Where is the Strand?

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An aerial-view rendering of the proposed Strand, to stretch along Cadman Plaza from Borough Hall to the Waterfront and including Trinity and Bridge Parks.

It’s coming up on five years since the DeBlasio administration announced plans to revitalize the downtown area green space between Borough Hall and the Waterfront at Old Fulton Street, a concept labeled the Strand. Yet, to our knowledge, nothing is scheduled for action anytime soon, despite years of talk and actual planning. What’s the holdup?

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Renderings of the proposed Strand project for Cadman Plaza, Old Fulton Street, and Trinity Park.

Right now, the expanse of green from Columbus Park to the Brooklyn Bridge is underused in the extreme, and Cadman Plaza West is simply a concourse for pedestrians to get from High Street Station to the Waterfront and back. The Strand would transform the area into a destination in its own right, with a massive positive impact on the parkland and the grittier areas around the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage. It would provide additional beautification and modernization to such near-derelict areas as the Korean War Veterans Memorial Plaza; the Brooklyn War Memorial; the maze of roads, underpasses, and knolls around the Brooklyn Bridge exits surrounding Prospect Street and Washington Street between the Brooklyn Bridge and the BQE (a spot with a name that [almost] no one knows, Clumber Corner); the strip along Old Fulton Street to the park entrance; and along York Street by the BQE exit ramp to Old Fulton Street in DUMBO.

The renderings to the right, from the Architectural Firm WXY, show details of the plan. The top picture shows the plaza in front of the Post Office building. The next few show what the area around the war memorial could look like. Then comes the north end of the park between Middagh Street and Red Cross Place, then perhaps near Trinity Park, followed by Prospect Street, Old Fulton Street, and an overpass to a terrace above a new plaza by York Street and the BQE exit ramp around the bridge anchorage.

These renderings were presented to Community Board 2 in 2015. Since then, there’s been quiet. We’re not sure what the delay is. This is basically a high-end renovation project. Unlike the building of the Barclays Center, the land for the Strand is already empty, for the most part, so there’s no displacement or demolition involved; that all took place when the BQE was thrust upon the neighborhood back in the 1960s. In the renderings, there looks to be some roadway and bridge redesign and construction, but nothing too major to our eyes.

Downtown Brooklyn has become a vibrant, active business and residential community over the last twenty-five years, beginning with the opening of the MetroTech office/back office/research complex on Jay Street to the mid-rise and now high-rise housing boom that took off in the aughts and proceeds apace today.

When those first apartment buildings went up, there were many naysayers who wondered why anyone would move to downtown Brooklyn. Of course, there have always been naysayers who wondered why anyone would cross from West to East over or under the East River for anything. Now, everyone wants to live in Brooklyn, and the construction boom is beginning to threaten the character and charm of many outer areas.

The buildup makes sense downtown, but historically, the biggest strike against downtown Brooklyn was that there wasn’t anything to do, either after work or on the weekends, except to get on the train into Manhattan.

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A possible new plaza by York Street on the north side of the Brooklyn Bridge approach.

That, too, has changed, with the blossoming cultural district on the eastern edge, at Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues, and the opening of Brooklyn Bridge Park on the waterfront.

 But, where’s the Strand? This is an area that desperately needs attention. Let’s get it moving.

 

 

 

 


 

Red Hook’s Incredible Hulk: The Erie Grain Terminal

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The Erie Grain Terminal, on Gowanus Bay’s Henry Street Basin.

Despite all the major construction going on in downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and to a lesser extent, pretty much everywhere across the borough, there remain many locations where, at least for now, the past looms large, no more so than on the Red Hook waterfront, where many vestiges of the area’s industrial past remain to intrigue and remind us of bygone eras. One of the larger structures remaining in the Gowanus Bay area is the decaying hulk of the former NYS Grain Terminal, a near-hundred-year-old government project built to boost activity and jobs in New York Harbor at a time when many grain shipping companies were moving to cheaper ports at Philadelphia and Baltimore. Today the decaying structure threatens daily to collapse into the Henry Street Basin over which it precariously hangs.

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A closer look, with outer sections of the structure hanging precariously over the water, their bottom portions rotted away.

 New York State opened the grain terminal in 1922 as an adjunct to the reconstruction and incorporation of the Erie Canal into the New York State Barge Canal System. That project was undertaken to reinvigorate the use of the Erie Canal and the ports of New York Harbor. The grain terminal was an example of way too much too late. There are fifty-four concrete silos, thickly built to withstand any possible grain explosion, with a capacity of two million bushels of grain. Despite the plant’s then-state-of-the-art construction, most of the lost grain movers didn’t come back, and the terminal never reached the level of business and capacity that would make it profitable. Government officials referred to the terminal as the “Magnificent Mistake.”

 The state operated the terminal at a loss until 1944, when it transferred the deed for the property to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which kept it limping along until finally shutting the terminal in 1965. The property was sold to a private owner in 1997. It’s currently closed to all but the intrepid trespassers who occasionally break in to document the plant’s interior before it’s gone.

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It is art, or is it history?

We have no idea what the future holds for the grain terminal, though we feel it’s safe to say it doesn’t include grain. It’s beautifully ugly, a 120-foot high, 430-foot long, mold-covered cement hulk crumbling into the basin, sections with their foundations rotted away drooping precariously over the water below. Our reporter paddled up the Henry Street Basin in a canoe to get the exterior photos included here, risking life and limb to get close-up images of this fantastic piece of Brooklyn history. We like to think the artifacts of the past will remain as symbols of our industrial heritage, a time when things seem to us looking back simpler and more black and white (both ideas mistaken, nostalgic misrepresentational deflections from our too complex present). Reality, and economics, may call for a different outcome.

Interior shows tops of silos

The interior of the terminal showing the tops of the silos as a grid of holes in the floor, and chutes from above that directed grain into them.

For the moment, the terminal stands. If you’d like to check it out in person, take the B61 bus from Smith-9th St. (F/G trains) or the B57 at the Jay Street Station of the A/C/F/R trains, both buses heading toward Red Hook. It’s a short walk from IKEA across the Red Hook Ball Fields to the Henry Street Basin. (Google map it.) You can’t go in, but the waterfront area of Red Hook is active, vibrant and beautiful, and definitely worth the trek.

For a beautiful, moving look into and around the terminal, check out this video from Carlito Brigante.

 

Interior Picture Source: atlasobscura.com


 

Brooklyn’s High-Rising Skyline

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A rendering of downtown Brooklyn with the 900-foot-tall 80 Flatbush Avenue towering over Brooklyn’s once-tallest building, the Williamsburg Bank Building.

 

Thirty years ago, looking from the elevated Culver line (F train) Gowanus Canal overpass at Smith-9th Street station, the Brooklyn skyline consisted of the Williamsburg Bank Building. That was about it. There were a few buildings off to the left, the Bell Telephone Building at Cadman Plaza and Pierrepont Street, 16 Court Street, and a few others, but those were dwarfed by the Manhattan skyscrapers behind them.

Today, there’s an actual skyline full of towers rising far above the bank building. Developers are racing through Brooklyn in an unprecedented decade-plus-long luxury housing boom that shows no sign of tiring, or even breaking a sweat, any time soon. The Williamsburg Bank Building once ranked as the tallest building in the borough at 37 stories and 512 feet. That’s no more than average today, and it’s possible that in the not-so-distant future the building may not even be visible from Smith-9th Street station.

Let’s take a quick, very rough survey of what’s going on downtown right now.

138 Willoughby St. is the final building in the three-tower complex known as City Point, rising at the southwest corner of Flatbush Avenue, it will be 68 stories and 720 feet tall, encompass 686,800 sq. ft., and hold 458 units.
9 DeKalb Ave., will be the tallest building in Brooklyn, at least at its topping off. Soaring 73 stories and 1,066 feet above the Dime Savings Bank building at DeKalb Avenue and Fulton Street, it will have a distinctive glass and bronze exterior and offer 500+ planned rental units.
1 Flatbush Avenue, on the corner of Fulton Street, is a rising 19-story, 206-foot high, 183-unit rental building at 133,936 sq. ft.
141 Willoughby Street, across Flatbush Avenue from City Point, this will be a mere 44 stories and 203 rental units.

There’s a lot more, but these are the major buildings that will be offering apartments for rent rather than condos for sale.

And here are just a few of the many, many recently opened residential rental projects:

Avalon Willoughby Square/DoBro 217 Duffield at Willoughby St., Opened 2015
(AWS, flrs 30-58, 326 rental apts, DoBro, flrs 1-29, 535 rental apts)
The Azure, 436 Albee Square 28 Stories, 150 apts., Opened 2016
The Margo, Myrtle Ave. Fleet/Ashland Pls, 15 stories, 229 units, Opened 2016
City Tower, 10 City Point 48 Floors, 439 units, Opened 2016
The Eagle, 86 Fleet Place, 32 stories, 350 ft, 440 rentals Myrtle Ave & Fleet Pl ,
Opened 2017
415 Red Hook Lane, 21 stories, 108 Rentals, Opened 2017
210 Livingston St., 28 Stories, 368 rentals, Opened 2017
33 Bond St., 25 Stories, 714 rentals, Opened 2017
237 Duffield Street, is relatively modest at 23 Stories, 105 Rentals, Opened 2017
The Lane, 415 Red Hook Lane at Boerum Pl., 21 stories, 110 Units, Opened 2017

There’s more to come—many more, you can bet on it–including these two still in planning, with construction not to be completed until the next decade:

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Downtown Brooklyn in 1919, with the Williamsburg Bank Building by far the tallest in sight. The white dome of the Dime Bank building can be seen near the upper left corner.

80 Flatbush Ave. two towers, 74 (900 ft) and 38 Stories, 900 apts, two schools, office and retail space Slated for completion in 2025. This one isn’t housing, but  at 900 feet will be another addition to the skyline.

1 Boerum Place 200,000 Sq. Ft., 100+ apts. Slated for completion in 2020, height not yet finalized.

Multiple thousands of units are built, under construction, and on the drawing board. Name any street from the Brooklyn Bridge to Hamilton Avenue west of Prospect Park and we can no doubt point to a double- or triple-digit-unit project in one of those stages that wasn’t there before 2010.

80 Flatbush Rendering

Where’s William? A reverse view of the future downtown skyline, with the Williamsburg Bank Building barely visible in the middle background. Many of the buildings here are already complete.

All that is just downtown and South Brooklyn. Head up to the Williamsburg waterfront, unrecognizable from the Williamsburg of twenty years ago, and check the progress at 420 Kent Ave., 857 apartments going into three, count’em three 22-story towers; or the Domino Sugar building at 325 Kent (522 units), already opened as the first phase of a four-building redevelopment that will include the old refinery building. And, on a lesser height scale, there’s more going on in Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, and even in outer areas such as Sheepshead Bay and East New York–pretty much everywhere in the Borough.

F train riders crossing the Gowanus Canal have seen the new Brooklyn skyline dotted with construction cranes for years, cranes that never seemed to go away. They simply moved a bit to the left or right, and would go higher and higher. Most are gone now, the towers they helped build complete. Crossing the canal now, we keep our eyes peeled for those to come. We’re sure they will.


 

Nitehawk: Not a Movie, a Movie Theatre

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Rendering of the marquee of the new Nitehawk Prospect Park theatre.

Already something of a fixture in central Williamsburg, the owners of the dine-in movie house Nitehawk are giving a $10-million overhaul to Park Slope’s old Sanders Theatre (more recently the Pavilion), on Bartel-Pritchard Square at the Northwest corner of Prospect Park, and later this year the Nitehawk Prospect Park will open, with first-run, classic, rare, and independent movies onscreen and drinks and dinner delivered to your table. We can’t wait. 

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Rendering of the restaurant under a screening room in the Nitehawk Prospect Park. Architects: Think! Architecture and Design.

The new Nitehawk will have seven screening rooms, vs. the three at the Williamsburg venue, and four of those will have 35-mm projectors, allowing for the screening of rarely shown films that are not available in today’s more common 70-mm and digital formats. And, there’s the food. Besides popcorn, you’ll be able to watch the movie while eating from a menu offering such non-traditional movie noshes as spinach-artichoke empanadas, paella risotto balls, and burrata crostini, which features roasted acorn squash and poached pears; or try a specialty item like the I, Tonya, made with shredded pork knee (ouch!), American cheese, and gremolata aioli. The owner of the Nitehawk,  Matthew Viragh, plans to offer a menu that’s different, but not unlike, the offerings in Williamsburg, so there should be more filling entrees like the sausage and pepper hoagie, the meatloaf sandwich, the Nitehawk burger, and the fried chicken sandwich. For drinks, there’s coke and root beer, and also a well-stocked assortment of whiskeys, scotches, tequilas, rums, and more. Wait service takes your order before or during the movie, and a good time is had by all.

Renovations are well underway at the Sanders, a landmarked building originally built in 1928 to replace the Marathon Theatre (opened1908). The 1,516-seat Sanders had a fifty-year run as a movie and vaudeville house. The Pavilion opened in 1996 as a three-screen multi-plex, and in the early 2000s underwent a second renovation, carved into nine screens.

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The Sanders Theatre, from long ago, via Cinema Treasures.

The building was sold in 2006 and the new owners, Hidrock Realty, devised plans to build a six-story condominium over the theatre and the adjacent one-story building (that once housed The Park House Restaurant and then Circle’s bar and Mexican restaurant), a plan eventually approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The owners of the Nitehawk approached Hidrock about replacing the Pavilion, and in 2016 Hidrock sold the theatre to 188 Prospect Park West LLC, which immediately announced the closing of the Pavilion and the coming of the Nitehawk. Leading the renovation is Think! Architecture and Design, headquartered in Metrotech. The LPC has just approved a new marquee sign proclaiming the Nitehawk. 

 

At a time when digital viewing on multiple devices has taken over our consciousness, it’s getting harder and harder to find any outlet showing the many, many great films that have not yet been and perhaps never will be digitized. We’re excited that the Nitehawk is working to expand the number of venues for such films, and we plan on taking advantage of them, and the burrata crostini, too!


 

Red Hook on the Ri$e

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Row houses 2018 style at King and Sullivan Streets in Red Hook

The old-time quaintness of Red Hook long ago made that area one of our favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods. The waterfront, the rows of low-rise homes everywhere along the narrow streets, the old warehouses along the end of Van Brunt Street and, now lost to IKEA, Beard Street gave it the feel of an industrial coastal town, while the mid-rise “Houses” projects remind us that this is an urban neighborhood that’s been marginalized by city planners for more than seventy years.

City planners be damned, the neighborhood is now eyed by other planners, those that plan residential development. Investors are in, with new construction and redevelopment projects completed at 160 Imlay Street, King & Sullivan, and many others large and small dotting Van Brunt Street and its environs. In October, dna.info cited a Propertyshark report in declaring—shockingly to us–that Red Hook is now the most expensive real estate market in Brooklyn!! We’ve got to stop and think about that for a moment.

Pioneer St. Use

The older row houses along Pioneer Street and most others in Red Hook keep history alive and well throughout the neighborhood.

The Red Hook we know and love is that quaint section of waterfront described in the first paragraph. Our fond recent memories are of riding our bikes past the red brick Red Hook Houses on Lorraine Street and the red brick factories and warehouse buildings on Van Brunt and Beard, lounging by the huge public pool at the Sol Goldman rec center, listening to fantastic Latin beats while eating burritos and enchiladas from the food trucks on Bay Street, the kids playing in the park while parents barbeque dinner, watching baseball and soccer games in the fields on Bay and Columbia Streets, checking out the harbor and the fishermen along the hook at the foot of Columbia Street, enjoying the art shows of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) at the foot of Van Brunt Street, and visiting the Waterfront Museum barge docked by the Waterfront Garden at the foot of Conover Street. And after that, maybe having a quick quaff at Sunny’s, Fort Defiance, or any of the many, many great places to chill and nosh in the nabe. There’s always been plenty to do and see in Red Hook.

So far, the new developments have been respectful of the neighborhood in terms of scale. There are tasteful, modern designs, like King & Sullivan, and those less so, in which we’d include the row at 82-86 Lorraine St., if asked. Those that restore and repurpose the larger buildings rather than tear down and rebuild are the ones we like most. The New York Dock Co. building at 160 Imlay Street is an example of this, and we applaud the mindfulness put into the exterior of that project (Charlie & Co., Architects). Other new buildings and/or facades look entirely different than those of their predecessors, but within scale and with well-considered designs add interest to the surrounding streetscape rather than detract from the overall aesthetic. (Our example would be the just-mentioned King & Sullivan.)

We have a few worries about the future of our favorite neighborhood. If rising prices push out the old-time residents, if we lose BWAC or  the wide-open harbor views, it would be something of a tragedy. There’s talk of relocating the Red Hook Container Terminal to Sunset Park and developing that 80-acre site with up to 45,000 (!!) apartments. That certainly seems out of scale with anything nearby. No plans have yet been produced, so heights and breadths are unknown. The waterfront itself could be lost to all but the new condo owners.

NY Dock Bldg resized

The New York Dock Co. building on Imlay Street is a great example of how to restore the old commercial stock while maintaining the area’s character.

The Most Expensive designation includes the sales prices of the new apartments. How much the prices of the existing older one and two-family buildings lining Richards, Visitation, Dwight, Van Brunt, Wolcott and all the other streets in Red Hook have risen is less impressive. The area was flooded out during Hurricane Sandy, and that experience has helped the new developers plan for the future, but has kept individuals from feeling the love for the low-lying neighborhood. Prices are up, but homes here lag behind those in nearby Carroll Gardens and in Cobble Hill by significant amounts per square foot (for reasons that include the lack of public transportation and other factors besides potential flooding). Many can be had for less than the price of the shiny new apartments around the corner. That said, the average sale prices for these homes has risen sharply, with many selling over $2M.

The neighborhood has almost fully recovered from being devastated by Hurricane Sandy, which inundated the entire waterfront area and much of the neighborhood, and now Red Hook, which has been labeled up and coming numerous times in the past, is again a neighborhood on the move, especially in terms of real estate prices.


 

For a Secure Future, Brooklyn Church is Selling its Air Rights

One of Brooklyn’s many nicknames is, “The City of Churches.” Yet, as time passes, the general migration of people from one area to another sometimes results in shrinking congregations and distressed parishes. In Carroll Gardens there are several former churches that are now condominiums. In Clinton Hill, one very notable church has taken a different tack.

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A rendering of the proposed complex at 550 Clinton Avenue.

The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew is in the process of selling its air rights to a developer who hopes to use them to erect a twenty-nine-story mixed-use condominium on the block. The church, the largest Episcopalian church on Long Island, hopes to use the money it receives in return to make long-needed repairs and provide future stability.

This parish has a long history, dating back to the nineteenth century. As New York City’s population swelled in the early-to-mid 1800s, many residents chose to move to Brooklyn, where housing was cheaper and spaces bigger. Some members of Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan established a Brooklyn church of the same name. After some years, the effort became too great and Trinity church was decommissioned and re-established as St. Luke’s Church. The initial St. Luke’s building was erected in 1841 and was added to over the years. It was heavily damaged by fire in 1887 and razed to make way for the current church, which was constructed between 1888-1891. Another disastrous fire, in 1914, ravaged the new building, and this was repaired and the building improved and rededicated in 1915. St. Luke’s Church merged with another local Episcopal church, St. Matthew’s, in 1943.

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The interior of the church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, circa 1915.

In 2012, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the church gave its space to the organizers of the Occupy Wall Street event in a successful effort dubbed Occupy Sandy. St. Luke and St. Matthew’s was a beehive of activity, serving as a warehouse and distribution point for Sandy relief supplies and a kitchen for cooking meals to aid the victims and feed the relief and reconstruction workers.

Just before Christmas of that year, on December 23, fire once again damaged the church, this time an incidence of arson, in which someone deliberately poured gasoline on the front doors of the church and set them afire. Two entrances and the narthex just beyond them burned, and the damage from those fires has yet to be repaired today.

The sale of the church’s air rights to the developer, Jeffrey Gershon/Hope Street Capital, would require the buyer to make the needed repairs to the church. Gershon/Hope Street is planning to construct the mixed-use condominium on the block. Given the air rights transfer, the plans are for the new building, designed by Morris Adjmi Architects and to have the address of 550 Clinton Avenue, to rise 312 feet behind the church, on Vanderbilt Avenue, with a five-story section wrapping around onto and along Atlantic Avenue to Clinton Avenue. But, the church has been landmarked since 1981, and according to an article in The Architect’s Newspaper, the developer’s first presentation of its plans to the NYC Landmark’s Preservation Commission (LPC) was met with some resistance.

The commission was unhappy with the man-made materials chosen by the developer to make the repairs to the church, which would be less durable than the stone used to build the church in the first place. A second glitch is in the design of the new building, which the commission feels is not in keeping with the character of the surrounding neighborhood. (This despite the location being about a block from Pacific Park, a new, in-progress mid-rise apartment complex, the tallest of which, to our knowledge, is twenty-three stories.) The commissioners asked the developer to address these concerns and re-present at a later date.

Occupy Sandy Relief at St L and St M

The church was used as a distribution center for relief supplies after Hurricane Sandy.

The reality is that large-scale residential development is overrunning Brooklyn like the floodwaters of Sandy, and there is no end in sight. Busy Atlantic Avenue seems like an obvious conduit along which to build, and doing so could avoid, or at least postpone, similar construction sprouting up within already developed low-rise neighborhoods while simultaneously adding value to the homes in those areas.

Perhaps with some architectural adjustments, the LPC will be satisfied, the plans will be approved, the development will move forward, the church of St. Luke and St. Matthew will get its repairs and secure future, and somewhere, someplace in Brooklyn, a small parcel of land will be saved from a mega-construction project that could alter the face of a neighborhood.

Happiness all around, just the way we like it.


 

The Kings Theatre, A Treasure Restored

The Kings Theatre, A Treasure Restored

Deep in the heart of Brooklyn lies one of the most magnificent treasures in all of New York City: The Kings Theatre in Flatbush. Built as a grand movie palace by the Loew’s Corporation, the theatre first opened in 1929, when going to the movies was a social event, and the rich and the poor mingled in the lobby and sat in egalitarian style in the auditorium. The original design firm, Rapp & Rapp, modeled it after the Paris Opera House, with a nod to the Palace of Versailles, including many Baroque and Rococo elements as well as details in the then-popular Art Deco style, such as the wall sconce pictured below.

Kings_Theatre_Interior Alexandra Silversmith 400

Kings Theatre, Brooklyn, auditorium

The theatre rode high during the golden age of movies in the ’30s and ’40s, and presented vaudeville shows along with the movies. The palace deteriorated along with much of the surrounding area in the ’50s and ’60s before closing in the ’70s. Immaculately restored in a two-year-long renovation, the theatre had its ribbon-cutting in 2015 as a live-performance venue, with Diana Ross performing at the grand reopening, and the glory of the heyday of movies is back in Brooklyn. Acts and artists as varied as tKings_Theatre_Light smlhe Russian singing group the Turetsky Choir, hip-hop artist Sean Paul, the country musician Jason Isbell with the 400 Unit, various comedy shows, and many more popular acts now perform on the Kings Theatre stage on a regular basis.

The building is owned by the city these days, and operated by ACE Theatrical Group, which conducted the reconstruction led by the architectural firm Martinez + Johnson. The effort cost approximately $95 million. It’s definitely worth a trip out Flatbush Avenue to check out this gorgeously restored gem.

Kings_Theatre_Flatbush_finished_Exterior Jim Henderson 400

 

Photo Credits:

Top: Lobby of the Kings Theatre: By Moucheraud (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 . via Wikimedia Commons

Auditorium: By Alexandra Silversmith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Art Deco wall sconce: By Professorcornbread – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44433911 , via Wikimedia Commons 

Exterior: By Jim Henderson (Own work) [CC BY 3.0  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


 

 

A New Crown Jewel for Crown Heights?

A New Crown Jewel for Crown Heights?

The City Council has approved the redevelopment plan for the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights, a plan that would transform the armory into a sports and recreation center and add the development of a 414-unit condominium project, with 250 of those units earmarked as low-income housing, as well as office space for non-profits. The project would be a public/private partnership between the NYC Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) and BFC Partners, a private development company. The plan seems worthwhile, but like all development projects both public and private, there are (at least) as many against as there are for the project. Interior 1, captioned

On paper, including in the architects’ renderings, it’s a great use of the armory space, with basketball courts, a soccer field, and a swimming pool on (and in) the former military assembly floor. This would be paid for by the city. The city, though, would make money from the sale of the condos, which would defray the cost of the recreation center. However, many local residents see the project as a new phase of gentrification that could put their futures in the area at risk. Some politicians and advocacy groups feel it is inappropriate to turn city-owned property over to for-profit companies to make millions from.

In mid-November, the LegalInterior 2, captioned Aid Society filed a lawsuit against the project. Their public statement said, “From the start, this project has been flawed and offers little relief for the residents of a neighborhood that’s suffering from gentrification and skyrocketing rents. …Land that is fully owned by the public should serve an exclusive public purpose. Until the Bedford Union Armory development plan reflects that, we will continue to oppose it on behalf of our clients and other low-income New Yorkers who are in desperate need of affordable and permanent housing.

Despite the lawsuit, the approval by the City Council this month puts the project one step closer to becoming a reality. There are many more steps to be taken. Stay tuned.

Bed-Stuy in Our Eye

The Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is one of the earliest settled locations in America. The town of New Bedford was formed in 1662 by Dutch settlers, who were the first Europeans to arrive here, well before any Englishmen. It was at the intersection of two early cartwBrooklyn_brownstones_in_Stuyvesant_Heights_built_between_1870-1899 Cr. Vaguynnyays that settlers and natives alike used to travel up and down and the length of Long Island. The north-south road ran along what is now Bedford Avenue from Mespat, later called Newtown (now parts of Elmhurst, Maspeth, and all of Long Island City and Astoria), through New Bedford to the town of Flatbush and beyond. The east/west road started at the East River and ran generally along what is now Fulton Street through Jamaica and on out to Montauk.

Because of its location at this crossroads, the New Bedford was of strategic importance during the Revolution, and the British captured it early in the Battle of Brooklyn and held it to the war’s end. The town was incorporated into the greater city of Brooklyn in 1854. The area first began to grow with the opening of the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad in 1836. This line connected Bedford with the East River ferries and made getting to and from Manhattan a relatively easy trek. Much of the area remained empty, however, until the 1880s, when a construction boom lasting into the next decade built up ninety percent of the current row houses.  

As in other areas of Brownstone Brooklyn, the styles of Renaissance and Roman revival, Queen Anne, and neo-Grec abound, including single-family, two-family, and many multi-family homes of four and five stories. Some well-to-do New Yorkers moved into the southern part of Bedford in the 1890s and early twentieth century, perhaps most notably, F.W. Woolworth, and built mansions and large townhouses along and near Stuyvesant Avenue. Feeling somewhat elevated in status vs. the surrounding area and wanting their section to sound more elegant, they called their little corner of the world Stuyvesant Heights.

In the period between the World Wars, the large stock of affordable housing in Bedford began attracting middle class residents in higher numbers. It was in the early 1930s that the entire neighborhood came to be known as Bedford-Stuyvesant. Then another transit improvement brought a new influx of residents. In 1936, the IND subway lines opened along Fulton Street, providing easy, cheap and fast access to and from Manhattan. The new arrivals included many African-Americans, some from overcrowded and expensive areas of Harlem and others coming north in the early days of the Great Migration. Unfortunately for manyStuyvesant Hts Historic District copy of these newcomers, a lack of skills and/or opportunities kept them from procuring good-paying jobs. By the mid-1950s, the area had become blighted and riddled with crime, anger, and despair, a volatile combination that exploded into several conflagrations during the fight for civil rights in the ’60s and again during the famous New York City blackout in the ’70s.

About the only thing that stays the same in New York City is the high speed at which things change, and Bed-Stuy today is a beehive of real estate activity. The huge stock of brownstone townhouses and brick multi-family housing there has caught the eyes and dollars of young professionals who, like those who came before them, can’t afford the price of homes in Manhattan or elsewhere in Brooklyn. Investors, too, are following the scent, and area housing prices have seen a big upswing in the last decade. In just the last four years, home values have skyrocketed. In the first half of 2013, the median sale price (msp) of one- and two-family homes in Bed-Stuy (within a half-mile radius of Quincy St. and Malcolm X Blvd.) was $555,000, and the average price per square foot (ppsf) was $236.  By the same period in 2017, the figures had almost doubled, to $1,024,995 msp and $438 ppsf, each class of property almost doubling in value. For three- and four-family buildings, the prices were $591,650 (msp 2013) and $1,367,500 (msp 2017) and $192 (ppsf 2013) and $427 (ppsf 2017), each figure more than doubling in four years. This has been a boon to long-time resident homeowners who now have an asset worth much more than they ever might have expected. It is also the source of some friction, as many renters in those multi-family buildings feel vulnerable to sudden, unaffordable rent increases, the very roof over their heads 724-macon-street-6 sml copyunder threat.

 You know you’re living in a hot spot when you’re now buying your morning bagel at a coffee roaster rather than a bodega, or when it’s no longer strange to see a loaded double-decker tour bus glide down the avenue, and Bed-Stuy residents are experiencing both of these phenomena. Despite a legacy feeling of uncertainty for some, without question, these days Bed-Stuy is riding high.

BAM: Brooklyn’s Gold- Standard Venue

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn in Fort Greene, is the oldest continuously operating performance arts center in the country. It is a world-class institution with venues in multiple buildings, presenting programs of theatre, dance, music, opera, and movies by highly regarded, internationally known performing artists and companies, attracting audiences from around the world.

The original academy, opened in 1861,BAM Concert Hall 1908 w caption 400w
stood on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, now the site of a mid-rise apartment building (180 Montague Street). Built for the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, it had a 2,000-seat theatre and a smaller concert hall. Contemporary luminaries including Edwin Booth and Ellen Terry performed there, and music and theatre productions professional and amateur filled its stages for over forty years.

In 1903, an early morning fire destroyed the Academy and a good portion of the block. It had become a major institution by that time, and a push to build a new structure began immediately. The architectural firm of Herts & Tallant, which had designed the New Amsterdam and Longacre theatres in Manhattan, won the contract to design the Academy, and the current building opened in 1908 with a performance of the Metropolitan Opera starring Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar.

The new Academy had a Beaux Arts façade and two side-by-side main theatres, the Concert Hall and the Opera House with one grand lobby across the front of both. In addition, a gBAM Opera House A Hughes 400wrand ballroom graced the second floor. The institution thrived until World War II, when all attention and resources were given to the war effort. Afterward, the entire Borough experienced a decline as the returning soldiers married and moved out of the city to the new suburbs in Long Island and New Jersey. Attendance and programming at the Academy declined.

That ended in 1967 with the appointment of a new executive director, Harvey Lichtenstein. Under his leadership, the Academy slowly but surely returned to city-wide, national, and international prominence. The concert hall was reoutfitted as a full-fledged theatre and renamed the Helen Carey Playhouse, and in 1983, the annual fall Next Wave Festival began. This world-renown series features contemporary and cutting-edge theatre, dance, and music from around the world, featuring the likes of Peter Brook, Steven Reich, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Pina Bausch, Robert Wilson, and literally hundreds of other first-class artists.

The physical plant has blossomed, as well. The ballroom was converted to a black box theatre in the 70s, and then to its current use, the BAMcafé, in 1997. The playhouse received a BAM Harvey Theatremakeover into a multi-screen movie house, the Rose Cinemas, also in 1997.  The 874-seat Harvey Theatre (Formerly the Majestic, renamed for Lichtenstein) on Fulton Street debuted in 1999, and the BAM Fisher theatre on Ashland Place opened its doors in 2012.  A brand-new space, the BAM Karen, is under construction as part of a new 31-story tall residential complex at 300 Ashland Place, across the street from the main building, which is now known as the Peter Jay Sharp building.

The rejuvenation of the Academy has spawned a growth or arts and arts-related organizations in the immediately surrounding area, and this section of downtown and Fort Greene is now an arts mecca, which in turn has attracted more people and other support businesses, including many restaurants and other stores. The entire area is in full-flowered renaissance, in no small part because of this great institution.