Thursday, December 8, 2011

This and that

Back at the start of April, the owners of the Williamsburg Bank at Broadway and Driggs Ave. began some work on the building. At that time it appeared that all they were doing was removing most of an addition that was added on to the bank years after it was first built.

That 3-story addition was swathed in white sheeting and was supposed to be reduced to one story (if it was not part of George B. Post's original design of 1870, why keep any of it?).

Since then, the entire building has been encased in scaffolding from the ground up to the base of the dome. It appears, according to the work permit issued by the city (see below, click on it to enlarge it enough to read), that they are intent on restoring the entire building, which can only be a very good thing for the neighborhood.

I look forward to the completely restored building.

Further north on Driggs at Grand St., our presumed movie theater is making progress slowly; they've been working on it since the end of June. What puzzles me a little is the story that was going around the neighborhood for years about the high water table there that prevented anyone from digging a foundation. Periodically, people would come by to make test bores in the soil and go away disappointed. Supposedly, one could only put up a small structure there because it would have to rest on nothing more than a concrete slab. But these folks don't seem to have trouble excavating a fairly deep foundation. Go figure. The latest word I heard is that it is to be a 6-screen multiplex, and the thought of that just chills me. That part of Williamsburg has already grown so much to resemble midtown, I shudder to think of Grand Street with a 6-screen movie house.

And directly across the street they are approaching the end of another enormous project. The only thing I can say is that it doesn't look quite as bad as I thought it would, but that's not much of a compliment.

And down by the river on lower Broadway, we are losing a little bit of a nice view. Compare the two photos below, one taken last May, the other taken last week.

Ironically, the photos were taken in front of a building called . . .

So, winter creeps in, and life goes on, and the dog must be walked.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Going . . . going . . .

I did not intend to return to this blog since I am doing little in the way of wandering Brooklyn like I did once. But . . . some things require no more than a walk down the block or a glance right and left as I head for the L train. As a matter of fact, forget about the rest of Brooklyn, just charting the Deconstruction of the City of Williamsburg could be a full-time job, 24-7.

I won't pretend that the empty lot at the corner of Driggs Ave. and Grand St. was ever anything like a lush, refreshing summer meadow. We're not talking Heidi or The Sound of Music here. It's previous incarnation some ten years ago was as a dirt and gravel parking lot, which you can make out on the Microsoft Virtual Earth map below. The red building across the street from the lot was old and there was graffiti on the walls but it was also only one story high, maybe a story and a half, and didn't block the sky (compare it to the last photo in this post).

I don't claim to know what happened but I'll take an educated guess. When the neighborhood began to take off around that time, the owner of the lot may have decided to cash in and get what probably seemed like a great price for it at the time. The buyer no doubt thought he, too, got a great deal with a large empty lot, certain to appreciate in value, in what was becoming ground zero for trendy Williamsburg.

We were sure we'd shortly be seeing another monument in the New York Developer Mod
erne style.

But nothing happened for ten years; the culprit being, I have been told, a series of underground springs in our section of Williamsburg that prevented a deep foundation with a basement being dug. So, we forgot about it and felt lucky that we had a few hundred feet of something that wasn't a bar.

From time to time people tried to grow things in there but since it was completely fenced in, that was a difficult feat. We had a few straggling plants near the fence.

But even without any cultivated plants, the wild growth by itself provided enough of a respite from the construction going on seemingly on every block in the neighborhood with stacks of lumber, steel girders, dumpsters, and construction scaffolding wherever you turned.

At least I never complained about the lack of a nice solid condo in that space.

This was the first summer in years that didn't see any flourishing growth in there. Except near the fence. Unless that old mattress counts as "wild growth."

Fast forward to Friday, June 24, when some building material appeared in the lot, and a small barrier appeared on the North 1st Street side. Uh-oh! Rumors about a movie theater had been percolating for a year or so and seemed stronger lately (fed, I think, by a
New York Times story, the same one that wrote of a Starbucks soon to appear out on Bedford). It looked like our idyll was over. The theater, we were told, didn't need a basement but could be built on a flat concrete slab.

Came Monday morning and a truck showed up along with a large gray furry dog (but a friendly dog). And some construction worker types began fastening some new parking signs along all sides of the lot: No Parking Anytime / Temporary Construction Regulation.

By Monday evening, board ramparts had appeared almost completely surrounding the lot. I'm sure that by the time I get home from work tonight the lot will have disappeared behind a solid wooden barricade.

It's too bad if it is going to be a movie theater. Grand Street on a summer weekend now is like midtown Manhattan. Considering all the bars along the street, do we really need a few hundred more people congregating on one corner? Not really. Especially considering the behemoth rising directly across the street where that red brick shambles used to be, which will add a few hundred people all by itself.

And one other thing does bother me: One of those trees along the Grand Street side is inside the fence. Not to be too cynical but I doubt that the developer, builder, whoever is going to worry too much about keeping the tree when the supposed theater will probably go right to the building line.

There are other trees along there so it ain't the end of the world, but still . . . those trees are really striking for a couple of weeks at the start of each spring and I'd hate to lose even one of them. All things considered, if I had to choose between keeping a tree and losing a tree, I'd keep it. They take too long to replace.

Well, we can always hope for a really wet fall and winter with swollen underground springs exploding like the cemetery at the end of Poltergeist, and the movie house floating down Driggs Ave. to wash up in Greenpoint. I'd buy a ticket to see that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
And now, let us begin

I feel sorry for the poor dog; around that lot and along North 1st St. where the big truck is used to be her favorite walking/sniffing/people watching spots. North 1st St. itself felt like a quiet backwater where few people ventured. No more.

A friend who lives further east out toward Bushwick told me she heard a story on NPR last week about a new movie theater going up in Williamsburg. The story, she said, was all about Williamsburg's "grave lack of cinema." Now that is a horrible situation. Grave, as they say. Living so far out of the city that you have to pack a box lunch if you want to struggle across mountains and rivers to a movie house in Manhattan is tough. The Angelika might as well be in Albany. I wondered what those torchlight parades down Bedford Avenue were with the milling hordes screaming "Movies NOW!" Now I know.

If someone wanted to march in support of a reasonably priced super market in the neighborhood, or even a Trader Joe's, that's a parade I could get behind easily.

Wednesday night, June 29, 2011

They had a busy day. The lot is completely fenced in, it's been painted blue (I actually preferred the natural look but then, I'm a contrarian), and (possibly just when I was mentioning the tree) the tree by the fence was cut down, but no surprise there. Probably had they left the fence a natural brown, I would have wanted it painted; still, a nice green would have been better than a dark blue.

The poor dog is completely disoriented. She has been used to rushing over to the fence each evening to sniff the grass along the whole length along three streets. Tonight, she couldn't figure out where the fence was, started whining and didn't even want one of her favorite treats. Very sad.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


We have a new dog at home . . . a puppy . . . and she's taking up most of my free time. The opportunities for me to wander Brooklyn have all but disappeared for the foreseeable future. So unless something extraordinary happens—like all the trendy bar hoppers deciding Williamsburg is passé and leaving us once again in peace—I won't be doing anything here for a while.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Calling all philanthropists

The Kings County Savings Bank (landmarked) building at Broadway and Bedford Avenue is beginning to show its age and the toll that time has taken.

New on Grand Street

The first new place that's opened in Williamsburg in quite a while that seems interesting; as long as they don't make a habit of this private event thing.

How We Respect Our Heritage

And teach our children to respect theirs. The Williamsburg Bridge dedication plaques.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Also, a birthday

Just a note that on July 31, the McCarren Pool will be 75 years old, having opened on July 31, 1936.

1936 might be considered a sort of annus mirabilis of municipal pool construction in New York City. Between June 27 and August 17, through the efforts of Fiorello Laguardia, Robert Moses, and the WPA, ten pools were opened around the five boroughs, three of them in Brooklyn:

McCarren Pool in Greenpoint, July 31

Betsy Head Pool in Brownsville, August 7

Sol Goldman Pool in Red Hook, August 17

After being closed and neglected for almost 30 years, McCarren Pool is in the process of being rebuilt but won't be ready to reopen until the spring of 2012. McCarren Pool was the largest of the WPA pools constructed.

I wasn't able to find any "free" photos of McCarren Pool in its palmy days but, going back even further in time, I found a photograph* of the funeral of the pool's namesake, and I thought, what the hell.

*"McCarren Funeral 1909" is from the Bain Collction at the Library of Congress. Call #: LC-B2- 911-15 [P&P]

Patrick Henry McCarren was a local politician and a state senator who died in 1909 at the age of 62. Also, unlike some people with highways or parks or pools named after them, he actually was from the neighborhood. He lived at 97 Berry Street at the time of his death and his funeral was conducted in St. Vincent de Paul Church on North 6th between Driggs and Bedford Avenues. Sadly, or perhaps not, all the ivy in the photo above has been removed . . . but replaced by scaffolding.

By the way, anyone interested in the transformation of New York City under Robert Moses could do worse than get a copy of: Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York. Edited by Hilary Ballon and Kenneth T. Jackson, W.W. Norton, 2007.

It is a beautiful and comprehensive book covering Moses's career as master builder (for good or ill) in New York, and is lavishly illustrated with period and contemporary photos.

In the cross-hairs!

A week or so ago I was walking from Williamsburg to Flatbush for okra. Yes, people do that sort of thing; some people, anyway. There are a couple of vegetable places on Church Ave. near Ocean Avenue that have great deals on okra by the pound. In lots of places you're forced into buying those little cellophane-covered packages with six or eight pieces for a buck. Bah!

So, on my way along Bedford Ave. in Bed-Stuy, at the corner of Gates Ave. to be precise, I came cross this new . . . structure.

Check out the prices. FROM $195,000. I take it that means the lowest price? A studio?

I walk around and through Bed-Stuy quite a bit and I think I can venture a guess that very few people in the neighborhood could pony up the cash for a $195,000 condo, or anything close to it. But that's not really the point, is it?

It's in the way of an advisory for Bed-Stuy that it's now in the developers' cross-hairs. Watch out, Bed-Stuy, your days may be numbered, your neighborhood could be up for grabs before you know it; and chances are you won't be a winner.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Curiouser and Curiouser

Back in December, I mentioned that HSBC, who had maintained a branch in the landmarked original Williamsburgh Bank building at Driggs Ave. and Broadway, had suddenly decamped, removing all their garish 21st century signage, and opened a branch further north at Bedford Ave. and North 3rd Street.

Until February, the building stood empty and lifeless with no hint of what was to be done with it. It is landmarked both outside and inside so any owners' or tenants' options are limited, at least in the sense that the building can't be torn down. But even a cursory glance at "vintage" buildings in the city (and here in Brooklyn) should be enough to assure anyone that a late-19th-century, neoclassical building in pristine condition like this one could be, so to speak, money in the bank.

Then, at the beginning of February, a large white construction tarp appeared on the west side of the building, covering the entire side, with big "debris tubes" hanging out and leading to dumpsters below.

This was intriguing since I thought landmarked buildings had to be treated with white glove care. But I figured maybe they were just clearing out the upper floors of material that was easier to junk than move out.

I hadn't given it much notice over the past month until last weekend when, purely by accident, I noticed graffiti had suddenly appeared near a front cornice. Then, on looking closer, I realized that the wall where the graffiti had appeared shouldn't have been visible. They were tearing down part of the bank!

But before going off half-cocked and complaining to someone, I figured I should check up on the building's history just a bit. And, as it turns out, the section they are demolishing was never part of the original bank building at all, just a very cleverly designed addition in a similar style. Still, they have managed to damage part of the original cornice of the bank.

I don't have any photos of the bank when it was first built but I recalled a book I had gotten from the BPL that contained a sketch drawing of the bank in 1889 and also a sketch map of Broadway in 1893, both showing the bank without that addition. Whew!

The name of the book, by the way, is Brooklyn's Williamsburgh: A City within a City, Brian Merlis, Brooklyn: Israelowitz Pub., 2005. Brian Merlis has a whole raft of books of vintage photos of most neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Now all I am wondering is why, if they are demolishing the damn thing, are they only demolishing the second and third floors and, apparently, keeping the first floor? I'm sure it would look better removed completely. Stay tuned.