16 April 2012

Sokol Bros. Furniture Goes the Way of All Old Buildings: Apartments

Due to the numerous calamities that have befallen Columbia Street during the last 50 years—the big sewer dig of the 1970s; the erection of the BQE; the extension of the Brooklyn docks between DeGraw and Atlantic; all of which knocked out dozens of old Columbia Street buildings and businesses—there are precious few mercantile remnants of the thriving business district that once was.

One of the last survivors was the Sokol Bros. Furniture store, which took up three former brownstones on Columbia between President and Carroll Streets. The business was founded in 1950, making it a relative latecomer to the strip, which was by then already in decline. Michael Sokol took the reins from his father and uncle in 1976 and ran the shop until last fall, when he sold it for $3.3 million.

Lately, the place has been gutted and scaffolding has been erected. Construction is constant. The building will be converted into luxury apartments and three stories will be added to the edifice, making it easily the tallest, largest structure on Columbia Street (which is not protected by any sort of landmarking).

One of the one good things about such repurposings as this is you briefly get to see what the old building once looked like, as they tear away at the walls. Sokol Bros. has been covered up with an awful overlay of cream-colored bricks for years. Underneath somewhere are some ancient red-brick houses. Walking by today, I peeked inside and could see where old brick walls and a fireplace were revealed.

Sokol Bros. was a funny place. Though I bought a couch there once, and Michael was always on the premises, I never saw much business going on inside. It was the sort of family-owned, bare-bones, no-frilled, frozen-in-time furniture business that you used to see a lot of in Brooklyn. Every neighborhood had one or two. The furniture styles were always a few seasons behind the times, but the prices were good. The sprawling office in the back, walled by large wooden-framed windows, was left very much as it must have been in 1950. I would sometimes go in to ask Michael questions about how the old neighborhood used to be. He was one of the few remaining local experts.

Part of the store's appeal was the grand old, hollowed-out neon sign that adorned it. (See below.) It must have been something in the days when the Sokols bothered to fill the large metal letters with neon tubing—something I never saw. It hasn't lit up in decades.

I can't tell if the sign is still there. The scaffolding obscures the view.


dash said...

Why must it be "luxury" apartments? How about regular apartments? Looking at how real estate is going nuts right now in Brooklyn, I'd say the developer got a sweet deal.

Batman said...

Even by this blog's amazing standards, this post is stunningly arrogant. But more than anything, I am very, very confused.

You start out by stating all of the things that have changed the face and nature of Columbia Street in the past half century, but then move on to implying that somehow, Columbia Street should be landmarked. Despite the changes to the specific building you cite. Columbia Street? Landmarked? Really???

Also, special note is made that the structure will be tall. This matters...why? Because the apartments will have amazing views that we don't have? Because the taxable value will be higher? Because 0.6% of your sky view as you walk down Columbia will be obscured?

Good zoning like this was necessary after protectionists and anti-development forces downzoned 90% of the rest of the neighborhood.

You then infer, as the commenter noted above, that all apartments must be luxury. This is typical protectionist speak, creating a class divide where none exists.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I didn't imply Columbia Street should be landmarked. I merely said it wasn't.

And you know very well why the building being tall is an issue. Stop being disingenuous.

Of course I assume the apartments will be luxury. Should me where affordable housing has been built in this area in the past 10 years.

If you don't like the blog, don't read it. And if you're looking for arrogance, look no further than the developer of the Sokol Bros. building, who obviously doesn't give a damn about his neighbors.

Batman said...

There have been two affordable housing developments on Columbia between DeGraw and Kane, both finished within the last 8 years, not to mention the huge ones recently completed by the Fifth Avenue Committee and Carroll Gardens Association just across Hamilton in Red Hook.

Not saying these will be, but implying that they will be "luxury", rather than simply "normal" (whatever those respective terms mean) attempts to incite divides. "You don't live in LUXURY, but the big, bad developer putting apartments in the sky wants to give someone else that right. Fear."

The one thing that I can think of that indicates a short-term outlook by the developer so far is the lack of retail space on the ground floor. To truly contribute to a resilient, complete neighborhood, they should build a retail component into the ground floor. But, there is no requirement to do so, so, unlike you, I can't really complain about someone doing what is in their own financial best interest.

So, how else has this developer indicated a lack of giving a damn about his neighbors? From the sidewalk bridge which keeps them safe from falling debris? From taking an old, decaying, boarded up (forget to mention that all of Sokol's windows were boarded up, did we?) building and creating something where people will (presumably) want to live, driving up his neighbors property values? By complying with the zoning code, building the exact type of building City Planning envisioned here? How?

And, in all seriousness, please tell the world why a building 2 or 3 stories taller than its neighbors (who, by the way, have the same advantageous zoning and will eventually be built up to the same height) is an issue? Will someone's views be blocked? Will the Amazing Garden be shaded? Will someone standing on the corner of President and Columbia not be able to see the St. Stephens' steeple? What are the negative impacts?