Monday, March 31, 2014

Malaysia Beef Jerky

Sometimes you stumble upon places and things that remind you that this city is not dead--yet. Not entirely. And it gives you a flutter of hope. After many years of walking all over town, there still remain entire blocks, even in Manhattan, that are unknown to you. So it was when I stepped into Malaysia Beef Jerky at 95A Elizabeth Street in Chinatown.

Under an awning bearing the silhouettes of a pig, chicken, and cow, the place is a scruffy little hole in the wall, filled with Buddhist altars and the sweet, spicy fragrance of jerky.

The three people behind the counter are businesslike and abrupt. As it should be. An unsmiling woman stands at a sizzling grill in the window, turning thin-sliced squares of pink meat with a pair of tongs.

The meat is then stacked in a glass case, under warming light bulbs, behind signs with their simple, no-nonsense names: Beef Jerky, Chicken Jerky, Pork Jerky, spiced or not spiced.

Five bucks will get you a quarter pound, warm and greasy, stashed in a paper bag. Just the right amount to eat with your hands while you're walking around, looking for more of the hidden city.

(How long before some asshole opens an "artisanal" jerky shop a block away, offering flavors like truffle oil, tarragon, cardamom, and of course the uber-hip sriracha, and then this place will be turned into a macaron shop? In other words, go -- now -- and get some real artisanal jerky. Because, while Chinatown's been slow to gentrify, you never know.)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Save Jim's Shoe Repair

Last month, I wrote about the forced closing of Jim's Shoe Repair, a beloved fourth-generation business that has been on E. 59th Street since 1932. The story has since appeared on Fox 5 News, and this week Jim's was named by Time Out one of the best shoe repair places in the city.

Jim's landlord, S.L. Green, is denying them a new lease and handing their space over to Walgreens, so the neighboring Duane Reade can expand its already large, block-through space. Once again, sky-high rents and the chaining of New York is pushing out our local culture.

Please sign (and share) this petition to save Jim's.

If you'd like to do more, please write to S.L. Green, letting them know you want Jim's to stay. Write to them electronically by clicking here, or via regular mail:

S.L. Green
420 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10170
Tel: 212-594-2700

You can also write to Walgreens and tell them you don't want them taking over Jim's. Write to them electronically by clicking here. Or via regular mail:

Walgreen Co.
200 Wilmot Road
Deerfield, IL 60015

Or write directly to the Duane Reade store in question:

41 E 58th St.
New York NY 10022
Tel: 212-421-4880

Sample texts--feel free to edit, etc.:

Dear S.L. Green:

It has come to my attention that you have denied a lease renewal to your long-time tenant Jim's Shoe Repair on East 59th Street. Jim's is a beloved fourth-generation business that has been on this block since 1932. I understand that Duane Reade will be expanding into Jim's space. As a New Yorker, I am tired of seeing corporate chains take over our small mom-and-pops. Duane Reade and Walgreens already take up enough of the city's real estate. I'm writing to ask that you negotiate a new lease with Jim's, at a fair price and for a significant length of time.


Dear Walgreens:

Your Duane Reade store #14117, located at 41 East 58th Street, is scheduled to expand its 59th Street frontage, taking over the space currently occupied by Jim's Shoe Repair. Jim's is a beloved fourth-generation business that has been on this block since 1932. If your store expands, Jim's will be out of business. As a New Yorker, I am tired of seeing corporate chains take over our small mom-and-pops. Duane Reade and Walgreens already take up enough of the city's real estate. I'm writing to ask that you back out of this plan and do not take over Jim's space.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Schwarzenbach's Silk Clock

A reader, who is a clock collector and preservationist, writes in:

"The amazing silk clock on Park and 32nd has vanished. I asked a worker what the story was, as they are doing work on the building, and I had hoped that they were having it repaired. But the worker said the building was going to move it inside. Hopefully this is incorrect."

He sent in a photo of the spot where the clock used to be, now just a hole covered by a piece of plywood under scaffolding.

Originally known as the Schwarzenbach Buildings, for Schwarzenbach Looms, 470 Park Avenue South was once the home of silk importers. The gorgeous Silk Clock was installed in 1926, flanked by carved terra-cotta silk moths created by fauvist artist Marguerite Zorach.

via David Cobb Craig, Street Clocks in NY

At the time, the New York Times reported:

"In behalf of the Schwarzenbach enterprises, a 'Silk Clock,' made of bronze, was dedicated yesterday morning... The clock, which juts from the wall of the Schwarzenbach Building, was unveiled by Mr. Schwarzenbach's sons, Robert M. and Jean Christophe, before two hundred guests assembled in the street. A figure of Zoroaster, 'the mastermind and doer of all things,' is perched atop the clock. At his feet is a cocoon, and beyond sits a slave representing the 'primitive forces and instincts of man.' Every hour Zoroaster waves a wand, and the slave, rising at the will of his master, swings a hammer against the cocoon. Promptly the 'Queen of Silk' emerges from the cocoon, a tulip in her hand, and not until the hour has ceased striking does she disappear."

You can view that action in this video.

Today, 470 Park Avenue South is going through changes. On its scaffolding banner it is proclaimed, "MIDTOWN SOUTH'S CUTTING EDGE."

According to the Commercial Observer, the property is "part of a $1.2 billion joint venture between TIAA-CREF and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global," and it "undergoing an extensive redevelopment, with lobby renovations set to commence shortly."

What will happen to the clock, and to the silk moth carvings that frame it, in the renovations? Our tipster also talked to a building tenant: "He said he assumed they would return the clock, but was distraught about them ruining the original face of the building with the silk moths, etc. They're destroying the entire lobby, and building a two-floor glass entrance on the building."

He urges us all to call the building manager, at 212-372-2244, and tell them to save this amazing piece of New York history. Since the first photo above was taken, the facade of the building has been covered in demolition plywood. Will Marguerite's silk moths be blasted away forever? Will the Silk Clock be returned to the street so everyone can enjoy it?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

NYC Before & After

James and Karla Murray, the photographers who brought us the wonderful book Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, have been quietly working on an exciting new project.

One by one, they are revisiting all the store fronts they photographed a decade ago and taking new pictures. In the process, they're creating a dramatic and often heartbreaking visual representation of hyper-gentrification. In just about a decade, much of the city's streetscape has changed significantly, shifting in two general directions -- to upscale businesses and condos, or to chain stores and banks. It's a startling view of the city before and after Bloomberg.

I asked the Murrays a few questions about their "before and after" project.

all photos James & Karla Murray: see more here

What inspired you to embark on this project?

We embarked on the before-and-after project when over 10 years had passed since we had initially started photographing the mom-and-pop stores, an amount of time which really started to bring into focus the loss of character and decreased sense of community the neighborhoods undergoing these changes had.

While finishing our Store Front book in 2008, we chose the front and back cover photos expressly because those businesses had been forced to close. Ralph’s Discount City in TriBeCa was forced to close in 2007 when the building began plans for conversion into a luxury condo. Katy’s Candy Store in Bed-Stuy also closed in 2007 after the owner planned to convert the building into luxury apartments, which sadly never happened after the economic downturn, and the retail space remains vacant today. Zito & Sons Bakery on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village closed in 2004 and the tiny storefront remained vacant for years.

As you're going through this project, what trends are you seeing in terms of changes?

The trend we noticed very early on while photographing the original stores was that if the owner did not own the building, their business was in jeopardy of closing. The owners frequently acknowledged that they were at the mercy of their landlords and the ever-increasing rents they charged.

Due to the commonality of high rent increases starting in the early 2000s, after the small business was forced to close, it was often replaced by a chain-type store or banking institution, which could afford the higher rent, or the whole building was converted into a luxury condo. If the location was too small, or the locale was deemed undesirable by a chain-type store, the space often remained vacant, sometimes for years.

What have been the most startling changes you've seen? What changes -- or non-changes -- have you been pleased to see?

When the original 2nd Avenue Deli in the East Village closed in 2006 after the rent was increased from $24,000 a month to $33,000 a month, and a Chase Bank took over the space, we knew the contrast of before and after was severe.

Another startling change in the East Village was the closure of CBGB in 2006 after it lost its lease. It was replaced by a high-end fashion boutique, John Varvatos, which initially to us seemed out-of-place on the Bowery.

No iconic locale seemed safe any longer. Just like with CBGB’s, we were shocked when Lenox Lounge in Harlem closed on December 31, 2012, after a lease dispute. The East Village’s Mars Bar closed in 2011, was torn down, and replaced by a luxury condo with a soon-to-be-opened TD Bank on the ground floor space.

We are happy to see that in certain instances, a small business is replaced by a new small business, but it doesn’t seem to happen as often as we would like. A good example of this is E. Kurowycky & Sons Meat Market in the East Village, which closed in 2007 and was replaced by Kim’s Video.

Looking at the before and after images side by side, what does this lead you to conclude about change in the city as a whole over the past 10 - 15 years?

The purpose of the photos in the before-and-after project is to clearly spell out and provide documentation of not only what storefronts have been lost, but also what is often lacking in the commercial space’s replacement. Until you place them side-by-side and really look at the two photos, you cannot get the true sense of loss experienced by the neighborhood.

We hope this glimpse will bring awareness to the unique character these small mom-and-pop businesses add to the streets and neighborhoods of New York City and the sense of community they provide.

See Also:

Master List of Vanishings
Meatpacking Before & After

Monday, March 24, 2014

Broome Street Bar to Close


Reader Leonardo Urbina writes in to let us know that Kenn Reisdorff, owner of Bob & Kenn's Broome Street Bar recently passed away--and that the bar will go with him. Leonardo writes, "It will be closing after the year finishes. The lease would renew in January and one of the two daughters doesn't want to maintain it. There goes another neighborhood institution."

*Update: Mr. Riesdorff's obituary calls him "a gentlemanly fixture in the neighborhood, recognizable by his custom-made cowboy hats from a hatmaker in New Mexico, turquoise jewelry, cowboy boots and friendly demeanor."

Located in a landmarked building that might be the oldest structure in Soho, dating back to 1825, the Broome Street Bar opened in 1972.

There's been a bar here since the 1850s. According to The Historic Shops & Restaurants of New York, the stained glass windows and panels around the bar come from the time when it was a German beer hall in the 1880s. I don't know where the lion heads come from -- they're on the sign that hangs outside and they flank the bar, a pair of them above the brass rail, with signs that read, "Last Man's Chance."

In 2005, journalism student Dana Lerner visited the bar and wrote in detail about it, including its colorful history:

"According to Reisdorff, the building used to be a 'sleaze joint,' or a house of prostitution, in the early 40s. The windows in the back of the bar were covered and blocked off so that women could perform sex acts. Reisdorff described the women as having puffed-out hair, high heels and wearing little clothing as they walked past the windows to 'market' themselves to customers... Reisdorff believed the establishment to be a German restaurant in the 1920s and an Italian restaurant called The 7 Wagner Bar until he took ownership. He declined to give the name of the owner before him, because he 'was not a good man' and shot and killed a customer who was sleeping with his girlfriend. However, he was not alive long after the shooting. The brother of the deceased customer gunned down the owner right outside his bar in the late sixties. After the owner was killed, the business went bankrupt."

Under Kenn and his brother Bob, the bar became an artists' hangout--De Kooning, Oldenburg, Haring, to name a few. Said Kenn to Lerner, “I opened up for the artist community, and lived here long before the Soho we know. My customers were all kinds of artists, from sculptors and painters, to what I call pretenders."

As the neighborhood changed and became more upscale, as the galleries moved out to Chelsea and other parts of town, the artists vanished. But remnants of their presence remain, here and there, throughout the bar. And, yes, the delicious burgers are still served in pita bread.


What happens next for this long-time survivor is anyone's guess. Soho Memory Project wrote of the place a couple years ago, saying, "the day I turn the corner onto West Broadway and find that Bob and Kenn’s has been taken over by TGI Friday’s, I’m outta here."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

St. Mark's Books to E. 3rd St.

At long last, the new location of St. Mark's Bookshop has been revealed.

Co-owner Terry McCoy writes in, "The space we want to move to is at 136 East Third Street, just west of Avenue A. We've been sent a proposed lease, and we have a lawyer who has gone through it and sent comments to the landlord, who is the city, or NYCHA. There's a long way to go to signing a lease, though."

Terry says, "We're trying to raise a lot of money to be able to afford to move, and the main thrust right now is our Indiegogo campaign, which is St. Mark's on the Move. We're working on a few other fronts as well. There is a committee of concerned people who want to help called the Friends of St. Mark's Bookshop, who are all working on the issue."

Please consider giving to the bookshop's Indiegogo campaign so the East Village, and the city, can enjoy this great bookstore for years to come.

All my previous coverage of St. Mark's fight to survive:
St. Mark's Success
Michael Moore at St. Mark's
Buy A Book Weekend at St. Mark's
Xmas in September
St. Mark's Vestibule

King Glassware

On the Bowery since 1933, Max Maged & Sons' King Glassware Supplies had been in business for 81 years, selling glasses to restaurants and other customers. They closed sometime in the past month.

Over at Yelp, one reviewer wrote, "it is nice to to do business with a family business that has been operating for over 80 years. when he is no longer there, i will know he sold his building at his prices as he so rightfully deserves."

Another reviewer, Kate in Brooklyn, recalled shopping for an obscure item. She wrote of the owner, "We talked about how his family had owned the business since the depression era, with his father and grandfather running it before him. Spurred on by a tall display of Libbey glassware (which you're familiar with if you drink in most establishments that serve decent cocktails), we talked about the ridiculous changes in bar culture and the horrorshow that is an 11oz martini glass." She added, "keep this place alive as the Bowery gentrification wipes out all the family owned joints, all the places that don't look like terrariums for stockbrokers and all the places that don't offer safe haven for tourists and bulimic choco-tini drinkers."

Through the dusty windows today, the shelves are still stacked with glasses.

I never got to go inside when it was open, but I love the signage, and especially the assertion painted on the window. Not 1,000 bargains, mind you, but 1,001.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Red Sauce Juggernaut

The New York Times today mentioned this blog in their piece on "The Red Sauce Juggernaut." Writes Jeff Gordinier:

"Click to a blog like Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, though, and you may get the impression that Major Food is forcing out ancient, authentic, downtown grit (such as Rocco, the sleepy old-school restaurant whose space Carbone took over) to make room for gentrified gloss.

'Leave it alone and it’s going to go away,' Mr. Carbone said. 'You’re not going to have the Colosseum to look at if someone doesn’t fix it.'

They see their efforts as a way to preserve and elevate each restaurant space, instead of letting it vanish in a landscape dominated by generic chain stores. As Mr. Zalanick said: 'What’s it going to become? A Chase? A Duane Reade?'"

(Echoes of the "Better Than a Bank" false dichotomy.)

If you're clicking over from the Times, and want to read more, here's everything I've written on the topic of Rocco's and the vanishing of authentic, old-school red-sauce joints:

Rocco Ristorante
Rocco's Update
Torrisi on Rocco
Rocco's and Bill's
Red-Sauce Joints
Rocco Simulacrum

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Whole Foods Gowanus

The Whole Foods recently built on the toxic waste dump that is Gowanus has been cited a second time, reports Brooklyn Paper, for not fulfilling their promise to fix up the lovely landmarked Coignet Building they abut. The Coignet stands crumbling in Whole Foods' grip, a remnant of the past and maybe a thorn in the corporate grocer's side.

I went out to visit this Whole Foods after it opened, knowing well that the chain is a catalyst for change, a tool for spurring on hyper-gentrification, and that the Gowanus landscape surrounding it will soon be dramatically altered.

The mega-chain is trying very hard to look local, with sections hawking "Brooklyn Flavor," bike repair services, and a mini shop selling vinyl, both records and objects made from recycled records, by "a Brooklyn-based design and lifestyle brand."

There's even a mustachioed artisanal knife sharpener who cobbles together hand-made knives from reclaimed materials. And the "Stroller Parking" section speaks to the Brooklynite baby boom. (However, they don't call this store Whole Foods Gowanus, but Third and 3rd. What, is "Gowanus" too evocative of fecal stink?)

Still, all the signs screaming the word LOCAL can't take away the undeniable fact that Whole Foods Gowanus is utterly suburban.

Their parking lot is huge. It sprawls across what had once been a vast and wild vacant lot, apologizing for its existence by sitting under a roof of giant solar panels.

Outside, beyond the parked cars, Whole Foods has landscaped their bank of the Gowanus canal with a path. You can sit on a bench and watch the junkyard across the way, or wait for human bodies and dead dogs to go floating by.

Couples meander, hand in hand, breathing in the stink of raw sewage, a special Gowanus odor that all the fresh mulch in the world can't cover up.

On one of the garden walls--made from scruffy, graffiti-buffed stone--stands a piece of fresh graffiti, surely commissioned by the supermarket. Its hunter green color matches the branded shade of the Whole Foods logo banners just above it. With awkward diction, the "local" graffiti admonishes passersby to EAT MORE OF YOUR VEGETABLES.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Lively Set

The Lively Set, a vintage lamp store on Bedford Street, is closing on March 31.

From a past report at DNA, it sounds like they've been closing for a year now, but somehow hung on. Now they're having an "everything must go" sale.

They've been on Bedford for nearly 20 years, but can't afford the rent hike.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rawhide: 1 year

One year ago, the Rawhide bar was forced to close after 34 years in Chelsea.

The space went to a west coast pizza chain called Project Pie, "the Chipotle of fast-casual pizza," but that deal later fell through. The Rawhide space remains empty today.

Did Project Pie back out of the deal? Why is 212 8th Avenue, a prime High Line-adjacent property, still empty? Reader Chris speculates, "I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that that space is on the same block with two gay sex stores that are crawling with outer borough hustlers."

Indeed, neighbors have tried to shut down Rainbow Station and The Blue store, complaining to city officials about "24/7 Murder, Drugs, Male Prostitution, Rowdiness, Noise at Night Burglary." But the sex shops soldier on, keeping this stretch of rapidly hyper-gentrifying 8th Avenue safe for dirty queers, and not so safe for shiny, happy pizza chains from San Diego. For now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mayfair Billboard

Continuing the sad story of the destruction of the Mayfair building in Times Square, 701 7th Avenue, a look at the visual history of its big, wraparound corner billboard.

photo by Aylon Samson

Photographer Aylon Samson sent in the above photo of the building currently wrapped in a black demolition shroud, the last of its many costume changes through the decades.

NYPL, c. 1935

The building was originally home to the Columbia vaudeville house, then the Loews Mayfair.

The billboard has sort of always been there, framed in lights, heralding the big-screen movies inside. Like The Day the Earth Stood Still and a spectacular 3-D Jane Russell being chased by sharks in Underwater! That was the heyday of the 1950s.

c. 1951

c. 1954

(In some photos of the Mayfair, you get a glimpse of the Parisian Dance Land taxi dance hall--above Whelan's, in the lower right corner, next to the RKO Palace. The dance hall was featured in Stanley Kubrick's film Killer's Kiss. Read about that place here.)

c. 1954

c. 1955

Later, the Loews Mayfair became the DeMille theater, and the giant billboards continued, like this one from Jack Lemmon's Luv.

c. 1967, via Vintage Images

At some point, the movie theater was broken up into a triplex, called the Embassy 2-3-4, and stopped advertising on its own billboard.

Panasonic took over, looking rather dull, but with a useful note about the weather, and still keeping the old Mayfair shape.

photo: Matt Weber, 1984

In more recent years, it was covered with a clutter of Broadway billboards, instead of one big one, losing its distinctive look.

Once the building's demolition became imminent, the billboard was covered with black-and-white portraits of tourists, topped with a giant eyeball. (Yes, that is an army of people doing yoga in the middle of Broadway.)

Last year, the billboard was completely stripped away, revealing the building beneath for the first time in nearly a century.

photo by Aylon Samson

After the building is reduced to rubble, a giant glass box will go up, and Times Square will get a monstrous, wraparound TV screen.

It's no 3-D Jane Russell.

the digitized future

Mayfair's interior artifacts
Plans for the new building
Mayfair's exterior artifacts
Toys, Souvenirs, Jokes

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

3,000 Beatniks Riot

After World War II, Washington Square Park filled up with young people and musicians, their numbers growing over the years. By 1961, neighbors had had enough of the bohemians, urging the parks commission to put an end to the folk music--and to the racial mixing that went on around the bongo drums, as recounted by John Strausbaugh in his invaluable history The Village.

The ensuing protest, an occupation of the park’s large central fountain, inspired a hysterical headline: "3000 Beatniks Riot in Village."

It was also captured in the extraordinary documentary film Sunday by Dan Drasin.

In crisp black and white, we see and hear the protesters as they fight for their right to play folk songs, carrying signs that read “Keep Strumming” and “We Want Folk Singing.” In arguments with the police, one young man says, “Real estate’s at the bottom of this.” Another says, “They’re trying to kill the Village.” The musicians won that battle and kept on singing through the decades, but war is long and “They” have kept trying to change the nature of the Village and Washington Square Park.

The fight continues to this day.

Watch the film and hear more about it at NPR.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Brownstone Fever 1969

Last week, we talked about hyper-gentrification, the brand of urban change we're living with today, a very different process from old-fashioned gentrification. In my long essay, I referenced "brownstone fever" and this 1969 feature in New York magazine.

(For an analysis of how New York magazine helped to market a new urban lifestyle, see Miriam Greenberg's Branding New York.)

The 1969 article is a fascinating historic artifact, an in-depth piece about the New Yorkers who were moving out of their "aseptic uptown apartments" and making new homes from fixer-upper brownstones in no-man's land neighborhoods like Chelsea, the East Village, the Upper West Side, "even Brooklyn." Says the article, "Strange but true: People from Scarsdale are now alive and well in Brooklyn; contented in places called Fort Greene and Boerum Hill and Park Slope." From the writing, it's clear that the magazine's readers might never have heard of these far-flung locales. For them, Brooklyn might as well have been Ultima Thule. Said one resident of Clinton Hill, "To people from Manhattan, this whole place is Siberia."

Who were these first-wave gentrifiers? Textbook editors, museum administrators, television writers, mostly (not all) white couples and gay men, middle-class people who braved lesbian whorehouses and gun fights. They showed up with $25,000 in cash--saved from years of working and supplemented by the deaths of relatives--and couldn't get mortgages because the neighborhoods they were moving into had been redlined by the banks. Houses were available for less than $20,000.

Many of New York City's first gentrifiers believed they were doing good--helping their neighbors and preserving the diversity of the city. They worried about the future, about what might happen if the neighborhoods got too fixed up.

Of course, it wasn't so much the fixing up that was the problem. In the late 1970s, the city government got on board, realizing that gentrification could be used as a tool to push the poor out of the central city, and to remake New York exclusively for the rich. The city started partnering with banks and later with corporations, making gentrification the core of contemporary urban strategy, a scheme that came to fruition under Bloomberg.

They got the problem started, but today we could be nostalgic for those old-school gentrifiers, those editors and writers with their quaint notions about diversity and preservation, their utopian dreams for mixed neighborhoods of poor and middle class people--an image that's a far cry from the increasingly homogenized and sterilized luxury city of the 2000s.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

200 Cigarettes

200 Cigarettes is not the greatest movie ever made, but it's worth watching, if only because it was filmed in the East Village in the 1990s (it takes place in the 1980s), and features shots of many vanished spots.

It's the story of a girl waiting for guests to show up to her New Year's Eve party. The guests are all involved in their own personal dramas--two girls from Long Island panic as they cross Avenue B, Paul Rudd and Courtney Love bicker their way from 7th Street to Avenue A--and they arrive late to the party.

There's Gaby Hoffman in front of Body Worship, a fetish shop on E. 7th Street that featured a penis for a door handle. In 1994, the shop caused an uproar on the block for its window display of "two mannequins striking sexually revealing master/slave poses prepared to engage in explicit sadomasochistic activities."

There's Eddie Boros' Tower of Toys, destroyed in 2008. And the "old" Odessa, its neon turned off forever this past fall.

But best of all are several scenes shot inside and outside of Leshko's. While exterior shots are fairly plentiful, it's not easy to find interior photos of the lost coffee shop, vanished from 7th and A in 1999 after being in business since 1957.

Today, Leshko's old spot is filled with the hideous, screaming Yuca Bar. But we can look back and remember how it used to be.