Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Checking In

On a rainy Saturday waiting for the B41 down Flatbush Avenue.

The weather has been getting marginally better for walking lately but it’s still so damn dreary with the remnants of dirty snow hanging around and bare trees and gray skies that I’ve still been keeping close to home, aside from a couple of quick forays to the library.

A couple of minor things . . .

HSBC has commenced some work on the landmarked Williamsburgh Savings Bank building. At least, I assume they still own the building. They seem to be doing renovations inside if the big yellow debris tube hanging off the side of the building is any indication. The inside as well as the outside of the building is landmarked, though maybe not all of it; maybe just the main floor, I'm not sure how those things work. What is happening is happening up on the top floor. (I am usually more full of questions than answers.)

And speaking of landmarking. One of my favorite streets on my way to the library has been proposed as a landmark district. It is most of Vanderbilt Ave. between Park Ave. and Myrtle Ave. It's proposed as the Wallabout Historic District. This is where those several cute little clapboard houses are that I mentioned in an earlier post. Some of the street has been rebuilt with new structures and even though they were designed to disrupt the look of the street as little as possible, they are recent and are excluded, but most of the block is included.

You can see the map here if you're interested, under Proposed Districts: Proposed Wallabout Historic District

Vanderbilt Ave. bet. Park Ave. & Myrtle Ave.

And I discovered when I looked at the actual map that the Fillmore Place Historic District nearby me in Williamsburg, actually takes in more than I thought: not just Fillmore Place itself but some buildings and an empty lot on Driggs Ave. across from the mouth of Fillmore Place. This includes Henry Miller’s childhood home (the edge of it is in the picture below to the far right).

You can see the map here if interested , under New Districts: Fillmore Place Historic District.

It got me to wondering what happens when you want to build on an empty lot in an historic district. I’d guess you’d have to pass muster by the Landmarks Commission, but does that mean you’d have to build in the style of what is there now? That empty lot looks just fine as it is (it looks better in the spring & summer), but a small corner structure across the street (not shown) is for sale; I wonder if people realize what they’re getting into when they buy in an historic district

An opening and a closing at opposite ends of a block. A long time deli near the Bedford Ave. L station closed last month. There is now plywood surrounding the storefront to keep us in suspense.

Bedford Ave. & North 7th St.

At the opposite end of the block at Driggs Ave. a long derelict storefront has opened as a hot dog store (the photo was taken before work finished).

Driggs Ave. & North 7th St.

A friend mentioned that he paid three bucks for one and didn't think too much of it, but that's just his opinion.

There was a little more activity at the neglected site at Driggs and Grand. New plywood went up around the construction site and some workers were seen around there for a bit but little appears to be happening right now.

I talk a lot about my dislike of contemporary architecture and it’s true that I don’t like most of what I’ve seen going up around the borough over the past few years. So much of it looks so pedestrian and boring as if it were thrown up by using a kit: Green Glass Building #5, or something; all those little Plexiglas balconies hanging off them. Most of them just “don’t play well with others,” (like the one below) and should be off by themselves or with their friends.

But occasionally I come across new buildings that look like a little more thought has gone into them. I still may not particularly like them where they are but that’s more a matter of location than actual design.

North 12th St. between Bedford Ave. & Berry St.

North 12th bet. Bedford & Berry

There are a couple I’ve noticed just lately and enjoyed looking at down on North 12th Street across from McCarren Park. They are in a block pretty much by themselves and so don’t suffer in contrast to some small 100-year-old brick building next door (or in this case the older buildings are nondescript enough not to matter).

North 12th bet. Bedford & Berry

And they’re not the usual glass box, they’ve got some flair. The one below reminds me of Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, “One does want a hint of color.” It is a little strange because they're the kinds of buildings I don't usually like. Maybe it's the splashes of color in a black and white wintry world. Or maybe my brain is frozen from walking around in the cold and I'll come to my senses soon.

North 12 at Berry St.

Now, a block away is a really big empty lot just waiting for some mammoth building. I bow to the inevitable, I don’t think there’s going to be another Romanesque Revival (my latest favorite style) very soon so we’ll no doubt have just a bit more of what is happening all around there.

North 12th looking from Driggs toward Bedford

But within those parameters a developer could make something really oppressive or something really exciting. All told, the buildings going up around the park aren’t that bad so I’m hoping for the best.

North 12th from Bedford toward Driggs

Still, it would be a shame to lose the perspective of that Orthodox Church down on Driggs.

I am just glad to see the back of this snow . . . at least for awhile, I doubt that we're out of the woods completely yet. I did try trudging around the area after the last one and it wasn’t pleasant, mainly because of the intersections.

Most people don’t do anything more than the minimum legal requirement as far as shoveling out, so if they live on a corner, often the sidewalk is cleared after a fashion until close to the corner and that’s it. Like it would kill them to take an extra couple of minutes to clear a spot at the curb?

A sidewalk along Vanderbilt Ave. shows what happens when no one wants to do any more than what’s absolutely required. There are two buildings in a particular block with a very narrow strip of grass between them, apparently belonging to neither. The sidewalks in front of each were cleared off but no one wanted to touch the strip in between, maybe about eight feet wide.

So you walked along a clear sidewalk and then had to slip and slide over top of an icy unshoveled section before you got back to a cleared sidewalk. As one of my office mates would say, “Jeez!”

But a lot of times it was just slushy muck on the street that had to wait for warmer weather.

The last Saturday that I was out walking, I had to go pretty far afield just to get rid of the cabin fever. So I took a long circuit from Williamsburg over through Fort Green to the library at Grand Army Plaza and then down Flatbush to Dean Street and so through Boerum Hill into Brooklyn Heights and around through Dumbo to get back to Williamsburg.

Dean St.

Boerum Hill is nice. It's hard to believe at times that you're just a few blocks away from Flatbush Avenue. That's the nice thing about Brooklyn, the way the neighborhoods change so abruptly at times.

Dean St.

Dean St.

I happened to be looking for a specific block in Brooklyn, down on Pierrepont Street near the esplanade. In one of my old books, discovered by way of Google Books, featuring old buildings in New York City, there was a photo of the block in an article from 1896 about a firm of New York architects named Cady, Berg, & See.

They designed the Museum of Natural History among other things, as well as some churches and other buildings in Brooklyn. The author of the article had something to say about almost every work pictured except Pierrepont St. Anyway, I was curious as to whether it was still there. It was/is.

Then on through Dumbo just for the hell of it (and because it was the easiest way to walk home). I think Dumbo looks its most authentic in nasty weather under gray skies.

It looks more like what it was supposed to be, a cheap, gritty haven for artists escaping from trendier parts of the city. In the nice weather in the summer it resembles downtown Greenwich on a Saturday morning. Still, I had expected this building below to be co-ops or condos by this time and it’s still the run down abandoned thing it was last summer when I took the second photo.

It still is pretty gritty where Dumbo melts into Vinegar Hill . . . no sidewalks, hardly any snow cleared, and fortunately few cars anyway.

That detective mystery by Irene Marcuse that I recommended a few postings ago? This is the building she featured in her story: the Peerless Paint factory.

I did get a chance to read the others she wrote and they are all good. I’m sorry she hasn’t written any more since around 2003.