Monday, January 13, 2014

Finally, Something To Be Proud Of

After years of having all manner of charmless, graceless structures foisted on our neighborhood, finally, Williamsburg has something to be proud of.

Back in April, 2011, the owners of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building at the corner of Driggs  Avenue and Broadway began renovating the building.

It's taken close to three years and the outside renovations are finished at last (or all but, there is still a little cosmetic work being done in spots). And it was definitely worth waiting for.

I don't know what it's going to be used for. At one point I heard that the outdoor market over on the river was going to move here, then I heard it was going to be a sort of conference center. I don't really keep my ear to the ground any more so the plans could be widely known but I don't know them.

I was stopped by a woman out on Broadway last year and asked if I would sign some sheet that said I had no objection to a facility there having a liquor license. I think she said that part of the building would be used as a kind of banqueting facility. Maybe it's all part of the same plan. I signed the sheet. Considering how our MIA Community Board has let Bedford Ave., Grand St., and surrounding streets turn into Barlandia, I really couldn't complain about a banqueting hall out on Broadway.

I haven't wanted to do much with this blog because the way the neighborhood has changed is so depressing that on many days I want to pack up and leave. And I still think that there isn't much wrong that a few planeloads of Napalm couldn't cure. But more of that later (maybe). Why mar the photos of an attractive building with depressing thoughts like those.

I checked, they even set the clock to the correct time. Sadly this is the one part of the building that cannot be seen as it originally was because of the Williamsburg Bridge approach/exit roads and, more importantly, the elevated J/Z tracks directly behind the building. As it is now, the clock can only be seen, obliquely, from the sidewalk going past. The dumpsters for Peter Luger's are under there behind a locked gate; someone was dumping a load of refuse when I went by and I took the opportunity to dart in and shoot a photo of the clock. As usual, click on a photo to see it in its full size.

4th of July

 I went back to my blog posts this morning intending to put together a new post and found this, dated July 4, 2012. I have no idea why I didn't post it at the time. Maybe I was dissatisfied with it, maybe I hoped to add to it . . . text or photos. I can't remember now. I don't even know if the links are any good anymore. So, what the hell, I might as well post it. It was from when McCarren Pool reopened after years of renovation. Then I can get back to what I was really going to post this morning.

It has been so long since I published a post that I forgot my user name and password. Well, unemployment can have that effect on a person. Between trolling for job possibilities in publishing and taking care of the dog, there ain't an awful lot of time for blogs.

I had mentioned in an earlier post that the McCarren Pool was set to open this summer. I wandered down that way with the dog occasionally to see how things were going and it looked like such a mess right up to a week before opening that I thought they wouldn't make it. But they did. Some before and after shots . . .

The Lorimer Street sidewalk in front of the pool entrance.

The pedestrian path directly in front of the pool.

The entrance to the pool.

I haven't actually been inside the pool since it opened but I assume it doesn't look like this any longer since it's said to be filled to capacity with swimmers each day.

But the re-opening after almost thirty years doesn't have the fairy-tale ending that Mike Bloomberg surely was hoping for.

Lifeguards attacked at McCarren Pool

A day after violence, crowds jam McCarren Pool

Officer punched at McCarren Pool

Neighborhood tensions flare at reopened pool

Sometimes I wonder if the writers for the New York Times ever visit the places they report on:  "A place where the children of hipster artists . . .", "For example, in Williamsburg, which has attracted waves of artists in recent years, . . ." (from that last story).

Williamsburg these days is mainly about bars and the bar-hoppers who come to the neighborhood to block the sidewalks while smoking and chatting and texting on their androids. This afternoon while walking the dog I was almost pushed off the sidewalk on Driggs by some young yuppies walking three abreast across the sidewalk and totally oblivious to anyone else in the vicinity.

I know of a couple who were among the pioneer gallery owners back in the 1990s and who are struggling to hang on because the developers have turned Williamsburg into just one more upscale neighborhood. People are buying 100-year-old tenements for far more than they can afford and then attempting to buy out or evict the tenants so that they can double the rent for idiots who are willing to pay top dollar for a railroad flat out of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn just because Williamsburg is the hot neighborhood of the moment. "Bah, humbug," as someone used to say.

And speaking of unnecessary development . . .

This used to the the corner of Driggs Ave.and Grand St. It's a Google Earth picture because all my old photos are stashed away on DVDs and hard to get to at the moment.

This is the same corner today.

It's so lovely. And no, I'm not so naive as to think that it would remain an empty lot forever, but given the time I might have thought of a few hundred other things that I'd rather see there, like a gas station or a supermarket with reasonable prices. I'm not the only one worried about what that corner will be like when the heptaplex opens. I am still keeping my fingers crossed for a minor earthquake or a meteor.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Doing More Right Things

Down the block at Metropolitan Ave. there is a large storage (?)/showroom building owned by Puccio, one of our long-time local businesses (Puccio Marble & Onyx). It was a big white concrete box with plywood covered window openings scattered around the two sides facing the street.

It wasn't the prettiest building around but was at least suitable to its purpose and had no pretensions to anything else. Not the worst building in our neighborhood, either.

Then, one day at the end of last May, the usual wooden barricades appeared along the surrounding sidewalks that herald either a major transformation or, worse, a demolition.

I'm happy to say that someone made the right decision and the building was transformed rather than demolished, possibly because Puccio may still be using the ground floor. One of their stone yards still sits at the far end of the building. I am thinking this because the large garage doors were left, but perhaps it's now parking for the apartments above.

They made the right choice because I'm sure that if it had been demolished we would have been saddled with another example of Williamsburgh Moderne. All colored glass and cute little Plexiglas balconies.

It's still pretty unpretentious but it's better than inflicting a gash on the neighborhood. And they even saved the trees (with luck they may plant a few more along the Driggs Ave. side).

Over the weekend I watched the (original) 1974 production of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Not only was it a slight shock to be reminded that the subway fare at the time was only 35
¢, but the ransom demanded by the hijackers was only $1 million, and even that was split four ways! For $250,000 you probably can't even buy a co-op in Bed-Stuy these days. I haven't seen the remake but I wonder what Travolta demanded from Denzel.

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.