The Coney Island Art Walls

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Out to Live, by Chris Stain, one of approximately thirty murals at the Coney Island Art Walls exhibit, through September.

 

Coney Island is known the world over as a summer entertainment magnet, famous for its teeming beaches, boardwalk food stands, and thronged amusements parks, as well as the more recent baseball games and weekly Friday night fireworks.

One of the lesser-known, but just as cool, attractions and a great reason to get yourself down to Coney Island soon is the annual exhibit called the Coney Island Art Walls. The art walls sit in an otherwise empty lot between Stillwell Avenue and W 15th Street and between Bowery Street (one block south of Surf Avenue) and the boardwalk, right behind Nathan’s hot dog restaurant. Now in its fourth year, the art walls were the brainchild of Joseph J. Sitt, founder of the real estate development company Thor Equities, which owns the land, and Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer and former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, who co-curates the event with Mr. Sitt.

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Just a few of the walls currently on view at the Coney Island Art Walls exhibit.

Mr. Sitt, who grew up in Brooklyn, refers to the annual exhibit as “…Thor Equities’ way of bringing life to an empty site in the core of Coney Island, while keeping the Coney feeling and stretching it in new directions.” He had the walls erected in 2015 for the first show, and they’ve been up since. As is most street art, the works are temporary, painted over when a wall is given to another chosen artist.

Mr. Deitch has been an artist, art writer, gallery owner, and curator for decades, including his stint at MOCA, where a special Art in the Streets exhibit drew record crowds. He’s now bringing that same street-art vibe to Coney Island each summer, and we’re grateful for it. This year’s artists include Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Sam Vernon, Shepard Fairey, Jane Dickson, Jim Drain, Skewville, along with many other street artists and muralists.

Besides presenting the murals, the Art Walls space hosts periodic events both public and private. The final month of the season will include the Quiet Clubbing Festival on Saturday, September 15th, with six DJs spinning their sounds from 7:00 p.m. until the wee hours. Everybody gets a headset that lets you choose which DJ you want to hear and the volume. LED robots and LED hula dancers are promised for the event. The special music events require tickets, for sale in advance or at the door until sold out.

According to the Art Walls’ Web site,  the exhibition space is open every day from 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. through September, and admission is free. However, we went twice on Friday evenings and it was closed at 7:00. A mounted policeman told us it’s open during the day. On a third trip, on a Saturday afternoon, the space had been taken over by an event, which we could have attended for $60. (We didn’t.) Our advice is to get there before five o’clock on a weekday.

For more information on the music events, go here: http://donyc.com/venues/coney-island-art-walls

See you at Coney Island!

 


 

Where’s the Hill in Boerum Hill?

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Boerum Hill offers many boutique shops of all kinds along Atlantic Avenue.

 

Boerum Hill might be Brooklyn’s most quietly popular neighborhood. For decades it was considered a great place to avoid at all costs, and even today many people raise their eyebrows at the area’s mention. For those who have taken the plunge and moved here it is a calm oasis of city living, a peaceful alternative to the more hectic pace associated with the its surrounding neighbors: Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Downtown Brooklyn.

The neighborhood is bounded by Schermerhorn Street on the north, angling down Flatbush Avenue and Fourth Avenue on the east, Warren Street on the south, and Smith Street on the West. Most of the residential streets are lined with one-to-four-family brick or brownstone row houses dating from the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. In addition, there are two mid-rise housing projects built after World War II and a raft of new condo buildings along or near Fourth Avenue on the East side of the nabe. It is consistently in the top five on lists of the most expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

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Many of the buildings in the area are landmarked, and these storefronts provide a taste of what the neighborhood was like fifty or more years ago.

Location is everything, and Boerum Hill is perfectly situated near shopping, dining, entertainment, and transportation. There are stylish storefronts all along Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Nevins Streets; Smith Street is lined with restaurants and watering holes, as well has having a variety of clothing stores and delis; Fulton Mall is just above Boerum Place in Downtown; and the Barclays Center, BAM, and the Fort Greene cultural district are just across Flatbush Avenue. At that same location is Atlantic Terminal, with a full-scale shopping mall and the Long Island Railroad’s Brooklyn terminal and MTA subway hub for the B,D,N,Q, and R trains. The A, C, and G trains are at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street, and the F and G are at Bergen and Smith Streets.

When the Dutch first arrived in the Boerum Hill area it was populated by the Lenape and Merechewick [spelling varies with sources] Indians. The area was eventually divided into parcels with Dutch owners with now-familiar names such as Bergen, Van Brunt, Cortelyou, Rapelje, and Boerum. England took over new Amsterdam in 1664, but the Dutch families in Brooklyn remained as citizens and landowners in the now English colony of New York. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the area had been further subdivided, but remained mostly farms and mills. During the revolution there was heavy fighting all around the area, in Park Slope Bed-Stuy, Gowanus, and Brooklyn Heights, but other than troops passing through or manning fortifications, not much happened in what’s now Boerum Hill. The nineteenth century was the major period of development throughout the northern half of Brooklyn, with the grid laid out, streets named—many carrying the monikers of those Dutch settlers–and today’s housing stock erected. The area became a magnet for immigrants, and waves of German, Irish, and Italians came into the neighborhood from the 1850s through the first half of the twentieth century.

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A Mohawk atop a steel girder high above Second Avenue, the Chrysler building behind.

The 1900s saw the rise of New York’s steel-and-stone skyscrapers, including the iconic Woolworth, Chrysler, and Empire State Buildings. A number of the ironworkers on these buildings were Mohawk Indians from Canada, who were adept at traversing through the steel-beam superstructures high above ground. A large contingent of Caughnawaga Mohawks lived in Boerum Hill during that time, concentrated between Smith and Nevins Streets from Bergen to Schermerhorn Streets. The Mohawk population grew so large that the local stores began carrying products specifically for them, including grains and ales from the Caughnawagas’ home in Canada, and the Cuyler Presbyterian Church held services in the Mohawks’ dialect. This enclave became known as Little Caughnawaga. There are descendants of these workers living in the area today, and, tangentially to our focus, Mohawk Indians still work in the ironwork industry, including being active in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center after the September 11th attack.

All this interesting Boerum Hill history, it has to be noted, didn’t happen in Boerum Hill. The neighborhood is named for the Dutch settler Simon Boerum, who at one time owned much of the land in the area. We’ve heard that back then there was some sort of rise near what is now Carroll Park (in Carroll Gardens) called Boerum’s Hill, but the Boerum Hill name wasn’t applied to the current neighborhood until the 1960s. Until then this section was part of what was generally known as South Brooklyn; in the 1800s, residents called it North Gowanus, and in colonial times the eastern end was a wet, marshy section of the Gowanus creek waterway. There was never a hill here.

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The residences in Boerum Hill are mostly one-to-four-family brick or brownstone row houses, many with decorative railings, on tree-lined street .

 


 

The Montauk Club

 

 

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The Montauk Club building at 25 Eighth Avenue, corner of Lincoln Place, in Park Slope.

 

Private men’s clubs have been popular among the elite class in New York City almost since the city’s establishment. The first in New York, the Union Club, was founded in 1836. Others followed, including (in no particular order) the Harmonie Club, the Knickerbocker Club, the Players Club, the Union Club, the Yale Club, and on and on. What they all have in common is exclusivity and a pretension to status.

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The dining room of the Montauk Club.

 

There were similar clubs in Brooklyn, including the Carleton Club, which stood at Sixth Avenue and St. Mark’s Place in Park Slope. In 1888 a number of dissatisfied Carleton Club members began organizing a club of their own, which became the Montauk Club, incorporated in 1889.  One of the founders, a broker named Leonard Moody, gave the money for the down payment on the site for the club at 25 Eighth Avenue, and the architect Francis H. Kimball was contracted to design and construct the clubhouse, which is a Venetian Gothic-style building. It’s windows with pointed arches and Quatrefoil design are direct copies of those in the Palazzo Santa Sofia (the Ca d’Oro) on the Grand Canal in Venice. Just a stone’s throw from Grand Army Plaza, this is one of the most striking and well-known buildings in Park Slope, and maybe in all of Brooklyn.

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The rear of the Montauk Club, facing Plaza Street near Grand Army Plaza.

The building extends from Eighth Avenue to Plaza Street. The basement had a bowling alley and a café. In front of the building, a stone stairway still leads to the front of the first floor from Eighth Avenue. To the left of that, a smaller set of stairs rose to the ladies’ entrance to the building. The first floor contained a grand reception room, a reading room, and a café. The second floor had two billiard rooms, as that was a popular game at the turn of the twentieth century, a buffet, two card rooms, and the club’s board rooms.

A large dining room, partitioned into three sections, took up most of the third floor, and a separate ladies’ dining room overlooked Eighth Avenue and Lincoln Place. A separate Ladies’ reception room was here, too. The fourth floor had the kitchen and, along Lincoln Place, six apartments used by visitors and members. Those visitors could sit in the designated “Jolly Room,” a sitting room in the rear of the building on this floor. The six apartments shared one bathroom with two toilets, two tubs, and two sinks. Above that, the area of the attic that had been finished had a laundry as well as quarters for servants.

Like so many other buildings in Park Slope, the Montauk Club property converted to a condominium, in 1996. The club took the basement and the first two floors, and the third, fourth, and attic floors are private residences.

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Many TV shows and movies have used the Montauk Club as a location, including Boardwalk Empire, shown here. photo: Macall B. Polay / © HBO / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Today, 139 years after incorporation, the Montauk Club carries on. From inception it has always been a social club, and so has no overarching mission. New members are welcome. Sponsorship is not required, though the club has a membership committee and there is a space on the application to name people you know, so applying for membership is no guarantee of acceptance. The cost of membership is not little but is quite a bit less than that for most of the Manhattan private clubs. For members, the club is available for weddings, receptions, and private parties. Non-members can book space there, but membership is part of the price tag. The members-only dining room is open Wednesday-Sunday, and the menu, which changes weekly, is very inviting.

If hob-knobbing with other Brooklyn social ariveés over diner in private dining rooms is your thing, the Montauk Club is definitely worth your investigation. “Affordable,” friendly, welcoming, and in a unique, elegant setting, the Montauk Club could be just what you’re looking for.

 


 

Plymouth Church, Brooklyn Hts: An Historic Beacon for Civil Rights

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The façade of Plymouth Church on Orange Street, c. 1934.

 

One of the largest and historically most important churches in Brooklyn is almost hidden away on tiny Orange Street in Brooklyn Heights. Plymouth Church, a Congregationalist parish established in 1847, was led for forty years by the orator and fierce abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, one of the loudest voices and most active people in America’s struggle against slavery in the years before the Civil War. This simple yet beautiful church, which opened in January of 1850, holds upwards of 2,500 people. It was built so large specifically to hold the crowds who came to hear Beecher preach, and from its opening was consistently packed with parishioners and visitors from across Brooklyn and from across the East River who came to hear Beecher’s thoughts not just on slavery, but on life and the human condition.

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The interior of Plymouth Church, with the pipes of the Aeolian-Skinner organ rising high above the chancel.

Putting his words into practice, Beecher used the church as a major stop on the underground railroad, helping to move runaway slaves from the south through the northern states to Canada and freedom. A tunnel under the nave was used to hide slaves during their layover at the church, which became known as “the Grand Central Depot.” The preacher encouraged his flock to join his active efforts to free slaves, and even held “slave auctions” in the church, where parishioners could bid to buy the freedom of slaves. In addition, Beecher brought in many abolitionist guest speakers, such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Charles Sumner, to promote their cause.

In February of 1860, the church invited Abraham Lincoln to speak to the congregation. Lincoln came and attended a service, and the pew where he sat has a small marker noting the seat’s history. (Lincoln’s speech was moved at the last minute to the auditorium at Cooper Union in Manhattan to assure a large crowd.) Another great speaker and civil rights champion, the Reverend Martin Luther King, spoke at the church in February of 1963.

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The shrine to Henry Ward Beecher in the garden of Plymouth Church, with the relief of Lincoln to the left.

Plymouth Church merged with a nearby Congregational parish, the Church of the Pilgrims, in 1934, and the full name of the church now is Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. The building achieved National Historic Landmark stature in 1961.

One of the church’s main interior physical features is its beautiful organ, an Aeolian-Skinner with what those who know about these things call an “American Classic” sound. Originally installed in 1904, it was refurbished in the 1990s. A well-known exterior feature is the statue of Henry Ward Beecher in the garden area just west of the church proper. Nearby is a relief of Lincoln at the church. Both were sculpted by the same man who created the Mt. Rushmore presidential monument, Gutzon Borglum. Ironically, Borglum was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Today, this active church is extending its history in promoting and working for civil rights, with programs against human trafficking called the New Abolitionists, and the Racial Justice Ministry, a program of both action and reflection in the name of ending racism “in ourselves, and our society.

Next time you’re in Brooklyn Heights, whether heading for the promenade or Brooklyn Bridge Park, take a few minutes to walk down Orange Street and have a look at an important piece of American History, Plymouth Church.

 


 

Flatbush’s “Little” Neighborhood War

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Flatbush and Church Avenues, in the heart of both Little Haiti and Little Caribbean. Which will it be? (Image subject is Erasmus High School, which is not involved in the neighborhood designation dispute.)

 

As in all cities (and boroughs), New York’s immigrants, especially upon first arrival, have tended to congregate in specific neighborhoods, and in time these areas have become identified with the groups that have come together there. Those inside and out of each neighborhood often come to refer to it as Little X, such as Little Italy in Manhattan and Little Odessa here in Brooklyn. For those within the neighborhood, the moniker can be a source of ethnic or expat pride.

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A map from the CaribBEING Web site showing the approved Little Caribbean neighborhood.

For the past six months or so, there has been a bit of a dustup going on in Flatbush, where local groups with the backing of Borough President Eric Adams and the Flatbush Nostrand Junction BID got approval last year to name the area along Flatbush Avenue from Empire Boulevard to Nostrand Avenue, an almost thirty-block stretch, Little Caribbean. Such approvals are given by the city council, and the Little Caribbean designation was apparently greenlighted by councilman Jumaane Williams’ office. That didn’t sit well with assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte, who, in a September 27th letter to Mayor De Blasio, asked to have the official designation put on hold. She is hoping to have a separate designation of a “Little Haiti” within the same area.

Bichotte, the first Haitian-American in the New York State assembly, says there had been conversations about a Little Haiti designation well before any for a Little Caribbean. However, a six-year-old organization called CaribBEING, led by founder Shelley V. Worrell, has been pushing the Little Caribbean agenda for going on three years. Bichotte claims that the Little Haiti name was first proposed a decade ago.

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This map shows the very unofficial boundaries of both Little Caribbean (in blue) and Little Haiti (in gray).

The affair heated up when a local community activist, Ernest Skinner, sent a public response via e-mail to Bichotte and other officials on both sides of the issue asking why there needed to be a Little Haiti separate from Little Caribbean. “When did Haiti stop being part of the Caribbean?” he asked, following that up with some disparaging remarks about the country and its historic place in the world and, more specifically, the West Indies. Bichotte demanded an apology and noted that Skinner’s remarks showed why Haitians often feel excluded from the Caribbean community and want their own separate designation within the Little Caribbean area. [Note: To our knowledge, no one associated with CaribBEING has taken any part in any name-calling.]

Councilman Williams appealed for a “more fruitful dialogue” and hopes to work with all involved to get designations for both Little Haiti and Little Caribbean. Bichotte, in her letter to the mayor, stated she and her Haitian supporters wanted the Little Haiti designation to be approved before that of Little Caribbean. The struggle continues.

“Little” neighborhood designations are all about national and cultural pride. So is the infighting. We’re all for national and cultural pride when it’s conducted in a positive way. Yet, throughout history, how many wars have been fought, how many people have died, over just these?

 


 

Brooklyn’s Very Own Subway Line

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Brooklyn’s G train Crosstown Line station map.

 

It’s the most disparaged subway line in the entire MTA system. “The line to nowhere,” They say. The line is the G train, and They are those who don’t use it. For those who do ride the G, it’s the best train in New York City. The A is known as the 8th Avenue Express and the F is called the 6th Avenue Local. The G is the crosstown line, snaking through Brooklyn from Church Avenue in Kensington north through Greenpoint, with (currently) two stops in Queens and ending at Court Square, without ever going into “The City” on the way. It’s the only non-shuttle subway line that avoids Manhattan.

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Letter tag for the G train.

The G train opened as the GG in 1933 as part of the IND system, using the double-letter code of the day for local trains. It was a simple shuttle between Queens Plaza and Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint, with plans to expand the line further. In 1937 the crosstown line extension to the Culver Line opened, with transfer points to the BMT’s L train at Metropolitan Avenue-Lorimer Street and to the A and C trains at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street Station. The last stop was Smith-9th Streets in Brooklyn, and simultaneously the line was extended in Queens to 71st Avenue in Forest Hills. In 2009, it was extended to Church Avenue during a rehabilitation of the Smith-9th and Fourth Avenue stations, and upon project completion, an outcry of public opinion convinced transit officials to maintain the Kensington terminus rather than cutting the line back again. In 2010, the Queens end of the line was changed to the Court Square interchange with the E, M, and 7 lines.

During its history, the G train has had shifting terminus points at both ends and its car length juggled as ridership numbers ebbed and flowed along with the changing turn-arounds. The line’s nadir was the stretch of time corresponding with New York City’s financial and social troubles in the mid-to-late 1970s. A general lack of basic maintenance resulted in the line’s stations growing dirty and dingy, and service cuts made for long waits in unpleasant and sometimes unsafe conditions. The G train was given a reputation as a line to avoid.

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The Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s front page on July 1, 1937, announcing the opening of the G train’s Crosstown Line.

With the explosion in population and popularity of Brooklyn in the past thirty years, there has been an increase in people living, working, creating, and hanging out in the borough, with the crowds and high prices in Manhattan becoming what to avoid. Even though the line’s shady reputation remains intact in the minds of many, the G train now boasts a ridership growth that is out-pacing any other line in the MTA system. Service has increased, stations have been rejuvenated, and, for those heading from South Brooklyn to Williamsburg, Greenpoint, or Bushwick, the line is now one of Brooklyn’s best-kept secrets. All that’s needed now is to increase the train length from its current four cars to six.

That’s coming, and more. Many Brooklynites do work in Manhattan, and with the planned renovation of the L train’s Canarsie Tunnel beginning in April of 2019 to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy, the 225,000 commuters that use that tube every day will have to find an alternate route to work. G train in 7th AveThat means transferring to the G train, northbound to the E, M, and 7 lines to midtown and southbound to Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets for the A and C lines to the Financial District. To accommodate an anticipated huge increase in ridership, the MTA plans to add four cars to each train and to add trains, especially during rush hours. The secret will definitely be out, though the perceived inconvenience will probably not change the minds of too many of those new riders that the G train sucks. While they’re riding it, it just might.

For now, and then after, the G train is Brooklyn’s very own subway, and while for many it’s the train to nowhere, for us, it’s Brooklyn’s own, and we love it.

Great Brooklyn neighborhoods and attractions on the G line:

Greenpoint (Greenpoint Avenue; Nassau Avenue Stations)
Brooklyn Bazaar
Sunshine Laundromat
Numerous TV/ Independent Film Production Studios
Greek Theatres/Greek Restaurants

Williamsburg (Metropolitan Avenue; Broadway; Flushing Avenue)
Hip Neighborhood
Eclectic Restaurants
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Transfer to the L to Bushwick

Bed-Stuy (Flushing Avenue; Myrtle-Willoughby Avenues; Bedford-Nostrand)
Gorgeous Brownstones
Billy Holiday Theatre
Home Depot

Clinton Hill (Classon Avenue; Clinton-Washington)
Pratt Institute
St. Joseph’s College NY
Beautiful Neighborhood

Ft Greene (Fulton Street)
BAM
Arts Hub/Cultural Center
Barclays Center
Beautiful Neighborhood

Downtown Brooklyn/Boerum Hill (Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts.)
City Point Mall
Fulton Street Pedestrian Mall
Macy’s Brooklyn
Downtown High-Rise Construction
MetroTech

Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill (Bergen Street)
Smith Street Restaurant Row (North end)
Trader Joe’s

Carroll Gardens (Carroll Street; Smith-9th Streets)
Beautiful neighborhood
Smith Street Restaurant Row (South end)

Gowanus (Smith-9th Streets; Fourth Avenue-9th Street)
Art Studios
Gowanus Canal
Lowe’s
Whole Foods

Park Slope (Fourth Avenue-9th Streets; Seventh Avenue; 15th St.-Prospect Park)
Prospect Park
Best neighborhood to live in (Time Out NY, 2012)

Windsor Terrace (15th  St.-Prospect Park;, Ft. Hamilton Parkway)
Prospect Park
Low-scale housing

Kensington (Church Avenue)
Eclectic mix of restaurants and people
Kensington Stables
Green-Wood Cemetery

 


 

Crown Heights Mega Development Could Threaten BBG

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The proposed development of the old spice factory at 960 Franklin Avenue could cast a giant shadow over the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

They’e ba-ack.

Another mega-development threatens the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and once again the neighborhood is being awoken to the danger by dedicated community watchdogs.

For the third time since 2014 a large development project has been submitted for consideration to Community Board 9. The latest project, from Continuum Company and funded by Lincoln Equities, is proposed for the current site of the old spice factory at Franklin Avenue and Montgomery Place, a stone’s throw from the BBG and tall enough—at least thirty-two stories, and perhaps as high as forty-two—to cast a seven-acre shadow across the garden, including its greenhouses and the Steinhardt Conservatory building housing three special biospheres in climate-controlled environments, all of which would be greatly impacted by the loss of light even for a few hours a day.

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A closer look. The dark upper sections of the proposed buildings are higher than what current zoning allows.

Several neighborhood groups have mobilized against the project, which is in a specially zoned area that limits construction to seven stories, a restriction that was implemented more than twenty-five years ago specifically to protect the BBG from exactly what’s being planned now. Rezoning will require environmental assessments, public notice and response, and approval from multiple city agencies. While that sounds difficult, it’s not uncommon for such how-did-they-let-that-happen projects to be approved.

Last year, another large-scale project, by Cornell Realty and slated for construction at Crown and Carroll Streets, was put on hold when the community objected to its scale, which mid-process morphed from four seven-story buildings to a 500-unit, 175-foot-tall, two-tower behemoth. On hold doesn’t mean scrapped, and this and several other projects await the approval of just one similar plan to break the ice before refiling.

The spice factory was in operation right up to the sale of the property late in 2017 to Continuum, and neighbors continue to enjoy the mixed fragrances emanating from the now empty building. Built around the turn of the last century, the plant began life as the Consumers Park Brewing Company, one of many breweries that dotted Brooklyn in the late Nineteenth Century and into the mid Twentieth Century. The current building is not part of the new plan, and somewhere there’s a wrecking ball that’s gearing up for action. That in itself is a shame.

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The Tropical Pavilion is one of three controlled-environment areas in the Steinhardt Conservatory that could be affected by the Spice Factory plan.

We’re all for the development of empty or underused space, the repurposing of old warehouses and factory buildings, and the restoration, reconstruction, and/or redevelopment of dilapidated housing stock. But we support maintaining any neighborhood’s character in the process. Crown Heights residents are just getting used to the idea of the development of the Bedford-Union Armory just a few blocks away at Bedford Avenue and Union Street. A mega-project of the size and scope of the Continuum plan will absolutely alter the quality of the neighborhood.

Not of least concern is the potential harm that would be done to the botanic garden. This world-class, world-renowned facility is a gem that all Brooklynites should want protected. Plants need sun. A seven-acre shadow crossing the grounds would wreak havoc on the fragile eco-systems in the conservatory. Currently, the garden is protected by zoning laws. We think it should remain so.

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The old spice factory on Franklin Avenue, site of the proposed mega development. The botanic garden lies just beyond the trees on the left.

 


 

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.

IMG_1150 Deteriorization 600w

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


 

East Brooklyn—Ready for Prime Time, or Not Quite?

It’s been almost two years since a rezoning of Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood jump-started a wave of speculation and, to a lesser degree, development throughout the area and sent a shudder of gentrification worry down the backs of those already living there. Last summer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called for next-door Brownsville to be similarly rezoned to attract new affordable housing to that neighborhood. So, how’s it all working?

dcp_overview_map_05102016 from NYC gov

A map of the East New York Rezoning District during planning. The final boundaries are almost identical.

 

The initial rezoning of East New York came out of a plan by Mayor Bill De Blasio to rezone about fifteen neighborhoods throughout the city, also including Bushwick and Gowanus in Brooklyn. To rezone any neighborhood, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is charged with studying each neighborhood and submitting proposals to the city council for approval. So far in Brooklyn, only the East New York proposal has been approved.  Elsewhere around the city, plans have been approved for East Harlem and Far Rockaway.

Brownsville Library, via Historic Districts Council

The Brownsville Library Building

As a part of the rezoning plans, the mayor and city council included a mandatory inclusion housing rule (MIH), requiring all residential development in each zone have a certain percentage of rental units be offered at below market rates, based on several formulas that can be imposed by the city council. A few developers that specialize in what is considered affordable housing by those for whom affordable is not an issue have taken advantage of as many of the city’s available subsidies as possible. Those that accept the subsidies must set aside many of the units for affordable housing units. How much the rents will be will depend on which subsidy the developer takes.

Since the rezoning, for-sale prices in East Brooklyn (East New York, Brownsville, and Cypress Hills) have risen sharply, and several developments are underway. According to an article months ago at citylimits.org, prices had risen from about $35 per square foot before the rezoning to over $40 per square foot by July 2017. And, mortgages have become harder to get for low-income buyers since the rezoning.

Mixed Use, Pitkin Ave cropped

Pitkin Avenue, East New York, showing a strip of mixed-use properties.

There has been a small rash of speculation, with investors buying property in the hopes of making redevelopment moves in the future. Much of that activity has taken place peripherally to the rezoned area, with the speculators hoping to avoid the MIH restrictions should the area really take off. But many owners have overpriced their properties, and those are sitting on the market with no nibbles.

So, two years into the rezoning, the amount of actual development is meager. Despite the activity just described, the overall jump-in rate is small. East Brooklyn, it seems, isn’t quite ready for a wholesale boom like downtown or even the low-rise efforts burgeoning on the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill corridor along Lafayette and Dekalb Avenues.

Typical ENY Block cropped

Like most of Brooklyn, Brownsville, East New York,, and Cypress Hills holds a mix of single-family, multi-family, and apartment block buildings.

But what about current residences? According to the real estate Web site Trulia, the average income in East New York is $32,165. Based on the standard income qualification of 40x the rent, an affordable housing price for current residents is $804.13, How many of the new affordable rents will be under $1,000? Under $1,200?  According to the MIH rules, there should be some, but how many investors will drop multi-millions into a development to collect those rents?

New development is a good thing, but for those who are in the crosshairs, it’s never comfortable. New York City has plenty of luxury housing. The fact is, developers are running out of low-buy-in areas to develop. East Brooklyn seems to be the current target area, thanks to the EDC’s rezoning plans. We applaud Mayor De Blasio’s efforts to create and maintain affordable housing. In East Brooklyn, we just don’t see it happening in earnest overnight, or any time soon.