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.