Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gramercy Pawnbrokers

Recently, we had cause to worry about Gramercy Pawnbrokers. After surviving the luxury NYU dorm-condo that dropped on top of it (literally, on top of it), the little holdout pawn shop had a For Rent sign on its facade.

Fear not. The pawnbrokers were only renting out a sliver of their shop. A reader sent in the following shot of the new tenant--no cupcakes, no frozen yogurt, no 7-Eleven. Just a humble barber shop.

I would have missed the antique signage on the 24th St. side, and the strange, sad, lovely windows with their dusty violins, outdated calculators, and unpolished jewelry.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Meatpacking Before & After

Last winter, when photographer Brian Rose shared his shots of the Meatpacking District in 1985, I begged him to go back and take "after" photos of the same shots. I guess a lot of other folks begged him, too, because the man has done it. The result is, as expected, amazing, a vivid look at the old world and the new, 1985 versus 2013.

all photos by Brian Rose

The old world was meatpackers. In 1974, there were 160 businesses handling meat on those streets. Under metal awnings, sides of beef hung on hooks, dripping blood and fat onto the sidewalks, where men in red-smeared white smocks toiled in the pre-dawn dark.

The old world was underground BDSM sex. In the 1970s, gay leather clubs opened shop—The Anvil, The Spike, The Hellfire, and The Mineshaft, whose dark corners were brought into the spotlight by Al Pacino in William Friedkin’s 1980 film Cruising.

The old world was transgender sex workers. The cobblestones were their stroll. They worked in packs for safety, took coffee breaks at Dizzy Izzy’s bagel shop (since 1938), bought their outfits at Lee’s Mardi Gras, a store that catered to crossdressers. The Meatpacking District was the muddy edge of Manhattan’s universe, and nobody much cared what happened there.

During the AIDS crisis, business plummeted at the leather clubs as regulars got sick and died off. In 1985, the state gave permission to Mayor Koch to padlock all of the city’s gay bathhouses, bars, and clubs where “high-risk sexual activities” were taking place. City inspectors ventured into The Mineshaft and witnessed “many patrons engaging in anal intercourse and fellatio,” and heard “sounds of whipping and moaning,” reported the Times. (After reviewing the inspectors’ report, Mayor Koch said, “It's tough stuff to read. It must be horrific, horrendous in its actuality to witness.'') That year the Department of Health closed The Mineshaft for “violating the new anti-AIDS regulations.” It was the first of many such closures.

That same year, Florent Morellet opened a French-American diner in a shuttered old luncheonette called the R&L. Florent became a sensation, an after-hours spot for the leathermen and trend-seeking slummers alike. Morellet credits his restaurant for bringing "the first bit of gentrification to the area."

In the 1990s, rent was cheap, and in came the artists. New queer clubs opened, like the gay Lure, along with part-time lesbian hangout Clit Club, and the weekly party Jackie 60, an anything goes, non-exclusive scene for drag, punk, performance art, and poetry. Hogs & Heifers came to the neighborhood, attracting celebrities like Julia Roberts, who danced on the bar and donated her brassiere to their growing collection.

It was the beginning of the end.

A tipping point came in 1999. That year, two fashionable restaurants opened in the area, Markt and Fressen. Reviewers were not all gung-ho for the idea of fine dining on streets that reeked of blood and rotting offal. At the Post, Steve Cuozzo wrote, “Take the Meatpacking District--please. The streets smell like one big pancreas.” But the smell of money was also strong.

Next came the high-fashion retailers and the Friends of the High Line. Then it was Keith McNally’s Pastis, the restaurant often blamed with the greasy old Meatpacking District’s death. The moment the bistro opened in early 2000, people were lining up to get in. McNally claimed that Pastis would be “bohemian and unfussy, a kind of workingman’s place.” It was decidedly neither.

From there, the floodgates opened and the old world quickly came to an end. The meatpacking plants were pushed out. The transgender sex workers were chased out. The rents shot from $400 to $40,000 per month. Florent's old building, once the R&L Luncheonette, just sold this week for $8.6 million.

Brian Rose's photos tell the story of the Meatpacking District's massive shift, one photo pairing at a time--from quiet to crowds, low-rise to high-rise, rusted awnings to fresh coats of paint, meat houses to high-end boutiques, clunkers to luxury cars, poultry trucks to artisanal ice-cream trucks. Visit his website to see much more.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An Ode to the Urban Laundromat

We've talked to photographers obsessed with capturing the city's vanishing newsstands, its disappearing bodegas, and its fading storefronts. Now we meet one who has taken on the photographic preservation of its diminishing laundromats.

Snorri Sturluson is an Icelandic photographer living in New York City. With Powerhouse Books, he recently published Laundromat, a collection of photos of the city's laundromats, all taken from 2008 to 2012, in all five boroughs. In addition, the Introduction to the book, written by author D. Foy, provides a detailed account of laundromat lore.

I asked the photographer a few questions about his work.

All photos by Snorri Sturluson

Q: What drew you to the laundromats of the city?

A: As a photographer my initial interest in a story or subject is usually visual. I found the design, the look, the colors, the similarities and the differences in the Laundromats in NYC intriguing. So that was the initial draw. As often happens in art, the project took over and formed its own narrative.

The real subtext of the Laundromats, the true spirit, if you will, started to reveal itself. The Laundromat as an "oasis of despair" as my friend D. Foy puts it in the afterword is what really became the story. A Laundromat is not where most people prefer to spend their time. If we can avoid going there we will (most of us, at least). So the book really shows this utilitarian layer of New York that I think is familiar to many but also hidden to others, and there's an invisible line drawn there that is a bit of a social divide. That's what I think the narrative became. The poorer people spend time at Laundromats, the richer can afford a different solution (there are, of course, exceptions to this).

Q: How do the laundromats of New York compare to those in your home country of Iceland?

A: There are no Laundromats in Iceland, which is partly what made them interesting to me in the first place.

Q: Why do you think the laundromat has been such a victim of gentrification?

A: I think it's all tied in with the fact that we are becoming more and more sanitized and insular as a culture. Our lives are increasingly lived behind closed doors, figuratively and symbolically in our virtual, online realities. The distance between people increases as their wealth increases, and having money introduces different lifestyles. The Laundromat represents an old way of life, one where you are forced to air your dirty laundry in public, rub shoulders with your neighbors, be exposed to their dirty laundry and have an uncomfortable "closeness" with their being, and vice versa.

There's also a simpler answer, Laundromats in their essence, are a utilitarian service with low margins and can't survive on higher rents. Therefore, they're doomed to vanish as the cost of living goes up in a neighborhood and the residents prefer Dry Cleaners, full service laundry, and have access to laundry services in their luxury condo buildings (new or renovated).

There are still a lot of Laundromats in New York City (thousands), but I have noticed that in affluent neighborhoods that used to be less so, they are hard to find. In the poorer, older neighborhoods they're all over the place. Also, newer housing developments (poor and rich) tend to have laundry facilities in the buildings, so it's not only gentrification that's doing the Laundromats in; e.g., in areas of all the Boroughs where there is a lot of low income housing projects, there are actually no Laundromats.

Q: What do you worry we will lose when all the laundromats have vanished from the city?

A: There's a lot of character in all small businesses. Mom and pop shops give any neighborhood a distinct "Main Street/Neighborhood Flavor." The more New York City loses those unique and eccentric places to national or global chains like Starbucks, Pinkberry, and Whole Foods, the more homogenized the city becomes. I don't know that the Laundromats as such play an important community role--maybe they do, it's hard to say--but the disappearance of Laundromats is definitely part of a larger trend of gentrification.

However, I'm not all doom and gloom in this respect, and my job is really not to judge the inevitable process of change. I have simply tried to capture a moment in time with my photographs and only time will tell what is lost, or gained.

You can buy the book directly from Powerhouse, or find it at your local independent book shop.

Monday, August 26, 2013

W. 46th Tower to Come

When last we checked with 301 West 46th, on 8th Avenue, it was being readied for demolition. Since then, it's almost vanished.

Old plans for a new tower here were obsolete, scrapped when the market crashed. Now we hear about the new plan coming to replace it. New York Yimby has a photo:

And Crain's reports:

"The Mallorca-based hotelier RIU Hotels & Resorts is nearly done demolishing a derelict residential property at 301 W. 42nd St. on the multiparcel site. The site includes an adjacent vacant lot on Eighth Avenue just north of that building as well as one to the west along Restaurant Row. According to previous reports, RIU plans to build a 600-room, roughly 300,000-square-foot tower. Currently work on the five-story 301 W. 42nd St., an eyesore whose boarded up windows, ground floor porn shop and graffiti scrawled exterior made it look like a throwback to the avenue's gritty days decades ago, has reduced it to its second floor."


Again, something colorful, low-rise, accessible, with a fascinating history, is being replaced by something dull, big, exclusive, with no history at all.

Friday, August 23, 2013

*Everyday Chatter

Wednesday, Aug 28, rally to keep Quinnberg out of office--5pm at 7th Ave and Greenwich. [FB]

Greenpoint to get a massive condo tower complex complete with Poor Door. [NYS]

A review of the Bloomberg years. [NYer]

Cool and horrifying maps on how Bloomberg reshaped New York. [NYT]

The truth about Bloomberg's record on affordable housing. [Awl]

Even the milk is getting too expensive in East Harlem. [NYP]

Confessions of a Harlem gentrifier. [Salon]

Inside Red Hook's abandoned grain terminal. [Curbed]

Cats in windows. [TGL]

The ramen place that replaced 42-year-old Love Saves the Day has closed, after just a few years. And that's how this goes. [EVG]

New murals and graffiti photos from NYC in the 90s. [NYC90s]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bleecker Street Records

After more than 20 years in business, Bleecker Street Records will be vanishing from Bleecker Street.

But it will be reappearing right around the corner, in a new space at 188 West 4th St., between Jones and Barrow.

Earlier this year we heard they might be shuttering, maybe vanishing for good. Reported 1010 WINS: "the store will probably close in April, because the new landlord plans to jack up the rent to $27,000 a month. Chris Simunek believes that trend is running the Village. 'It’s absurd,' he said. 'You know, what’s going to go in there is a Starbucks or something, or just something that we already have plenty of.'"

More likely, it will be a frozen yogurt shop or candy store for adults--more of those are opening on Bleecker every day, as the street completes its total transformation into a cultural dead zone. (Bleecker Bob's has not been resurrected.)

Let's hope the record shop's new landlord lets them keep Skuzzball and Creeper, the store's ginormous cats, one of whom graces their T-shirt--which, by the way, is currently available in a very cool purple on black.

This is your last chance to buy the Bleecker Street Records shirt while it's still on Bleecker Street.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Greenwich Laundromat


When the Torrisi company announced their takeover of Rocco's restaurant on Thompson Street, I took a look at the neighboring Greenwich Laundromat and thought, "That's not going to last."

It had that look--the look of the vulnerable. Maybe it was the sign--hand-painted, faded, plenty of character.

Well, it's gone.

This often happens when upscale businesses move nearby. Property values go up and older, smaller businesses get the boot. Of course, we don't know exactly what happened here. Maybe it was just a coincidence and the Greenwich Laundromat people were ready to retire. Maybe they're moving on to greener pastures. But we also heard from a reader that Carbone might be expanding their space.

If anyone knows the story here, please let us know.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

10th Ave. Gas Station


Time to add yet another casualty to the High Line's hit list, as every single blue-collar business along its length is rapidly being wiped out.

When the blindingly bright luxury condo 245 10th Avenue rose up, wrapping itself around a Lukoil gas station to lean over the High Line, we knew the Lukoil couldn't last. No matter that the gas station was always busy, it just didn't fit with the new neighborhood. The two sides of the condo facing the gas station were built with no windows, obviously awaiting a future tower to come.

And now it's coming.

I walked by recently to find the gas station shuttered, its signs ripped down, and the whole thing surrounded by a wall of tastefully potted shrubbery--musn't upset the neighbors with unsightly developer blight.

A nearby worker told me it closed about a week ago. In a big story about High Line overdevelopment, the New York Post reported that the lot was purchased by luxury developer Michael Shvo "for $23.5 million--about $850 per square foot, which Shvo says is the highest price ever paid for a NYC residential development site."

The Wall Street Journal writes that the site will become "an art-themed, mixed-use condo and retail development that would connect to many of the galleries nearby. 'Something that will combine art, luxury residential, design and architecture,' [Shvo] said. 'We will have river views and we will be looking over the High Line.'"

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: The High Line is an unstoppable hyper-gentrification machine. As one broker told the Post, “It’s Dubai in New York. I’ve never seen such a landscape change so quickly. It’s like they’re building a whole city within the city.” (That same broker also claims that the day CVS opened on 10th "was a good day for West Chelsea." God help us.)

We'll add this one to the ever-growing list of blue-collar businesses shuttered since the second part of the High Line opened in June 2011:

8/2013: 10th Avenue gas station sold for condo tower
5/2013: D&R Auto Parts shuttered
5/2013: GGMC Parking Garage demolished
4/2013: Kamco Building Materials demolished for condo towers
2/2013: Evan Auto moved a block away
1/2013: Edge Auto Rental moved to Brooklyn
1/2013: Central Iron & Metal sold to Related for $65 million
12/2011: Brownfeld Auto pushed out by landlord, demolished for condos
12/2011: Chelsea Mobil sold and shuttered for upscale retail
9/2011: D&R Auto Parts reported 40% drop in profits since High Line opened
8/2011: Bear Auto forced out by landlord for upscale development
8/2011: Olympia Parking Garage closed when landlord quintupled the rent
6/2011: Poppy's Terminal Food Shop changed hands, later shuttered
6/2011: 10th Ave. Tire Shop pushed out for High Line development

Who's next? I worry often about the car wash next door. It's been in business for over 40 years, but for how much longer will the Gods of the High Line permit it to survive?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Rally at St. Vincent's

Today at noon, join mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio for a "Hospitals Not Condos Rally" at the site of the former St. Vincent's, on the northwest corner of Seventh and Greenwich Avenues.

Supportive celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Rosie Perez, and Harry Belafonte will be there, along with hospital workers and community activists who say, "We are demanding an end to the same bad policies that led to the tragic closing of St. Vincent's Hospital and its conversion into high end condos." (Maybe de Blasio will be arrested again, as he was at last month's hospital-closing protest.)

If you haven't taken a look at the battered, desecrated corpse that was St. Vincent's, now is a good time. The buildings have been demolished, down to a hole in the ground, but some brick shells remain. They will serve as the gutted skins of the luxurious Greenwich Lane.

"Live exactly where you want," says the copy that runs along the plywood of 11th and 12th Streets--and on the website where the development is described:

"The buildings of The Greenwich Lane have each been individually crafted with high-end, state-of-the-art, luxury living in mind. Many of the residences throughout have private outdoor spaces, and they all come together to surround one lush central garden, a quiet oasis in the style of historic village greens. The garden is just one of a staggering array of private amenities, all presented at a level of discretion unheard of in most West Village residences."

St. Vincent's was founded in 1849 as a charity hospital. It served the poor, the homeless, the hopeless. Now its skin is being sold to the super-rich as "Classic mid-century architecture."

Walls around the hospital used to carry different kinds of messages--missing persons flyers from 9/11 and, after its closure, thank-you notes from a city full of survivors.

Today, above each glossy panel of marketing copy, you see boarded-up windows. From the back, gutted rooms where the sick and dying once lay, where bodies swelled and bled, and hearts stopped beating. Soon to be filled with banal cocktail chatter and big-screen TVs.

A house of virulent epidemics, from cholera to AIDS, this site is now "A light-filled, pre-war jewel."

St. Vincent's, wrote David France in New York in 2010, "is a museum, almost, a place haunted by Whitman’s 'carols of Death.' We see the ghosts as we pass there even now, we hear their voices, their last words, we remember their weight in our arms, the way they vanished from those rooms."

Let these spaces be haunted by horrors. May the new residents never get a good night's rest. 

Don't forget, Bloomberg and Quinn let this happen. Keep Quinnberg out of office. Vote for de Blasio.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Nighthawks in the Flatiron

Yesterday, the Whitney Museum installed a temporary recreation of Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks in the Flatiron Building's Prow Artspace.

The Whitney's Curator of Drawings, Carter E. Foster, believes that the Flatiron's curved glass prow was part of the inspiration for the painting. You can read more about that theory in my interview with Foster here, as well as my own three-part search for the Nighthawks diner here.

With life-size cut-outs of the nighthawks in their places around the diner counter, and with the lights turned on at night, you can almost imagine yourself as a voyeur inside Hopper's scene--except he didn't have any iPhone texters in his painting.

You can see the installation at the Flatiron through October 6.

*Everyday Chatter

"Bill de Blasio will reportedly hold a press conference this Mon., Aug. 19, at noon, at the site of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital" ...and he'll be promising a new hospital. [Villager]

A goodbye to Jackie's 5th Amendment. [OMFS]

New owners to take over Kossar's Bialys. [TLD

You still have a little bit of time to dine at the original Odessa before it's gone. [EVG]

Watching the "Wall Dogs" paint. [WIC]

"A New York socialite was living there [before] and her boyfriend, who happened to be well known graffiti artist, painted it as a housewarming," Young explained.  "I thought it was an asset for the right person. It was such a cute pre-war apartment, and it was just really cute to have this graffiti." [DNA]

Young women dig through the garbage for spoiled cronuts. [Gothamist]

New UWS development comes with a separate door for the poor. [WSR]

Wayne Koestenbaum on Debbie Harry at the Supermarket. [NYer]

Great photos of Orchard Beach, the Bronx Riviera. [Agonistica]

Hotel St. James neon. [NYN]

Thursday, August 15, 2013

NYC Before & After

If you haven't yet had a chance to visit Paul Sahner's blog NYC Grid, now is a good time to start. He recently launched a "Before & After" feature in which he re-creates shots from the Library of Congress' collection of 20th century New York City photography--and then he binds those photos to his own with a "before and after" bar you can slide back and forth.

It gives you a momentary feeling of control over the city and its changing.

Slide the doohickey to the left and watch the city get boring as shoeshine men, neon signs, and well-dressed ladies vanish before your eyes.

Slide it to the right and watch the dull city of today magically disappear, replaced by puffing Camel signs, juice drink stands, and sailors on ice skates.

(Don't miss Paul's 1961 collection, too.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

De Blasio for New York

After 12 years under the billionaire mayor Bloomberg (4 more than was legal), the city has undergone massive, catastrophic change. In his drive to create a "luxury city" built exclusively for the wealthy, Bloomberg rezoned nearly 40% of the city's land mass, and much of that was up-zoning--knocking down old buildings, evicting residents and businesses, using eminent domain to steal people's property, so the real-estate developers could erect towers of glass loaded with amenities for the super rich.

Under Bloomberg, we watched our small mom-and-pop businesses struggle and die, while national and global chain stores proliferated exponentially like bedbugs. Many of those small businesses had been in the city for decades, run by third- and fourth-generation families. If you tally up all that history, well over 6,000 years of independent business were lost during the Bloomberg era.

Rents and home prices skyrocketed as neighborhoods were gentrified, and then hyper-gentrified. In Harlem alone, prices went up 222 percent between 2000 and 2012. The cultural heart of the city has atrophied, as artists can no longer afford to live here. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer, as the city's inequality gap is now on par with parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Vital parts of the city had their souls ripped out. Coney Island was leveled and is becoming a suburban shopping mall. Times Square was turned into a suburban shopping mall. Bleecker Street was turned into an upscale suburban shopping mall. I could go on...

We desperately need the anti-Bloomberg. That is why I am endorsing Bill de Blasio for Mayor of New York City. With a focus on repairing inequality, he's the only candidate who's saying "We need a real break from the Bloomberg years." The rich are afraid of him. He wants to tax the wealthy and "Take money away from big company subsidies," turning it into loans and tax incentives for small businesses. He wants to save our hospitals and create affordable housing. He was the only candidate in last night's debate to say that the real-estate industry is a problem for the city. As he said, "this city has been available to everyone, it's been open to everyone, anyone could make it here. That is now slipping away."

We need a mayor who will stop the bleeding. Bill de Blasio is not perfect, but I believe he's our best choice for the next mayor of New York City, and he's getting my vote. (Also, I'd like to stop writing this blog and if Quinn wins, the vanishings are sure to continue.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dirty Old New York

If you are at all obsessed with 1960s and 70s New York on film, you'll find a kinship with Jonathan Hertzberg, who has painstakingly and exhaustively spliced together movie clips from that gritty, grimy era to give us "Dirty Old New York, aka Fun City," a collection of three videos that immerse you in that time and place.

Start with Part One:

Dirty Old New York aka Fun City, Part I from Jonathan Hertzberg on Vimeo.

I asked Jonathan about the project and here's what he said:

"I'm a lifelong cinephile, and New York holds particular fascination for me because of how much I love the city and because it's constantly in flux. Over time, films shot on location in New York take on a secondary, documentary-like function, preserving images of places that no longer exist, or which exist in radically different form.

I've long been a voracious consumer of late '60s and '70s American cinema, in large part because of the 'anything goes' ethos that was prevalent in the industry at the time.

With the formation of the organization that would become the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting--groundwork laid by Mayors Lindsay and Beame--it became much easier for studios and filmmakers to use the city's vast and varied landscape. The fact that the city was in the midst of its own economic downturn made for a welcome and colorful, if often dangerously colorful, environment for Hollywood and independent film productions. And, obviously, that's a big part of how we got so many gutsy, street-level New York-set films in that period. So I wanted to showcase these films--both the famous and the unjustly obscure--in a visual and aural way that would be entertaining while also serving some historical purpose."

Fun City - '69 from Jonathan Hertzberg on Vimeo.

After you've watched Dirty Old New York, do not miss this 6-minute, Super-8 reel shot by Jonathan's late father in 1969. The man was not shy with his camera and he loved faces--he gets right into them. At the unusual sight of a movie camera on the street, people look back with shock, anger, and pleasure. From Times Square to Harlem and the Upper East Side, this one is a pure delight.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Coney Candy Comparison

Today, when you arrive at Coney Island and emerge from the train station, instead of the grand old Henderson Building, the first thing you see is the global chain candy store IT'SUGAR, topped with a billboard from which mega-developer Thor Equities (misspelled "Equites") welcomes you, as if Coney Island belonged to them. Which, actually, it does.

When IT'SUGAR opened this spring, The Brooklyn Paper reported that their CEO declared that customers would choose his shop over nearby old-timer Williams Candy because of IT'SUGAR's "sleek, trendy vibe and jumbo, novelty-size boxes" of big-brand candies like Nerds and Snickers.

So how do the two compare?

Local, family-run Williams Candy has been here for some 75 years. When you walk into their comfortable old shop, you are welcomed by the most wonderful aroma, a powerful mix of chocolate, roasted nuts, popcorn, and candy apples--which they make onsite by hand. The place is warm and inviting.

IT'SUGAR was founded in Florida in 2006, now with 68 locations. When you walk in to their Coney store, you don't smell anything. Maybe because it's mostly sealed inside plastic. Or maybe because your other senses are being assaulted by pounding pop music and a confusing array of colors, brands, and images, including several posters of sexy girls sucking lollipops and wearing Catholic-school miniskirts.

IT'SUGAR's CEO told Brooklyn Paper, “Our candy stores are not your typical ‘old fashioned and stale’ stores but more of a hip and cool place where customers can find so many exclusive, unique and fun products."

What are these more unusual products you won't find at Williams Candy? Well, there's the gummy Party Python, a giant snake shown cradled and suckled by three hot girls in hooker heels.

If that's too big to swallow, try the smaller, but no less potent, World's Largest Gummy Worm.

IT'SUGAR also has their own line of novelty mints, each in a creative tin. On the one for their "You Know You Want It" mints--not to be confused with their BITCH mints and FML (Fuck My Life) mints--they provide a listing of IT'SUGAR's "sweet philosophy" of life. The tin reads, "We believe in: conspicuous consumption, addiction to sugar, overindulgence, asking for forgiveness instead of permission, bending rules, being a little brighter than the rest," and more along those lines.

But IT'SUGAR is not just about candy. You can also find notepads for making HEY ASSHOLE notes, WTF notes, SHIT lists, and BITCH CITATIONS. You can buy clothing, too, like the girl's "flirty" tank top that says "Wanna Lick." 

I found it all rather overwhelming, and had to run away fast, fleeing to the warm, quiet bosom of Williams Candy, where a person can think and breathe.

None of the treats at Williams Candy tell you to be a greedy, sociopathic consumer. There are no pictures of teenage girls fellating the candies. There's no loud, repetitive pop music to jackhammer your brain.

At Williams, the treats are peaceful and modest. The candy apples, freshly dipped and be-sprinkled, sit patiently on their trays and wait to be chosen. They don't scream at you. They don't try to be "unique." They just exist--and they exist beautifully, with an old-fashioned sense of style.

There's nothing "stale" about that.

See more on Williams Candy

Now watch this little movie about Williams Candy:

Peter Agrapides, Owner of Coney Island's Williams Candy (v1) from The Brooklyn Ink on Vimeo.

Friday, August 9, 2013

*Everyday Chatter

The Nation endorses Bill de Blasio: "His candidacy is an opportunity for New Yorkers to reimagine their city in boldly progressive ways." [TN]

You have a little more time to dine at the original Odessa before it closes forever. [EVG]

Take a drive up Avenue D in the 1980s. [BB]

Watch The Birdman in its entirety--the story of an East Village CD and tape salesman. [Vimeo]

A Chelsea laundromat reveals its old sign. [FNY]

Big NYC developers getting subpoenas, including Joe Sitt, to see if they got tax breaks in exchange for campaign donations. [Crain's]

On the coming demolition of 5Pointz. [UC]

Union Street mural painted over. [HPS]

How landmarking helps affordability. [Villager]

Today and tomorrow: Huge record sale at the NYPL. [VF]

CBGB the movie, the trailer. [youtube]

"If any middle-class presence in a diverse neighborhood is evidence of gentrification...then it's impossible for a middle-class person not to gentrify." [AC]

Welcome to Bedwick. [Gothamist]

Mary Help of Christians is coming down in the East Village--luxury apartments are coming. Photo by reader Dan Spinello:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

University Diner Update

There's been busy activity at the former University Restaurant space, empty since the 60-year-old diner was evicted last September. What's moving in? The guy next door said, "It's some kind of international cookie place, like some kind of place that sells cookies and candies and stuff. Like chocolate. And cookies. Stuff like that."

We need more? We don't have enough fro-yo, ice cream, chocolate, cupcake, cronut, yum-yum, nom-nom places to placate one's inner child already?

What we do need is another diner--as street petitioner Margaret once asked for, "one that is low-key (soft lighting), affordable, with the same welcoming, friendly feeling."

I can guarantee you, the international cookie and candy place won't be any of those things. And great conversations like this definitely won't be happening there.

Save Our Diner
University Diner Closing

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Zipper at IFC

If you haven't yet seen the movie Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride, you absolutely must. I won't take no for an answer. And you're about to get your chance--the movie will be playing at IFC Center in the Village for a one-week engagement starting August 9.

Zipper tells the harrowing true tale of corporate and political greed as Bloomberg, real-estate developers, and other vampires battle for control over one of the city's last authentic places.

I asked the film's producer/director, Amy Nicholson, a few questions:

Q: What do you think was Coney Island's importance to the people of New York, and to the meaning of the city? Do you think it still holds the same importance today, after its gutting?

A: For more than a hundred years Coney Island has been near and dear to the hearts of New Yorkers and people from around the county and the world, in spite of her many ups and downs over time. Coney had become hugely important sometime around the mid 2000s because by that time New Yorkers had seen so much of the city changing at a breakneck pace. Brooklyn itself had become a brand! So Coney Island was this magical place with great aesthetics, all kinds of people and, yes, a little grit. It was really free of the stiffness that came with the a-bank-on-every-corner New York.

Coney Island’s history can’t be erased, and it will always have a special place in the hearts of many, but you can really feel the difference now. The new stuff is very nice, but it has no soul. And a lot of the guys who were down there running rides or working games are gone. They were part of Coney Island’s history and they gave it a lot of its character. One of the biggest losses for me personally was the signage created by Steve Powers and Creative Time back in 2002/2003--so much of it gone, thrown into dumpsters.

Q: What did we lose when we lost Coney Island to Bloomberg, Sitt, Zamperla, and the national chains?

A: I guess that depends on your perspective. If you work in commercial real estate, you probably think it’s great. If you work in the city’s finance department you’re happy that the new Coney Island has the potential to generate a fortune in tax revenue. If you already think that much of the city looks exactly like much of the rest of the country in terms of strip malls and the same 15-20 chain stores and restaurants then you’re definitely going to feel a great sense of loss when you get off the train at Stillwell Avenue and see the new Applebee’s, etc.

It’s getting harder and harder to find authentic places--anywhere in the country, not just New York. Places that are cozy, old, reeking with history, filled with stories, patina, gritty, fun, and welcoming. It takes a long time and a lot of serendipity for a place to develop those qualities. Think about your favorite bar, newsstand, home, roadside attraction, community garden, restaurant, carnival, diner, corner store, or neighborhood. If they disappear, what replaces them and how does it make you feel? I think Eddie (owner of the Zipper) said it best at the end of the film: “No matter what you put there, it’ll never be the same.”

Q: What made you decide to shoot on film?

A: Film is analogue like Coney Island. We were looking for a certain feeling and we felt like we could capture it best on film. Looking back, I should have my head examined! But I am so glad we did it. The project will always seem timeless which is exactly what we wanted.

Q: How did you get Joe Sitt for the movie? Wasn't he aware of how bad he would look?

A: It took a really long time. I called and met with his publicist. I think Sitt wanted to tell his side of the story and I actually don’t think he looks so bad. I mean, he’s a developer and this is what they do. The press made him look terrible during the throes of the rezoning, and we had to include that coverage in order to accurately tell the story. He actually made good counterpoints to some of the City’s rhetoric. I certainly don’t care for his taste in entertainment, that’s for sure. But I did not set out to make him the villain. Capitalism is the villain for me. And politics-as-usual. Oh, and it did take me a very long time to actually get a signed release form!

Q: What's happened in Coney since the film ended? What's left that makes a visit still worth it--and not totally heartbreaking?

A: With the exception of Deno’s and a few other games and rides, pretty much acre for acre most of the old rides and attractions (along with their owner/operators) have been replaced by new rides and attractions all managed by Central Amusements International/Zamperla. The devastation brought on by Sandy made it painfully clear to all parties that much of the large-scale development of big-box retail, hotels, theme restaurants, etc., is going to have to wait until some genius can figure out how to change the weather.

Go and sit on the beach and watch the people. They are fantastic. Starting with the trip out there on the train on a Saturday morning, there are always some excited kids with floaties all ready to go. The closer the train gets to the last stop, the more mental they become. So, to them, Coney is as great as it ever was.

Go to the Eldorado for the best music ever and those great disco lights. Williams Candy is my favorite place in the whole world. The Coney Island USA Freak Show is totally worth it. Wonder Wheel and Spook-a-rama are great. The History Project always has something good going on and right now they have the old Cyclops. Take quarters to put in Miss Coney Island next door, and for Grandma’s Predictions under the Wheel. I can’t do the Cyclone anymore, but I could stand there and watch it all day.

Q: What do you think is the future for this one-time wonderland?

A: Sadly, no one can simply throw it in reverse because the minute the city decided to rezone it and Sitt decided to swoop in and start buying up property, it was over. That land is now worth whatever can be built on it, and whatever the next landowner is willing to pay. And both sides agree that at the cost of land, amusements is a non-starter. There’s no more protective zoning for amusements, and although the city leased the parkland they created to Zamperla, it’s a fixed amount of land and it’s one operator. The infrastructure has to be addressed before anything too big can be built anywhere outside of the parkland, but no future administration can undo what has been done unless they use eminent domain.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Madison Ave. Baptist Parish House


A tipster writes in that the Parish House of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, at 30 East 31st St., "is going to be put on the market in the next year. The owner wants to deliver the building empty, because apparently if torn down (gasp!) the lot can be developed some 30 stories up--perfect for a fancy high-rise or hotel. It still has a gorgeous old elevator that needs to be hand operated, and the detail in the building is exquisite. Built in 1905, it should be landmarked."

The Parish House has had a long history of providing space to arts organizations. The Viola Farber Dance Company moved here in 1977, after a previous eviction, and in 1978 the Parish House was also home to the Bel Canto Opera Company.

Currently, the building houses The Dokoudovsky New York Conservatory of Dance, where classes take place in a gorgeous studio with 28-foot ceilings, and the New York Theatre Ballet, about which the Times wrote, "This place really does know children and how to introduce them to the joy of dance."

The news of the sale also came out recently in The Real Deal. They wrote,

"When the market turned around this year, the church decided it was time to sell, 'due to the inability to rehabilitate the building [because of cost], the exorbitant upkeep cost and the current market condition,' wrote Faith Grill, chair of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church Trustees, in a letter to parishioners...

The development, with 46,500 buildable square feet, is zoned for ground-up construction of a residential or hotel property including ground-floor retail."

The building is beautiful. The American Institute of Architects Guide to New York City describes it as an "Offbeat gem in brick and limestone. Middle Eastern motifs decorate the spandrels of its Romanesque Revival body. Atop it all a copper cornice forms an overhanging eave supported by exotic brackets."

Even the sign above the door is special. Thomas Rinaldi at New York Neon says it's a rare panel reflector, of which only three exist in Manhattan, and which date back to the 1920s and 30s. Rinaldi writes, "This very handsome sign is one of my favorites of any variety in New York, with great blackletter and script lettering, and stainless steel and porcelain enameled sheet metal."

Ladies in the Parish House, 1907, from MCNY

How is this building not landmarked?

According to the LPC, "The Landmarks Law requires that, to be designated, a potential landmark must be at least 30 years old and must possess 'a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation.'"

I'd say the Parish House qualifies. If you agree, please submit the form to propose it for landmarking. Even if the buyer turns it into a shopping mall, landmarking means it won't be demolished.