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AS THE OLD YEAR CAME TO A CLOSE, I said goodbye to my beloved East Hampton cottage — at least for a year, perhaps forever. Yet as I drove away on December 15, leaving it to my new renters — a sweet young couple who are over the moon about the place — it was with only a smidgen of regret. My grand plan is unfolding; I’m inching toward closing on another house in the same area. Meanwhile, it’s back to my Brooklyn apartment for the duration (when you have only one residence, I’m afraid it can no longer be called a pied-a-terre).
My East Hampton tenants kept some of my furniture — the sofa, the bed, and a few other major pieces. All my rugs, books, dishes, artwork, etc. had to be packed up and stored in the basement, above, in the space of about five days. My houseplant collection, below, came with me back to Brooklyn, and miraculously I’ve managed to place them all in front of my two windows.
I chafed at the confinement of urban living at first, but I’ve adjusted. There are trade-offs. What you give up in fresh air and bay views and the silence of the woods, you gain in quirky discoveries that can only happen in a great city…like the row of Victorian carriage houses in Prospect Park, below, that I had somehow never noticed before. They’re now used as garages by park maintenance, but wouldn’t they make a charming residential mews?
Or the sight of a vintage subway train pulling into West Fourth Street, bedecked with Christmas ribbons and wreaths…
….a fire escape festooned with lights in Williamsburg…
….or a gingerbread rendering of the new Barclay’s arena, seen at the Joyce Bakeshop in Prospect Heights: all things you wouldn’t see in East Hampton.
Christmas week was a little quiet because, well, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I did some cat-sitting and a whole lot of writing, including an article about Palm Springs’ mid-century architecture for a travel magazine, and two time-consuming pieces for HouseLogic, a website owned by the National Association of Realtors, which led to my one New Year’s resolution for 2013: don’t say yes to any writing assignment that comes down the pike. Life’s too short for hackery.
My sister and I indulged in some year-end furniture and rug shopping, though in my case it was merely speculative. We went to FIND in Gowanus, where I was moved to take a picture of the chairs above. They are crafted out of rubber tires and they are unbelievably comfortable. I’ve never seen anything like them. They were asking $100 for the pair of these oddities. I can’t decide whether I like the look of them or not. Do you?
I am mulling the purchase of a high storage chest like the one above, seen at Re-Pop in Williamsburg, since I’m desperate for additional clothing storage in my bedroom. It’s $850, so I postponed the decision. Whereupon we went next door to the Roebling Tea Room and had cocktails at the bar in an old, high-ceilinged industrial space (I suppose they have tea, too).
Another day, we checked out the kilims at Jacques Carcanagues in SoHo. I can’t get the one above out of my mind. It is 13′ long, 6’6″ wide, and was bought in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, we were told. The colors are only four — purple, navy, cream, and white — and so unusual. For $900, it seems a great deal. But without a house, I don’t need a rug.
New York being New York, every time I venture out, there’s a new bar, restaurant or bakery. Above, the new Grandaisy Bakery on the corner of West Broadway and Beach Street. It definitely wasn’t there the last time I looked.
So onward to 2013 with fresh eyes, ears, mind. It’s a new year, so let’s make it new: new adventures, new activities, new people, new prospects, new music, new ideas, new knowledge, new dreams.
I ALWAYS THOUGHT the Boathouse was one of the most romantic buildings in Prospect Park. No, in Brooklyn. No, anywhere. The 1907 Beaux Arts structure sits on a pond called the Lullwater, which also sounds impossibly romantic in the manner of the Park’s original 1860s design by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted.
Last time I looked, maybe 12 years ago, the Boathouse was dilapidated and deserted. In fact, the white terracotta, Tuscan-columned building came this close to being demolished in the 1960s before being saved by community protests (it’s now on the National Register of Historic Places).
And though I glimpsed it through the trees every one of the countless times I walked or ran the Park’s 3-1/3-mile loop, and vaguely realized the place had been renovated, that sketchy earlier encounter still resonated, and I hadn’t been down there in eons.
Yesterday, encouraged by my daughter, who’s visiting from Hawaii, we deviated from the course and explored not only the Boathouse but other sections of the park that were new to me. The 1907 boathouse, which replaced an earlier wooden structure by Vaux and Olmsted, is now used as an Audobon Center for nature education.
Its vaulted, tiled interior, above, now contains displays on birds and birding (who knew there were 200+ species in the Park?) and a small cafe. Yesterday, a rare sunny Sunday in this desperately rainy month of May, it was crawling with kids.
Unlike in Victorian times, when people ice skated, fished, and boated on the Lullwater, all that is now forbidden. The Lullwater today, above, is strictly a reflecting pool, mirroring an 1890 bridge by McKim, Mead, and White that also replaced Vaux’s original.
Skating on the Lullwater, c. 1886. Photo: Brooklyn Historical Society. This image shows the original wooden Lullwood Bridge, designed by Calvert Vaux, in the background.
The rowboats seen arrayed in William Merritt Chase’s painting of the original rustic boathouse, below, were nowhere in sight.
We then took a path I’d never traveled, which revealed an apparently unused pavilion, below (one imagines uniformed brass bands playing there 100 years ago), and emerged at Grand Army Plaza, feeling like we’d been somewhere new.
To read more about the Prospect Park Boathouse, go here.
THE NEWSPAPER OF RECORD has become the newspaper of the obvious. Today’s “Living in…” column on my recently adopted Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights, in the Sunday New York Times Real Estate section, tells me nothing useful or surprising, and almost nothing I didn’t know (except about the public schools, whose performance is sadly more abysmal than I thought). One wonders if the Times’ hard news stories are equally self-evident to those in the know. One hopes not.
I’m glad to see in black and white that the long-opposed and now quickly rising basketball arena has not yet affected property values in the neighborhood, at least according to the brokers quoted. Overall, the article says, the “popularity and relative scarcity” of Prospect Heights’ brownstones “protected their values in the downturn.” They are “consistently in demand because there is a small supply.” Always glad to have my own biases confirmed. That’s kind of the whole point of this blog (see “10 Reasons Old Houses are a Good Investment…” in column at left).
There was one small surprise: to read that one-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood “command as much as $1,800.” I wish. I pay more than that for mine.
Only one lucky shop and two restaurants are mentioned of the dozens and dozens that line Vanderbilt and Washington Avenues, and the “history” of the neighborhood is confined to two sentences about the composer Aaron Copland at the end, as if they ran out of column inches — but there are no column inches in the digital world.
Perhaps I’m just feeling grumpy, though it’s a beautiful April morning and I’m about to head out for a walk in Prospect Park. Probably I feel a certain proprietary interest in the quality of Times reporting, since I used to write a lot for the Home and Styles sections. And — full disclosure — maybe I’m grouchy about this particular column because last year I sent a well-thought-out pitch for a “Living in… Springs” (Long Island, N.Y.) to the editor of the Real Estate section and never got so much as a “No, thanks.”
The author of the Prospect Heights article is a New York Times media reporter, and the column is always formulaic. But still. Come on, Times! Tell us something we don’t know.
AT FIRST I THOUGHT this was going to be a hopelessly random post, a mash-up of recent photos I wanted to share but that had no particular organizing principle. Only when I looked at them all together I realized the bay windows, stained glass, and carriage houses do have something in common. They’re all in Park Slope!
Park Slope, Brooklyn’s biggest brownstone neighborhood — in fact, the largest concentration of 19th century housing stock in the entire country, I once read — is many things. Here are some of them, in alphabetical order:
annoying, beautiful, congested (in spots), Democratic, elegant, fucked, Gold Coast, historic, intense, jogger-laden, kid-happy, left-wing, mansion-infested, novelist-ridden, overpriced, parking nightmare, quiet at night, restaurant-challenged, self-satisfied, top-of-the-market, unfazed, Victorian, wifi-ful, xpanding, yoga-friendly, and zealous about its food coop rules.
(I can’t believe I managed to come up with 26 alphabetical adjectives — if you can do better on any of them, feel free. Click on “[#of] comments” in tiny type under the post headline above, and a form will open up for your comment. I know, WordPress doesn’t make it easy.)
I’ve never lived in Park Slope, though I’ve long admired its varied architecture, and envied its proximity to Prospect Park and the Botanic Gardens. And, of course, I wish I had had the foresight to snatch up some of those brownstones when they were cheap (I’m wincing, recalling a 5-story house with a mansard roof on the corner of Sixth Avenue and a North Slope block — Lincoln Place, maybe — for $150,000…Would somebody please KICK ME NOW?!)
Anyway, now that I’m in neighboring Prospect Heights, I find myself in the Slope more often. I’m getting familiar with certain blocks I trod on my way home from the Fifth Avenue bus.
The list of places I want to try/hang out is growing…Cafe Regular, Juventino…and many of them are in the Slope. It’s like discovering a new continent, that’s how vast it seems to an outlander. And with such architectural riches, it could take a long time to get bored.
BET YOU CAN’T GUESS — unless you noticed the tags– the location of that rustic-looking barn, above. Well, I’ll tell ya. It’s the Prospect Park Zoo here in Brooklyn. I went there yesterday for the first time in years (first time ever without children in tow).
I was in search of a subject for a photography workshop I’m taking at the new 92Y Tribeca. The assignment: to take an animal portrait that captures “something essential” about the subject, ideally a “magic moment” — and to try and get beyond the “awwww…how cute” factor.
That is almost impossible when you’re dealing with alpacas, like the pair above. For purposes of the class, I had to reduce the final number of images to three (all of one animal), from about 100 shots I took of sea lions — fast shutter speed required — and various other creatures.
African pygmy goat (didn’t get his name)
Ultimately, I zeroed in on Bonnie the Cotswold sheep, below. I had to eliminate many shots of her for my class presentation, because the awww factor was just too great.
Fortunately, I have this blog, so even though it’s off-topic, please indulge my sharing a few of my ‘extra’ shots. And do get over to the Prospect Park Zoo. You’ll probably feel, as I do, that you’ve made a lot of new friends.