Flatbush’s “Little” Neighborhood War

Erasmus High Hall

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.

Little Caribbean w Little Haiti copy

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

G train-crosstown-map

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.

G tag

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.

01 Jul 1937, Page 1 - The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

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

Spice Factory Rendering from theQatparkside 600w

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.

Spice Factory Rendering close up

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.

Spice Factory, st vu

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?

Image Tower copy

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.

York Street Plaza 350w

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.


 

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.


 

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.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard: The Before, During, and After

Brooklyn Navy Yard from the Air Kris Arnold  

The Brooklyn Navy Yard* area has played many critical parts in the history of the Borough, the city, and the country, dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

The yard sits on the edge of Wallabout Bay, a large cove in the East River between Williamsburg and Vinegar Hill. President John Adams, believing in the necessity of a strong Navy, in 1801 ordered the building of six navy yards in the new country, and Wallabout Bay was chosen as one of the sites. The yard was decommissioned in 1966. When it closed, it was the oldest industrial facility in New York State.

Before

The bay played a horrific part in the American Revolution. Having captured more rebels during the Battle of Brooklyn and in the roundups afterward than they could manage on land, the British loaded prisoners onto ships anchored or groNavy Yard hms-jersey-interiorunded in the East River. The biggest and most notorious of these was the HMS Jersey**. Built as a warship and later converted to a hospital ship, in 1780 it sat grounded and rotting in Wallabout Bay. Estimates put the deaths on this boat alone at perhaps eight thousand. (By comparison, approximately 4,500 rebels died in combat in the entire war.) It was called “The Hell Afloat.” The men who died in the squalid conditions in the hold of the ship were either simply thrown overboard or buried in mass “graves” in the mud of the bay’s floor during low tide. Many were later removed to a mass grave in Fort Greene Park, but bodies and bones have been exposed during various dredgings and excavations ever since.

During

In the final days of the Adams administration in 1801, Naval Secretary Benjamin Stoddert purchased an existing shipyard in Brooklyn from a private shipbuilder who had been working for the navy and other commercial interests. Stoddert had long wanted to bring shipbuilding in-house rather than pay private contractors, who often overcharged the goverNavy Yard dry-dock-1nment for their services. (Apparently, the $400 hammer has a lo-o-o-ng history.) Jefferson, who had been elected as the next President months before the deal was made, was not keen on increasing the size of the navy, and so the new navy yard was at first used for repairs and for conversions of local commercial ships to naval vessels rather than building new ones. Years after Jefferson’s presidency, the first ship to be built in Brooklyn, the USS Ohio, was begun in 1817 and launched in 1820.

The yard served the navy continuously from then until 1966, scoring several firsts along the way, including the first combat steamship, the USS Fulton II in 1837, and the navy’s first battleship, the USS Maine, launched in 1889. The Maine was blown up in Havana harbor in 1898, precipitating the Spanish-American War.

Other notable events from navy yard history are the establishment of the Naval Lyceum (1833, the precursor to the Naval Academy now at Annapolis, MD) by Commodore Matthew Perry, the development of ether anesthesia (1852) by naval doctor E.R. Squibb at the yard’s naval hospital (opened in 1838), and the launch of the USS Arizona (1915), famously sunk in the Pearl Harbor sneak attack (1941) that brought the U.S. into World War II. In addition, the first song ever sung on the radio was broadcast from the Navy Yard in 1907 to test a radio system newly installed on a ship docked at the yard. The song was “I love you truly,” sung by Eugenia Farrar, an opera singer.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was decommissioned and closed in 1966, along with about ninety other military bases across the country. More than 9,000 jobs were lost with it.

After                          

When its history as a naval facility ended, the shipyard remained open as a private venture, rented to Seatrain Shipbuilding. The city converted the old navy office and quarters buildings to an industrial and office complex. The shipyard closed in 1979, and after another bumpy two deNavy Yard Bldg92cades, the city again stepped in, modernizing the infrastructure within the complex in 2001. That attracted the interest of bigger players, and in 2004 Steiner Studios opened its humongous TV and Film production sound stages, giving the yard a huge boost, including added jobs within the studio and attracting support services and related industries. Today approximately 400 tenants large and small are renting and operational, and numerous buildings remain to be refurbished. On the west side of the complex, a Wegman’s superstore is due to open in 2018.

The area south of the bay is still referred to by some few as Wallabout, though almost all Brooklynites consider it the northern end of Fort Greene. It’s surrounded by subway lines, though none run through the area. Five bus lines stop at or very near the various gates into the yard and serve the immediate neighborhood. And, should the BQX trolley line ever come to be built, it would run either by or through the yard. Housing prices in this area, as in all of Brooklyn, are on an upward trend. The Wegman’s opening should be an added attraction.

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*Opening photo of Navy Yard by  Kris Arnold, New York, USA – Brooklyn, Manhattan, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2027855  

** Photo is of an engraving of conditions on the HMS Jersey. (From the Library of Congress, in the Navy Yard’s BLDG 92 collection)