My Very Fine Ash


I’M JUST AS PROUD as can be. I’m all puffed up with pride right now. It’s not that one of my kids has done something extraordinary, or even myself. No, it’s the ash tree in the backyard of my building in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

I always knew it one of the biggest trees in the nabe. That tree is 150 feet tall, I’ll wager. A real monster. (You can see its trunk in the photo above.) I remember seeing it from above, high above — from the observation deck on the 29th floor of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building when the tower was sporadically open to the public in the early 1980s and my daughter and I used to go up there to eat lunch and view the bank’s big clock in close-up. I’d look down on my house, a block away, and see nothing but a green cloud of foliage emerging from the rectangle of the backyard, bigger by far than any other green cloud for blocks around.

What I didn’t know is that my ash is so very fine — practically worthy of landmarking. I found this out in the aftermath of Irene, when my tenant on the top floor sent me some photos. The ash — perhaps it too should be given a proper name — had shed a few large branches in the storm. Again. It has a habit of doing that. We’ve had it taken care of from time to time, and it always costs a bundle.

IMAG0613By utter coincidence, one of the leading arborists in Brooklyn, William Logan of Urban Arborists, happens to live adjacent to that backyard, and he knows the tree well. So I called him on Monday and he came to take a look. There was a 30-foot- long, Y-shaped branch straddling the brick wall of the building next door; another had landed on the roof deck of a neighboring building on State Street — a building that happens to be right next door to the house where Bill has lived for more than 20 years. He could practically reach over and dispatch that branch, which is why I called him and not the tree service in Staten Island, which tends to be less pricey.

Bill came to take a look, and a few hours later, emailed an estimate with this note:

Dear Cara, It was good to see you again and to look at the big ash. I am glad that it did not suffer too serious damage. It is a very fine ash, one of the best I know of in Brooklyn.

Well. Can you see why I am so very proud? And pleased. My property’s value has probably just shot up like the Dow every other day.

Then he went on…

We will repair the storm damage and inspect the tree to make sure that no other branches have been cracked or otherwise compromised. We will also remove any significant dead branches over the neighbors’ property.

Here is the proposal:

To prune as described above one approx 40” diameter ash to repair storm damage, examine branches and remove major deadwood  $895.00


Ugh. I hadn’t asked Bill to examine the rest of the tree or take any prophylactic measures against further breakage. But ya know, it’s a very fine ash — one of the best in Brooklyn, I hear. It needs special care. It’s probably quite old. Venerable, even.

That ash is worth any price. Yes, indeed. That’s my very fine ash.

High Deco in Brooklyn Heights


UPDATE: I’ve been called out — and rightly so — by a Massachusetts reader for making light of the “anti-climactic” “non-hurricane” in yesterday’s post below. I think we in NYC were so relieved when skyscrapers didn’t topple in heavy winds and the city didn’t become Atlantis, as one commentator warned, that “the day after” was spent in a state of altered consciousness, just trying to regain emotional balance. Only Monday evening did I hear a report on NPR about the extensive devastation in New England and the Catskills, and the damage and losses suffered there in many historic towns and villages. It is nothing short of tragic; apologies for my NYC-centric insensitivity.

I COULD HAVE DONE a post-Irene entry today, but I’m afraid I didn’t get good enough shots of the Jetskis in New York Harbor this afternoon, or the guy loading a surfboard into his car in the aftermath of the non-hurricane.


It was all a bit anti-climactic, after the three-day media storm that preceded it, so a friend and I wandered down to Brooklyn Bridge Park and then through Brooklyn Heights just to dispel the cabin fever of the previous 24 hours. I stopped to take a picture of the terra cotta peacock plaque, top, and in so doing, noticed anew a classic Art Deco building at the corner of Henry and Cranberry Streets. It’s been around for 80 years, and recently underwent a cleaning and partial renovation.


The 12-story building is called The Cranlyn, as I learned from the bas relief plaque, above. That’s Brooklyn’s Borough Hall in the foreground and a seemingly generic skyscraper (none that I recognize, anyway) against a characteristically Art Deco sunburst.


The architect was the Yale-educated H.I. Feldman, who designed many apartment buildings on and around the Bronx’s Grand Concourse in the 1930s and ’40s. It couldn’t be more emblematic of its era, with vari-colored brick, terra cotta trim, and setbacks at the top to reduce the building’s visual bulk and allow a few apartments to have terraces.


Even utilitarian vents, below, were made attractive in the best Jazz Age tradition, with zig zags and sunbursts galore.


The original marble storefronts on the ground floor, below, have been sadly vacant for some time. Other restaurants have come and gone; none has lasted as long as Su-Su’s Yum Yum, a Chinese restaurant where, if I remember correctly, I saw George Nelson bubble fixtures for the first time.


The ceiling fixtures in the renovated lobby, below, are a let-down. But the elevator doors, front desk, and other original details remain.


Of course, Montrose Morris, Brownstoner’s “Building of the Day” columnist, beat me to it. Go there to learn more about the Cranlyn, including comments about the rent-stabilized apartments within from someone who actually lived there.


Deskey-Designed Montauk Surf Shack $1.1M


WHAT’S A DESIGN PEDIGREE WORTH? Quite a bit, in the case of this 500-square-foot bungalow just sent to market by fashion designer Cynthia Rowley (who bought another mid-century Montauk house recently for 820K and probably doesn’t need two of them).


The pedigree is not Rowley’s, A-list celeb though she is. It’s that the house was designed in the late 1930s by architect Donald Deskey, best known for his elegant Art Deco contributions to Radio City Music Hall, for the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. He called it the “Sportshack,” declaring his intention to “overcome the public’s aversion to factory-built homes by using open spaces, new materials, and practical decor.”


Kitchen cabinets look original

In 1940, a Sportshack was exhibited as part of an industrial design show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, kitted out as a hunting cabin with rifles and duck decoys. This particular one was erected in the Ditch Plains area of Montauk in the ’40s. As it stands, the house has just one bedroom and one bath, but it sits on a lot of nearly an acre and could be expanded.


For the official listing and many more pictures, click here.

Fort Greene Then & Now


ARE YOU ON THE EMAIL LIST of the Brooklyn Historical Society? It’s worth it for their  “Photo of the Week,” a gem from their archives that never fails to get my attention. This morning came the ca. 1897 shot above, of three horses drinking from a fountain at the intersection of Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue, a block from the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The accompanying info, from the BHS’s 1897 and 1898 city directories, reveals that 63 Lafayette was occupied by Joseph Nadler, a ladies’ tailor; 65 Lafayette by William H. Fricke, a furrier, and August Kretzer, a grocer; and #67 by Theo. Eisenbiegler, a butcher.

Although some embellishments have been added, the buildings are still standing, as visible in the Google street view, below.

To see more online images from the Brooklyn Historical Society’s collection, pop on over here.

Meet ‘Upstater’


1838 Thornton M. Niven House, Newburgh, N.Y., 399K

ONCE AGAIN <the blogger said sheepishly> I apologize for the infrequency of my posts of late. Not to worry — I am about to embark on a new, Brooklyn-based gig that has the potential to energize and enliven casaCARA as well. Meanwhile, I’m going to call your attention to a new-this-year blog doing more or less what I set out to do some 2-1/2 years ago, but more comprehensively — and with more resources in the form of contributors, and all the fresh enthusiasm that comes with initiating a new project (two or more posts a day, wowza!)

It’s called Upstater, and it’s spearheaded by a professional journalist, Lisa Selin Davis, who is enamored not only of Dutchess and Columbia Counties, the portion of the mid-Hudson Valley I know and love; they also spread up, down, and around from there. In other words, they cover the riverfront, east and west, and venture into the Catskill Mountains, too.


Sullivan County lakefront cottage, 199K

The Upstaters are perennial house-hunters wanting to share picks and finds, and though much of their legwork is mouse-work, they do spotlight interesting, inexpensive properties, and provide overviews of upstate towns that are useful to serious prospective buyers as well as buy-curious visitors and vacationers.

This week, the kleigs are turned on Newburgh, N.Y., which has the second-most historic properties in New York State (second to the Apple, of course, and that’s damned impressive). Coverage is provided by Cher Vick of the blog Newburgh Restoration, another able reporter who’s pulled together some extraordinary listings and makes a strong case for investigating the town.


Margaretville, N.Y. oldie, “make an offer”

So while I lay a little lower than usual, get thee right over to Upstater to find out what’s happening, real-estate-wise, in Newburgh and points north.