Thursday, October 25, 2012

*Everyday Chatter

You must see "Zipper" at the NYC Documentary Fest--a heartbreaking and enraging story about greed, politics, and destruction in modern-day Coney Island. [DocNYC]

Gimme Gimme Records is gone. Here's the last letter they received, from a distraught customer. [EVG]

About that random piece of High Line in Yvonne's 1980s was over Jane Street. [FNY]

On trucks full of firewood and ice. And icepicks. And stab wounds. [WIC]

Playland Arcade, the wonderful Coney ruin, is currently under demolition. [ATZ]

Going back to the Gas Station, the "former gas station that turned into a junkies' shooting gallery that turned into an art-installation-cum-performance space over on Avenue B," now a Duane Reade. [FP]

A new fro-yo joint is coming to Park Slope, and the locals share their thoughts: WTF. ANOTHER ONE? It's better than an effing cell phone store [crossed out]. We should get a Sprint Store.

History on the neon sign of the Keller Hotel. [NYN]

Take a walk down 2nd Avenue in the East Village--10 years ago. [J&KM]

Meet Ricky Powell, a native New Yorker and photographer, feeding squirrels and talking about the new Greenwich Village, where he writes graffiti to say: "Fuck the new-jack cornballs" with their "creepy, ugly vibes," and "Go back to schmucksville." [Vimeo]

In Astoria, the mayor is still Koch. [OMFS]

The watercolor streetscapes of 6th Avenue in the Village, by AFineLyne. [UNY]

An artist watches artist studios wipe out the factories and warehouses of Bushwick. [TUH]

A comic-strip take on the B&H Dairy. [YB]

Enjoy scenes of Tompkins Square Park in 1988--thanks to Michelle Shocked:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Colony Gone

In August, we first learned that Colony Music would be vanishing after 60 years in Times Square. Their landlord hiked the rent to $5 million. Now Colony is gone. All the sheet music, the CDs, the memorabilia is gone. A reader sends in the following snapshots.

The windows are empty.

The neon lights are off.

And the inside is gutted.

And what's coming to replace those 60 years of history?

Monday, October 22, 2012

1980s Treasure Trove

Every so often, someone scans a bunch of old photos of the lost city and puts them up on Flickr--and that is a glorious day. When Yvonne B. got in touch with me and shared the photos she took of the Meatpacking District in the 1980s, I got excited. And she had more. Now they're all on Flickr.

The photos mostly span the East Village, Greenwich Village, and the High Line (with whole lost chunks of 14th Street). Some of my favorites from the more than 100 images include:

A burned-out car on Crosby Street, and the crapped-out corner of 2nd Ave. and 5th St.

A lost theater on 2nd Ave. and 4th--does anyone know the name of it?

A mural on 8th St. at 1st Ave., along the side of what was once the St. Mark's Bar & Grill.

Rescued Estates, before the "Crazy Landlord" rented the place to The Bean coffee shop. And "Mambo Mouth" in the days before STOMP took over the Orpheum Theater on 2nd and 7th.

Here's a spindly, stand-alone piece of the High Line that has since vanished, never to be greened and surrounded by glass.

And a lovely, shadowy luncheonette beneath the old High Line--can anyone place this location?

There are so many more--coffee shops, gay bars, famous clubs, crumbled warehouses, scorched tenements, places familiar and forgotten. Yvonne can't name them all--visit her Flickr page and help identify some of the locations.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Help Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Books

A few years ago, I looked at the survivors of Carmine Street. It seemed at the time like this little stretch of the Village had been forgotten by development. Of course, that could not last forever. Change is barreling in with the distasteful news of an IHOP coming to Carmine Street (the broker who made the deal said, "People don’t even know where Carmine Street is — yet. We’ll fix that").

And now we hear that Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Bargain Books is struggling--and doing what it takes to stay alive in this unfriendly atmosphere for bookstores and other independent businesses.

Reader Felix sent in a shot of the bookstore--now sharing its space with a Metro PCS to make ends meet. Wrote Felix, "This can’t be a good sign, and this is one of my favorite book stores."

For the next 26 days, the bookshop's owners team up with Lucky Ant--and with you--to help them stay strong on Carmine. Says the press release, "Jim Drougas and his wife Indiana have run Unoppressive, at 34 Carmine Street, for over 20 years. They are a highly curated independent bookstore that has and continues to cater to the west village arts community. Unlike other bookstores, Unoppressive is not going under, but they do sense that times are tough and want to plan for owning a bookstore in the 21st century market place."

Watch the video, visit the website, and pledge some cash to help the bookshop expand to remain in business. (You'll get a nice gift!) Keep the Village safe from total IHOP-ization.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

13th & Washington

At 837-843 Washington Street, on the corner of 13th, demolition has begun on what once held the last working meatpacking house in the center of the Meatpacking District. The space will soon command rents of $600 a square foot.

today: the plywood is up

2011: No signs, street art + small-wheel cyclist

2007: Signs on the awning for active business

837 Washington was sold back in 2008 by GOP leader James Ortenzio, after he pleaded guilty to tax evasion. He had been renting out the refrigerated warehouses here to meat businesses for well below market rate, keeping them alive.

Not very long ago, you could still see the movement of meat from the building's open doors, through which men labored at stainless steel tables.

2007: Wooden palettes, a sign of work being done

2011: Graffiti replaced by street art

today: workers bust a hole through the bricks

GVSP published a history of the building and images of its future. It was built in 1938 and housed throughout its lifetime almost nothing but meat. Among its last tenants were the Ottomanelli Co., Lamb Unlimited, and Diamond Meat Packer.

In these photos I took in 2007, you can still see the meatpackers' signage, bent and swinging under the corrugated awning.



There were once 250 meatpacking companies in the neighborhood. In 2003 there were only 35, and another 9 meatpackers moved out in 2009 alone, including the big Interstate Foods, which was demolished earlier this year to make room for a glass tower. Now that Weichsel's is being pushed out, what's left remains in the city-owned Gansevoort Meat Market Cooperative.

The red- and yellow-brick shell of 837 will remain, hollowed out to hold something very new.

There was a brief battle over the future of the building and what will stand on top of it--a giant glass box or a Niketown-style plan. The "twisty Mepa tower" won this past summer.



the future

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Meatpacking 1980s

When Yvonne B. commented on my post about Ivy Brown and the Triangle Building, I wrote to her and asked if she might share some of her memories of life as a young transgender woman in the Meatpacking District in the 1980s. Very generously, she sent along not only her memories, but also a group of wonderful photos. The following is all Yvonne.

I didn't live in the Meatpacking area. I just went there cause of the Vault club. I wasn't one of the regular street walkers, I was mostly a loner who at times would get picked up by passing guys who cruised looking for transsexual hookers. I wasn't dressed sexy like the other girls. I was a punk t-girl, but some guys thought it was a cute style, so they took me. I needed money to live.

I looked quite young for my age and I believe I attracted a maybe more perv type of guy, maybe pedophile type. They were nasty. I met them in Times Square, as well. One night a guy drove up to me and he looked just like a teacher I had in school. It felt strange so I walked away.

As I said, I was mostly a loner. I went to the Vault club quite a few times in the mid eighties. I had two friends that I went with, Jimmy and Linda. I would like to know what happened to them, maybe just to know if they are doing OK. I met a few strange characters at the club. One was a guy dressed in rags crawling around the floor. There was also the horse guy with a saddle on his back. It was a bizarre club but it seemed like the men outnumbered the girls in a big way, and single girls seemed kinda rare.

I do remember one night a bunch of street girls ran into the bagel store when a police car cruised by, as if the police would never think to look for anyone in the only store open in the area.

I don't remember the bone trucks. But I do remember the bone trucks where I grew up in the Bronx. People called them the glue trucks cause they thought the bones were used for making glue.

I did go to the Meatpacking area in the daytime when I sometimes went to Lee's Mardi gras store. I knew that Lee Brewster was an influential figure on the rights of the transgender, so I thought that buying things there was the least I could do to say thanks. The building that housed Lee's had an elevator that opened right onto the street. There was no lobby or entrance way, just an elevator door. Someone from Lee's would come down with the elevator to sort of escort one to the store. I kinda knew two people that worked at Lee's, Shannon and Robbie. Shannon was in the movie Wigstock. She was in the scene fitting Joey Arias with a wig that was like putting on a helmet.

I was told through the rumor mill that Raquel Welch would shop at Lee's, but I don't know for sure. The store had its mix of people, from transsexuals to hairy suburban crossdressers. I heard that some of the crossdressers were truck drivers shopping after they unloaded their goods and had spare time to shop for frilly clothing.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Highline Flats

This past spring, alongside the High Line at 10th Avenue and 17th Street, the old brick building that houses Artichoke Basille's Pizza was looking desolate, the windows empty or boarded up. I wondered what was happening there.

Spring 2012

On a more recent visit, what happened has become clear. From the High Line, you can see into the open windows--the plywood is gone and the apartments have been gut renovated.


The building is now being marketed as "The Highline Flats." Per the listing, these are: "Newly renovated Pre-War Flats in the hottest section in West Chelsea. Steps from The Highline...Make the Highline Flats your new home in the city."

The open house is this week.

From the bits I can put together, somewhere between 2007 and 2009, the building owner changed from 114 Tenth Ave Assoc. to the aptly named Highline Properties, LLC.

Soon after, complaints to the Department of Buildings began to multiply, becoming more and more intense as time went on. Complaints about illegal wiring and lack of permits turned into reports about illegal subdivisions, with ceilings being opened to fit spiral staircases between apartments, removed walls, and even a removed staircase. That complaint reads, "CLR STS STAIRCASE WAS REMOVED FROM 4FL TO 5FL AND FROM 5FL TO ROOF, SO THERE IS NO WAY TO GET OUT OR IN OF THIS FLOORS." A stop work order was given and later rescinded.

Spring 2012

During that same time, attracted to the High Line, the hyper-popular Artichoke Basille's Pizza moved in after a battle with the neighbors. Reported Chelsea Now in 2010, "A female resident of 457 W. 17th St., the building that houses the restaurant, also objected to alcohol sales because of the already raucous situation she observes on the streets below her apartment. 'Every night we cannot sleep till 6 o’clock in the morning—6 o’clock... They’re vomiting there, they’re sleeping there—it’s terrible, it’s terrible.'"

But after November 2011, like magic, the residents stopped complaining about the renovations and the pizza place. Maybe that's because the residents had vanished. A partial vacate order went through that month.

my flickr, 2009

One apartment, however, has not been renovated. Through the window, you can see dusty plants and the clutter of a life long-lived in one small space. It's an island in the midst of The Highline Flats. High up, in the front, someone might still be seen leaning out, looking at the changing view, a human artifact of another city. I hope the new neighbors will be kind to her.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shutting Down XXX Chelsea

Reader Chris writes in with a report on a flyer circulating around Chelsea calling for the closure of The Blue Store and Rainbow Station, two adult gay shops on 8th Avenue.

Chris writes, "I was walking my dog around on 8th Ave. between 20 and 21 when I saw a bunch of flyers calling for the neighborhood to get the Blue Store and the Rainbow Store closed down – because of children! This is the same corner with the Manhunt ad which had local mommies in a rage."

"This is clearly the work of local mommies who moved to a gay neighborhood and now are trying to de-gay it and completely familify and Disney-fy Chelsea. And these mommies who are so concerned for their children’s safety have 3-dollar-an-hour nannies take care of them most of the time, and then are on their phones texting when they are with their children."

photo from Elvert Barnes' flickr

photo from Senor Blancito's flickr

Chris adds, "Those stores have been there for a good 10 years and nobody complained about children’s safety when it was a bunch of brown and black children in the hood, or children of parents who moved to a gay neighborhood and wanted it to stay that way. And of course if they manage to get them shut down, no one will complain when they are turned into a Subway and a Bank of America."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

El Faro

Recently, DNA reported that Spanish restaurant El Faro has been closed indefinitely, "as its owner tries to raise more than $80,000 to pay city fines and other expenses." The city found mice in the 85-year-old place--they also want El Faro to be renovated to meet the city's standards.

El Faro opened in 1927, when the Village was full of Spanish sailors, and has been surviving at the edge of the Meatpacking District ever since. It's got that Last Mohican look about it. I've gone in a few times, worried that it would not last much longer, that it would soon be targeted in the Bloombergian cross-hairs. A newcomer, I was always welcomed and felt as if I'd stumbled into an older New York, where everyone knows everyone, and they all have a dusty, slightly patrician air.

Nothing this warm and welcoming could be allowed to remain in the new New York. Not here on this plot of prime real estate.

El Faro is proud of the fact that it has never changed. On the website, they say that many customers "have grown up inside El Faro and it is a part of their family, a place that is as comfortable to them as the house they grew up in. El Faro is the same as it was when their parents came here on their first date, 30 years ago! They can sit in the same booth, eat out of the same pot, the food is the same as when they first came!"

As El Faro's owner told DNA, "A lot of people are distraught. We have people who have come here for four generations with their families. I am receiving a great amount of kindness from my customers... It's like an extension of their house," he said. "We delivered food to some of our elderly [customers] and even brought them milk and bread if they couldn't leave home. It was more than a restaurant."

But won't it look great as a Marc Jacobs store?

What can we do to make sure that never happens, and that El Faro stays open and unchanged for generations to come?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jefferson Market Spooked

What happens to a New York City landmark after it's been gutted and dropped, after it's lain vacant for months, after it's been forgotten? Well, if it's the month of October, it gets turned into a pop-up Halloween costume store.

Opened in 1929, the Jefferson Market closed in 2008 under dire financial circumstances. Said the owner at the time, “We were running it like a mom-and-pop when we shouldn’t have been."

In 2009, it stopped being a mom and pop when it re-opened under ownership of Gristede's and turned into something like a "Jeffertedes." That failed, the place shuttered in 2011, and it has sat empty and "for rent" ever since.

Today it's filled with Halloween paraphernalia. Few traces of the original market remain. The temporary tenants have cleverly used the Butcher Shop signage as gruesome decor.

And if you're looking for a plus-size Cupcake Girl costume, this is the place.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Queer Books for NYC

In recent years, Manhattan has lost the last of its LGBT bookstores. Now The Bureau of General Services - Queer Division is looking to bring a queer independent bookstore and event space to Manhattan. I asked co-founder Greg Newton about their plans.

What is your mission in bringing a queer bookshop and event space to NYC? Why now?

The idea for the project began last fall when my partner Donnie Jochum and I were walking near the former location of A Different Light, and we asked ourselves: "When did A Different Light close? And when did Oscar Wilde close?" Then it dawned on us that there were no gay bookstores left in Manhattan. "We should do it!" That was our initial response. But we wanted it to be a queer bookstore, not a gay bookstore.

Of course, there is Bluestockings, the activist bookstore on Allen St., which has a lot of queer titles and events. Bluestockings is a wonderful resource, and we hope to collaborate with them. I volunteered there over the summer, and they've been very supportive. And we learned about Bent Pages, an LGBT bookstore on Staten Island that sells used and out-of-print titles. But we feel that Manhattan needs and can surely sustain a bookstore and event space specifically dedicated to serving queer people and our allies.

Indie bookstores are opening in Brooklyn and Queens, but they're shuttering all over Manhattan. How do you plan to make it work in the borough that is increasingly indifferent to books and small businesses?

We thought a lot about opening in Brooklyn. I've lived in Brooklyn for 18 years, and I'm excited to see so many bookstores opening up here. But ours is not a general bookstore, so it needs to be centrally located. As much as I love Brooklyn, I know that there are still many Manhattanites who are reluctant to cross the river, whereas the reverse is generally not the case. And while more tourists are venturing out to Brooklyn, Manhattan is still where most tourists spend their time.

While many new bookstores have emerged in Brooklyn and many have closed in Manhattan, there have been a few new bookstores in Manhattan. Mast Books, on Avenue A, opened in 2010. La Casa Azul opened in East Harlem recently. And then there's Word Up in Washington Heights. Veronica Liu's intention was to open Word Up as a one-week project, but it celebrated its one-year anniversary this past June. We find this all very inspiring.

We know that we're taking on a challenging task. But we're seeing that so many people want this to happen; so many people have told us, "New York needs this." Our goal is to have lots of events to keep people coming in and to invite people to use the space in creative ways. Part of the reason we chose to call ourselves the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division was to signal our desire to serve people, to provide services. And the primary service we will provide is a space for queers and allies to socialize, debate, organize, and perform. We will also exhibit and sell art and artists' books, and when we find a permanent home we will have a small cafe. We chose to leave the word "bookstore" out of our name because we want people to think of the Bureau as a place where things happen, a place that also sells books, art, and publications.

I heard a rumor you're looking in the East Village. How's the search going?

Right now, we're looking for a space for a pop-up shop that we'll open for the holiday season. We have some exciting leads on the Lower East Side--we hope to make an announcement very soon. Our goal is to open in a permanent location in early spring.

How did you decide on the word "queer," which can be a tricky one, especially for older generations or more conservative gay and lesbian folks?

From the start, we wanted it to be a queer bookstore, not a gay bookstore. We are excited by the current proliferation of the term "queer." "Queer" is an expansive term, one that continues to grow. It is inclusive. It is not narrowly defined. And it reclaims a pejorative term, one that was used to deride those who did not conform to gender and sexual norms.

"Queer" includes bisexual, transgender, and intersex people. "Queer" includes anyone who does not conform to dominant gender and sexual norms. "Queer" is an open and expanding term. It just won't sit still and behave itself. How can you not love it?

What kinds of events do you hope to have in the space?

We want to have readings; musical, theatrical, and dance performances; film screenings; art exhibitions; interviews and discussions; reading groups; debates; workshops/classes; and lectures. We very much hope that people will approach us with proposals, and we hope to engage a wide variety of populations.

Tell us about the upcoming fundraiser. What can people expect at the event?

The fundraiser is happening Friday, October 12, 2012, from 7 to 9 pm at ClampArt, 521-531 West 25th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues, Ground Floor. There is a suggested donation of $20 and there will be beer and wine--and tote bags.

We're very excited to have donations from a diverse group of authors and artists, and one institution. We'll soon have images of some of the donated works on our website. They include signed out-of-print and first edition books, collages, paintings, drawings, prints, and an artist's book. And Sarah Schulman is donating a tarot card reading! We will also sell books and zines and BGSQD merchandise. From 7 to 8:30 people can view the works and place bids. We're very excited that the poet Pamela Sneed will do a reading. We saw her perform in June at Housing Works, and she rocks!

Check out the site for the present list of participants.
Join the BGSQD on Facebook and visit their website.