Monday, March 2, 2015

Roseland's Remains

Roseland Ballroom closed last spring. It's been getting demolished, to be replaced with a 62-story luxury high-rise.

Here's what it looked like before demolition, from the satellites of Google Earth:

And here's the same aerial view today, via Jon Ford, who took the shot from his office window up above. It's a bird's-eye peek into the long-loved ballroom, busted open and strewn with rubble:

Jon Ford

Roseland opened in 1919 and moved to 52nd Street in 1956. The boat-shaped ballroom had been a skating rink before then.

Barbara Gee Danskin


The Barbara Gee Danskin shop on Broadway at 82nd Street is closing. They've been in business since 1975.

photo: Elizabeth Shelton

Reader Elizabeth Shelton sent in the news, along with a video interview of their salesman Mike for #SaveNYC.

He says the shop is closing for "economic reasons--rent and everything else that goes along with it."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Is Authentically Harlem?

Last week, the Columbia Spectator published an op-ed entitled "Is Columbia really destroying Harlem’s authenticity?" Written by first-year student Cristian Zaharia, it supports the school's expansion into Harlem, which was made possible via eminent domain. Zaharia argues that Harlem's authentic culture is not African-American, but one of ever-changing cultures dating back to the Dutch, and that the expansion "will be the start of a new, fresh era for the neighborhood."

On his Facebook page, Harlem historian and activist Michael Henry Adams wrote a reasoned and impassioned response. It is reproduced here in full, with his permission:

Adams arrested while protesting the demolition of Harlem's Renaissance Ballroom and Casino, photo by Antwan Minter

Harlem has numerous lovely old buildings reflecting varied cultures, even former synagogues. But throughout history, nothing about Harlem has made it renown, world-wide, apart from black people. One may talk all one likes about other earlier Harlems populated by people who were not black. By contrast, these white Harlems were insignificant. African Americans alone--our culture, drive, and creativity--have accorded Harlem a status as fabled and fabulous as that held by Paris or Rome. Everything, anything else is superfluous, even meaningless, in terms of Harlem's well-deserved fame.

Entertaining any illusions about the possibility of preserving an authentic Harlem, absent African Americans, it's instructive to look downtown. What survives in Greenwich Village or Hell's Kitchen, to suggest an earlier historic black identity today? And so, yes, Columbia and by extension unknowing or unwitting students--through displacement and gentrification--are rapidly helping to destroy Harlem's irreplaceable heritage and rich legacy.

You are not alone. Many blacks, beguiled by white dollars, are just as eager to replace the houses, churches, schools, stores, theatres and other buildings where Langston Hughes, Georgette Harvey, A'Lelia Walker and other Harlem luminaries, lived, worked, played and prayed, with more luxury condominiums.

Indeed, whatever one has to suggest, even if it's making a black congregation's church into a private school for your kids, or a mansion just for you, they are cool with it. A fig leaf of 20% "affordable" housing, and an historic name, derived from some black hero, for the new condo building or the street or park nearby are nice, but hardly essential. Landmarking and preservation that enhance neighborhoods downtown are antithetical to them. "How much longer will blacks exert political sway over Harlem?" they reason, "while whites are buying, we had better sell up."

A few brave voices contest Columbia University’s contention that their Harlem expansion plans will be universally beneficial. "It's nothing but rubbish," says distinguished and scholarly architectural historian Robin Middleton, who formerly taught at Cambridge before joining the faculty at Columbia. "Columbia's plans are simply monstrous, like an Orwellian, Stalinist, or dystopian campus of factories. No one touting how much they cherish 'design excellence,' could possibly approve of what they are doing, unless of course if it were their job to do so. And, it is, isn't it?"

It was around the connected issues of Harlem being up-zoned, and observing Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden much more closely, that I began to see who she really is and how it shapes what's at stake. Did it help the homeless to provide for evermore $900,000 condos, in a community where the yearly wage for half the residents is less than $36,000? Is it beneficial to small local merchants, allowing for 25-story towers where 19th-century buildings with just 6 floors once prevailed? What's the point of confiscating thriving businesses that want to be a part of a new revitalized Harlem? Why were they "compensated" at a rate pegged to the value of property prior to the zoning change allowing greater density? Why clear 17 acres, solely for Columbia's use, and leave only 2 of dozens of historic structures? Ought not the sole Planning Commission vote against this ill-conceived venture, cast by Karen Philips, a black woman who lives in Harlem, to have influenced the chair, who said, "The community is not going to buy in, unless it reflects their culture?"

For a long while, it seemed as if the teeming numbers of poor people here would mean Harlem's and Manhattanville's salvation. Reliable voters, housing project residents seemed sure to elect legislators who would act in their interests. Given the great numbers of low-income people here and the enmity that many affluent have to living among such people, it seemed as if gentrification might just be held at bay.

Now the marketplace seems poised to pressure the elimination of such oasis of affordable civility. More and more affordable housing and other matters affecting the poor are deemed issues only possible to address by warmly embracing the concerns and requirements of the rich. In a city of more than eight million, an utterly unwinnable solution to the massive problem of housing that's unaffordable to most is underway.

Seemingly commendable, government in partnership with developers, is making inclusion of "affordable" housing a condition for building. Ironically though, on average, 80% of all new housing is targeted for those who already have the greatest amount of choice, people who make up fewer than 20% of the population. Conversely, the "affordable" component, typically 20% of units in a new structure, will never meet an ever-growing demand among the city's working poor.

What will remain when it's all finished? No one can say for certain. Some romantically hope for the best. That, miraculously, the African American Cultural Capital at Harlem will somehow survive. Very likely, however, what's in store for Harlem instead is yet another Manhattan community like every other: one boasting the same stores, restaurants, banks, condos, and rich people. As one writer observed, "the same three stores, for the same two people."

Michael Henry Adams is an accomplished writer, lecturer, historian, tour guide, and activist. Born in Akron, Ohio, he lives in Harlem. Michael trained at Columbia University's graduate historic preservation program. His books include "Harlem, Lost and Found: An Architectural and Social History, 1765-1915," and "Style and Grace: African Americans at Home." Currently, he's at work on the forthcoming "Homo Harlem: A Chronicle of Lesbian and Gay Life in the African American Cultural Capital, 1915-1995." He is a passionate supporter of historic preservation, for the Casino Renaissance the fire watch tower restoration and Villa Lewaro, Madam Walker's house at Irvington. Dismayed by Harlem's piecemeal destruction, he is seeking to establish a preservation advocacy organization to Save Harlem Heritage. For additional info, call 212-862-2556.

You can also follow him on Twitter: @harlemhellion

Capturing Manhattanville
Rebranding Harlem
The eviction of 125th
On revanchist hyper-gentrification
Columbia wins right to seize private property in Harlem

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fantasy World & Shack

Fantasy World has vacated its wedge-shaped building at 7th Avenue and West 11th Street. The shop is empty. Signs in the window say they've moved to 333 6th Avenue at West 4th.


In 2013, The Real Deal reported that Fantasy World would not last much longer here. Developer Ike Chehebar "made an application to Landmarks Preservation Commission to add several floors to the one-story building."

“They didn’t really want us here,” Fantasy World salesclerk Aileen Baez told TRD. “It took a lot to get this open because people don’t want a sex shop in their neighborhood. But we’ve never had any problems.”

Chehebar said, “We hope to reposition that asset with a high-end, value-add tenant — something along the lines of Nespresso."

before the closure

I don't know how long Fantasy World was here. In my search for Edward Hopper's Nighthawks diner, I considered their building as a possibility, but it didn't pan out. I did, however, find this 1980s tax photo of the building back when it was a Discount Center. In the 1930s and 40s, it was a liquor store.

From what I can tell, it's never been anything high-end or value-add.

Here's another shot, from a snowy day in the 80s:

photo: Nathan Tweti

For many decades, behind the Fantasy World building there was a little wedge-shaped shack. (I also considered it for Nighthawks.)

The structure was a crooked, ramshackle thing, an odd space that had long ago been the Graziano Market, and more recently the Yavroom jewelry shop.


Well, it has just been utterly fancified--because no little scrap of the city can escape such a fate. Looks like it was completely torn down and replaced with a glassy, glossy version of its old self.

It's 235 square feet and it's going for $5,000 per month. Maybe someone will put in a "specialty" coffee bar and pretend it was once the Nighthawks diner.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winnie's Bar


More bad news for the life of New York's classic dive bars. After 28 years on Bayard Street in Chinatown, Winnie's is closing.

Reader Jack wrote in, "Two bartenders at Winnie’s Bar and Grill in Chinatown have told me that they are closing sometime in March as the landlord is renting the space to someone else (they have gone for 3 years without a lease)."

I called to confirm. The bartender I spoke with told me they'll be closing at the end of March. She was unable to give any details about the reason for the closure. *UPDATE: The owner writes on imgur, "Winnie's Bar will be closing due to the inability to attain a lease from the landlord."

Site of several Chinese gangster showdowns in the late 1980s and early 90s, Winnie's was a favorite spot of the notorious Ghost Shadows. It later became known as a place for karaoke and was voted Best Karaoke Bar in New York by the Village Voice. Here's how they described the scene:

"Dingy, dimly lit, and not too crowded, Winnie's in Chinatown is the antithesis of the slick, sanitized karaoke bars you're likely to encounter uptown. As you enter, you'll notice it's a bit segregated: On the left, old Chinese dudes play dice games at the bar; on the right, spacious red booths are packed with skinny-jeans-wearing hipsters and local office workers cheering on their friends at the mic."

The space itself has been a bar for a long time. Said the bartender of Winnie's 28 years, "It was a bar before that, and a bar before that, and a bar before that." That history shows in the well-worn interior, which is 100% classic dive.

Winnie's block of Bayard makes an appearance in the 1949 movie Adam's Rib. That awning for Carmine's Restaurant looks like it might be the same spot.

Jimmy Breslin wrote of a Carmine's on Bayard Street: "Carmine's is always the same... Carmine's is the bar on Bayard Street, behind the Criminal Court Building in Manhattan, where the cops and court attendants go... Carmine's smells as if it has river water in the basement. A couple of drinks and you don't notice the smell anymore."

Could be the place.

104 Bayard also turns up in a murky tax photo from the early 1980s, but it's too blurry to determine the bar's name.

In any case, what are the chances that Winnie's space will remain a dive bar once Winnie's is gone?

Before it turns into yet another bubble tea emporium, visit one last time to enjoy this classic spot -- knock back a pitcher of Winnie's infamous Hawaiian Punch (a powerful mixture of, among other things, rum, vodka, amaretto, creme de bananes, and grenadine), and belt out a bad rendition of "Don't Stop Believin" or "Eye of the Tiger" (two of the biggest crowd pleasers, according to general manager Teddy Mui).

Better yet, for this occasion, "Another One Bites the Dust."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bonnie Slotnick II

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks has a new space. Opening this Wednesday, Bonnie gave me the first sneak peek inside her shop at 28 East 2nd Street.

As you first learned here, Bonnie was forced out of her long-time Greenwich Village location by a landlord who wanted more rent, or a different kind of tenant, or whatever landlords want when they decide to kick out an enduring and beloved small business.

When word spread, she found a pair of angels in siblings Margo and Garth Johnston, who wanted a bookshop in the basement of their East Second Street townhouse. They heard about Bonnie’s plight and reached out with a sweetheart deal.

Bonnie has spent the winter unpacking, painting shelves glossy white, and organizing what has turned out to be a dream bookshop, much larger than the last, complete with a working fireplace ("I'll probably never light it--fire and smoke don't go well with books") and a backyard perfect for book parties.

She is thrilled to have her books out of storage and back on the shelves. “They’re ready to meet their public once again,” Bonnie says, straightening a few spines. “They didn’t like being packed in boxes. They like being in the light.”

The books are displayed together with items from Bonnie's vast collection of vintage kitchenware. She has just come into possession of a 1950s-era mixer, heavy as a cinderblock, exchanged for a vintage typewriter. 

Contrary to what you might expect, Bonnie is not a foodie. She prefers comfort food and does not go in for culinary fetishism. She likes cookbooks as books. They are, quite possibly, her greatest nourishment.

“I like to say that if you’re eating a peanut butter sandwich while reading something by M.F.K. Fisher,” she says, “you’re feasting.”

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks vanishing
Bonnie Slotnick Redux

Thursday, February 19, 2015

La Parisienne


Manhattan has lost another classic coffee shop. Reader Scott Levine sends in the following shot of a shuttered La Parisienne, on 7th Avenue by 58th.

photo by Scott Levine

The hastily written sign in the window says only: "We're moving on! Thanks for letting us serve you for over 50 years."

In business since 1950, La Parisienne was a favorite spot to grab a meal after a show at Carnegie Hall or a walk through Central Park, a place for the standard old-school diner fare of burgers, eggs, pancakes, et al. (It was not a favorite, however, of Mexican wrestlers.) It boasted a beautiful vintage neon sign, in blue and red, along with the ever-vanishing STEAKS CHOPS SEAFOOD.

Now the neon sign is off and calls to the diner go unanswered. Bon voyage La Parisienne.

Better days, via Google Maps