Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Doughnut for Domino

The first building in the luxury mega-development replacing Williamsburg's Domino Sugar factory is now seeking tenants. 325 Kent just put out the welcome mat, a big banner on view to Manhattanites along the East River.

Go close-up and you'll find their "Walk-ins Welcome" signs feature different flavors of doughnuts.

They look artisanal, of course, because it's Williamsburg. (Does the neighborhood still hawk hundred-dollar doughnuts dipped in 24-karat gold?)

They're also square, like the building, and no doubt are meant to appeal to the foodies who have claimed Brooklyn in the 2000s.

Anyway, I walked in, but didn't feel especially welcome and walked right back out.

As Curbed reported: "market-rate apartments in the building will start at $2,495 for studios, $3,250 for one-bedrooms, and $5,195 for two bedrooms." And "The first retail tenant will be a 4,000-square-foot outpost of Clinton Hill craft beer bar Mekelburg’s, known for serving 'epicurean baked potatoes,' apparently."

On Saturday, August 19, you can see The Domino Effect, a documentary on the rezoning and subsequent hyper-gentrification of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. It's playing at 2:00 at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, 161-04 Jamaica Ave in Queens. A "talk back" with the filmmakers will follow the screening.

The Domino Effect (Trailer) from The Domino Effect on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Empire City

Empire City, a documentary film from 1985, is now streaming for rental on Vimeo.

While it was originally meant to contrast 1980s New York with the "golden age" from 1830 - 1930, it provides a rare and fascinating glimpse of the city at the very moment it shifted fully from the socially progressive era and into the Neoliberal Age of radical free-market economics.

Looking back three decades later, we can see the beginning of the glossy, greedy epoch in which we now live.

The film features the creators of today's city, from Donald Trump to Felix Rohatyn and David Rockefeller. In one scene, a young Trump stands with Mayor Ed Koch at a topping-out ceremony for yet another Midtown tower and says, "This mayor has created such a tremendous atmosphere with respect to the city of New York. Eight years ago, I must say, I was embarrassed to say I was in the real estate business in New York. Today, I can honestly say I'm proud of it."

That atmosphere was one that explicitly favored developers over everyday New Yorkers.

In the 1980s, under Koch, City Hall’s goal became to re-create New York, making it friendly to big business, tourists, real estate developers, and upscale professionals. In the process, City Hall turned away from its citizens. CUNY professor and urbanist David Harvey has called this the shift from managerialism to entrepreneurialism, meaning that the city government changed its main priority from providing services and benefits for its own people to competing with other cities for outside human resources and capital. In the new competitive city, attracting tourists, newcomers, and corporations was (and still is) more important than taking care of New Yorkers.

Koch discusses this shift in Empire City, saying that New York is now for "banks, insurance companies, white-collar jobs," and not manufacturing. During his tenure he gifted developers and corporations with the expansion of three kinds of tax abatement: J-51, giving subsidies to landlords to renovate apartments and increase gentrification; 421a, reducing taxes on luxury buildings to induce their construction in “underused” areas; and individual incentives that gave hundreds of millions to corporations like AT&T to bribe them into doing business in New York. It was an expensive smorgasbord. According to urban anthropologist Roger Sanjek, “Between 1984 and 1989, J-51 and 421a tax losses together cost the city $1.4 billion.”

(In 2016, the Times reported that, over the course of his career, Trump “reaped at least $885 million in tax breaks, grants, and other subsidies for luxury apartments, hotels, and office buildings in New York.”)

For the rest of the city, it was austerity -- disinvestment, cut-backs, and layoffs.

Empire City provides a tale of two cities as it takes a look at the impact of austerity and urban renewal on New York's most vulnerable citizens. Director Michael Blackwood visits Harlem and the Bowery, interviewing locals, authors, and activists like Jane Jacobs.

On the increasing class and race segregation, Herman Badillo says, "The mayor is not the mayor of New York City. He doesn't represent half the people of New York City. He only represents the whites. He's not interested in the black or Hispanic communities. He's only the mayor of the affluent part of New York City."

Discussing early gentrification, social worker Rita Smith notes, "Poverty is a business. They move you into areas, and then a slum results, and then they move in and build it up. There is a purpose to everything that is going on."

Empire City from Michael Blackwood Productions on Vimeo

The decisions made at that time still reverberate today. They laid the foundations for hyper-gentrification and the vast gap of inequality that plagues New York in the twenty-first century. This is not "change as usual." It isn't natural and isn't inevitable. It was deliberate. It had a purpose--and that purpose has now been realized.

As Norman Mailer says in the film, "Manhattan has been sacked architecturally. Its neighborhoods have been destroyed." Tall towers with "repellent surfaces" speak to the "nature of power: It's abstract, it's impersonal, it's immense, and you can't get near it. What it says is that we at the top don't give a damn about you at the bottom."

For more on this topic, read my book, along with Fear City and The Assassination of New York.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sal Debates

Democratic mayoral candidate Sal Albanese has qualified to debate Mayor Bill de Blasio. The first primary debate is scheduled for August 23 at 7:00PM (aired on NY1 and WNYC radio), and the second is on September 6 at 7:00PM (WCBS-TV, 1010 WINS, and NewsRadio 88).

photo: Jennifer S. Altman

From the press release:

"Sal Albanese’s mayoral campaign reports that not only has the campaign had its best fundraising month ever – bringing in about $65,000 – but that the campaign has exceeded the financial 'raise and spend' bar required to be in the official debates. The campaign has raised approximately $190,000, and has spent at least $174,000.

'I never doubted that we’d raise enough money to be on the debate stage,' said Albanese. 'Each month, as our message gets out, we are raising more awareness and more money. Everywhere we go, people are unenthused and even angry about Mayor de Blasio’s performance. He is uninterested in the job, and is a part-time Mayor, at best. I am looking forward to the debate. I hope to show New Yorkers that it is possible to have a Mayor who actually wants the job, will show up for it on time, every day, who will stop the legalized corruption that’s filled City Hall and who will work tirelessly for the everyday New Yorker,' he added."

Albanese supports campaign finance reform, along with real protections for our small businesses. For more on Sal, check out my interview with him here.

He still needs to raise another $150,000 to qualify for 6 to 1 matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board. Consider making a donation. Large or small, every dollar counts.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

French Roast 2

Recently I posted on the closure of French Roast's Village location.

Here it is today, the windows covered in paper.

A sign on the door says, "We are closed for renovation" and "Thank you for all the great years together as French Roast." Which makes me wonder if this restaurant is coming back as some other version of itself.

Or not.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Carole Teller’s Changing New York

As part of their online Historic Image Archive, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has just released a new collection called Carole Teller’s Changing New York.

Veselka, by Carole Teller, c. 1980

They write:

"Carole Teller is an artist who has lived in the East Village since the early 1960s. As a photographer, she had a keen and often prescient eye, capturing in her daily travels people and places that struck her, but which were also often on the precipice of change or disappearing. In some cases these were buildings in the process of being demolished, like Penn Station or tenements being cleared for urban renewal. In other cases they were fading painted signs growing fainter by the day. But often these were people, businesses, street scenes, or layers of grit or decay which were integral parts of her New York, but which were frequently on the edge of transformation, revival, or removal."

Astor Place, Carole Teller, early 1980s

For this post, I've selected a few choice shots from around the East Village.

There's the old Veselka before its renovation. And Astor Place before the Green Monster landed, back when the parking lot provided for a "thieves' market" and the public space was a true public space.

Block Drugs and M. Schacht's, Carole Teller, mid-1980s

Block Drugs is still there today, with its glorious neon sign, but M. Schacht's is long gone--along with "APPETIZING." Gem Spa remains, but the St. Marks Cinema has vanished.

There are many more photos to browse, and they are for sale as prints, with funds going to support the preservation work of GVSHP.

Gem Spa and St. Marks Cinema, Carole Teller, c. 1980

Monday, August 7, 2017

Amato to Nothing

Back in 2009, we said goodbye to the great Amato Opera House, on the Bowery for 60 years.


The building was sold and sold again. Recently, the plywood was removed to reveal this--a stark white box awaiting a luxury chain store or an art gallery or a restaurant. Certainly not a rag-tag, affordable opera house.

As Bowery Boogie noted last year, infamous local landlord Steve Croman was "converting 319 Bowery into a mixed-use dwelling befitting Bowery 2.0. Three glitzy, full-floor apartments, including the aforementioned penthouse will sit atop the ground level store. The retail space was last on the market in 2014, asking a whopping $35,000 per month in rent."

Gothic Cabinet to Blue Mercury

Last year, Gothic Cabinet Craft closed on Third Avenue in the East Village. As E.V. Grieve noted, this location was its first, "when Theodore Zaharopoulos set up shop on the corner in 1969."

Now it's this.

Blue Mercury: "an iconic high-growth luxury beauty retail chain."

Friday, August 4, 2017


The heart of old Music Row has been just been cleared for demolition.

Fast Company reports:

"The former site of Manny’s Music at 156 West 48th Street in Manhattan has been approved for demolition, according to a city permit issued last month. It’s a final nail in the coffin for the legendary music store that served as a mecca for generations of musicians and once stood as the crown jewel of New York’s famed Music Row."

Manny's was here since 1935 and closed in 2009. It was a mecca for musicians famous and not. Then Music Row started getting murdered. One after another, the shops shuttered, replaced by Dunkin Donuts or nothing at all. Rudy's Music Stop and Alex Accordion were the last to go.


I walked along that block of West 48th a few weeks ago to see what had become of it.

The name MANNY'S embedded in the doorstep was oddly missing. It had been cemented over. Why? The only reason I can think of to do such a thing is to "scalp" the building, a tactic used by developers when they don't want a building landmarked before they can demolish it.

Manny's was not landmarked.

*UPDATE: Chris writes in the comments: "I heard from a trusted source that the MANNY'S terrazzo at the front door was removed and taken to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland."


According to Fast Company:

It was "unclear if the former Manny’s site would even rise to a level city officials would consider worthy of such protection. A spokeswoman for the landmarks commission told me the agency has not received any requests to evaluate the building."

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Riviera Cafe


Sad news for yet another classic dining spot. Word went buzzing around social media last night that the Riviera Cafe in Greenwich Village is closing August 31. I've not confirmed it with the Riviera, but the source is credible.

Michael Musto wrote on his Facebook page:

"Riviera Cafe & Sports Bar is closing at the end of the month after 48 years. I recently plugged the place in the Post for its great al fresco people watching. I go virtually every Friday for dinner with Lynn Yaeger and I have the salmon burrito or the corn salad with chicken. I LOVE THIS PLACE and the manager, Jean. It has long been an essential part of a West Village jaunt en route to Marie's, Pieces, Hangar Bar and Rockbar. I pray some generic shithole doesn't go up, or worse a high rise."

photo: Wally Gobetz

The Riviera might look like just another sports bar, and a Boston Red Sox bar at that, but it's much more. A classic hangout for hipsters (the old-school kind) since the 1960s, this is where Lou Reed kicked John Cale out of The Velvet Underground.

More recently, it's been a comfortable and affordable spot, a place to meet friends, an oasis away from the usual ugliness that Greenwich Village has become.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Great Jones Returns


After seemingly shuttering and inspiring teary goodbyes, the Great Jones Cafe is rising from the almost-dead.

Word is shooting around social media, and the cafe's website confirms it:

"The Reports of Our Demise Were Greatly Exaggerated (to paraphrase Twain). After a week off, we reopen Wednesday, August 2nd at 5 PM. See you then !!!"

Said one commenter on the cafe's Facebook page, "This has been an emotional roller coaster ride."

UPDATE: Here's the inside scoop.