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HAPPY NEW YEAR, devoted readers and anyone who may have landed accidentally on my humble six-year-old blog.

For my first post of 2015, here’s a small sampling of seasonally appropriate photos from the Brooklyn Historical Society’s online photo database. It’s a tremendous resource, and great fun to search when you’ve got a free evening or it’s too damn cold to go outside.

The images in this post are lantern slides, glass transparencies to be viewed through a projector (called a ‘magic lantern’) that casts the image on a wall. They were all taken by Adrian Vanderveer Martense (1852-1898), a lawyer by profession and an amateur photographer. Martense documented houses, streets, and his friends and neighbors in Flatbush, as well as momentous events like the legendary blizzard of March 1888 and the moving of the Hotel Brighton in Coney Island in April 1888. He was a member of the Brooklyn Academy of Photography and served as its first recording secretary when it was established in 1887 (it later became the Brooklyn Camera Club).

Top: Adrian Martense, center, with pinhole camera, along with two other men and a boy on a tricycle, c.1880

Martense was descended from Dutch settlers who came to Brooklyn in the 17th century. His family’s land is now part of Greenwood Cemetery. Some of the photos in this post show a rural side of 19th century Brooklyn; others were taken downtown and show buildings that still exist. Most of these were taken on March 15, 1888, when Martense evidently set out to record the aftermath of the great blizzard in several different neighborhoods. And aren’t we glad he did?

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Men standing at side of stage sleigh after blizzard

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Men clearing snow from Flatbush Avenue train tracks after the blizzard

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Children climbing into the back of a horse-drawn sleigh at Flatbush Avenue and Clarkson Avenue following the 1888 blizzard

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Man standing in front of City Hall (now Borough Hall) and elevated train tracks after the blizzard

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Man in front of coal and wood shop, as other men work to clear snow from the streets at Flatbush Avenue and Bergen Street

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Horse-drawn carriage stopped in front of 7 Sutherland Sisters, on Clinton Avenue near the corner of Fulton Street, after the blizzard

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People walking between piles of cleared snow at Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, following the blizzard

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Horse-drawn carriage in snow-covered street, c.1890

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Street car and horse-drawn carriage at Adams Street and Willoughby Street under the elevated train, with men standing on the sidewalk

This is just a tiny sample of the Brooklyn Historical Society’s Martense collection; you can see them all right here.

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LAST THURSDAY NIGHT’S MUNICIPAL ARTS SOCIETY WALKING TOUR of East Village neon was not what I expected, on several counts. How cold was it? Couldn’t-feel-your-toes cold. Still, I thought there’d be at least a bit of a crowd for such an intriguing event. But just three of us showed up — myself, my sister, and a woman from Virginia. Plus our leader, Tom Rinaldi, the 34-year-old author of New York Neon (Norton), a near-comprehensive book of pre-1970 neon in NYC. I’m glad a member of that generation is interested in documenting what remains of these 20th century artifacts, because they’re going fast. Since Tom’s book came out last year, there are even fewer of those mellow retro neon signs that once characterized the New York night.

Just last week, DiRobertis Pasticceria, on First Avenue near 11th Street, closed down after 110 years in business. Now the block is dark, where once their pink signage cheered the scene. To my shock, the Variety Photoplay Theatre on Second Avenue near 13th, with its Deco-era neon marquee, was no longer there. I’m sure I knew in the back of my mind that it had disappeared some years ago, but I had evidently blocked the knowledge and was looking forward to seeing it. As we walked, I grew increasingly depressed at the realization that very little great neon endures. It is, as Tom called it, ‘an endangered species.’

In our circuit of the neighborhood, from our meeting place in front of Block Drugs, below (obviously), on the corner of Second Avenue and 6th Street, to our final stop at Katz’s Deli on Houston, here’s what we saw.

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Above: The business goes back to 1884; the signage, Tom told us, about 1945.

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We ducked into a sports bar/pub on Second Avenue, mainly to warm up, and discovered a vintage Bar & Grill sign inside, above, with a great ampersand. Tom told us it had been moved here from elsewhere.

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Tom helped my sister and me figure out the best ways to photograph neon. Above, the one remaining Italian pastry shop in the East Village, the venerable Veniero’s. But we were on a mission and did not stop in for cappuccino and cannoli.

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Heading down First Avenue, a window sign in a coffee shop, above, the rounded A’s indicating its age.

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Popped in to the Theatre 80 St. Marks — their dignified signage, above — and discovered a warm and inviting bar in the lobby. Hot toddies made with absinthe. Note to self.

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An appliance store sign on First Avenue, above, had a couple of letters out, but the GE logo looked swell. Those rounded A’s take me right back to childhood.

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Then on down to Houston Street, and two classics from the era when the Lower East Side was a bastion of Jewish food: Russ & Daughters Appetizing, above, and Katz’s Deli, below, a neon extravaganza inside and out.  Both businesses are still going strong in the 21st century. As long as people keep eating smoked fish and pastrami sandwiches, we can assume their neon signage, lovingly maintained, will endure.

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Photos 4, 5, 7, 9, 13, 15, 18, 21: Stacie Sinder

 

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IN A MOVE THAT COMES AS A GREAT RELIEF to those who care about New York City’s historic architecture, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has reversed its recent decision to drop nearly 100 properties from its calendar, where many had languished for five years or more. It’s an administrative maneuver that doesn’t necessarily save anything, but at least insures that these properties — all of which were in the initial stages of being designated as landmarks, with research, public hearings, and a vote to follow — will remain under the oversight of the LPC and can’t be willy-nilly altered or, God forbid, demolished.

Top: c.1880 Second Empire cottage, Snug Harbor, Staten Island

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Mid-19th c. Ploughman’s Bush Building, North Bronx

Local preservation groups, including including Landmark West and the Historic Districts Council, went ballistic when the decision to remove the properties from LPC oversight was announced just after Thanksgiving. The outcry succeeded in getting the LPC to keep these 100 or so properties on the calendar.

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St. Barbara’s Church, 1910, Spanish Baroque, Bushwick, Brooklyn

For me, the eye-opener was an email from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, showing a number of fine and important buildings throughout the five boroughs that I had no idea were quite unprotected. The images in this post come from that email.

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Curtis House, c. 1850 Romantic Revival cottage, Staten Island

Better-known and much-beloved sites that remain in this netherworld — for the reversal of the ‘de-calendaring’ was merely a postponement — include Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery and the neon Pepsi sign in Long Island City.

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Left to right, above: 2 Oliver Street, 1821 Federal style townhouse, Chinatown; 138 Second Avenue,1832 Federal style rowhouse, East Village; 57 Sullivan Street, 1816 Federal style townhouse, SoHo

For New York Times coverage of the LPC’s original plan to chop the list of proposed landmarks, go here; and to read about the reversal of the decision, here. 

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WILLIAMSBURG IS A NEIGHBORHOOD I’ve never known well, even after 37 years in Brooklyn.

I know it slightly better now, after a few hours spent wandering its streets with a friend who moved there recently and scoped out some intriguing shops and cafes. I hope such little pockets of funk and charm survive the onslaught of new residential development and shopping that threatens to make the area indistinguishable from any other city.

Wander along with us, won’t you?

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Above:  fading signage. Below:  graffiti and garbage they haven’t cleaned up yet

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Above: “The new Williamsburg,” building lobby on N. 5th St.

Lunch at House of Small Wonder,below, could not have been cozier on a bitterly cold and windy day.

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Possibility for another day, belowBakeri on Wythe Avenue, which has a pleasant garden.

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Ditto the garden next to the stainless steel diner, above, now a Mexican restaurant. File that one away for springtime.

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Heavenly sight and scent for those weary of winter already: flowers at Sprout Home, below. 

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Grand building on Grand Street, above, so far put to no purpose.

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Below, the six-month-old Sharktooth, repository of vintage textiles, from antique rag and Caucasian carpets to quilts and bedspreads dyed navy and black.

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Is it happy hour already? Let’s pop in to Miss Favela, a Brazilian ‘botequim’ (watering hole), practically under the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s owned by the same people who own the popular Felix on West Broadway, said Pablo, our chatty bartender, below, as he muddled lime and sugar for our capirinhas. The place hops (or rather, sambas) on weekends, but we had it to ourselves this Wednesday afternoon.

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Nice finally getting to know you, Williamsburg.

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THE PERIPATETIC BROOKLYN FLEA has a new winter home. It opened last weekend for the season at 1000 Dean Street in Crown Heights. The market was jam-packed yesterday afternoon — in fact, my friend and I couldn’t deal with the level of human crush at the Berg’n beer hall right next door, so we hied off to Cent’anni on Franklin Avenue for lunch, then returned to shop.

Some 100 antiques dealers and artisans, plus 30 food stalls, fill the recently renovated 30,000-square-foot space that was a Studebaker showroom in the 1920s. Reminiscent of Manhattan’s much-mourned 26th Street Flea Market, which for decades was New York’s favorite antiques-hunting ground, the Brooklyn Flea is worth a browse for reasonably priced, one-of-a-kind holiday gifts, vintage furnishings and lighting, and assorted bric-a-brac.

Open Saturdays and Sundays from 10AM-6PM, it’s a fun new weekend activity for locals and visitors alike (much French was overheard). Clearly the place to be.

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