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With $50 million earmarked to renovate the 1930s WPA landmark, Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents are getting out their wishlists. In community planning meetings so far, the skaters have shown up in full force.

Other popular ideas include steam baths, rooftop greenhouses/patios, a waterslide from the tower, geothermal heating for year-round swimming, and space for classes, dancing and martial arts practice. Bike racks, lockers and wifi would be great. I would love to see local businesses provide a range of food and drink.

The current use for concerts and movies has drawn thousands over the summer — I’m there sometimes twice a week. How exciting to get some support from the city in improving our rapidly-growing neighborhood.

Here’s the survey to print and fill out 

And mail to:
Attn: McCarren Survey
Partnerships for Parks
Litchfield Villa
95 Prospect Park West
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Or
Info@OpenSpaceAllianceNB.org

Please return the survey by: Friday, August 31.

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Paterson Doors.jpg

Originally uploaded by Reversible Skirt

We wrapped up the project with a proposal for a monument in the shape of a spiral which overlays the map of Paterson, a path that you can follow and mark according to its significance to you. I.e., Paterson mapped by restaurants, or indigenous plant life. Paterson as defined by the special buildings that fall on the spiral. Anecdotal Paterson.

I am planning an outdoor screening of The Cousteau Odyssey Vol. 5: Clipperton: The Island Time Forgot in Red Hook, because of its maritime scenery. This will probably take place next Sunday July 29th. Please comment if you would like to come.

Today there’s a great show down at the Grand Street Ferry Park, from 2-8p, with lots of local Brooklyn bands including the punk marching band nearest and dearest to my heart, the Hungry March Band.

It’s free and in support of saving this gorgeous and important piece of our industrial history.


from Curbed.

Yesterday I headed out to Paterson, NJ to begin my part of the Flux Factory residency there. I took the bus from Port Authority with my friend Dana, a native whose family hails from Paterson for several generations. Her mother actually used to work in the factory which now houses the Paterson Museum, and for the next six weeks, our project. So, we have a little local cred and if I stand next to her, maybe it rubs off on me.

We went through Rutherford, Clifton and Passaic and I was stunned at the sheer diversity, mostly expressed via food, of course. Peruvian, Middle Eastern/Turkish, Italian, all cheek by jowl. I definitely want to eat somewhere different each time I visit. We also saw some hangouts like the S.S. Napoli Club, with plaster statues for decor and some older fellows hanging out around the front door on a hot day, glaring sternly at us and everybody else passing by.

The launch of my photo project was a success, I think — I gave out something like 12 cameras out of 27, and hopefully I can distribute the rest this week. The remainder are at the Paterson Museum, so pick one up if you go there.

Everyone who I approached was excited about it and really friendly. A disproportionate number actually identified themselves as photographers! So my show might be somewhat stocked with ringers, though the criterion for participation is only that you must shoot in Paterson and of Paterson, not that you must be an amateur…

I also had the pleasure of meeting Shuli Sade, a photographer who is leading the industrial archaeology tour on June 30th. We immediately geeked out over a shared love of ruins and grain elevators…go look at her site! It’s Flash-based so I can’t pull pictures, but definitely worth a peruse. She has had amazing access to many places all over the world, in fact, to bring this all back around — she was telling me that she was the last person to document the interior of Domino Sugar…


This photo on Curbed.com reminded me, I felt a little bit of outlaw glee today on passing by ReFresh, the new juice bar(?) replacing hamburger stand Coney’s on my block, and noticing that someone had tagged their brand new glass door — and they haven’t even opened yet. Let me back up.

See, we don’t know if the place is going to be a juice bar or what. I poked my head in a few weeks ago while they were working on the interior to ask, in a friendly way, what kind of establishment was moving in about three doors down from me. “Porn shop,” goes the gruff older guy.

“Haha. Ok, no seriously, what is it?” I ask, totally game. “Porn shop,” again, plus a glare. So, I guess it is a secret? Also, I thought that was a hostile choice of joke. I don’t take well to hostility, especially before noon.

I was friendly with the Coney’s guys, they would hold my keys for the catsitter when I left town, they hired my friend to build a bench for them, etc. And now I get Porn Shop Guy.

A few days later – “They’re taking down that huge tacky awning! Finally.” The next day – “Oh. To replace it with another tacky awning, just lime green instead of striped.”

A week later, they had a construction dumpster out front and were carrying out fixtures and trash. I salvaged the enormous Coney’s menu chalkboard from the pile. Later, my neighbor tells me that they stole our trashcan to haul debris.

After another week of our entire building piling trashbags in the hall, I step back in to ask when we could expect our trashcan back. There’s an open hardware store across the street, we could go buy it together. The workers deny that the dumpster was theirs, at which point I tell them that I actually wasn’t born yesterday and there was Coney’s stuff in it, and then they deny that they ever saw a trashcan, or met anyone putting things into the dumpster. The entire storefront is about 400 sq ft, by the way. They would have basically been standing on top of the dumpster guys, if they were not themselves the dumpster guys.

They tell me to ask the building owner, who is “a gray-haired man who is here sometimes.” Oh. Who is the business owner, who will soon be ReFreshing South Williamsburg? Nobody knows his name (that would be their boss presumably).

No wonder I was happy to stroll by and see a big fat silver tag across their door. Welcome to the neighborhood, jerks.


from flickr user pinkyracer

Last night I headed to Empire Skate in Crown Heights for Ladies’ Night. They’re closing in a week. It’s tragic. There are neighborhoods and cities all over the place trying to figure out how to keep the kids off drugs and off the streets — and here we are, letting a completely awesome place turn into a storage facility.

As the guy in front of us in line said “Everybody comes to the funeral!” He brought his own skates. The line stretched to the end of the block. The place was pretty packed.

Everybody looks better whizzing by in a circle. I told Jenene “It’s like those rotating cake stands in diners — humans like to catch a glimpse of what they want. It’s boring if it’s just standing still.”

Dudes were super peacocky, doing jumps, skating backwards, having dance-offs. The place reeked of testosterone, and a little bit of weed, ancient weed which had permeated the place over the years. Yet, some guys were skating arm in arm and holding hands. There was one guy with light-up skates who formed a kind of Rockettes-style line of guys whizzing along, all connected.

We kept mostly to the baby rink. I never quite learned how to stop, and my friends kept saying “On the big rink, you don’t need to stop!”

Au Revoir Empire Skate – the last skating rink in NYC after the Skate Key in the Bronx closed. Word was that a lot of the people there had driven down from the Bronx, and soon they would all have to drive to Bergen, NJ to get their skate on.

Here’s a petition to save Empire Skating Rink and I believe there is a rally on April 23/24th? Please let me know.

Tonight I watched The Cruise for the second time.

The first time I saw it, I had just moved to New York City and my roommate recommended it to me, saying that the subject of the movie, Speed Levitch, was my kind of person and she was actually surprised we weren’t already friends.

It was the summer of 2000, quite a bit closer to the movie’s release date of 1998 than we are today, and most strikingly before 9/11. It’s a beautiful portrait with some glimpses of a grittier city than we know today, especially Soho. Funny how those changes creep up gradually on you.

It was also on video, when I saw it, and before I met Speed in person. As my roommate predicted, we did become friends and I asked him to bring a visiting band (Rosin Coven) from San Francisco on a tour. At this point he was no longer doing bus tours so we went on foot to Grand Central at rush hour, a moment I still remember sometimes as I commute through Grand Central three times a week (usually not at rush hour, lucky me).

I ended up becoming an assistant to Speed’s literary agent when his book was published, and we spent a few lovely afternoons in the office eating cookies.

Seeing the film again, after also seeing Capote which the same director made, in a former nail salon converted to an apartment on a makeshift projector screen, brought me back to that time, now four years ago. I did feel then as I moved through the streets of New York that it was an enchanted place where anything might happen.

Today I know quite a bit more about the bricks and mortar and the architects and their egos. But there are still thousands of stories and unrecognized landmarks, a beautiful multiplicity. Thanks, Speed, for bringing that back to me.

It’s spring and the streets are starting to bloom with people again. Seeing the movie made me remember that feeling of connectedness and flowing, like a fountain. It’s funny but seeing that movie makes me feel like I am witnessing or sympathetically having some kind of religious experience. Like the Gershwin opening of Manhattan (the Woody Allen film). Something about skylines, the accumulation of buildings, which are hopes and dreams manifested and also at the same time the most daily of our surroundings. It puts me in my place, and reminds me it can be a place of wonder and mysticism. If you haven’t seen it, go get it now!

On the way home we saw some firemen congregating around one of my favorite blocks, and glittering lights. I asked them what was going on and they said “building inspection!” When I said “Do you always bring the truck and the emergency lights to do inspections?” they said “We’re just checking out the neighborhood. It’s Brazilian night at the bar on the corner…”

A great part of the Brooklyn waterfront, it will be zoned for residential use, and could be destroyed instead of refurbished —
there’s a petition here to landmark it.

This weekend I had the good fortune to be invited to a New Year’s brunch at a gorgeous apartment in the Hecla Iron Works building on N. 11th St. in Williamsburg.

They made most of the amazing iron ornamentation you see adorning banks, hotels (the St. Regis), churches, statuary and other buildings all over New York City and the rest of the country, such as the lamps on the Williamsburg Bridge. They are also famous for their beautiful and fireproof staircases.

The factory was closed in the 1920s and rented to artists in the 80s (and featured in Nest magazine – shoutout!) Now, it’s still lovely and impressive with a small stage and grand piano, wooden wall with vintage electronics displayed, statuary and gloomy Gothic fireplace. The building was designated a NYC landmark in 2004 as a special example of the industrial architecture of Williamsburg.

I know we have a lot of ugly siding-covered row houses and this monstrosity but the industrial buildings like Domino Sugar and the Pencil Factories of Greenpoint are really pretty great. Let’s hope more can be saved.

It looks like the Commodore Theater on Broadway in Brooklyn is being torn down – what a shame for the neighborhood.

The owner of Galapagos Art Space put out an initiative to start a movie theater in Williamsburg, where there are currently none — none in Greenpoint or anywhere in North Brooklyn, either. Of course there is the megaplex in Union Square, but undoubtedly Williamsburg residents would be happy to be able to walk to their movie theater, especially if it offered something different than the standard corporate megaplex. With the very popular (and old-timey) restaurant Moto nearby, more and more people are heading to Broadway for a night out.

The good people at CinemaTreasures.com have been tracking the Commodore since its closing in 2002, with many wistful memories and eager proposals for the future put forth.The interior was said to be beautiful, though it had been divided into two smaller screens. Currently, the roof and interior have been demolished — let’s hope they plan to save the exterior at least, although its windowless facade wouldn’t be great for many uses besides retail. There are many examples of terrible re-use of these great old theaters that used to dot nearly every block of the neighborhood — the dollar store on Broadway, the Eckerd, Burger King and Europa nightclub on Manhattan Avenue.

Last winter I went to an amazing movie theater in Monterey, CA, and the Castro Theater in SF, where for the holidays, an organist rises out of the floor playing festive music. A few weeks ago I visited the Academy of Music in Northampton, MA to see the new Christopher Guest movie. Who will re-introduce the movie palace to New York City?

The City Reliquary is one of the unexpected treasures in Williamsburg, the neighborhood where I live.

When I first happened upon the Reliquary at the corner of Havemeyer and Grand Streets, I couldn’t stop peering at all the meticulously hand-labeled artifacts of New York City history. Postcards about a visit to the Prison Ship Martyrs monument in Fort Greene Park. A chunk of accumulated layers of subway paint. There was a tiny loudspeaker — you pressed a button and an official-sounding voice narrated the contents of the case for you.

Not only a comely window display — the good people of the Reliquary organize annual bike celebration days, September 11 commemorations, and other great events like Collector’s Night, where they invite people to bring their amazing collections to share with the public. They are also involved with a community radio station and a bike riders club.

Last spring they opened a storefront museum on Metropolitan and Havemeyer Streets, which is open Wednesday through Sunday — weekday evenings and weekend days.

The people behind the City Reliquary are just as fascinating as their museum — having collaborated in the past on the Cloud-Seeding Circus (a traveling art circus), they now count among their ranks a newly minted FDNY fireman, a geologist and a conservator of saints (ok, saint statues).

Stop by and say hello, next time you’re in the neighborhood.


They are having a benefit dinner soon!

Or if you are visiting Los Angeles, stop by their sort of cousin — the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I am currently reading a very good book called Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology about the MJT, which is definitely in my top 5 favorite places in LA.

(The other 4? Clifton’s Cafeteria, Hidden Treasures vintage shop in Topanga Canyon, the Thai outdoor food stalls by the temple in the Valley and Hollywood Forever cemetery.)

Here’s an engraving of an ancestor of these places – Danish natural philosopher Ole Worm’s Museum Wormianum, from 1655: