing they were never landmarked. Of course they were never landmarked! This is New York!

Lost City: Louisville Edition: Show n Tell Lounge

Two sure signs that a downtown is failing: many empty storefronts; and a thriving strip club industry.

Louisville, Kentucky's bears both earmarks in spades. But who can complain when the girlie joints have signage like the Show n Tell Lounge on West Chestnut?

You may be saying to yourself, "Sure, great sign. But why is it shaped like an old-time camera?" Good question, for surely cameras are not allowed or encouraged inside the Show n Tell. So, here's why: the storefront, and its neon sign, originally belonged to Schuhmann's Click Clinic, a camera store which opened in 1946 and closed in 2001. The early 1950s sign was adapted to suit the needs of this strip club.

A second Schuhmann sign (below), behind the store on the wall in the parking lot, survives intact.

It is perhaps appropriate that Schuhmann's show have been turned into a strip club; to me, Schuhmann's Click Clinic is about the dirtiest-sounding name for a camera store I ever heard.

Rite Aid Does the Rite Thing

A couple weeks ago (as guest blogger on Curbed), I posted some about the immutable permanence of the stock photos adorning the windows of the Rite Aid at the corner of Smith and President Streets in Brooklyn. They'd been there for years, that lipsticked executrix and that happy, biking couple, and they showed no signs of moving.

Well, chalk one up for the power of the blogosphere. Nine days after that post hit the internet, a worker was outside the Rite Aid, ripping those photos out of the window displays. (No, I do not consider this a coincidence.) To the ashheap they went. The window remain empty at press time. What years-long ad campaign awaits up next? And will Stephen Collins be part of it?

26 August 2009

Jay Dee Bakery Going Where Cheyenne Diner Went

I you were looking to grab a bit of the old Jay Dee Bakery before the Queens landmark is no more, you're too late.

On Monday, diner saver Michael Perlman wrote to all and sundry that the longstanding Jay Dee Bakery, at 98-92 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, had closed, and he was trying to save some of its elements, if he couldn't save the business itself. "The owner said he will give away any salvagable Art Deco features for free, if an individual, organization, or museum is interested. Rego-Forest Preservation Council is hoping that several features will live on elsewhere and showcased or creatively and adaptively reused, which has been done countrywide."

According to Perlman, the first to respond were the couple from Alabama who bought the Cheyenne, Perlman's most recent salvage project. "They would like to recreate all of Jay Dee's ornamental plasterwork," he wrote. "They said they will come with a heavy load flatbed truck. Jay Dee and the Cheyenne Diner will become the centerpiece of a small town they're developing with a historic feel. They are also considering moving parts of a historic theater facing demolition and reassembling them, or replicating a demolished theater."

So, a fake, teeny New York City grows in Alabama. In a word: weird. But at least someone cares about these things, even if New York and its mayor don't.

25 August 2009

Elk Candy to Dispense Marzipan Anew By Thanksgiving

Some years ago, Elk Candy, one of the last holdouts of Olde German Yorkville, closed its little palace of marzipan on E. 86th Street.

From time to time since them, this blog has gotten little hints here and there that the owners would be starting Elk up again, but in the Hudson Valley. Today, this note arrived in the mailbox: "For those who haven't seen our blog entry here is some good news. We are looking to open (online for now) in time for Thanksgiving. We'll be preparing and gathering what we need over the summer. It will be just Marzipan in the beginning and hopefully expanding the selection in early 2010 to satisfy everyone's sweet tooth."

The website is www.elkcandy.com, if you want to look for yourself.

24 August 2009

Good Eats at Brooklyn Flea

Lately, whenever I'm counting the many blessings of living in Brooklyn, it often has something to do with food and drink.

Such was the case on Sunday when I went to the Brooklyn Flea in DUMBO, under the Brooklyn Bridge. The eating choices at this event are simply incredible, delectable, and wonderfully local. Pizza Moto fires up individual pizzas in its own, mobile, wood-burning oven. The Red Hook Lobster Pound served superbly fresh lobster rolls. A pupusa vendor from the Red Hook Ballfields has a space. And there's another guy selling fish tacos.

I indulged in both a pizza and a lobster roll. Only through the exertion of great willpower did I not also order a puposa and a fish taco. It's difficult to limit yourself to one option at the Flea.

And Some Good News As Well

I guess it can't all be bad news on this hot and gloomy Monday.

New York, via Eater, reports that, while SoHo's classic Vesuvio Bakery will never again greet another sunrise as itself, it will as least not lose its identity as an honest-to-goodness bakery.

Birdbath, City Bakery's line of small eco-conscious offshoots, will open its third location (not counting the High Line) in the old Vesuvio Bakery space, saving it from tear down or major conversion. The 90 year-old neighborhood staple closed early last summer, professing to reopen after a routine oven cleaning... It was a sad loss, but in a day and age where it could have easily be turned into a Qdoba or a Baoguette, it's a relief that Birdbath's Maury Rubin is taking it: "It’s an heirloom, it’s a treasure, it means the world...That I have a chance to have my bakery be in it is a gift.” This will be the first Birdbath with a made-to-order menu.

I like Rubin's sentiments. Perhaps he is the man to carry on the torch. Here's to him and his fine instincts.

Jay Dee Bakery Shutters for Good

It's looking to be a lousy week for neighborhood institutions.

Diner saver Michael Perlman wrote in to say that the longstanding Jay Dee Bakery, at 98-92 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, has closed its doors after nearly 60 years. He didn't say when exactly it closed, just that it closed. Being Perlman (the man who found a home for the Moondance and Cheyenne Diners), he's trying to save it in any way he can. This does not appear to include keeping the business open. Instead, he said:

n Aug 10th, my colleague and I met with the owner, and tried to convince him to preserve and adaptively reuse the property, making him eligible for grants, positive media, & awards. It will be transformed into a Russian restaurant, and the owner decided that he is not interested in preserving its historic Art Deco features. The news is unfortunate, but the owner said he will give away any salvagable Art Deco features for free, if an individual, organization, or museum is interested. Rego-Forest Preservation Council is hoping that several features will live on elsewhere and showcased or creatively and adaptively reused, which has been done countrywide. We would be saddened if these unique businesses' Art Deco attributes are demolished forever.

Among the Art Deco feature one could conceivably claim are:

- The classic reverse channel neon sign reading Jay Dee Bakery;
- Ravenna green mosaic columns surrounding the window, which features a classic Art Deco orange and red vertical swirl pattern that resembles jewels;
- Art Deco Lucite door and steel handle with "Pull" etched vertically;
- Window featuring a variety of vintage tiered wedding and birthday cake models;
- Exterior green terrazzo exterior floor (which likely continues inside underneath current floor tile);
- Circular Art Deco recessed ceiling & indented cake displays built into upper walls (silhouettes); and
- Any original counters & the brass cake tie devices hanging from the ceiling.

I visited Jay Dee only once, blogging about it back in April 2006. I was, in fact, one of my earliest posts on Lost City. It was a lovely, old style place. I bought a Passover cake there that, against all odds, tasted quite good.

23 August 2009

Tragedy in Greenpoint

It was only in February when I published a paean to Greenpoint's Paris Shop Store, one of my favorite small, independent shops in New York City. I thought at the time, it will be a dark day when that store is forced by the times, and the city's brutal real estate market, to close. Yet, I somehow knew that that day would come soon.

Well, that rainy day is here. Paris isn't disappearing, but it is moving from its lovely, old world storefront 832 Manhattan Avenue to a far less picturesque location at 704 Manhattan Avenue. A large white banner, almost completely covering the sweet Paris Shoe Store sign, advertises the space as being for rent. Flyers taped to the windows notify shoppers of the coming move in both English and Polish.

How sad that this little operation should lose its longtime space, which, in its modest way, is quite beautiful, quite romantic. It's the kind of storefront that makes you feel like you live in a neighborhood when you look at it. I still don't know much about the history of the place (it was closed when I went by the other day, so I could ask no questions), but it's at least 50 years old. I stumbled upon an oldtimer's remembrance on the web. She said the store used to have View Masters hanging from ribbons in the store windows to entertain the kids while the adults were shopping.

Below is the space where Paris will move—another shoe store, as it happens. I hope they take the sign with them. Too bad they can't take the twin, facing, glass display cases. They are simply classic.

21 August 2009

And That's a Wrap!

I have just concluded my week of guest blogging on the Curbed network. Here are the remaining items I posted:

Surprise Happy Ending to the Carroll Gardens Basil Wars
; The Columbia Street Bike Lane That Doesn't Go Anywhere; Fedora Reopens After a Break.

Don't be surprised it you seen an overflow item on Monday.

Taking a Week Off

In case anyone's wondering where this week's "Who Goes There?" column on Eater is, I'm taking a week off. Hey, it's late August. The column will resume on Sept. 4.

Great Name For a Bar

According to the ever-nostalgic, often-bickering worthies on the South Brooklyn Network chat room, there used to be a rough and tumble bar in Red Hook called Shaft Alley. It was "infamous" and "sat at the end of Hamilton Avenue roughly where the container port entrance is now. There was a woman bartender in there who could beat the crap atta ya if ya got atta line. She was one tough brawd."

According to another old time, "Shaft Alley must have been right next to Hockin Valley - which I think is where Imlay St. is now." Hockin Valey was apparently "where you would go to hock stuff."

Shaft Alley is an amazingly appropriate name for a bar in Red Hook, given the waterfront industry of the time. Shaft Alley is a ship term. It means "a casing (large enough in which to walk), covering the propeller shaft and extending from engine room to after peak."

20 August 2009

Meet the Beatles

The guy in the mustard-colored suit is the lead singer.

The two on the left write the songs, but they hate each other.

De Blasio plays drums. No real talent.

Bloomberg is Corrupted and Corrupting. Period

Read this from the Times. Really read it. And understand what your mayor is and what he has systematically, purposefully, and in many ways illegally done to this City. How, in his view, he owns the town, and by right can do whatever he wants with it. How he has handed it over to developers. How he has squashed the rights of the little man left and right. How his vision must prevail. How no one must tell him no. And how he will lie and lie and lie about it when he is caught in the act.

Read it. And vote accordingly. Don't elect the Fox mayor of the Chicken Coop.

New York Paid to Lobby Itself, Group Claims


In late 2006, as the Bloomberg administration girded for what promised to be a bruising rezoning fight over the Willets Point section of Queens, it enlisted the help of Claire Shulman, the former Queens borough president.

At a meeting in City Hall that December, Ms. Shulman and Daniel L. Doctoroff, then a deputy mayor, agreed to form a nonprofit group with city and private money. Its primary purpose, Ms. Shulman said, would be to lobby on behalf of the mayor’s plan to turn the long-neglected area near the New York Mets stadium into a thriving hub of shops, hotels, condominiums and a convention center.

The group, the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation, eventually received hundreds of thousands of dollars in public and private money, and spent much of it to help push through the plan through the City Council.

It hired the Parkside Group, one of the city’s best-known lobbying firms. It brought in the Glover Park Group, the powerful political consulting firm, to bolster its media campaign. And Ms. Shulman, as the organization’s president, made countless personal appeals, promising to meet with every member of the City Council as it prepared to vote on the plan last fall.

“That was the whole idea,” Ms. Shulman said in an interview. “The idea I had with Dan Doctoroff was that we would help the city do what the mayor wanted, to clear Willets Point and develop it in the best interest of the city, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.” In other words, Ms. Shulman added, “We lobbied the city for the city.”

Local development corporations like Ms. Shulman’s have been around for decades. Ranging from tiny neighborhood groups to giant quasi-public agencies like the city’s Economic Development Corporation, these loosely regulated organizations are designed to encourage businesses and industry to invest in local areas.

But one thing they are not supposed to do is lobby.

State law says local development corporations are not permitted to “influence legislation by propaganda or otherwise.” Ms. Shulman’s group eventually reported spending $450,000, roughly half its total budget, on lobbying, city records show.

Half the group’s revenues came from the Economic Development Corporation, which is also barred from lobbying. The other half came from corporate sponsors, including the Mets organization, which has long eyed the property, and several developers and construction firms that are expected to vie for lucrative redevelopment contracts when the city puts out requests for proposals in coming months.

Last November, the City Council voted 42 to 2 in favor of the plan, which authorizes the city to use eminent domain to remove the various auto repair shops and salvage yards that occupy the 62-acre portion of Queens. A group of business owners is suing to stop the city.

The group, known as Willets Point United, has asked Andrew M. Cuomo, the state attorney general, to investigate the organization’s lobbying efforts.

“They knew what they were doing,” said Gerald Antonacci, the leader of Willets Point United and the president of Crown Container, one of the area’s more than 250 companies that will be required to move when construction begins. “This was all planned out. They knew she was hiring lobbyists. This wasn’t a mistake.”

The attorney general’s office is reviewing the complaint. In recent months, the office has been looking into lobbying by local development corporations, and has identified a “small but not insignificant set” of groups that appear to be improperly lobbying, said a person briefed on the attorney general’s initial review.

The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg says that it never encouraged Ms. Shulman to lobby and that the $450,000 it gave to the group was not used for that purpose.

“The city regularly partners with local organizations that promote growth and economic development,” said David Lombino, a spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation. In the case of Ms. Shulman’s group, he added, “we are funding a scope of work that includes public outreach, organizing community support and proposing and advocating for area improvements.”

Andrew Brent, a Bloomberg spokesman, pointed to a letter Mr. Doctoroff sent Ms. Shulman three weeks after their first meeting. It outlined the goals of her group, including conducting and leading “outreach, public relations and marketing efforts” to support the proposed redevelopment in Willets Point, but it never mentioned lobbying elected officials.

Mr. Doctoroff, who left the administration at the end of 2007 to run the mayor’s financial news and data company, Bloomberg L.P., did not respond to requests for comment made through the company and the mayor’s office.

Ms. Shulman, borough president from 1986 to 2001, provides a starkly different account. “We hired lobbyists from the time we began, because we were told it was something we were supposed to be doing,” she said.

Ms. Shulman, an 83-year-old veteran of Queens politics, seemed a natural ally for the city. After retiring from office, she remained well regarded in the community and continued to serve on various boards. And she had long had her sights on Willets Point.

As borough president in the early 1990s, Ms. Shulman rejected as shortsighted a city economic development study that said development would flourish on its own if the city provided sewers and basic services to the area.

Instead, she proposed her own plan, which included a pavilion for international trade.

But like various redevelopment plans dating back to the era of Robert Moses, who unsuccessfully sought to turn the area into a park and parking lot for the 1964 World’s Fair, her vision went unrealized.

Her lobbying for this latest plan became an issue this year when the city clerk’s office, which regulates lobbyists, fined her group a record $59,090 for failing to register her activities with its office. But the issue of whether the group should have been lobbying at all went unaddressed.

Even now, Ms. Shulman is not sure her group did anything wrong.

In its 2007 federal tax returns, the group claimed it had spent no money on lobbying. The group has hired a lawyer to help it comply with all laws and regulations.

The border between what is legally acceptable advocacy of a position and what is illegally trying to influence legislation is often blurry. But critics of the Bloomberg administration’s aggressive and varied development ambitions say these neighborhood groups are increasingly crossing the line.

In a recent example, the Coney Island Development Corporation, essentially a subsidiary of the Economic Development Corporation, hired three buses to carry people to a hearing last month on the mayor’s proposal to revitalize 19 blocks of the Coney Island amusement district. Officials say the buses were open to those who favored or opposed the plan, but council members say it was clear that most riders were supporters.

“I don’t ever remember L.D.C.’s lobbying council members or elected officials the way they have been to promote Bloomberg projects,” said Councilman Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat who is chairman of the Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises and who is a candidate for mayor.

The Coney Island group also paid more than $182,000 to Yoswein New York, another of the city’s major lobbying firms, to help promote its efforts to help the mayor gain public approval for his redevelopment plan, records show. “We do public relations as well, and for this client we were hired to do marketing and public relations,” said Jamie Van Bramer, who handled the account for Yoswein. “We did no lobbying on this one at all.”

Likewise, the Glover Park Group, which received at least $30,000 from the Flushing Willets Point organization, said it focused on “press relations,” not lobbying. Harry Giannoulis, president of the Parkside Group, which lobbying records show got $125,000, said Ms. Shulman hired it to lobby, among other duties.

“We didn’t want to do anything improper,” Ms. Shulman said. “We have been working very hard to try to do something that is in the best interest of the city, and we did what we thought was correct.”

Comment of the Day

Three months ago, I posted an item about this old building at the corner of Nevins and Sackett, wondering idly about what sort of business might have occupied the ground floor back in the day.

Among the few pieces of evidence I could cull from newspaper archives was that, in 1901, John Hogan, aged one, died here.

Yesterday, I received this message from one Ed Stewart:

John Hogan the infant who died at 285 Nevins Street in 1901 was my grandmother’s first cousin. He was the son of Jeremiah Hogan, a boxmaker, born in Brooklyn of Irish parents, and Jeremiah’s wife, Julia Noonan, who emigrated from Barleymount West, Killarney, Co. Kerry in 1886. Young John still has 2 nieces (who of course never knew him) living in Brooklyn and a nephew on Long Island. At the time of John’s death the Hogans had only recently moved to 285 Nevins from either 47 or 49 Sackett Street. I believe Jeremiah Hogan also died at 285 in 1915 or 1916.

Every old building in New York holds a hundred stories.

Some Stuff That's Interesting: Political Edition

The primaries are coming up folks. Pay attention! The winners will rule your lives!

Three out of four candidates for Public Advocate support eminent domain abuse. How's that for advocating for the public! [Times Ledger via Queens Crap]

Restless finds the Urban Shed Competition is just another dodge on "how to paint a Happy Face on the unbridled development required by Bloomberg's core constituency: the Masterds* of the Universe and the greedy developers who build condos for them and their legions of wannabe Masterds (who binge crawl all over the LES, East Village, and soon Williamsburg, doing their best to eject their soul along with their stomach contents and thus attain Masterdhood)." Amen, brother!

Bloomberg administration puts off the long-planned rezoning of Gowanus until they figure out a way to kill the Superfund bid and fool the public into thinking they've got a real plan for the clean-up of the canal. Are they panicking, or is this political blackmail? [Brownstoner]

Bloomberg criticizes the MTA workers' raises. Wait, no, he supports them. No, he does both. [NY Times]

Shocker: NYU Fucking Up Provincetown Playhouse Preservation

Hey, they never really cared about the historic dump in the first place, did they?

To the surprise of no one, but the dismay of everyone, NYU has carelessly and predictably screwed up the preservation of the Provincetown Playhouse. The whole world fought with the education behemoth last year when it announced it's intention to tear down the historic theatre, which gave birth to Eugene O'Neill and the whole of modern American theatre. After many community meetings and lots of bad press, NYU begrudgingly agreed to keep the theatre building in place and build its desired new law school structure around it, rather than destroy the entire address in favor of a new edifice.

Only, you gotta watch the assholes at NYU like a hawk or they'll tear down the Washington Square Arch while you're not looking. According to an article in The Villager, work was "put on hold on Aug. 18 after neighbors discovered that part of the historic playhouse wall that was to have been preserved had been removed."

Reactions were not mild. "The discovery of the missing wall segment last week outraged Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and prompted Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to demand on Monday that work related to the theater cease, except as related to structural stability, until the community is informed of the extent of the damage."

Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government and community engagement, and one of the biggest liars you'll ever want to meet, said "a portion of the north wall of the theater, dating from before 1916, was removed about three weeks ago when it was found to be made partly of rubble and unstable. She said she discovered the removal only last Thurs., Aug. 13...My office should have known about it and takes full responsibility for the communications gap,” Hurley said. Work as related to the theater will cease and will not resume until a report is made to the community within the next two weeks. “The final shoring up of one wall of the theater is being done this week to hold everything in place, and then we’ll take a break from work in the theater part of the project,” Hurley said."

Why don't they just tear down the whole thing one midnight, like developers sometimes do to get around the City, and get it over with. You know that's what they really want to do.

(Picture from Curbed.)

In Case You Didn't Notice

I've been saying this all along.

(Coney Island picture courtesy of Martiner1)

19 August 2009

Lost City Guest Blogging on Curbed Thus Far

I'm halfway throw me week as a guest blogger on the Curbed network. In case you haven't noticed, here's a key to what I've covered so far:

Amity Street Horror Now in the Hands of Corcoran; Construction Netting Can Be Pretty; A Nice Restoration Job on Verandah Place; Some Small Activity on 160 Imlay in Red Hook; Another Old Warehouse on the Red Hook Waterfront Comes Down; WTF's Up With the Never-Changing Ads at Rite Aid?

Regarding the item on the restoration of 4 Verandah Place, in which I had positive things to say about the revamp of the building, I was contacted by the press relations/communications officer at the Landmarks Commission. She, noting that I usually am critical of the LPC, pointed out that "one of the Commission’s restoration specialists oversaw the changes to this lovely building, making sure they were appropriate to it and the Cobble Hill Historic District." Duly noted. The Commission did a fine job in preserving the integrity of the historic muse in this case.

The Bloomberg Legacy

The Center for an Urban Future has come out with its second annual ranking of national retailers in New York City. It found that, while we're all reeling from the recession, trying to pick up the pieces, the big chains have been going on a plot-buying spree. More than "30 percent of the retailers from last year’s report actually expanded their presence in the city in the past year, despite the sour economy. Dunkin' Donuts tops our list for the second straight year, with a staggering 429 stores."

(Uh. I hate Dunkin' Donuts. Hate their vile food. Hate their nauseating pink and brown color scheme. When the rest of the world pictures The Ugly American, they picture them standing in line at a Dunkin' Donuts.)

Here are the top 10 in 2009. As we all know, each and every franchise was welcomed with open arms by Mayor Mike as A Good Thing For New York. (Yeah! More crap food! More low-paying jobs! More destruction of neighborhood character! More suburban personality!):

Dunkin' Donuts: 429 (up 88!!)
Subway: 361 (up 26)
McDonald's: 258 (up 10)
Starbucks: 258 (up 24)
Duane Reade: 229 (up 13)
Baskin-Robbins: 207 (down 8)
Rite Aid: 195 (down 14)
Radio Shack: 115 (down 1)
GNC: 110 (down 5)
Sleepy's: 108 (up 3)
CVS: 107 (down 1)
Payless: 106 (down 3)
T-Mobile: 96 (up 14)
Burger King: 94 (up 2)
Jackson Hewitt Tax Service: 92 (up 9)
GameStop: 75 (up 6)
Domino's Pizza: 71 (down 3)
Golden Krust: 70 (down 2)
KFC: 69 (down 1)
Walgreen's: 64 (up 16)
Staples: 63 (up 2)

To which we can only say, "Golden Krust?" Also, "Walgreen's means business!"

The above map tells you which neighborhoods are the most saturated with chains. As you can see, much of the chain love goes to Manhattan, because that's the only borough Bloomberg really cares about, and he wants to reward it with beautiful, wonderful outdoor malls.

18 August 2009

Storefront Architecture

Storefront architecture was simply more interesting in the past.

Look at this old, empty storefront in Chinatown. Doesn't look like much, huh? But get past the griminess and graffiti and rust and just take in the bones of it. The all-important, framing, store window dominates the eye, set right at the height of a passerby's gaze. It's like a jewel set in the middle of a ring. The entrance to the store was up the steps, into the vestibule and through a side door—a much more intimate, welcoming path than the kind of thing you see today: the blatant glass sliding door flush with the sidewalk. Moreover, the shop is elevated, so once you're inside, your experience with the merchant can feel move removed from the hustle and noise of the City, above the hubbub on the street. You can have a real conversation, a private transaction.

There may have once been a business down the steps, on the lower half of the building. So one could run a second errand while stopping at this address. The whole affair—stairs, railings, windows, brickface—has depth, texture, dimensions, layers. Simply put, it has individuality. So much better than the common model of today: a mammoth big box with big windows and a big neon sign on top. Plopped on the sidewalk! Don't like the way it looks? Who cares! Get in there and shop!

In fact, I would go so far as to say there is no such thing as storefront architecture in today's world. The huge brick cubes and rectangles that they stick Walgreen's and Modell's and Whole Foods and Sleepy's in could just as easily function as warehouses holding auto parts in some industrial park. There's nothing special about them that says "butcher" or "pharmacy" or "tailor." Instead, they say "empty shell that was the quickest to erect, so we can get to the business of minting money."

Van What Park, Now?

There is a constant tug of war among New Yorkers between what places are officially called and what they choose to call them. That big thoroughfare between Broadway and Fifth may have signs along it that claim its called Avenue of the Americas, but locals still call it Sixth Avenue. The building that cuts Park Avenue in half may be owned by MetLife, but that doesn't stop long-memoried folks from referring to it as the Pan Am Building. The walkway along the water in Brooklyn Heights bears the name The Esplanade, but everyone calls it the Promenade.

I recently came to the conclusion that I and my wife are the only people who call Van Vorhees Park by that name. This strip of green and playground equipment is bordered by Columbia Street on the west, Congress Street on the south, the BQE on the east and north. It's well-used by parents and kids in Cobble Hill and along Columbia Street. It's been in its present location since 1956, and has borne its name—after local attorney and LICH president Tracy S. Voorhees—since 1941. But no one calls it that.

I was planning my son's birthday party, and when I told them it would be in Van Voorhees Park, almost every parent looked at me with confusion and said "Where?" I would explain where the park was. And they'd say, "Oh, Congress Park."

Makes sense. Congress Park. It's on Congress Street. But how do you use a park for years and completely miss the big sign that tells you its name? Maybe its the long, hard-to-pronounce handle. Van Vorhees isn't the easiest thing to say. That's probably why I like saying it. That, and the name reminds me of New York's Dutch past. Tracy S. Voorhees was part of a family that traces its lineage to Steven Coerten Van Voorhees, who settled in Brooklyn in the mid-17th century.

Here. Read more:

He established himself in the neighborhood of Flatlands, became a magistrate, an elder in the Dutch Reformed Church, and the head of a formidable clan. His ten children bore 20 grandchildren. The grandchildren amassed 85 children themselves, among them Tracy Voorhees, to carry on the family name. The “Van” was eventually dropped from the name.

Born and raised in New York City, Tracy Voorhees received his degree from Columbia University Law School in 1915, after which he began practicing law. From 1936 to 1944 he served as President of Long Island College Hospital. Voorhees joined the Army in 1942, one year later becoming the director of the legal and control divisions of the Army’s Surgeon General’s Office. As Director, Voorhees was responsible for the administration of the medical department’s affairs, including the care of the sick and wounded, and later, the demobilization of Army medical personnel.

When World War II (1939-1945) ended, Voorhees was assigned to oversee food relief in occupied Europe. A year later, he became a food administrator for all occupied areas. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) appointed Voorhees Assistant Secretary of the Army and President of Army Emergency Relief, a semi-autonomous agency that provided financial assistance to soldiers and their dependents and supplemented the efforts of the American Red Cross. In 1953, Voorhees retired from the Army, and returned to private practice. During his long military and government career, Voorhees received the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Army’s third highest award for devotion to duty, the Department of Defense Award for Distinguished Public Service, and the Army Distinguished Civilian Service Award.

In 1956 and 1957, at the request of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), Voorhees served as the President’s personal representative for Hungarian Refugee Affairs and as Chairman of the President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief. Under his direction, 32,000 Hungarian refugees were resettled in the United States. Between 1960 and 1961, he continued to serve the Executive Branch, aiding numerous Cuban refugees much as he had Hungarian refugees.

Van Voorhees Park was originally known as Jeannie Scott Dike Playground and was located one block north, between Pacific, Congress, Columbia, and Hicks Streets. According to property records, the City acquired the land for this park in four parcels in the following years: 1864, 1941, 1942, and 1947. The land received in 1941 came as a gift from Long Island College Hospital during Mr. Voorhees’s term as President and the park received its present name. By 1956, the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway expanded Van Voorhees Park to a total of 5.25 acres.

Paterson Joins the United Traitors of Gowanus

So, Bloomberg, Toll Brothers, Buddy Scotto and the whole truth-defying, money-grubbing gang got to Governor Paterson, who now agrees with them that it's just a terrible idea to allow the Superfund to clean up the Gowanus Canal, which has sat fetid and stinking for decades now without New York City or New York State ever thinking about how to clean it until now.

Not that anyone should expect anything noble from a man like Paterson. He's show himself a thousand times over unfit for his position since becoming New York's Accidental Governor follow Eliot Spitzer's meltdown.

Writes the Brooklyn Paper:

The state Department of Environmental Conservation told the Bloomberg administration that it was not opposed to the mayor’s plan — as long as it sought a comprehensiv e clean-up. That Aug. 6 letter was a departure from the state’s December request to add it to the Superfund list.

“The Department remains committed to the need for a clean-up to Superfund standards,” wrote Stuart Gruskin, executive deputy commissioner. “We believe that it is appropriate for the EPA to carefully review and consider the [city] proposal.”

Gruskin’s correspondence said that the EPA should investigate if the mayor’s claims are true that his plan will be faster and more efficient than the Superfund and to make sure that the city approach won’t delay or hinder the clean-up if a Superfund designation is later deemed necessary.

The Bloomberg administration heralded the letter as a vindication of its idea, which has been criticized by the EPA and Gowanus Canal zone neighbors who doubt the city has the ability or the interest in fully restoring the channel.

There's nothing Bloomberg won't do for wealthy developers, is there? He'll tell the Feds to get lost on one hand—the Gowanus clean-up—while taking their stimulus money with the other hand and giving it to—needy working people? small businesses?—NAH! Wealthy developers, of course!

Josh Skaller, a candidate for the City Council seat that includes the canal, and the strongest critic of Bloomberg in the bunch, spoke the truth soon after Paterson's announcement. “Governor Paterson has not knocked on thousands of doors in Carroll Gardens, but I have,” said Skaller. “It is clear the community supports Superfund status. [Superfund] is not a perfect solution, but it’s the best way to make sure the Canal gets the clean-up needed before we can build along its banks.”

Annoying Ad

The thing is, if you work in a cubicle in New York, there's no way you can afford to live in an apartment that's much bigger than that cubicle.

Become an Artist; Buy a Barn; Live Well

The way to stay in New York if you're an artist, apparently, is to buy a huge old abandoned building in a depressed neighborhood, something once used for a purpose other than a dwelling, and then just keeping living and living there, telling real estate agents to get lost.

Hey, it worked for Jay Maisel. And all those artists who bought up the pocket synagogues on the Lower East Side. And it work for the guy who lives here.

This building, on Pioneer Street in Red Hook, used to be the original Norwegian Seamen's Mission. In 1878 The Seamen's Mission in Bergen, Norway, send Ole Bugge Asperheim to establish a Seamen's church in New York. This was the first such house of worship. It moved to Clinton Street after 50 years.

I can't tell you who lives there now, but, judging from the paint buckets and timber and general bohemian disarray inside, I'm guessing an artist. Whomever he is, he has a lot of room. If you circle the block, you can get glimpses of the various arms and wings of the old building. It takes up a great deal of land beyond the plot it occupies on Pioneer Street.

UPDATE: The owner of the former church is one Chico MacMurtrie, "the Artistic Director of Amorphic Robot Works (ARW), a collective he founded in 1991...a collaborative group of artists, technicians, and programmers who create multi-faceted machine-sculptures that interact in their uniquely designed environments. The work involves a kinesthetic inquiry into the human condition, which has resulted in the creation of more than 250 mechanical sculptures that assume anthropomorphic and abstract forms."

No Awning for Tripoli

A month ago, the Atlantic Avenue anchor restaurant, Tripoli, was undergoing some work on its frontage. Workers said "awning." But the result is something less altering: a new, accenting strip of smudgey, goldish metal. I kinda like it OK.

17 August 2009

Bloomberg Finally Realizes Whom He Resembles

From the New York Post:

Call him the new Moses -- Robert Moses, that is.

Mayor Bloomberg says that since 9/11 he has tried to transform the city on a scale not seen since the days of the legendary and controversial master builder of highways, bridges and parks that changed the metropolitan landscape.

"I think if you look we've done more in the last seven years than -- I don't know if it's fair to say more than Moses did -- but I hope history will show the things we did made a lot more sense," Bloomberg tells The New Yorker.

Mike, we've been calling you the new Robert Moses for some time now.


M. Kessler of Grand Street

One of the great things about old New York buildings—and one of the reasons I don't like to see them torn down—is almost every one of them tells a story, or looks like it could if we could only crack the code.

A quick glance at 229 Grand Street is enough to make you wonder what went on inside in years past. The ornate cornice and upper windows are more than a little unusual. One thing we know for sure: it once housed M. Kessler Hardware. Part of the sign is still visible. I would guess from the look of it that the tile floor in front of the entrance to the upper apartments is original.

What became of M. Kessler, I don't know. But I found this item from 1954 in the New York Times archives:

Morris Kessler, 64 years old, a former hardware merchant of 308 West 13th Street, jumped or fell to his death yesterday from the third floor of St. Vincent's Hospital, the police reported. They said Mr. Kessler, who had been undergoing treatment at the hospital for pleurisy since Monday, climbed through the window and dropped to the Eleventh Street sidewalk.

Given that 308 W. 13th likely refers to his home address, not his place of business, I'm thinking this may be the Kessler of Grand Street. The dates of his life sound right; the 229 storefront looks at least 50 years old. And how many M. Kesslers living on the Lower East Side were in the hardware line back then?

UPDATE: My assumption about M. Kessler was incorrect. More than a year after I posted this item, I heard from the grandson of M. Kessler, the owner of this hardware store. Only M. stood for Milton. Thus, the unfortunate Morris Kessler, while also in the hardware biz on the Lower East Side, had no connection to this store.

16 August 2009

Bloomberg's Homeless Solution Works Equally Well for Bloomberg Himself

I love political campaigns that have a sense of humor.

From Tony Avella's campaign manager:

A One-Way Ticket Out of Town for Mike Bloomberg

Mayor Bloomberg has been at it again. In dealing with the serious issue of homelessness in our city, Mike has decided not to deal with it at all. He has been taking your tax dollars to buy homeless New Yorkers one-way tickets out of town instead of trying to find a real solution. That’s not leadership ... that’s just lazy.

If you would like to give Mr. Bloomberg a taste of his own medicine, you can help us send him packing as well. We have a fundraising goal of $150,000. If you help us reach that total, we’ll do two things right away.

1. We’ll make a contribution to a homeless shelter to help alleviate some of the issues they are dealing with.

2. We’ll buy Mike a one-way ticket to Alaska.

Can you make a contribution today and send Mike packing?

James, you may be asking yourself, “Why Alaska?” Well, with Sarah Palin quitting her job as Governor, and with Mike basically quitting his job since he is afraid of making tough decisions, we thought they may have a lot in common. So make a contribution today and we will purchase and hand-deliver a plane ticket to Alaska to Mayor Bloobmberg as soon as we reach our goal.

If kicking people out of the city is OK by Mike, then maybe Mike won’t mind leaving our city as well.

Thanks for all you do each day to make our city better.

Christian Schneider
Campaign Manager

Why send him to Alaska? Well, how about this? Or this? Or that fact that he will find a way to be mayor for life if we don't drive a stake through his heart?

15 August 2009

And Now a Word From Our Dark Reality

Last night, I couldn't sleep. At all.

My occasional insomnia is of a snake-eating-its-tale variety. It goes like this. I'm unable to sleep, so, while awake, my thoughts turn to troubling topics (family, past regrets, professional worries, doubts, politics) that make it further impossible for me to fall asleep. It's like trying to grab at the bed covers, which have fallen to the floor, but only managing to grip a thread, which causes the blanket to slowly unravel the more you tug at it. The cover that might win you sleep quickly disintegrates the more you claw.

Usually, I dwell on family. Last night, however, it was politics. The recent shenanigans of the City Council campaign of Brad Lander, and the inaccurate coverage of those events by the perfidious Brooklyn Paper, had unduly upset me yesterday, and I spent the night stewing over the matter. Lander made me think of Bill De Blasio, whose seat Lander hopes to win, and who is as slippery as he is tall. De Blasio caused me to think of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who is as calculating as he is fatuously ebullient. That led me to Bloomberg, as cynical as he is rich. Which made me think of Pedro Espada and Albany's fetid swamp of corruption.

It then occurred to me in that dark 2 AM that, whatever I think of those men, whatever anyone does to fight them and point out their malefactions (and many people have done plenty), it's very likely they will all be swept into office, and will be ruling our lives and our city for years. My mind became polluted with churning thoughts of rivulets of deception leading to rivers of sleaze pouring into an ocean of fraud and greed under which New York City is soon to become a new Atlantis.

And then I read something on Kurt Strahm's blog Restless entitled "The Persistence of Assholes." Kurt has a much sharper political mind than I have, and I am thankful for him, for he often puts in cogent, clear, unapologetic words what I am consciously, subconsciously and unconsciously thinking.

Strahm points out that the mistake consistently made by liberals (and I am one—no surprise) is that—out of fairness and decency and some vague idea of the universal civility of the human race—we always go out of our way to give the leaders of the other side credit. We assume their opposing beliefs are born of actual philosophies, theories and deeply felt convictions, when, very often, these people are not borne up by any such serious underpinning. They are just bad men and women. Men of greed, selfishness, chicanery, anger and festering contempt.

The rent-hiking man whose kicks out the decades-old, family-run dry cleaner that the community loves and depends on, in hopes of a big payday; the developer who skirts laws and regulations and ignores community outcry; the incumbent who aggressively knocks challengers off the ballot; the candidate who pours corporate contributions into his coffers and swears if won't effect his judgment or voting; the man who circumvents public referendums in order to retain his grip on power; the man who represents one neighborhood, but lives in another, cushier one; the man who destroys the cultural legacy of a neighborhood in order to make a buck; the men who halt state governing until their personal needs are met—these, and many more, are not men with legitimate, but divergent points of view. They are villains. They are assholes. They have no beliefs. They do have a motivation, though, and they see it ever morning when they look in the mirror.

I'll let Restless take it from here:

Half of all people tend toward being assholes. (Proved beyond doubt when this spoiled democracy RE-elected George Bush Jr.) It has always been so, and always will be. Humanity comes from nature, which spreads risk through Chance, delivering a potential asshole each time the coin flipped at conception lands tails.

Technology helps assholes amplify their effects on others. (Proved by the existence of cable "news" networks, car alarms & chirpers, Wall St. CDOs and high-speed trading, etc.) That is the double-edged nature of knowledge; it can expand your reach and even save your life, until assholes get their hands on it.

Every year it becomes more obvious that the world is split between those who are curious and seek meaning, because they love life, and those who find meaning in their brutal ability to dominate, because they hate life and people in particular.

They sneer at empathy; the only time they're willing to stand in someone else's shoes is after they've blown the wearer to smithereens.

They sneer at "regulations" -- the tedious details of Law put in place to balance the interests of the diverse individuals who make up society.

They sneer because all those sissified niceties just get in their way.

They play the political game just to get inside and poison government, then society -- spreading the ignorance, hate and cynicism that consumes and distracts the pitchfork crowd long enough to let the assholes keep on stealing until they've trucked everything away, right down to the pipes.

You thought these assholes would go away when Obama won? They will never go away. Looked at in the most positive way possible, they are our "worse half," conniving brutes installed by nature's random balancing act to test us, to help keep our critical judgment lean, sharp and clear eyed for the long voyage ahead.

Dutch Bikes Will Be Here Soon!

One big reason to get excited about autumn: The Dutch Bikes are coming.

Started Sept. 8—and commencing with the 400th anniversary of the Henry Hudson’s landing in New York City—400 bright orange, Batavus bicycles will be made available to New Yorkers, courtesy of the government of the Netherlands.

The Dutch bicycles will be made available to the public at a special bike sharing event Sept. 8-12; the New Island Festival on Governors Island Sept. 10-20; and the start of New York’s Harbor District on Sept 13. 120 bikes are adult-sized, the rest medium and small. I, personally, can't wait.

This Week on Lost City

Mary the Crossing Guard Remembered; Third Street, Third Street and More Third Street; Carroll Gardens Bike Thieves Tried to Steal My Bike; The Graffiti of 190 Bowery Celebrated; Brad Lander Is a Sneaky Snake.

14 August 2009

Carroll Street Stop May Lose Station Agent

Public Advocate candidate Bill DeBlasio has sent out a letter alerting Carroll Gardeners that the station agent booth at the Carroll Street Station on the F line may be closed.

Dear Neighbors,

Recently we learned of the potential closing of the Station Agent booth
at the President Street entrance to the Carroll Street F train stop.
If this booth is closed, it will be a detriment to the neighborhood.
Carroll Street has a high volume of ridership, which will only increase
once the Smith-9th Streets stop will be closed as part of the Culver El
Viaduct Project. Carroll Gardens and its surrounding neighborhoods
need these agents to ensure the efficient operation of the station.
Please join in our support of the project by signing our petition:

I have sent a letter to the MTA request[ing] the station remain open. We
look forward to working with all of you to keep this necessary resource
in our neighborhood.


Bill de Blasio

This is kind of amazing, given the heavy ridership this station receives.

Nice of De Blasio to alert us. I still wouldn't vote for him. But nice.

Lost City to Guest Blog on Curbed Network Next Week

For the third August running, I'm happy to say I'll be a guest blogger next week over at the estimable, brave and powerful Curbed network, so look for my postings on Curbed, Eater and Racked. They'll also be some traffic here at the home site, if my brain doesn't overheat and I don't get carpal tunnel syndrome.

Some Stuff That's Interesting

Not everyone's falling for Bloomberg's con. Certainly not District Council 37, the largest union of city government workers. "He's arrogant," they said. Well, yeah. [NY Times]

The six-way race to succeed Councilman Bill DeBlasio (my Brooklyn district) has gotten slimy. Brad Lander's campaign has taken the low road by trying to make an issue of the fact that opponent Josh Skaller, his biggest rival, sends his kid son, who has special needs, to a private school. “I have pointed out that I am the only public-school parent in the Democratic primary, but I have never questioned or attacked any of the other candidates for their choices, and never said a word about anyone’s family,” Lander told The Brooklyn Paper. “It is simply false.” However, folks who have had direct contact with the Lander campaign know that the candidate's people have been trying to make hay of this issue for some time. [Brooklyn Paper]

Bloomberg has killed small business during his reign. [Queens Crap]

Di Fara's Dom DeMarco really look like what he looks like. [Slice]

Now that's a stove. [Scouting NY]

A variety of New York skylines. [Architakes]

The characters on "Mad Men," set in the 1960s in NYC, apparently are drinking with historical accuracy. [NY Times]

Vertical Sign

I like this large vertical sign on the building that holds Cobble Hill's Book Court. It reminds me of the way stores used to advertise their presence in the past.

But Why the Huge Flagpole?

The origins of this post began with an innocent-enough question: "Why does 135 Bowery have such a big flagpole protruding from its facade?" It looks like it could hold a whopper of an Old Glory, though it's un-used at present.

I thought a little research might uncover whether a particularly patriotic business once occupied the three story, dormer-windowed building. And hot dog!, but some wild times went down at 135 Bowery over the years.

Roundabout 1881, one Gottfried Walbaum, known to the authorities as "Dutch Fred," ran a "gambling house and dive" at 135 called, with amusing cynicism, the Red, White and Blue. Walbaum was a gambling king who later built the Guttenberg Race Track, which, if you believe the papers, brought degradation to Hudson County.

Walbaum must have had his gambling den on an upper floor, because around the same time, and for many decades, the address was the place of business for the more law-abiding William H. Wilson, who made hats for volunteer fireman. Wilson grew up and lived his life around the Bowery and was a respected figure. In the late 19th century, when some were thinking of changing the name of the street to Parkhurst Avenue in order to improve the Bowery's reputation, he said to a reporter, "I think, for my part, you could find worse men and tougher men on Sixth Avenue to-day than ever frequented the Bowery. The modern fellows are not so eccentric in their dress as our old rounders used to be, but they have not nearly as keen a sense of what is fair as they used to have."

The Pig & Whistle, a well-known, 19th-century tavern, was next door at 131 all these years.

The building of Walbaum and Wilson was replaced by a new one in 1900. But that doesn't mean the fun stopped. Seemed the people who lived at the address were always being hauled in by the cops for such offenses as stealing from a church. In 1921, two young tuffs tried to rob a jewelry store that was located there. The left-handed owner Henry H. Edson reacted by grabbing his gun and firing back. The "swarthy-skinned, undersized robbers" fled.

In 1943, George Somarindyck Gill, who had owned the property for 75 years, finally sold it. It was recently sold again, in December 2007, to First American International Bank.

That's a lot of history. Doesn't explain the flagpole, though.

13 August 2009

Hank's Saloon—Health House

Lowdown Boerum Hill dive Hank's Saloon is putting its second floor to good use as a billboard. For Health House. Nice synchronicity. You can ruin your health on the first floor and then get instruction on how to restore it on the second floor.

Sorry about the crappiness of the photo. I was on the bus. And it was raining.

More on 42 Third Place

Of all the things I blogged about on my "Positively Third Street" day on Tuesday, the item on the unsightly growth atop the Carroll Garden's brownstone 42 Third Place received the most attention. So I decided to revisit the property.

Built in 1910, the owners got the go-ahead from the Department of Building to added two extra floors back in April 2008. Since then, there have been plenty of official complaints and violations, including charges of unsafe scaffolding, the new floors not being equipped with proper ventilation, a lack of safety netting, and work continuing when a Stop Work order was in place. Not much work has taken place since May.

One reader wrote in, saying "But there are brownstones just down the block just as tall. Are they all inappropriate?" I checked out the block. It's mostly two-and-a-half story brownstones. There are a few that go up an extra story. But this is the only building that goes up as high as it does on the block. Another reader suggested that the new Carroll Gardens downsizing wouldn't prevent this sort of building, as I had said, since 42 Third Place is under 50 feet. Maybe so. It's hard for me to judge 50 feet with my eye.