Day 1313




Stepping off a Metro-North train in Harlem, I see that a reasonable approximation of the old Corn Exchange Bank has risen atop the ruins of the original building.

Day 1313

12 West 129th Street

August 4th, 2015



You can see a wider shot of the building in Street View. And here's what the place looked like in 1932.

From the building's 1994 landmark designation report:

The house at 12 West 129th Street, erected c.1863 when the village of Harlem was undergoing development as a suburban center, stands as a rare survivor of Harlem's early history, prior to its rapid development as an urban neighborhood. Built for two carpenters, William Paul and Thomas Wilson, and their families, it was a two-and-a-half story frame structure characteristic of suburban architecture. Subsequent changes to the house reflect adaptations by new owners to their needs, as well as changes in the surrounding community. In 1883, piano merchant John Bolton Simpson, Jr., added the distinctive Moorish-inspired porch, the most significant architectural feature of the house, with its perforated ornamentation created by the use of a scroll saw. In 1896, the house was acquired by an order of Franciscan nuns which was expanding its mission in the greater New York area. In order to accommodate a new use as a convent and children's home, the building was enlarged to a full three stories. Since that time, the building has continued in institutional ownership; it was purchased in 1979 by the Christ Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith, which plans to convert it to a senior citizens' residence.
I'm not sure what's currently happening with the building, but I do know it was used as a hostel called "Jazz on the Villa" for a few years around 2006 to 2009.

Day 1314

No bums allowed!

August 5th, 2015



This stegosaurus of a standpipe connection is just one of the many tushie terrorizers conspiring to make the city's streets inhospitable to the weary keisters of pooped-out pedestrians. The sprinkler connection outside this building, pictured below, is equally unwelcoming.



But don't despair. While this callous indifference to the suffering of others may be on the rise, there are still plenty of other Siamese connections that continue to welcome the tired, the poor, and the huddled asses of the world with open arms (a.k.a. spikeless sitting surfaces). Just around the corner, in fact, I found one providing refuge for run-down rumps in three different Street View photos — a sanctuary sitty, if you will.

Day 1315


Day 1315

Solar-powered honeybee

August 6th, 2015


Day 1315

Love loves Love

August 6th, 2015


Day 1315

1966 Volvo 1800S

August 6th, 2015



Irv Gordon, a retired science teacher from Long Island, has put a world-record 3 million miles and counting on his red 1966 Volvo 1800S (not pictured).

Day 1315

“Just R”

August 6th, 2015



Since before I was born, a big red R has loomed mysteriously over the streets of Red Hook, leaving decades of perplexed passersby to wonder why such a prominent sign would be used to display such a nonsensical message.

There was a time, many years ago, when the R was just one of several 30-foot-tall letters perched atop that cream-colored building. In those days, the sign read "E.J. TRUM", the name of the paper box manufacturer that owned the place.

After John Turano & Sons, a furniture wholesaler, acquired the building in 1978, the Turanos wanted to put their own name up on the sign. But as Frank Turano told New York magazine in 2001:

We went on the roof and started pulling down these giant letters. The E, the J, the T. But the R got stuck. We couldn't move it. Someone almost fell off the building trying. It put a scare into us. It seemed better to leave it up there. It's been like that for 22 years. Recently a lot of people looking for billboards have come around asking about the space. But we'll leave it like that: just R.
The Turanos have since moved on, but the R remains. (The period after the E is still stuck up there as well, of course, but it never seems to get much attention.) Of the four old neon rooftop signs that stood in the industrial Gowanus-Red Hook area when I started this walk, the R is one of only two left. Bruno Truck Sales is its fellow survivor, while Eagle Clothes and Kentile Floors have been torn down. (There is some talk of Eagle Clothes possibly being resurrected, however.)

Day 1315

Monarch Luggage Co., Inc.

August 6th, 2015



This old factory is now an apartment building.

Day 1315

’71 Chevy Nova

August 6th, 2015






Gun cartridges on the front license plate...



Hood locks



Please Don't TOUCH!



In Loving Memory of Mom



...and gun cartridges on the rear

Day 1315

Red Hook garbage can

August 6th, 2015



The anchor motif reflects the neighborhood's maritime identity, past and present.

Day 1315

Atlantic Basin

August 6th, 2015



Gazing out across the Atlantic Basin, we get a good look at the Lower Manhattan skyline and the cranes of the Red Hook Container Terminal.

Day 1315

Bidet manufacturer?

August 6th, 2015


Day 1315




This is the northwestern facade of the old Lidgerwood Manufacturing Company factory complex. A major builder of cableways and hoisting machinery, Lidgerwood supplied cableways for the construction of the Panama Canal, the Hoover Dam, and many other large infrastructure projects. The company was founded in Brooklyn in 1873 and lives on today as the Superior-Lidgerwood-Mundy Corporation of Superior, Wisconsin.

The Brooklyn Edison electric company purchased this property from Lidgerwood in 1926, and by 1937 had painted over this wall (which at that time was fully visible from the harbor) with a big "COOK ELECTRICALLY" ad featuring Reddy Kilowatt. If you look closely (zoom in), you can still make out faint traces of the word "COOK" on the left side of the wall, on top of the older Lidgerwood lettering.

Day 1315

FIRE

August 6th, 2015



I'd never seen a manhole cover labeled "FIRE" before, but there are at least three in the immediate vicinity of the former Lidgerwood factory in Red Hook. As this 1916 map shows (look for the 12-inch high pressure line on Dikeman Street between Ferris Street and the water), the manholes are remnants of an old network of high-pressure water mains and hydrants installed in the early 1900s to improve firefighting capabilities in and around Downtown Brooklyn. Similar systems were also built in Coney Island and Manhattan.

Pumper trucks eventually eliminated the need for the high-pressure hydrants, which spent their last couple of decades operating like standard hydrants before being taken out of service altogether around 1980. Even though they were just useless relics from that point on, the city continued issuing tickets to vehicles parked in front of them.

Finally, in the mid-1990s, the city began getting rid of the old high-pressure hydrants. The associated manhole covers were removed as well, which explains why I've never noticed one before. I imagine the cover pictured above and the neighboring one — as well as the F handhole cover pictured above — were left in place because the block they're on is now a private street. (I don't know why the third, newer-looking FIRE cover a block away on Coffey Street wouldn't have been removed, however.)

Day 1315

Ferris Street mural

August 6th, 2015



You can check out the entire block-long painting in Street View.

Day 1315

Sidewalk drainage channel

August 6th, 2015



One of three on the block

Day 1315




Old, exposed Belgian block pavement is a fairly common sight in this part of western Red Hook. The stones are usually laid out simply in straight lines, but a more elaborate pattern of intersecting arcs (seen much more clearly in Street View) can be found here on Van Dyke Street. This is apparently known as a bogen layout.

Day 1315

Red Hook’s twin towers

August 6th, 2015



As indicated on this 1929 map, these side-by-side structures once supported water tanks. The tanks are visible in the center of this 1966 aerial image, but appear to have been removed by 1980. (I had to stare at those images for a long time before I was able to understand what I was seeing.)

Day 1315

Merchant Stores

August 6th, 2015



Built in 1873, these two handsome brick warehouses on Pier 41 in Red Hook are known as the Merchant Stores. They once served as "a bottling plant for the Morgan Soda (later White Rock Beverage) Company", according to the AIA Guide to New York City, and are now home to such enterprises as a winery, a glass-bending shop, and a coffee-roasting collective.

Down at the far end, in what was previously used as the residence for the cast of MTV's The Real World: Brooklyn, is an event space called the Liberty Warehouse, presumably named for its proximity to, and view of, the Statue of Liberty. I took a look at the "Information" page of the venue's website and found this absurd claim: "The Liberty Warehouse is the only location in all of New York where the Statue of Liberty is face front as she looks on to France."

1) There is nothing special about the Liberty Warehouse's location in relation to the direction the statue faces. While you can certainly see her face from the warehouse, you're not particularly close to looking at her dead-on: the warehouse is angled more than 23 degrees off the centerline of her gaze. (This fact is conveniently illustrated by the big photo of the statue, presumably taken from the warehouse, that can be found alongside the text on the "Information" page.) If you want a direct look at the statue's face from the waterfront, you'll have to head over to the foot of 42nd Street in Sunset Park, about a mile and a half away as the crow flies.

2) While Lady Liberty was a gift from the French, she was not positioned to look toward France. In fact, she faces more than 90 degrees away from Paris. In search of another way to express how erroneous the website's claim is, I decided to figure out what country she actually is staring at across the ocean. Brazil? South Africa? Whatever it is, it would surely help drive home the fact that she's not looking anywhere near France. So I pulled up a map, plugged some coordinates into these handy tools, and discovered that after crossing the Atlantic, her gaze makes landfall in the nation of... France. Not the mainland in Europe, of course, but the overseas department of French Guiana in South America. So I suppose the "looks on to France" part of the website's claim is technically correct. Damn!

(The "Information" page mentioned above also claims that the warehouse was "constructed in the pre-Civil War 1850’s". I'm no expert on the subject myself, but I'd say the AIA Guide, which provided the 1873 date I gave above and specifically states that the Merchant Stores and other similar warehouses in the area were built after the Civil War, is a far more trustworthy source on the matter than the Liberty Warehouse people.)

Day 1315

Found on the ground

August 6th, 2015



Note the loop attached to the end. Was someone trying to turn this shell casing into jewelry?

Day 1315

1964-68 Sunbeam

August 6th, 2015



This is either a Sunbeam Alpine or a Sunbeam Tiger (the V8 version of the Alpine). I had never heard of these cars before, but they've had some impressive movie and television roles. The first James Bond car, as seen in 1962's Dr. No, was a blue early-'60s Alpine, and Maxwell Smart drove a red '65 Tiger during the first four seasons of the TV series Get Smart, including at the beginning of the opening credits for the first two seasons. An Alpine apparently had to stand in for the Tiger on Get Smart in some instances; because of its smaller engine, only the Alpine had enough room under the hood to accommodate the car's pop-up machine gun.

Day 1315




A feral cat condo on Hicks Street

Day 1315

R.I.P. Angel

August 6th, 2015


Day 1315

Red Hook grain elevator

August 6th, 2015



The hulking structure looming above, blackened with age, is a two-million-bushel grain elevator opened here on the Henry Street Basin in 1922 as part of the New York State Barge Canal's Gowanus Bay terminal. The elevator was built to facilitate the transfer of grain from barges (arriving via the canal system) to ocean-going steamships.

While the canal system and the elevator were "magnificent works of engineering", according to an expert quoted by the NY Times's Christopher Gray in his piece about the elevator, they were also "magnificent boondoggles" that failed in their attempt to recapture grain and other freight traffic that had been lost to railroads in the years since 1880. The elevator was deactivated in 1965 and has been vacant for half a century now.

You can see an old photo of the elevator and its since-demolished conveyor structures here, and you can check out some current-day images of the abandoned interior here.

(Visible in the background [zoom in] is the city's first large-scale wind turbine, which generates power for the Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Sunset Park.)

UPDATE (Mar. 14, 2017): R.I.P. Christopher Gray, "the David Letterman of architectural history". Your Streetscapes column has long been an invaluable source of information and inspiration. Thank you for all that you've done!