The Gowanus Clean-up: Going, not Growing, Greener Every Day

Gowanus Cleanup 1 750w

Cleaning up the Gowanus and adjacent brownfields.

 

The clean-up and development of the Gowanus Canal and the adjacent properties has been a dream of city planners and real estate investors for decades. While plans and studies and tests and reports have been conducted and issued for years, there is much visible activity taking place, and that has increased significantly this past fall.

Two important developments have recently taken place, one very visible and one less so but no less important. One, but not first, the last cement factory, Ferrara Bros, has finally moved out of their long-time space at Fifth and Hoyt Streets, to a new parcel in Sunset Park. This follows by several years the reclaiming of the lots used by Concrete Manufacturing Co. on Smith Street. The orange trucks of Ferrara Bros. will no longer be chugging up Smith Street toward the Manhattan Bridge. The Ferrara factory lots have been cleared to the dirt and a green plywood fence now surrounds it.

Dredging Barge 350w

One of the dredgers, on a day off, used to clean out the bed of the Fourth Street turning basin in the Gowanus Canal.

Next to that is a large brownfield that used to support a manufactured gas plant, now being cleaned up by National Grid and the EPA. You can recognize it by the mountain of rubble sitting in the middle of it, a mound almost as high as the nearby Culver viaduct of the F/G lines.

Further down the canal, the former Concrete Mfg. Co. lot is now occupied by contractors of the EPA involved in the second big development in the clean-up of the canal, that being the dredging of the canal’s Fourth Street turning basin. Completed in November, the Fourth Street basin has recently been touted as being cleaner than it’s been in 100 years, 150 years. This is after the removal of sludge, commonly referred to as black mayonnaise, to a depth of more than ten feet, which was moved to an “exclusion zone” on the EPA site and compressed and packed in heavy plastic to prep it for safe removal to a remote treatment plant. Once the muck was excavated, the workers covered the bed of the turning basin with two feet of layers of sand, which is supposed to stop new muck from forming.

Canoeing the Gowanus 350W

There are those who venture out onto the canal in canoes from the Second Street dock. You can paddle all the way down into New York Harbor.

We’re not sure about how clean the basin is now. We can agree that the bottom of the basin is cleaner than its been in a century, but then there’s that water, still fetid, still on many days slick with a rainbow of oil. There’s also the little problem of the CSO that was/is a major source of the canal’s pollution. CSO stands for combined sewer overflow, which happens when heavy rains fill the neighborhood’s waste lines (combined sewers) to the point that water flows into overflow pipes that empty into the canal. That system remains in operation, and until changes are made there (and hold your nose rather than your breath waiting for that to happen) the canal will continue to be a repository for human waste and other unappealing flotsam.

The long-term plan for the Ferrara lot is an eight-building residential complex of upwards of 750 apartments, of which 70 percent are to be affordable housing units, a vague term that often means still too expensive for most people to buy or rent. At this point, groundbreaking on that development is five years away at the most optimistic estimate.

365BOND with Canal Park copy

Top: The 365 Bond apartment complex, the first new residential development on the canal, has certain environmental restrictions.         Bottom: From 365 Bond’s Web site, a photo promoting its Waterfront Park. Just please, please don’t dip your toes into the water.

Cleaning up other people’s old messes isn’t easy. Just ask the renters at the canal’s first completed project, 365 Bond Street, although actually, they may not know. The two acres on which that development sits have been certified as 100% clean by the State of New York, and yet…

Environmental laws prohibit using the ground water at 365 Bond for drinking and prohibit growing vegetables in the ground there. The mechanicals of the building include blowers that pull “contaminants” from the ground and…. Well, we’re not clear on exactly what those fans and vents do with those contaminants, but based on the description of the system, we’re not sure we want to know.

On a more positive note, tenants on the canal side get to look out onto the oily waterway and watch or join those brave coursers who use the canoe depot on the first floor of the building at the Second Street boat launch. Yes, intrepid canoers ply the length of the canal, from the head at DeGraw Street to the harbor (full disclosure: we’ve done it numerous times). But grow a few herbs? No way.

Welcome to the Gowanus Canal, going, not yet growing, greener every day.

 

Full View of Current State of Cleanup

The Gowanus Canal Clean-up sites in lots stretching from the Former Ferrara Bros. cement factory at 435 Hoyt Streets (top right) to 491 Smith Street, the former site of the Concrete Manufacturing Company (bottom, with parked buses).

 

 


 

Brooklyn Ranks High as a Strong Investment Market

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A rebuilt downtown Brooklyn, the hub of the borough’s building boom that has made Brooklyn one of the darlings of investors worldwide.

 

If you’re an investor in real estate, Brooklyn should be looking pretty good to you right now. Across the country, new home sales have flattened, and in many areas have begun to drift downward. That could be a worry for the economy as a whole, but experts and analysts that focus on the real estate sector continue to support Brooklyn as a place to invest. A just-issued report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Urban Land Institute names Brooklyn the number-two Market to Watch for commercial investment. (The Dallas-Ft. Worth region was number one.)

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Brooklyn ranks number two in Overall Real Estate Prospects in the United States in a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The report, called Emerging Trends in Real Estate: U.S. and Canada 2019, focuses on large-scale investment property, both residential and commercial, and in that area, one has only to look at Brooklyn’s ever-changing, ever-growing skyline to see that the residential building boom continues unabated. Various outlets predict that over 20,000 new condominiums will go on the market in the coming two years or so all over the borough. There is new construction going on in every neighborhood, including those historically ignored. Many are rental projects, and many  targeted for both sale and rental include “affordable” units, meaning offered at significantly less than full market rate, though falling well shy of what most people think of as affordable.

Industrial Brooklyn Three-Part Strip

Industrial buildings in Brooklyn are being renovated and refurbished for use by tenants requiring twenty-first century services and features.

Other than ground-up new construction, the PwC report notes that Brooklyn has a large stock of old industrial buildings that are underused or empty, and these have been and continue to be attractive both to developers and to buyers/renters who enjoy the look and solidity of these old brick-and-wood-beam structures. Many of these building have been modernized for twenty-first century business tenants in the tech sector and high-tech manufacturing, and some, like Industry City in Sunset Park, have been converted to retail/industrial properties, with stores and restaurants on the lower floors making the buildings destination sites for not just for neighbors, but for people from across the city and suburbs. In Greenpoint, the nonprofit organization The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) has refurbished seven industrial buildings and leased them to small-scale manufacturers and artisans, helping to create jobs and maintain the vitality of the neighborhood.

In many of the markets that the report records or anticipates price fall-offs, the reasons noted are rising prices of construction materials, possibly due to the current international tariff cat-and-mouse games going on, and the rise in interest rates resulting from generally good economic news.

Beyond the booming large-scale commercial investment, Brooklyn remains attractive to smaller investors and home buyers scouting through the many single-family and two-to-five-family houses available in almost every residential neighborhood. Sales of these types of buildings have remained strong, and prices, though they’ve plateaued in the past six to twelve months, remain at or near the highest they’ve been.

We’re happy that Brooklyn remains a highly attractive real estate market. This is our home, and we welcome everyone. We do hope, however, that our borough remains a place where anyone who wants to live here can find a home that they can afford. It’s the greatest place on Earth to live. Just ask us who already do.

 


 

The Hotel St. George

 

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The magnificent Hotel St. George at the height of its glory, taking up an entire city block in Brooklyn Heights. View here is the corner of Clark and Henry Streets.

 

Mornings and evenings in Brooklyn Heights, hundreds (thousands?) of commuters pass through a giant relic of what once was a glorious, spectacular gem of a hotel. The Hotel St. George operated for eighty years at Clark and Henry Streets, experiencing periods of broad expansion, opulent glory, and wild popularity before slipping into decline, decay, disaster, and demise.

Postcard strip copy

Postcards from the glory days of the Hotel St. George, featuring (top to bottom) the Bermuda Terrace restaurant, the Italian Village, the Colorama Ballroom (“Now Superbly Air Conditioned”), the Stardust Room, and the pool.

The Hotel St. George dates to when Brooklyn was an independent city. The initial building opened in 1885 on Clark Street, and by the 1920s had grown to an immense complex of eight buildings that took up the entire block of Henry, Clark, Hicks, and Pineapple Streets. At its zenith it offered 2,632 guest rooms, had 1,000 workers, and reigned as the largest hotel in New York City. Its unmatched grandeur included a 168,000-gallon salt water pool, a grand ballroom (one of 17 in the hotel) dubbed the Colorama for its 1,000 multi-colored light bulbs and which could hold 3,000 dancers, and dining rooms that could feed 7,000 people at the same time. Those lounges sported exotic names such as the Bermuda Terrace, the Egyptian nightclub, the Stardust Room, and the Italian Village. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the hotel’s glamor attracted the glitterati of the day and elite members of the arts, society, and politics, as well as everyday New Yorkers for weddings, celebrations, and elegant nights out through the end of the 1940s.

The hotel had permanent residents as well as transients. Suites were advertised in the early days at rates of $240 – $280 a month for four rooms. The pool was built along with what became the Tower Building and was open to the public at just ten cents for an all-day admission, drawing people from across the city. The subway station at the building entrance opened in 1919 and made the pool an easy destination to get to for families coming from as far away as the Bronx and Queens.

During World War II and the Korean War, the hotel served as housing for soldiers and sailors passing through New York as they shipped into and out of the country. (The Brooklyn Navy Yard is not far from the hotel.) Soon after, the hotel slipped into a long decline along with the rest of the borough and city during the middle-class flight to the suburbs in the decades that followed the wars. The complex was sold five times during the 1960s alone, and by the mid-70s, the pool was shut down and drained, entire floors had been closed, and the full-time staff was down to just forty employees. The remaining hotel buildings staggered through the 80s and in 1995 a huge fire destroyed the original Clark Street building.

The four Western buildings, those being the Tower, Grill, Pineapple, and Cross Hall, were parceled off to a developer who converted them to luxury rentals, but the buildings were not well managed, and tenants brought complaints and suits against the owner. In 1982, the owner converted the Tower and Grill buildings to co-ops, and those buildings have thrived since. 

Gutted after fire

The gutted interior of the Clark Building after the horrific fire in 1995.

The pool room has been converted to a two-tiered gym and smaller pool, and the Eastern end of the hotel, along Henry Street, is now a dormitory for local college students.

These days, the many commuters that rush through the former entrance of the hotel to grab the subway that runs under Clark Street to Manhattan, just one stop away, have little, if any, knowledge of the storied  and glorious past of the once-fabulous building.

 


 

When is Too Much Really Too Much?

Downtown Brooklyn by MAx Touey via Curbed NY

Rendering of Downtown Brooklyn from the Barclays Center, 2016.

 

If you rent, and you’re thinking about moving to or elsewhere within Brooklyn, there might be a few reasons to consider renewing your current lease for one or two more years. In fact, there might be 28,000 reasons.

Anyone who has lived in Brooklyn for the past ten years or so has seen massive changes throughout the borough, most notably in the skyline, the rents asked to live anywhere here, and the people who now live here, still an eclectic, diverse group, but with a few more dollars in their pockets than those who came before.

Twenty-Five years ago, as seen from the F train overpass of the Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s skyline consisted of a small cluster of mid-rise buildings in downtown on the left and the Williamsburg Bank Building on the right. Today, there are dozens of new buildings, many higher than all those older structures, and now and then a half-dozen cranes where more buildings are rising. In the past ten years, +/-27,000 brand new rental units have been developed in the borough. Along with all the new construction, many long-time small-scale landlords, those leasing units in two- to five-family owner-occupied brownstones and sixteen- and twenty-unit apartment blocks, have been making gut-renovation improvements to their stock to compete with the new construction and command the high rents Brooklyn’s popularity now allows them to charge. So, whether you like brand spanking new high rises with a wide-angle view (until it’s blocked by the next building that goes up) or you prefer the smaller scale elegance of a Carroll Gardens brownstone, Brooklyn beckons.

Downtown Brklyn from Sm 9th, Stephan Speranza, NYT Edited Before and After copy

The Brooklyn skyline from above the Gowanus Canal, before the construction boom, including before MetroTech (left), and today (right).

 

But too much can be too much, and unlike in the recent past, when prospective tenants raced to apply for the apartment of their dreams or conducted bidding wars against their competitors for the same space, these days there ae so many apartments available that prospective tenants race from apartment to apartment to apartment, and if one gets rented out from under them, there are plenty more from which to choose. This is especially true for those looking at the thousands of available apartments in the newly constructed high- and mid-rise buildings downtown and spreading outward from there into Fort Greene, Park Slope and, of course, up along the waterfront in Williamsburg and now Greenpoint.

There’s now a glut of apartments, and as a result many leasing agents in the gleaming new buildings are offering huge concessions to new tenants. These enticements include no broker’s fees, a month or two (or three) of free rent, free use of gyms and pools, and anything else they can think of to attract prospective renters. Now, anyone who’s paying attention knows that the rents for these new downtown and waterfront apartments are significantly higher than the rents for those in neighborhood brownstones and apartment blocks, but those concessions for the new apartments provide balance, at least for the first year. After that, the concessions usually disappear.

Williamsburg Bank to DnTn Composite

Left: Downtown Brooklyn in the 1990s, with the Williamsburg Bank Building on the right.    Right: Downtown Brooklyn today and tomorrow, with a rendering of the 73-story black needle of Nine DeKalb Avenue in the right center, almost twice the size of the dwarfed Williamsburg Bank Building in the lower right.

 

Or do they? Until now, they have. But for those who wait a year or so, as we suggested at the start, there could be some concession carryovers. That’s because those 27,000 recently built, hard-to-fill units are nowhere near the end of the boom. There are more to come—many more. Twice as many, in fact. A recent article in the New York Times estimates that in the next ten years, 28,400 more apartments are expected to join those 27,000 built in the past ten, and the Real Deal estimates 16,000 new units coming on the market by the end of next year!! Where are the tenants for all those apartments coming from? Sure, everybody wants to live in Brooklyn, but these apartments aren’t for everybody. They’re for people with money. Rents for two-bedroom apartments are often well over $4,000 per month, and it’s rare to find even a small studio for less than $2,000. And once the concessions expire, there can be additional fees for using the gym and other amenities.

Many of the new buildings got zoning law leniency, permission to build high in exchange for offering a percentage of their apartments at lower-than-market rates, what’s referred to as affordable prices. Affordable is a relative term, though, and what’s considered affordable to developers and the city is often not so affordable to the working stiff. And by the way, just so there’s no confusion as to who’s who in these buildings, those in the affordable section get their own, somewhat less elegant entrance, in at least one case on a different side of the building.

So, who will fill the new buildings still on the drawing board? And what will it take to entice them into these buildings? For you tenants planning a move soon, re-upping at your current apartment for a year or two could get you a much better deal on a new place at the end of that time, when the bigger apartment glut should provide even better deals and perhaps cheaper rents than you’ll find today. For you leasing agents out there already struggling to fill your existing buildings, we suggest Happy Hour at 4:00. Sure, you probably work until 6:00, or even 7:00. Happy Hour at 4:00.

 


 

Greenpoint Makeover: The Church of the Ascension Parish Hall

Greenpoint_ PArish Hall Redo Rendering LEAD via SL DEV

SL Development’s rendering of the new façade of 120 Java Street, the former Parish Hall of the Church of the Ascension in Greenpoint.

 

Churches, for the most part, are sturdily built. Especially in older cities, many church buildings were erected in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most were built using rough-cut stone or brick for the walls inside and out. Over the past thirty or forty years, societal changes have in many ways altered the way people worship, and the parishes that many of these structures were built to support have shrunk in size, sometimes merging with others and sometimes disestablishing and closing down.

As the numbers of parishioners fall, churches look for ways to keep going, and it’s not uncommon for some to sell off property they own, including parts of the church itself and/or the space above them. Developers rarely demolish a church structure. Besides their stout construction, these properties are often beautiful and richly detailed. Many provide interesting and unusual features that, when incorporated into the newly renovated space, whether that be offices or residences, are attractive to many buyers.

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The old façade of the parish hall. Note that much of the original, including the vertical elements, are being kept and incorporated into the new facing.

One of the latest such projects is in Greenpoint. Almost three years ago, the Church of the Ascension sold its dilapidated parish hall building at 120 Java Street and the air rights of the church proper to SL Development, and that company has now begun its renovation of the old brick building. The new façade makes use of much of the existing face of the hall (where in this case that original could be described as somewhat less than beautiful), giving it a major face lift and adding two floors. When complete, there will be eighteen apartments, each around 1,300 sq. ft. The new front is quite striking, and generally the project is in keeping with the scale and look of the old façade, though updated to a twenty-first century style.

The parish hall was built separate from the church building, which dates to 1866 (the parish was established in 1846), and although the hall has some recent historical significance as a refuge center for people displaced or otherwise affected by Hurricane Sandy, its redevelopment will not be a blow to the neighborhood as can sometimes happen in repurposing existing structures.

This is a project that, all in all, should benefit all parties involved, including homeowners and other residents on and around Java Street.

 


 

Brooklyn’s High-Rising Skyline

Downtown Brooklyn Rendering

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. 

Looby Rendering 300w

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!


 

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.

550-Clinton-Ave-Project Rendering

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.

StLukeEpis1915Int

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.


 

Brooklyn: Hollywood East?

Brooklyn: Hollywood East?

BSE Strip

Like television? So do we, and, it seems TV likes Brooklyn. Broadway Stages, the biggest film studio company in Brooklyn that you’ve never heard of, is growing faster than the famous literary Ailanthus tree. Most Brooklyners know about Steiner Studios, the long-time resident at the Navy Yard, and many have heard of CineMagic, and there are Kaufman Astoria and Silvercup in Queens. But there is perhaps a dozen or more smaller studios that are busy handling interior shots for the many TV shows and movies being shot in New York, and Broadway Stages, one of the biggest of those, is getting bigger.

Broadway Stages is home to interior shots for such TV hits as VEEP, Mr. Robot, Master of None, Blacklist, Blue Bloods, Madame Secretary, and many more. The company already has a half-dozen locations dotted across Greenpoint, with others in Long Island City and Middle Village, Queens. Now, according to the Real Deal, they are growing further. The studio, headquartered on Meserole Street in Greenpoint, will be combining six single-lot buildings on nearby Kingsland Avenue into one, increasing the floors of those one-, two-, and three-floor properties to six to and the usable floor space to 101,623 from 41,233. The reconstruction is scheduled to begin in the spring and take a year or more to complete.

In a separate purchase, Broadway Stages last month wrapped up a deal with Exxon-Mobile to buy a large empty lot around the corner from the Kingsland Avenue properties, at 378-392 Greenpoint Avenue. That deal, at $10.2 million, gives Broadway Stages another 160,000 (+/-) buildable square feet for further expansion down the road.

New York TV production has increased dramatically in the past decade, and Broadway Stages is taking advantage and getting ready for a lot more right here in Brooklyn.

 

 


 

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