28 February 2011
This is the third post of "The Union Street Project," in which I unearth the history of every building along the once bustling Brooklyn commercial strips of Union Street between Hicks and Van Brunt, and Columbia Street between Sackett and Carroll.
I seem to proceeding east from Columbia toward Hicks on the north side of Union Street. This building is just to the right of the bank building I discussed last week. I found out a lot about that bank building. Not so here. I knew going into this that, with some buildings, I'd run into a brick wall (so to speak) and discover little. Some addresses leave a long paper trail. Others don't. Also, there are some buildings, I imagine, in which nothing terribly interesting ever happened. 135 Union Street appears to be one of those buildings.
The place is currently home to the Bluebird Midwifery. Before that, it held the Brooklyn General Store, a knitting supplies shop that moved to bigger quarters across the street a few years ago. Beyond that, I have heard from many sources that the bottom two floors were possessed by a small printing company. The building once had a long vertical sign running down the front that, I presume, advertised the place. It was taken down about seven years ago. Before the printing company? I have no idea. But the structure dates from at least 1855, when it is shown in a map of the time.
Not too exciting, I know. But I was told this by an old timer, however: "My friend Lucy lived at 135 Union St.. She married one of the owners of the original House of Pizza." The House of Pizza and Calzone is still there, across the street. I remember the two old men who used to own it. I wonder which one Lucy married.
PREVIOUS "UNION STREET PROJECT" ENTRIES
25 February 2011
The genuine Jewish Kosher Deli is, as we all know, a dying New York institution. You can count on a couple hands the ones that remain. I thought I knew all the old delis, from Riverdale to Borough Park. So Jay & Lloyd's Kosher Deli on Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay came as a surprise when I passed it by the other day.
24 February 2011
While we're on the subject of New York's dive bar genocide, let's talk about Hickey's.
That this long-standing tavern on 33rd Street recently gave up the ghost has been already reported. But the story gets sadder. As owner Jim Hickey was preparing to turn in his keys to the bar he had run for 44 years, and close up for the last time last month, he collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital. He died on Feb. 7. He was 75.
Hickey was forced to leave because the landlord had hiked up the rent, and the bar owner couldn't afford the new price.
According to DNAinfo: "'Everyone thought he collapsed because [losing the place] just overwhelmed him,' said James Donovan, 47, a long-time bartender at the Blarney Rock pub that had stood next door to Hickey's for more than 40 years. Friends and colleagues later learned that doctors found Hickey was suffering from late-stage colon cancer. Matty Burke, 58, who said he had stopped by Hickey’s nearly every day for the past 20 years, said that, for Hickey, losing the bar meant losing everything. 'That killed him,' said Burke, who has since relocated to the Blarney Rock along with a handful of other Hickey's regulars driven from the now-gutted space next door. 'It was his baby. That was his life,' Burke added."
23 February 2011
I knew changes were afoot for O'Connor's, the wonderful old dive bar on Fifth Avenue at the edges of Park Slope. The last time I was there I heard the regulars grumbling about how the new owner was going to "improve" the place and make it more acceptable to the kind of people who like to rent bars for parties and receptions and such.
But I had no idea how devastating the changes would be. How, after they were done, O'Connor's wouldn't be O'Connor's any more, but something completely different and far blander.
The blog Here's Park Slope talked to owner Mike Maher, who bought the 80-year-old bar three years ago. He said the beautiful old bar will be expanded to at least three times' its original size (goodbye coziness!), with the addition of a huge back room, a kitchen serving the usual Irish far like fish and chips, burgers and such, and a second floor with an outdoor beer garden. There will also be a stage for live music (goodbye twilight-like, dive-bar silence).
"We're modernizing the room, but a priority is to keep the old look," Mayer told the blog. "We'll be saving the bar and the booths and as much of the room as we can, but the seats will be replaced, because they're falling apart. If we want to serve food, we have to bring it up to code." He added, "That O'Connor's brand, the O'Connor's feeling, that's not going anywhere."
Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay is a pretty bleak stretch, replete with chain outlets and bank branches. The independently owned stores, meanwhile, are blighted by ugly plastic and vinyl awnings. As I walked along the street, I kept checking under these awnings to see if an older sign had been covered up and was still there, hiding under its garish successor. I didn't have much luck—most of the old signage had been stripped from the buildings—until I reached NY Grocery Deli V at E. 18th Street. (Where are NY Grocery Delis I thru IV?)
A quick peek underneath the awning revealed that this was formerly the home of the splendidly named Avenue U Donuts & Luncheonette, where coffee was "Made Fresh Daily."
I've been getting some wonderful comments about life in Old New York lately. Here's one of the Bavarian Inn, a former German restaurant in formerly German Yorkville:
I was present on the last night the Bavarian Inn was open for business in 1983. I was introduced to the place by my father, who first encountered it as a serviceman during WW2. At that time, Yorkville was still going strong, despite the fact that we were engaged in a world war with the Nazis! He related that he an his buddies went up and down the street, having beers at the B.I. and other german joints - everything was on the house. Not a single bartender would charge a G.I. in uniform for a beer. I used to visit the place often myself when I moved to manhattan, and even turned on an intern at my ad aency from Austria to the B.I. - he thought is was a blast. The Cafe Geiger, and Kleine Kondittorei were two other authentic german spots that are now history as well.
22 February 2011
A couple years ago, I posted this photo of an old luncheonette that used to be on Columbus Circle. (There's a Starbucks there now.) The other day a reader who actually visited this drug store wrote this:
I went to this beautiful luncheonette after dropping my band's CD with Atlantic Records. It was a very big day for me as a young musician. I am a Canadian songwriter, today writing a song about how my friend- now gone by suicide, connected me with Arif Mardin, of Atlantic. A perfect chocolate shake and tuna sandwich at this classic NYC soda shop made me feel special and at home. I'll share the moment in the song. Thank you for the photos and history of a treasured place in time...where I sat with my hopes and dreamed a little while. ..... Arif liked the record, bless his soul (and my late friend's) and that of the Columbus Circle Pharmacy that place had plenty of soul!
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 1:56 AM
21 February 2011
There are few vanished New York businesses this blog has been more obsessed with than Lüchow’s, the monarch of all German eateries in Gotham history. So it is hardly surprising that my elbows slipped off the desktop when I read this item on Grub Street.
Walk into Café Remy and the back bar may seem familiar — the three mirrored arches with floral wood carvings, flanked by bottle cabinets, were left over from the space’s previous incarnation, T.J. Bentley’s. But it turns out, they date back even further. Remy owner Eddie Batiz tells us that the owner of T.J. Bentley’s bought the face of the back bar at auction some time after 1982, when Lüchow’s closed after a century on 14th Street. The panels, says Batiz, were transported directly from Lüchow’s to Bay Ridge. When Batiz moved Remy Lounge from its original Manhattan location into the T.J. Bentley’s space in 2007, he wasn’t about to get rid of the bar. “It’s a beautiful bar,” he tells us. “So I had to design the place to try to match the bar.” And so a bar that once saw tuxedoed string ensembles performing waltzes is now on duty at reggaeton parties. Who knows what Victor Herbert (the composer who founded ASCAP at Lüchow’s in 1914) would think of that.Sweet, suffering Lord, what a find! What's more, there are further chunks of Lüchow’s sitting in a Hudson, New York, antique store run by Steve Stollman, a man who restores and sells antique bars. If you have the lettuce (I wish I did), you could have a larger arch (eight feet long) from the back bar for $4,000, a smaller one (four feet long) for $2,500, and a eight-foot-by-eight-foot wall panels for $3,500.
According to Grub Street, "Stollman helped restore the bar before Lüchow’s closed in 1982. Years later, he snuck into the building just months before it was demolished (it was razed in 1995 after a suspicious fire and eventually replaced by an NYU dorm). “The roof was breached,” he says. “There were homeless people living in there. People’s legs went through the floor; it was so rotted out. I climbed in and peeled the paneling off the walls and got some of the columns and some of the back bar.”
God bless Stollman.
Grew up around the corner. The tall narrow building is actually wider in front, it is 125 Madison Street between Pike and Market... a building that was condemned and closed by the city when rules for air, light, and sanitation changed until the landlord (50+ years ago) made necessary corrections. Three apartments per floor... and get this... TOILET IN THE HALLWAYS, bathtub in the kitchen. Wood burning stove in the kitchen, with gas as well. My grandfather was the Super from the 60s to the 90s: lots of great memories. Basement held a speakeasy way back in the day... Chaplin posters and soforth on the walls. Most recently, allegedly, a brothel. Classic, old school NYC building.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 5:42 PM
19 February 2011
18 February 2011
Who goes to Brennan and Carr? Me! From now on. That roast beef is a narcotic. Love the odd little building. Love the cozy inside, and the formal waiters. Love the prices. From Eater:
Who Goes There? Brennan and Carr
Perhaps since Brennan and Carr is barely on the New York map, tucked in a southern corner of Sheepshead Bay, it makes sense that this 73-year-old shrine to roast beef doesn't feel like part of the city. First of all, it's housed in a stand-alone, one-story building, alone on a triangle bordered by Avenue U and Gravesend Neck Road. Constructed of brick and darkened windows and vaguely Alpine in appearance, in would fit in at any rural intersection upstate, or some Chicago suburb. There's also a dedicated parking lot. (This is not an easy place to reach if you don't have a car.)
17 February 2011
A reader contacted me recently, bemoaning the presumed fate of the building pictured above. It is a house at 39-38 56th Street in Woodside, Queens. And it's for sale. And according to this reader, it was recently sold by the old lady who owns it, and the new owners plan to tear it down.
My correspondent is very upset about this, and wishes she could save the structure. Why, you ask? I can understand you asking. But look beyond the awful layers of be-uglifying siding which have coated the house over the years, and recognize the innately handsome frame of the building, which is actually 110 years old. (Surprise!) And then consider how ugly Woodside is in general and how little it can afford to lose yet more of its older edifices. Look at this real estate listing and squint, and you can see the possibilities. (Ah, the porch! Ooh, the fireplaces!)
Those possibilities are not to be, of course. It will come down. I'm just pointing out the kind of hidden-in-plain-sight thing that is being lost every single day in this short-sighted town. Is there any chance—ANY chance—that the home that replaces this one will be a patch of what will be lost?
16 February 2011
Now I know why they didn't want to talk. I apologize for being so late to this story—I still feel it's important to report it—but Karl Ehmer closed its shop and main shipping center on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood, Queens, in late September of last year. I suppose I should have seen that coming when I noticed that a Karl Ehmer outlet in Glendale closed last winter.
The shop opened in Ridgewood in 1958, but the Ehmer story goes back further than that. The first store was opened in 1932 on 46th St. and Second Ave. Ehmer had a manufacturing plant in Ridgewood since back in the 1940s. He would team up with store managers to co-own Karl Ehmer stores throughout the city and beyond. Karl would put up the money, and the managers would run the shops, carrying fine Ehmer products. It was a chain, and they were franchises, basically. There was one prominent store on E. 86th Street, in then-German Yorkville. By 1970, there were 30 Ehmer stores; by the late '70s, there were 50, some as far flung as Florida and Pennsylvania.
But the Germans died or moved away, and Ehmer's presence in Manhattan vanished. Ehmer followed his clientele out to Ridgewood and Glendale. But they, too, eventually faded away, and the store hurt for business. The brand will still be found in stores, since the family sold the name to Bosco's Family Food Company, a distributor in Oceanside, Long Island. But for the first time in nearly 80 years there is no longer an Ehmer store in New York City.
Gaze up the Donut Shoppe, independently owned shop on Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay, just steps to the west of the Avenue U B/Q elevated subway stop. There aren't many like this left in the city. Dunkin' Donuts, the fasting growing chain in the fat ol' U.S. or A., knows this, but would be happier if there were actually none. Big old DD has set up shop on the next block, just steps to the east of the subway stop. I don't think the location is a coincidence.
15 February 2011
Last year, I mourned the old school Chinese-American joint called Richard Yee's Chinese Restaurant in Sheepshead Bay without having ever had the chance to go there. Recently, I was in the neighborhood, so I went to check on the place.
There doesn't seem to be much in the way of fencing around Cobble Hill's ongoing Strong Place Church condo rebuild these days, so I was able this weekend to walk onto the lawn and right up the wonderful, 158-year-old bell that was rescued from the church's steeple.
As I reported before, this is the church's original bell, forged at the once-world-famous bellmaker Meneely's in West Troy, New York. Below are a few more images of the massive and aged ironwork that once held the bell in its place.
14 February 2011
I reside among those bisected blocks that were cut off from the rest of South Brooklyn back in the 1950s by Moses' Trench (aka the BQE). My house is not far from the intersection of Union and Columbia Streets. As local historians and readers of this blog know, these two avenues were once teeming commercial strips on a level that would knock the current Court Street on its ass. But the businesses were killed off by the trio of plagues; the building of the BQE; the long, slow death of the waterfront;, and a decade-long sewer dig along Columbia that undermined the foundation of dozens of buildings, causing them to plummet into dust, or be torn down in the name of public safety.
Which left us with the virtual ghost town we have today. There are still businesses, of course, included a number of new and successful restaurants. But the area is nothing like what it used to be, bustling with life day and night. And certainly the pushcasts that once lined Union Street (and whose position were assigned and controlled by the Mob) are long gone.
Over the years, I have naturally because curious about the past lives of the old buildings along Union between Hicks and Van Brunt, and along Columbia between Sackett and Carroll. More recently, I've made it a casual mission to learn in as many details as I can the history of each building and address. Thus, here debuts what I call "The Union Street Project." Once a week (probably on Mondays), I will post an item telling all I've learned about one building on one of those two lanes.
As I do this, I encourage and implore all those out there who know things I do not about about these buildings. Write to me with information, memories and (let's hope) photographs.
11 February 2011
I've written a lot about South Brooklyn's vanished Scandinavian heritage in the past. I didn't think there was much I had missed. But this article, while covering a lot of the same familiar ground, turned up one toothsome tidbit that had escaped me.
I have passed by the above bar, at the corner of Columbia and Kane Streets, a couple hundred times, having no idea it was once a tavern with the glorious name of Otto's Scandinavian Bar. It was a popular watering hole, and was used as a location in the Jimmy Breslin-inspired film "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," before closing sometime in the 1980s. That would make it perhaps the last working vestige of the area's once teeming Norse population. From what I can gather, Otto himself tended bar well into the 1970s.
I found the mind-blowing picture below on the Who Walk in Brooklyn site. What fantastic signage Otto had. The painted words on the western side—"Otto's Forste Og Siste Stop—translate to "Otto's, First and Last Stop." A great motto for a bar if I ever saw one. On the north wall, I think it says "Otto Hansen," and man's full name.
Most recently, Otto's was the home of an uninspiring bar called Blue Stone Bar & Grill. It closed at least three years ago, and the space has remained dormant, though I'm told the owners of Blue Stone retain the lease. That may change soon. I've noticed that the old Blue Stone signs have been removed and the windows papered over. And today, I spied a man in a suit inside looking over some blueprints. Could his name be Otto Jr.?
Recently there were reports of new construction at the long-silent Gowanus institution, Monte's Venetian Room.
The work apparently continues at the 1906 restaurant, one of the oldest in Brooklyn. The Department of Building reports a Jan. 28 partial permet to "RENOVATE EXISTING EATING & DRINKING ESTABLISHMENT. INSTALL NEW KITCHEN EQUIPMENT," and a Feb. 1 approval. The workers will also "REPLACE /REPAIR FLOOR JOISTS AND REPLACE CEILING." Are the same owners renovating it? New owners? What of the famous murals and banquettes? Don't know.
Monte's was founded in 1906 and is one of the last remnants of what was once a thriving Italian community along the Gowanus Canal. Frank Sinatra was rumored to be a patron (but then he seemed to have gone to every New York Italian joint at least once). It was last owned by Toni Monti. Nick Monte, his father, died on Oct. 13, 2007, at age 90.
10 February 2011
The owner of the beloved Main Street Ephemera—depository of old photos, maps, menus, bills, books and other paper remnants of Old New York, Old Hollywood and the Good Olde World—is closing his shop on Columbia Street. He will still sell his wares at fairs and on the web, but can not afford to keep the store.
This is a sad loss. Stores such as these are more and more rare in New York. They were quite abundant when I first arrived here 22 years ago. Most of them have now made the transition to the web. This robs the average New Yorker of the joy of browsing through the ephemera of the past, of holding it in one's hands before considering a purchase. I've bought many an item in the store: old photos of Smith Street; old city maps of blocks I have lives on; movie posters; matchbooks from restaurants long gone. I have featured many of these items on this blog.
The owner said he will have a big sale sometime before closing, probably near the end of February.
08 February 2011
I was in The Bronx recently, waiting for a bus, when I noticed what looked like a nice old school diner on E. Fordham Road. I peered inside. Counter, stools, booths, veteran waitresses. A sign that said "Fordham Students 10% off." Looked nice, if a bit tacky. (Plastic plants, fake Tiffany lamps.) Then I saw a large oval decade stuck to the glass front door. It showed a portrait of a man with long dark hair, thick dark eyebrows and an elaborate waxed mustache worthy of Dali. There was a cross over his head and the legend "2-2-2010. RIP" below.
The figure depicted must be Pete himself, I surmised, and Pete must have died. I digged around, and found my supposition, sadly, to be correct. He was Pete Nikolopoulos and he was struck down by a heart attack on the date indicated, while on a trip to Sparta, Greece. He was 56. Pete came to America from Greece in 1976 and began working at the diner as a busboy. In 1978, the Greek couple who owned the diner sold it to young Pete. (He was just 24 at the time—think of it.)
He was beloved by locals, particularly generations of Fordham students and educators. Students often went there late at night to nurse hangovers. One professor of media studies regularly sent students there on assignment to write a restaurant review of the scrambled eggs.
The diner now sells t-shirt with Pete's visage on it. It is currently run by Pete's widow, Anna (who, incidentally, never liked the mustache).
One of the strangest, and best, culinary traditions in Providence, Rhode Island, is the Haven Bros. diner, which, every night at 5 PM, rolls to the corner of Dorrance and Fulton, right outside City Hall, and parks there until 5 AM. A door opens on the metal truck, a set of stairs come out, and the public is invited to climb in and chow down on chili dogs, french fries, coffee milk and "Murder Burgers." The kitchen fills up half the interior, the other side taken up by a few stools and a counter. They even have an ATM in there. Prices are cheap, the food is acceptable and you leave full. (I wonder who eats here at 4 AM? Besides drunken Brown U. students, I mean.)
It's a weird thing, this truck. They call themselves one of the oldest rolling diners in the U.S., having been founded as a horse-drawn cart in 1888 by the widow Anne Philomena Haven. The Havens went through two more generations before selling in 1953 to the Mollicone family. Currently, the Giusti family owns the truck.
Some years ago, a Providence mayor tries to kick the diner to the curb, saying it didn't fit in with the rest of "modern Providence." The population protested, and the Haven Bros. diner was allowed to stay. That mayor is gone now.
During my sole visit, I had a chili dog and a coffee milk. The grizzled old fry cook implored that I could "handle" two dogs. I declined. He seemed quite disgusted with my timidity. Which made me like the place even more.
07 February 2011
Call me ignorant. Until now, I had no idea that Bigelow Chemists, the eternal pharmacy in the Village, had a second floor. Anyway, it's not much to see, that second floor. But it has a nice view of Sixth Avenue and Jefferson Market. And the stairwell leading to it is pleasantly of another era.
I hate Capital One, but I have to admit that this branch in Williamsburg has a certain neato-speedo Modernist appeal. If we were told it had been built 50 years ago, we'd consider it a modern landmark worth saving. Reminds me somehow of pictures of the old White Castles back in the 1960s. The logo still sucks, however.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 6:37 AM
04 February 2011
A trip to the Carnegie Deli—the Stage's longtime rival—might have been more appropriate at the moment, given the rumors of that place's possible closing. But the Stage is where I went, mainly because, well, the photos had already been shot. I'll get to the Carnegie soon.
Who Goes There? Stage Deli
It was not quite fair of me, I thought, to visit Midtown's Stage Deli on a Tuesday night at 8 PM during a snow-rain storm, when the joint was certain to not be at its vibrant, pulsating best. But, then, it was a good time to see what the 74-year-old sandwich palace is when it's not its usual self—that it, a tourist-clogged cliche.
When I was a more youthful man, just arrived in New York, and I found I needed to clothe my feet, I headed down to 8th Street in the Village. There, I recall, were at least a dozen show stores, some obviously of many years standing. Literally one shoe shop after another. It was very easy to shop and compare goods and prices. And I always went home with shoes.
In recent years, however, you see less shoe stores and move of the above: vacant storefronts. Also various crappy eateries and assorted oddball businesses. The street is a lane of economic depression. Da'Vinci, seen up top, is one of the footwear survivors. (Great sign, by the way.) I remember it being there in the late '80s, though I'm sure it's older than that. I found two others left, including Kinway, below. Otherwise, this is no longer a shoe street.
Why did it change? Well, streets evolve. After all, in the first half of the 20th century, 8th Street was known for its many new and used book stores. Then it was shoes. Now the lane is on its way to something else. But it's also the same old story: rising rents. They began to go up in the first decade of the 21st century and the shoe merchants left, including the Village Cobbler, at 60 W. 8th Street, which sort of anchored the block. (No one ever got rich selling shoes.) Like so many landlords around the city, those of 8th Street hoped to attract high-paying restaurants. But that hasn't happened.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 6:21 AM
03 February 2011
I will be keeping Carmine's Italian Seafood in my Recently Lost Landmarks list, sad to say.
The South Street Seaport eatery closed last summer after 107 years. Soon after, the owner, Greg Molini, made some rumblings about reopening in a new space. I doubted this, knowing landlords and the real estate market. Sure enough, this week he revealed that plans had fallen through with the proposed new space, 29 Peck Slip. The "financials didn't work." In other words, the landlord wanted the moon.
02 February 2011
I've always been curious about this old, old, but rather nondescript building at the northeast corner of Court and Douglass in Cobble Hill. It dates from the 1880s, and I always imagined it had a mercantile history, even though it's long been made up solely of apartments.
I haven't been able to find out much, but I was right about the shop. There was a grocery here in the 19th century. And here's what happened in 1886: "Jacob Berlage, a grocer, or 283 Court Street, was charged before Justice Massey this morning with having exposed for sale some canned tomatoes which born no label to show when they were put up. This is a violation of the Laws of 1885."
Grocers still pull that stuff.
Posted by Brooks of Sheffield at 11:40 AM
I was just talking last night with a Upper East Side-dwelling friend of mine about the wonderful unchanging character of upper Lexington Avenue, mentioning such stalwarts as the Lexington Candy Shop and Donohue's Steak House.
And today I wake up to the awful news that Donohue's has been shut down by the DOH. Hopefully, they will clean up and reopen soon. Love that place. Here's my "Who Goes There?" column from two years back.
01 February 2011
Today, comes good news that the abandoned, 225-year-old building may be saved. The Wall Street Journal states that "a new, $300,000 matching grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is likely to jump-start restoration of the building, which once housed the oldest chartered high school in New York and counts Founding Fathers John Jay and Alexander Hamilton among its early benefactors."