30 November 2008

It's Landmarks Commission Article Season

Not only did the New York Post look at the landmarks problem in New York in a big way this weekend, so did the New York Times, wrestling the hot topic in three big articles by Robin Pogrebin. The first, published Nov. 26, was titled "PRESERVING THE CITY; An Opaque and Lengthy Road to Landmark Status"; the second, published Nov. 28, was "Preservationists See Bulldozers Charging Through a Loophole"; and the third, published Nov. 30, was "Houses of Worship Meet Landmarking Bureaucracy."

It was the second of the series that struck me the hardest. Read:

Hours before the sun came up on a cool October morning in 2006, people living near the Dakota Stables on the Upper West Side were suddenly awakened by the sound of a jackhammer.

Soon word spread that a demolition crew was hacking away at the brick cornices of the stables, an 1894 Romanesque Revival building, on Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street, that once housed horses and carriages but had long served as a parking garage.

In just four days the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was to hold a public hearing on pleas dating back 20 years to designate the low-rise building, with its round-arched windows and serpentine ornamentation, as a historic landmark.

But once the building’s distinctive features had been erased, the battle was lost. The commission went ahead with its hearing, but ultimately decided not to designate the structure because it had been irreparably changed. Today a 16-story luxury condominium designed by Robert A. M. Stern is rising on the site: the Related Companies is asking from $765,000 for a studio to $7 million or more for a five-bedroom unit in the building.

The strategy has become wearyingly familiar to preservationists. A property owner — in this case Sylgar Properties, which was under contract to sell the site to Related — is notified by the landmarks commission that its building or the neighborhood is being considered for landmark status. The owner then rushes to obtain a demolition or stripping permit from the city’s Department of Buildings so that notable qualities can be removed, rendering the structure unworthy of protection.

“In the middle of the night I’m out there at 2 in the morning, and they’re taking the cornices off,” said Gale Brewer, a city councilwoman who represents that part of the Upper West Side. “We’re calling the Buildings Department, we’re calling Landmarks. You get so beaten down by all of this. The developers know they can get away with that.”

And this:

Safeguards crumble because the landmarks commission and the buildings department lack an established system of communication, and commissioners often are unaware that permits have been issued. There is also no set procedure by which the buildings department alerts the commission when someone seeks a permit to strip off architectural detail.

Some City Council members are determined to change that. Tony Avella, who represents northeastern Queens, has introduced a bill that would require the buildings department not only to withhold demolition permits but also to suspend existing ones and issue a stop-work order when the commission schedules a hearing to consider landmark status for a structure.

Another bill, proposed by Rosie Mendez, a city councilwoman representing the Lower East Side and the East Village, would require the commission to notify the buildings department as soon as a property comes under consideration, even if a hearing has not been scheduled. The department would then alert the commission if an owner applied for a work permit. Both bills are wending their way through the council.

A school in Ms. Mendez’s East Village neighborhood galvanized her to introduce the bill. In June 2006 the landmarks commission designated former Public School 64, a French Renaissance Revival building on East Ninth Street near Tompkins Square Park, as a landmark over the objections of its owner, Gregg Singer.

After that designation, Mr. Singer used an alteration permit that had been granted in 2003 and stripped the terra-cotta elements and copper cornices from the building’s exterior. This month a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan upheld the school’s designation as a landmark despite the architectural changes. But the damage remains.

Robert B. Tierney, the Landmarks Commissioner—who declined a budget increase in 2007 of $750,000 approved by the City Council, and earns an annual city salary of $177,698 for his crimes—must be removed. Now. That much is clear. If ever a man did not understand the nature or importance of his job, it's he.

Two Notable Shoe Repair Shops

Shoe Repair Shops are rebels in a retail City that is fast falling into lockstep conformity.

They are always Mom & Pop operations; conglomerates don't seem to see much future in the trade. And these Moms & Pops don't seem to care what anyone thinks. If the store is ramshackle and disorganized, who cares? If it's dusty and outdated, so what? Will they do more business if they put in some sconces? Will people suddenly have more shoes to repair? These merchants seem to think not.

Shoe Repair shops don't need much room. They will fit in any hole in the wall. Very often, in Manhattan, they snatch up extremely narrow spaces. Or they'll be found in the shabbiest, out-of-the-way corner of a subway station. In the outer boroughs, they can take on even more peculiar personalities.

Take a look at Herman's Shoe Repair in Borough Park. The sign is small, and in English and Hebrew. (It's an observant shop; closed Saturdays.) Inside, the dust is busy settling. There are old shoe-repair-related tools and contraptions that belong in the Smithsonian. At some point, long ago, the folks at O'Sullivan Heels talked the owner into pasting stickers for the product all over the store. (Humphrey O'Sullivan was an Irish immigrant who received the first patent for a rubber heel for shoes in 1899.)

I did not ask more because the owner of the shop was dead asleep in his chair behind the counter.

Shoebiz gets even more idiosyncratic in nearby Ditmas Park. This business on Cortelyou Road is done out what can only be called a shack. A stand-alone shanty, barely there, surrounded by fine residential homes. Not only are shoes fixed in this cubby hole, but watches are repaired and keys made. From a cardboard box outside, you can nab a new pair of footwear for $5. Or a shirt or two. Or make a phone call. They also make custom shoes.

29 November 2008

Lost City in the News; Carroll Gardens Must Be Saved

A couple weeks back, New York Post real estate and preservation reporter Julia Vitullo-Martin contacted me. She was embarking an a large article about New York's most endangered landmarks. I sent over about ten suggestions of buildings and areas I thought were under threat by development forces or the Bloomberg administration.

The article came out Nov. 30 and it's quite a thorough piece of work, about as long as a Post feature gets these days, I should imagine. "The pause in New York City's building boom," it begins, "may have one side benefit: It gives everyone a chance to think. As projects skid to a halt and buildings get stopped in mid-construction, developers - and their neighbors - have an opportunity to reassess their plans and consider different options for the future."

She astutely points out, "Other beloved buildings evade the wrecking ball but are allowed to deteriorate so badly that demolition becomes inevitable. The law even has a term for this: Constructive demolition."

There's one large article and then a lengthy sidebar titles "10 Endangered Buildings Worth Saving." She pays special attention to Moynihan Station, the city's beleaguered churches, the Henry Hudson Parkway and Carroll Gardens. This last, I'm proud to say, came at my suggestion.

Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn is an old Irish and Italian neighborhood of row houses and distinctive deep gardens, often laid out in front rather than in back of single-family homes. The neighborhood was designed as a unit by surveyor Richard Butts in 1846, and developed in the late 19th century. Brooks of Sheffield, a journalist who blogs on preservation issues, notes that the surrounding neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Park Slope have large historic districts, which has the unintended effect of putting development pressures on Carroll Gardens. The blog calls the neighborhood "a black hole in this sea of protection." Historic districts are tricky to define initially and even trickier for property owners to negotiate later, but it's clearly one strategy here. It's also worth noting that public transportation is limited in Carroll Gardens - just the F line - so that overly intense development would be too automobile-dependent, which is contrary to the Bloomberg administration's new green emphasis.

28 November 2008

A Good Sign: Metropolitan Heat and Power

I like the bold, muscular feel of the sign. It marries well with the nature of the business. And the blue, cursive bits at either end act as nice bookends. In Midwood. The outfit has been around for more than 60 years.

26 November 2008

More News on the Soon-to-Be Bookish P & G Bar

The NY Observer has acted on the news first reported here that the classic Upper West Side tavern P&G Cafe will move to a new home at 78th and Columbus, a building that was once the lair of post-scandal Florodora girl Evelyn Nesbit.

Owner Steve Chahalis told the Observer—which has been on this story like a cheap suit since the beginning—a few more details. The new location is huge: 4,300 square feet, four times as big as the cozy P&G. It will have a stage for live music and a full kitchen, thus restoring food service to the bar which once used to serve eats along with suds.

"We’re going to do steak and chops—like the sign has said forever," Mr. Chahalis said. "We’re also going to do burgers. I make these awesome teriyaki garlic-saffron-rubbed burgers. We’re going to do chicken wings and legs. I make my own hot sauces. I make a buffalo sauce and a hot teriyaki." I'm getting a little excited.

But I'm also a little worried. Read this:

The new venue will also have a more refined look than the previous stripped-down dive. One corner of the new L-shaped space, for instance, will feature a fireplace, chess tables and shelves of books. “I want to really do it up like a man’s study in deep burgundy and walnut,” Mr. Chahalis said, explaining, “On Columbus Avenue, you can’t just open a shithole.”

Chess? Books? At the P&G?

I don't know.

Plus, Chahalis wouldn't talk on the record about whether he's taking the sign with him—which is in direct contrast to what he told Lost City reader (and blogger himself) Ken Mac. Even Robert Tierney, the lazy-ass jerk of a chairman of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, has stated his "concern about the iconic sign." For me, the P&G can never be the P&G again without that sign. It must be save.

Lovely Dumplings

I wish I knew of the Dumpling House at 118 Eldridge when I first came to New York and was young and poor (as opposed to now, when I'm older and still poor). It would have been a cure-all to a lot of nights when I ate Raman noodles or a slice or charges $7 worth of stupid gourmet goods I couldn't afford at Second Avenue's Indiana Foods. This straight-ahead eatery will give you five fantastic dumplings for a single buck or the splendiferous sesame pancake with beef for $1.50). It's one of the best deals in town, and I stop by anytime I'm in the Lower East Side.

Recently, I discovered that the same owners have a more obscure, less dolled-up (if that's possible) location on Mosco Street in Chinatown. It's perched in the middle of that slanting, noirish one-black lane. And the serving women are even grumpier than on Eldridge Street! But the dumplings are just as good, and still 5 for $1.

Macy's, Macy's, Macy's

Tomorrow is the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, which I used to watch on TV all the time when I was growing up in the Midwest, and which I never watch on TV since I've lived in New York. But I'm glad it's there. It's commercial and garish and a lot of it is in bad taste, but it's a tradition, one that still smacks a bit of small-town America. And it's sponsored by a quintessentially New York store which, however corporate and faceless its become, still has a claim on Gotham cultural history.

Here's an interesting little video featuring Macy's place in the general culture over the past 150 years. Sure, it's a commercial, but it's still kind of cool. So many people say Macy's—including Orson Welles—that the word begins to loose all meaning after a while.

John Roland, Compensated Spokesperson

I'm sorry. Can someone tell me what the deal is with "John Roland, Compensated Spokesperson"?

This slimy shyster ad, plastered over every subway station and subway car, has a hypnotic effect on me. I can't stop staring at it. Local anchor John Roland is shilling for this lousy den of sharks—I get that. But why does he look so miserable, so utterly dejected? Is there a gun to his head? He looks like the man who wakes up after an all night binge to realize he's made a terrible mistake.

And then there's the Orwellian caption, "Compensated Spokesperson." So formal, and so unnecessary, since any celebrity who appears in an ad is obviously being paid. The phrase feels somehow threatening, like the law firm has Roland over a barrel. He's taken the compensation and he's not going to get out of doing the ad, and to make sure the lawyers are going to broadcast to the world that Roland was compensated. That scenario would explain why Roland looks so unhappy.

I took the above shot through some subway bars. It seems appropriate, since Roland has the expression of someone in jail.

50, 63, 100 Years—Whatever, It's Old!

When prosaic businesses like hardware stores, plumbers and auto-body shops reach landmark anniversaries, they generally don't make a fuss about it. These are not overly romantic lines of work. So one can patronize an appliance store or a office supply shop and not necessarily realize that it's been around since 1922, because there's nothing on view to notify a patron of the business' longevity.

Not so with All-County Plumbing of Brooklyn. "Over 50 Years" screams the sign. Yeah, about 13 years over—the smaller sign underneath clearly states "Since 1945." (Actually, according to the company's website, the All-County family has been doing Brooklyn plumbing jobs as far back as the early 1900's, when house calls were made by horse-drawn wagon. They really should get their story straight.)

There's lots to entertain the eye here. The shop is "Gas Company Approved," whatever that means. You'll get a lifetime guarantee on all piping, but only a one-year guarantee on faucets. The drippy faucets motif is a lot of fun, as is the "Emergency Service" sign in the shape of a van.

I know the painted "Pet Food" sign on the nearby brick wall is not part of the All-County (Kings County, I assume) design scheme, but I kinda feel it belongs somehow. No one else is using it, anyway; a pet shop is no longer in that neighboring building.

25 November 2008

It's All True

It's gratifying, and terribly saddening, that every suspicion I ever had about Bloomberg's corrupt motives in seeking a third term in office is supported in Wayne Barrett's exhaustive article on the billionaire in the The Village Voice.

You should read the entire article, which casts shame on nearly every institution in the City, but here are some of the more galling parts:

In one of the most sordid performances by a city executive in modern history, Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey appeared on NY1 in May to declare that "the person who picks Mayor Bloomberg as their vice-presidential candidate wins the election," partly because Bloomberg would "help finance a campaign" with "between zero and a billion" dollars. This televised and indiscriminate bribe offer generated no takers and, more remarkably, drew not one word of fire from the city media...

The mayor justified the bill by saying that it gave voters an additional choice—namely, himself. But unnamed sources had already told the Times that Bloomberg would spend $80 million on his re-election (at least $20 million of it on attacks on anyone daring to oppose him). The $80 million, roughly what Bloomberg spent in a non-competitive race in 2005, is cheap compared to what Sheekey claimed Bloomberg was willing to pay for a vice-presidential run. If Comptroller Bill Thompson or Congressman Anthony Weiner runs against Bloomberg with the support of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and a respectable slice of the party's New York establishment, the mayor might have to double that number.

Bloomberg's threat of using attack ads, coupled with the possibility that Thompson could settle for a safe re-election and the 44-year-old Weiner might decide to wait, could leave us next November with no real choice...

The Times called it "a terrible idea" when Giuliani tried to prolong his stay, noting that neither the city nor the nation had "ever postponed the transfer of power" in the belief that it "could not get along without the current incumbent." But seven years later, it decided, after the next mayor and Sulzberger had reconnoitered, that term limits "would deny New Yorkers—at a time when the city's economy is under great stress—the right to decide for themselves whether an effective and popular mayor should stay in office." Conveniently, the paper saluted Bloomberg, before the mayor publicly announced his new third-term pursuit (as did the Post and the Daily News)...

Mario Cuomo trudged down to testify for the extension without revealing that the managing partner at his law firm is a director of Bloomberg L.P. and that the company is the law firm's top client. Ed Koch went from hosting his weekly show on Bloomberg Radio to celebrating the prospect of a third Bloomberg administration. Peter Vallone, who insisted when he was speaker that the only way to undo term limits was by referendum, switched sides without mentioning the $1.8 million in fees his family firm collected last year for lobbying City Hall (to say nothing about his son keeping the family seat). Five unions with fresh new contracts, thanks to Mike Bloomberg, rushed to the witness table, some closing their deals right before and some right after their appearance. Time Warner's Richard Parsons did a stint at the hearing and on his own channel (NY1), even while the Bloomberg administration was extending the company's lucrative cable franchise for six months and considering a 10-year renewal...

What kicked the third-term campaign into high gear, [publicist Howard] Rubenstein concedes, was a shrinking of Bloomberg's options. Asked if the mayor started seriously weighing the idea of another term after the presidential and vice-presidential dreams died, Rubenstein says: "I think you're accurate. He really enjoys the action."

A Good Sign: Sun Brite Cleaners

A splash of riotous color, and then the black-lettered prosaic "Cleaners." It works for me. In Midwood on Coney Island Avenue.

It's What Happens When You're Not Looking

You have to act quickly these days, or history will evaporate right before your eyes.

I encountered the above watering hole on Coney Island Avenue near Courtelyou not 18 days ago. I was entranced by the stark retro signage and the hard-bitten clientele. I meant to blog about it.

Then, tonight, I happened to pass by again and did a double take. New sign. Worse sign.

Apparently, the place, open since 1969, has just undergone a shift in ownership. It's a happy story in general. A longtime bartender, Billy Cain, along with his sister Margaret, and friends Kathleen and John recently, bought the bar from the old owner, Billy Windam. And they felt the need to spiff up the space. The inside looks pretty good. Not too slick. Homey. And there's a shot wheel; you spin it and drink what the needle points to.

But the sign's a mistake. I'm sure they think it's a cooler look. It's not. Nothing was cooler than that white-and-red job with the profile of a martini glass.

Pictures to Grind Your Teeth By

Astroland being dismantled. And for what? And to be replaced by what? What a waste.

24 November 2008

Living Link to El Morocco Found in Brooklyn!

To we shabby modern New Yorkers, glamorous night spots of days gone by like The Stork Club, The Colony and El Morocco seem more than a world away. They're a complete culture away. But links to that romantic cafe society of yesteryear still exist. And not always where you might think.

Neil Ganic is a talented Brooklyn restaurateur. He owns Le Petit Crevette on Hicks Street near the BQE and La Bouillabaisse in Red Hook, and can do magic with seafood. But on the walls of the tiny Le Petit Crevette, there are some curious photos of a young, mustachioed Ganic posing with celebrities. Here's Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro, circa "New York, New York." There's Joe DiMaggio. Where'd all this take place? "El Morocco," replies Ganic, showing by the dry tone in his voice that he was not so very impressed with the place or its clientele.

El Morocco was legendary. It began as a speakeasy on E. 54th Street and, after Prohibition was repealed, quickly graduated to The Place to Be. It was run by John Perona, an unlettered Italian immigrant who made for an unlikely host to the stars. Regulars include bluebloods like the Vanderbilts and celebs like Clark Gable. Humphrey Bogart was banned for life in 1950, reasons unknown. The club was nicknamed "Elmo," long before a certain red furry muppet came along. El Morocco employees were famous in their own right. Jerome Zerbe snapped photos of patrons that were seen around the world. Doorman Angelo Zuccotti wielding the velvet rope (the first in clubdom history) like a knife. But nothing was more famous than the zebra-pattern banquettes, designed by Vernon MacFarlane.

Perona died in 1961, and El Morocco closed in 1969. It was later resurrected a couple time. I have to imagine Ganic, who's still a fairly young man, worked in one of these later incarnations. He was, reportedly, the youngest head chef ever in the club's history.

Here's a short video featuring the old El Morocco.

A Good Sign: Dutch Boy Paints

Midwood Paints no longer exists, as far as I can tell, but this lovely remnant of the old Coney Island Avenue business remains.

23 November 2008

St. George Once Subway Sign-Worthy

It's not often that underground subway stations offer directions indicated which exit will land you closer to a famous store or hotel. So the faded words on the Adams Street side of the A/C train's High Street station are testimony to how important Brooklyn Heights' Hotel St. George used to be.

Built in the late 19th century, the Hotel St. George was once, unbelievably, the largest hotel in New York City. (And the tallest building in Brooklyn, for a short time.) It had a ballroom in which the lighting constantly changed, and the largest indoor salt-water pool in the United States—Esther Williams and Johnny Weismuller took advantage of it. It was a favorite with celebrities (novelist Thomas Wolfe, who seems to have spent time everywhere in Brooklyn, and presidents Kennedy, Truman and Roosevelt) and took up a whole city block.

It's now a shell of its former shelf, and no part of it functions as a hotel any longer.

There's also an old sign at that stop pointing to the Red Cross Building. It's not what it was anymore, either.

22 November 2008

A Good Sign: Lupu's

This old sign, in Midwood, was apparently revealed over the summer, brought to light once more by a neighboring construction dig. Note the ellipse after "Lupu's." That means Lupu's was the full name of the store, a store that had coats, suits, dresses, sportswear.

21 November 2008

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Sure we can! For decades now, Little Italy and Chinatown have been fighting a turf war, with Little Italy losing inch by inch. But look at this storefront in Chinatown. Asia Roma Restaurant and Bar! A little bit of both worlds! The menu feature both Italian and Asian dishes, plus some standards like steak and veal chops, and a somewhat trashy cocktail list (Louisiana Lemon-aid, Pineapple Bomb, a dozen Martinis, not one of them made with gin).

A Good Sign: Four Seasons Cleaners

On Flatbush near Atlantic. Note the arcane job description as "Shirt Launderers."

Welcome to Newkirk Plaza

A couple weeks ago I saw Newkirk Plaza for the first time.

What can I say? What a place. I couldn't have dreamed it up if I tried. I was just biking down Foster Avenue in Ditmas Park and, Bam!, there it was, this utterly peculiar open air retail mall of largely independent businesses, perched above the Newkirk subway station. Instead of facing outward toward a street, the two lines of stores stare at each other over a trying-desperately-not-look-sad-and-shabby pedestrian mall. Because of the presence of the subway below, the whole thing has a tenuous feel to it, as if it were balancing on air.

Newkirk Plaza isn't new. That's apparent from clapping eyes on the shops, which look like they probably did a brisk business in egg creams and hula-hoops once upon a time. It was built in 1913, though some say 1908 (which would mean that this is its 100th birthday). So, in the world of open-air malls, it was a trailblazer. It has a weird ownership set-up. The Transit Authority owns the deck and station and the Department of Transportation owns the bridge. Plus, the buildings on the Plaza are possessed by private owners. This division of property may partly explain why the place looks like such a time capsule; what are the chances that all three parties ever agree on anything, improvement-wise?

Newkirk Plaza was not a nice place up until recently. It's nickname was "Newcrack Plaza." It was frequented by drug dealers, muggers, prostitutes and their friends. Things have improved considerably in the last few years. Many dollars were thrown at the area. Fancy ironwork fences replaced some concrete walls and new light fixtures were installed. And yet, the plaza still looks like a place your grandma might take you for a shopping spree, or somewhere your uncle goes for his monthly haircut. And for that, I love it. I loved it at first sight. Every entryway has a kind of dejected look about it, none more so than the corrugated metal wall that reads "kir Plaza." Your heart goes out to that poor de-lettered sign.

There are some sweet little businesses in this mall. You can tell by their quirky, worn facades that most are family owned. Almac Hardware, there since 1914. Minar Food Market, and Asian and American grocery with a pink elephant ride kids can enjoy outside. Lins Market, a tumbledown oddity that will pierce your ears, change your watch band, fax your documents, take your passport photo and sell you a hat, hosiery, "toy's" or "varieties." Alex's Medical Supplies, which has a great shoe-shaped sign and appears to sell orthopedic shoes. Leon's Fancy Cut, a barber. Lo Duca Pizza, which looks pretty old. (Don't these seem like Ben "Julius Knipl" Katchor names to you? Almac, Minar, Lins, Lo Duca. Actually, Newkirk Plaza itself seems like Katchortown.)

In fact, you can get almost anything you might need on Newkirk Plaza. That is, if your tastes aren't to hoity-toity. And for those who must have the comfort of a familiar chain, there's a Dunkin' Donuts.

20 November 2008

Chelsea Flea Market Circa 1965

Chelsea's famous flea market, the Antiques Garage, was recently save from extinction when an evil developer's plan to erect a hot at the location was squashed by the spiraling economy. A reader alerting me to this wonderful video that captures the flea market in its infancy, just a while after the 1964 World's Fair. Note the line about "everyone from in-town bachelors to suburban matrons." Very "Mad Men."

Hey, That Ain't No Deli

I was walking up Avenue A toward Tompkins Square, a span of sidewalk I've trod a million times, when for some reason my eye latched on an enclosed fire escape which climbed up the side of a large building on the east side of the street. "Wait a minute," I thought. "That's doesn't look like an East Village building. It's looks like something out of Times Square." The fire escape, the height, the bulk, the slightly fussy brickwork, the grey stone section that looked like some sort of elaborate entryway. That was a theatre!

Sure enough, a little research revealed that 100 Avenue A was once of film palace. According to DOB records, it was showing movies at least by the 1920s, and seated in its orchestra, mezzanine, and balcony more than 1,300 people. By 1959, it had been converted into its present use as a supermarket. I bet the upstairs storage space in that deli that's there now is pretty fascinating.

This Makes Me Cry

For years, I vowed to get up to the Bronx Zoo to experience the Holiday Lights Show, in which dozens of displays in the shape of countless animals light up the grounds. Last year I finally made it, and it exceeded my expectations. It was truly magical and filled me with boundless holiday spirit. I vowed to make it an annual tradition, bringing my son to the zoo every season.

I guess I won't be doing that.

The very hards news was reported today that the Zoo has decided to discontinue the light show, not to save money, but to lessen its carbon footprint.

In its place, the new Wild Winterland show will be a daylight festival featuring Clydesdale horse wagon rides, a petting zoo, ice carving, stilt walkers, puppets and craft workshops - but no lighted features....

The "green" spin on the Bronx tradition is an effort by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide, or CO2) from its New York facilities.

Zoo officials said the Holiday Lights Show consumed about 3,500 kilowatts a night, equal to about 2 metric tons of CO2 emissions. That adds up to about 66 metric tons a season - as much as a three-person household produces in an entire year.

They're doing the right thing, of course,...I guess. But I can't convey how dispirited this change makes me. Walking through that zoo at night, with bright animal shapes dazzling my eyes at every turn, and Christmas tunes wafting through the trees caressing my ears, I experienced a sort of pure, dopey happiness, the kind I associate with my childhood Yuletides. I don't think ice sculptures and stilt walkers will quite will be quite as transporting.

A Good Sign: Wo-Hop Restaurant

On Mott Street in Chinatown. Been there since 1938.

19 November 2008

Life on Mars Brightens Up

The Mars Bar has been cleaning itself up.

For years, the famously grizzled and grungy dive at the corner of 1st Street and Second Avenue in the East Village had a blood-red facade. Not exactly a sign, per se. That would be too formal, too button-down. Just a bucket of scarlet paint thrown at the area above the door and windows, with the words "Mars Bar" scrawled over it. (See below.)

I don't know when, but some time recently the gin mill decided to repaint. The new red-letters-on-white-background is distinctly more friendly and open than the previous look, and I'm not sure it's an entirely accurate image for the bar. The new sign says "Hey You! How 'Bout a Drink?" whereas the old one sort of screamed "Don't Even Think About It!" But who am I to deny the joint a new sense of sunny optimism? Maybe they're happy about Obama, too.

New F Train Lovers Will Have to Wait

F line habitu├ęs longing to ride the shiny new R160s that have been haunting the subway line for the past month or so are going to have to wait a bit longer.

I saw another one of the silver beauties snaking through the Carroll Street station today. I asked an MTA worker when the new cars were going to go into service, and he said, "Not for another four months." He explained that the trains have to be tested again and again, backward and forward, on every straightaway and curve of the entire F track before people are allowed to board them. Whaddaya know? The MTA really does care about our safety.

The Natural Course of Things

Now here's a business destined to asphyxiate under the avalanche of new movie-viewing technology. And, it has. Royal Video on Flatbush Avenue closed a year or so ago, moving to a smaller location further north on Flatbush. But, boy, it appears as if Royal was a king of the video-rental business during the years that trade thrived. Look at the size of that sign! And the boasts! "Over 11,000 movies." The space was touted as a future bank location at one point. Don't know what the future holds for the place now.

18 November 2008

Whither P&G Cafe? Maybe Evelyn Nesbit's Home

Lost City is confused.

Just a couple days ago, I reported some news related by a reader that the wonderful old UWS bar that goes by the name of P&G Cafe was closing on Dec. 31 with little hope of reopening, aside from a possible future life at 86th and Amsterdam.

Now Ken Mac, regular commenter and fabulous blogger, tells me that he's been to the bar and the owner says the saloon will reopen at 78th and Columbus. Which, you know, is a little different from 86th and Amsterdam. Plus, the fantastic neon sign with be traveling with them. What goes on here? Both these men heard it from the horse's mouth, and on occasions not more than a week apart, too. Of course, P&G does serve liquor, which may account for some erraticness in these instances of storytelling.

UPDATE: Someone write in to ditto Ken Mac's account, saying P&G will take the Evelyn Lounge spot. I know that location. It's a basement place, as I recall, opposite the Museum of Natural History. The old building has a cool history involving Evelyn Nesbit. After Harry Thaw, Evelyn's jealous husband, shot and killed Stanford White in the "Crime of the Century," the couple retired in this building.

Yay, Red Hook Pool!

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission met on Nov. 18 to discuss some old building and if they were special or not. Everyone was focusing on the fate of the I.M. Pei's Silver Towers complex near NYU, which I personally find rather ghastly, even if they are historically significant. Not surprisingly, they made the cut.

But what's got Lost City excited is the unexpected crowning of the Parks Department's Sol Goldman Recreation Center and Pool, better known as the Red Hook Pool. I live near and have long loved this Depression-era pool. On a hot summer day, the scene at the Red Hook Pool epitomizes both innocent urban fun and democracy at their best. It's a great friggin' amenity and it is totally appreciated by its surrounding community. Good to see that the City bigwigs appreciate it, too.

Iconography on Bleecker

Something about this Bleecker Street storefront has always struck me as iconic. It's like a shop from central casting, circa 1940. So perfectly frozen is it in its mundane historical detail that it almost amounts to a living Photo League photograph. Too bad it's part of a brick building sagging so badly that its thisclose to falling down in a heap.

Nice detail: There's an "ATM Inside" sign in the window, and the ATM is outside the store.

Good News/Bad News for Carroll Gardens/Gowanus

You shout something about 473 times, and City Hall eventually gets the hint.

Everyone's favorite blueblood official, City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden, appeared in Gowanus last night to make the suprise announcement that "the Department will begin a rezoning study for Carroll Gardens with the aim of producing a draft rezoning proposal for this neighborhood and beginning public review by June of 2009."

Oh, you mean that thing that locals have been screaming for for two years, and have been constantly told was impossible in the near future because of the backlog of other proposals? That thing? Oh. Great. Thanks.

Of course, there's always a catch. The downzoning appears to be tied to the upzoning of 25 blocks of Gowanus that the Toll Brothers have been seeking for their mega-development. So a neighborhood gets saves, but only if we let rich guys get richer.

This Weird Place Used to Be Fun Once

This sad Flatbush Avenue structure with the weird Tudor-Castle-left-out-in-the-rain architecture apparently used to be a kind of nexus of fun some decades ago. (Which is not to say its current function as a Baptist Church is a drag, but...) Records show it was a sprawling eatery called the Midwood Restaurant in the years following World War II. Musta been a theme restaurant or something, judging from the Ye Olde England design. It was owned by Paul Padower and Eli Hahn, two young Air Force veterans. And during the Depression, the second floor contained a dance hall and cabaret space. Hot-diggety! The Church moved in in 2004, as far as I can tell.