The Vanishing City… and Vanishing “CitiField” name?

Technically, this blog writer is on a blogging break til Monday, April 13th. Except, as you might have noted, the blogging thing sort of gets in your blood and it’s hard to stop. !

With that in mind, I write a short entry below:

I went to the second Vanishing City event Sunday afternoon at Dixon Place Theater featuring films, including the work-in-progress documentary “Vanishing New York” (20 minutes was shown) and “The Over Successful City,” and speakers discussing the changing neighborhoods of the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Bowery (largely attributed to Mayor Bloomberg‘s policies, giveaways to developers, and “rezonings” of these areas). Doris Diether, of Community Board 2 and a highly regarded Village activist and advocate, was added to the line-up at the last minute. All the speakers and audience members’ points were spot on.

I’ll try to write something about it in the near future or perhaps when I return writing new entries. I’m sure Kirby at Colonnade Row blog will write an update. I’ll link to it when he does. You can read my report back of the first event in late January here.

In the meantime, at Vanishing New York blog, Jeremiah has an interesting write up today on the new Mets Stadium and the unfortunate selling of the naming rights to CitiBank. It is now called “Citi Field” – but, as Jeremiah notes, only if we agree to call it that! He advocates boycotting the name (I agree) and taking a cue from the MTA which lists the stop as just Mets (the old stop was listed as Shea Stadium) and heretofore calling the new stadium Mets Field.

I’d read that the reason for the missing “CitiField” name on the subway stop is that CitiBank, one of the banks bailed out by our taxpayer money, would not pay the MTA to have their name listed as a subway stop – so the stop is just referred to as Mets. (That seems a bit dubious on the part of the MTA but anyway…) If you think about it, they bought the naming rights to the stadium – for $400 million – for only 20 years.

Hopefully, 20 years from now, corporate naming and selling off of everything to corporations – a la Mayor Bloomberg – will no longer be a trend.

Jeremiah recalls that the Flatiron Building was originally named the Fuller Building but people didn’t like it so it never stuck. That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Sort of like … hmmm… at Washington Square Park, the “Tisch” Fountain, perhaps? Somehow I don’t think that name will ever stick. The Tisch Family may not have realized what they were getting themselves into when they brokered that one.

See you soon —

Former Times’ Food Critic and Author Mimi Sheraton shares her thoughts on Minetta Tavern, NYU and Washington Sq Park

I thought it might be interesting here at Washington Square Park Blog to spotlight local businesses or local people from time to time. I’ve been following the press around the reopening of Minetta Tavern, the famed 72 year old eatery on Macdougal Street, just a few blocks off Washington Square Park, which had fallen more recently on hard times, closed for nine months and opened last week under the direction of restaurantur Keith McNally (Balthazar, Pastis, among others).

Former New York Times’ food critic and author Mimi Sheraton weighed in with her thoughts about the new menu and renovated space on Eater.com which she experienced via a private tasting before the restaurant officially opened.

I contacted Ms. Sheraton and asked her if she’d answer some questions via email about living in the Village (64 years!), NYU(she’s an alum and has strong feelings on the University’s buildings – “hideous”), living near Washington Square Park(she has some nice recollections about it, including floating crap games!), and, of course, her thoughts on the new Minetta Tavern. (Note: She’d commented here at WSP Blog last year in relation to a story on the potential restaurant in the historic Union Square Park Pavilion — she was against placing one within this public space.)

Q&A with Mimi Sheraton:

Q. You grew up in Brooklyn with a mother who loved to cook and father who was a merchant in the Washington Market, a wholesale produce market. Where did you grow up in Brooklyn?

A. I grew up in the Midwood section of Flatbush.

Q. You’ve had a career in the food industry as a prominent reviewer (many years for the New York Times), but also as a writer, researcher, consultant, teacher, and more. You attended NYU as an undergraduate and live in Greenwich Village. How long have you lived in the Village?

A. I moved into the Village in 1945 and have never left…64 years & that after 2 years at NYU so I really spent that time here before moving in at the start of my junior year.

Q. What are your memories of Washington Square Park? Do you remember when traffic went through the park and when there was no fence?

A. I remember the Square when there was often water in the fountain but often dry so people went every Sunday to read newspapers and there were folk-singers and guitar players like Susan Reed around what we called “the circle”, and when the traffic went through the Arch and there were no fences. I believe the Arch was also a turn around for the 5th Ave double decker buses and there were floating crap games in the park.

Q. Have you followed the city’s redesign/renovation plans for the Park? Do you have feelings about it?

A. I have followed all of the re-designs for the park and have hated all of them..the former mounds of black whatever, the dog run, the moving of the fountain, the fences and the hideous NYU buildings surrounding it…especially the Kimmel Center. I am embarrassed to be an NYU alum. if they had their way, they’d close it to the public and make it their campus.

Q. Did you review Minetta Tavern during your years as a food critic? Did you have a history with the place? Was Minetta Tavern ever known for its food or was it more about ‘the place?’

'old' Minetta

'old' Minetta

A. My history with Minetta was only as a romantic typical Village tavern to go when I was new here..the food used to be OK but not great and it got worse..I had not been back in at least 20 yrs before last Sat. night. I do not remember ever reviewing it..certainly not for the Times. It was a place we all wanted to love and now maybe we can.

Q. There’ve been articles highlighting the preservation work Keith McNally had done to retain the historical and much loved aspects of the previous establishment. What are your thoughts on the food and the ambiance of the new restaurant?

A. (Ms. Sheraton directed me to her Eater comment which she felt summed it up.) A menu is one thing. Delivery on its promise is another. So it is great to be able to say that a two-person tasting at Minetta this past Friday night resulted in these absolute winners..and so early in the game, too: What we loved were the oxtais and foie gras terrine, the 3 tartars, the grilled veal chop, the stupendous boned pigs’ feet and the aligot..to say nothing of the setting itself which is classic McNally genius and feels as it did about 60 years ago when I was there for the first of many meals.

Q. Keith McNally told The Villager that of course he’d welcome “the locals” but didn’t know if he’d truly be able to deliver on that. Once the place is up and running, it’s understandable that people will flock to it and there might not be room for “locals.” Do you see any way that the old-time “regulars” could still be welcomed back to the place they had such a connection with?

A. I think Keith will welcome locals but they will have to call for reservations in enough time to get them. I cannot imagine that they will exclude locals in favor of others..he doesn’t do that at Pastis or Morandi. Why would he here?..but they will have to call for reservations..wandering in might not work if this becomes as popular as I think it will. There may well be preference given to celebrities, especially those who are regulars at this and other of his restaurants, but all places do that.

He himself is a local resident and loves the Village and has fought unsightly inroads in Meat Packing District..etc. and he knows the value of having a place locals like. As for old-time regulars, who are they? Not me. It might be that such locals will be priced out of this but after all a restaurant is not a philanthropy. I also think if Minetta continues to grow and be good, it will upgrade the neighborhood and attract other quality establishments. Macdougal is a sleazy mess right now and Minetta Lane is a stark nightmare. … If not for Keith, Minetta might have been torn down, or, worse yet, taken over by NYU.

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For more coverage of Minetta Tavern including before and after photos, info on the menu and more , go to Eater archives here.

Asbury Park: An Appreciation of the Gritty

Casino, Asbury ParkThere are some places that are clearly magical. Washington Square Park is one of them. Asbury Park, along the Jersey shore, is another. I spent summers during my college years at the clubs there seeing bands when Bruce Springsteen (bursting at the seams of fame) would jump on stage at the Stone Pony or The Fast Lane. Asbury at that time was run down but nonetheless full of charm.

Recently, Asbury Park has been privy to its own “renovation,” and like New York City’s redesign of Washington Square Park, there’s this drive by the powers-that-be to erase the old. Any signs of grit or bohemia – bulldozed over. The major difference with Asbury is that it has the ocean – which is magnificent – and the town is so large that it’s difficult for any one entity to erase everything magical about it.

I walked around Asbury yesterday. There’s this apparent tendency by developers to want every inch of space to be allotted to high end restaurants, galleries and stores, as if it’s attempting to be Soho or “NoLiTa” — instead of letting it be what it is. There are closed storefronts that once housed hair salons and electronics stores and video stores. One of the local weeklies, the Tri-City News, has article after article stating, that, with the economic downturn, rents are down and new creative businesses can come back to Asbury and Red Bank. !

Why does it take an economic downturn for the creative to blossom? Is the only value to landlords and developers (and people like Mayor Bloomberg) money and real estate – and the accumulation of both?

Spring 2008

Spring 2008

Nobody's Bar - Now Gone

Nobody's Bar - Now Gone

Asbury Park will always have a magical spirit, no matter what they do to it. There was a time when it was seedy and charming and, if just left to its own devices, it would have rebounded in a harmonious, organic way.

But instead, with the corrupt government’s blessing, “investors” came in, including, inexplicably, Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson and Henry Vaccaro, and began constructing a building that blocked the famous driving strip along Ocean Avenue. They soon declared bankruptcy and left this monstrosity, like a shipwreck protruding from the sea, there. in the middle. of everything. For years.

The town went careening downhill from there. Now, they are taking a new stab at “revitalization.” New “developers” appeared earlier in this decade. Instead of proposing a few tweaks here and there, their plan was to reconstruct miles and miles, take property via eminent domain, to bring Asbury Park ‘back.’ The city government, again, went for it.

The "Casino" - this section now demolished

The "Casino" - this section now demolished

There are similarities between the saga of Asbury Park and Washington Square Park. Both places had ups and downs. Heydays and not-so-great days. But both were at a place where they just needed the city to come in and do a little bit of repairing, grease the mechanisms a bit. Instead, they swoop in with their charts and graphs and maps and attempt to wipe the slate clean.

There’s seemingly this driving force behind it: a need to make everything somewhat whitewashed and devoid of its history. To make these magnificent places homogenized and stripped of the very qualities that make them so special. To make it all the same. The strip mallification and corporatization of every inch of space. No one is more of a proponent of that, via his policies and endless development of New York City, than Mayor Bloomberg.

How do you legislate appreciation of the gritty?

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*Updated and revised version of entry originally published July 2nd, 2008*

Groundhog Chuck has developed into a New York City cult figure

VIVA CHUCK! Get your own t-shirts, mugs and buttons!

The Staten Island Advance story is worth checking out. The readers there were even more, um, biting than the Times’ readers as per my original post on the whole groundhog-bites-mayor-after-being-majorly-provoked story.

Thanks to Godless Liberal Homo blog for stopping by and letting us know!

Note: I would add that Chuck’s “handler” at the Staten Island Zoo is also partially responsible for not setting parameters for how the Groundhog Day event should go down.

If you are not up on what’s happening at Coney Island…

AstroLand Park, Coney Island

AstroLand Park, Coney Island

In case you’re not up on Mayor Bloomberg‘s re-“vision”ing of Coney Island, here are some sites with the most up to date information.

Okay, this one is not really Mayor Mike’s “plan,” as so many others are where he’s behind the curtain pulling the strings, like Washington Square Park. But we know he’s engaged because it involves destroying the collective memory and history of a beloved place in New York City. That’s our Mayor’s specialty.

What the city hasn’t done (intervened properly) in this instance is as telling as what they have done. However, city officials are available for photo ops. See yesterday’s entry from Curbed about the Astroland Rocket. Here’s an excerpt (which, of course, made me laugh):

A little while ago we had news that one of our obsessions, the
iconic Astroland Rocket, had been donated to the city and would remain in Coney Island. We now have more details from the city, where a full cast of characters, including City Planning Director Amanda Burden and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber showed up for the announcement and photo op. First the good news: the iconic Rocket isn’t going to Pakistan. Now the bad news: Sources tell us it’s leaving tonight for shipment to Staten Island, where it will remain until it comes back as part of the amusement park the city wants to build. Not to be the skunk that wanders into the Garden Party, but In practical terms, this means it could be a loooooooong time before it returns to Coney Island.

* To see some great photos of Coney Island in its hey day and now, check out the new Coney Island blog.

* And for an overview of what’s happened thus far – the big player in this drama is a corporation called Thor Equities which bought up a lot of the land and put For Rent signs up on the businesses on the boardwalk and main drag right around Christmas last year which broke many people’s hearts – visit the Save Coney Island site.

* And here is Gowanus Lounge‘s analysis from earlier this month on the “disgraceful state of Coney Island.”

Civilians Theater Group Performs “Brooklyn At Eye Level: A Look at Our Changing Neighborhoods” December 4th-7th

Close readers of this blog will know that I have an idea for an event around the changing face of New York City under Mayor Bloomberg. So I was pleased to hear about The Civilians’ upcoming production, BROOKLYN AT EYE LEVEL, which looks at New York City’s “changing neighborhoods” via theater, dance and music. A bit different from my idea for certain but a good one nonetheless.

The Civilians‘ mission is “to forge links between theater and society and to support projects and initiatives that stimulate the audience’s participation in public culture.”

And in the spirit of the event, tickets reserved in advance are free! And at the door, it is Pay-What-You-Can.

Dates: Thursday, December 4th at 8 p.m., Friday, December 5th at 8 p.m., Saturday, December 6th at 3 and 8 p.m., Sunday, December 7th at 3 p.m.

More information:

Brooklyn is CHANGING (and fast!)

From debates over Atlantic Yards to the construction of high-rise condos, the future of central Brooklyn is being decided right now. The Civilians investigate—at eye level—the people and places that make this place what it is and what it will be.

The performance takes its inspiration from interviews with the real life players in the story of Brooklyn: residents both old and new, community activists, developers, politicos and others.

Presented by The Civilians, in collaboration with Urban Bush Women and Michael Hill’s Blues Mob, along with local youth. Each performance followed by discussions with special guests and community activists.

BROOKLYN AT EYE LEVEL
December 4 – 7, 2008 * The Brooklyn Lyceum
227 4th Avenue, Gowanus, Brooklyn (next to Park Slope)
Trains: M,R to Union St. or 2,3,4,5,N,B,Q to Atlantic

Limited seating! Click here to reserve seats or call 212-730-2019

The Brooklyn Lyceum is a former Public Bath House and has been remade into a venue for music, theatre, events, comedy, sports, films, and more.

NYC Arborcidal Waterfalls “Public Art” Ended Yesterday

Public Art "arborcidal" Waterfalls Brooklyn Bridge

Arborcidal Waterfalls as Public Art

I received a bulletin from outside.in which led me to Gothamist which announced that the “arborcidal” NYC Waterfalls ended their much-publicized killing spree of Brooklyn Heights‘ trees yesterday.

Despite our Mayor’s much hyped “love OF trees,”* the artist, Olafur Eliasson “received an award for the exhibit’s contribution ‘to the public environment‘” from Mayor Bloomberg, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

I suspect the only tangible thing the NYC Waterfalls truly contributed to the public environment was dying trees in Brooklyn Heights.

Mayor Bloomberg stated initially that Eliasson’s Waterfalls would bring $55 million to the City’s economy. Not that I think that’s what public art is about but since Mayor Bloomberg does… how’d they do? When asked, our CEO Mayor’s spokesperson pointed to an increase in sold-out boat tours. $55 million = a lot of boat tours. We can expect an accounting from the city’s Economic Development Corporation but since they most likely report to the Mayor … I’m sure we can anticipate a positive outcome.

For WSP Blog previous coverage when the arborcide first occurred, click here.

* Related post: “How do you define hypocrisy, Mayor Bloomberg? 14 Union Square Trees Scheduled to be cut down.”

Photo: Wally G

Twelfth Street Books Closing – Moving to Brooklyn; $5 Books

12th street? not much longer

12th street? not much longer

Vanishing New York reports that Twelfth Street Books on 12th Street between Fifth Avenue and University Place is closing after ten years in this location, moving to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn (becoming Atlantic Books), and the Strip House (a steakhouse chain) next door is taking over its space.

Some history from VNY:

Sadly, in 1999, Strip House replaced 75-year-old Asti, “one of New York’s most beloved and treasured restaurants,” where the waitstaff sang opera while they served Italian dishes. Said one baritone at the time, “In the last decade, our customers either died, retired or could no longer afford to come regularly.” …

Of Mr. Glazier[owner], the Strip House website says he has “put a permanent mark on New York City’s history and landscape by taking ordinary locations and converting them into spectacular concepts.” Correction: Asti was the absolute opposite of ordinary and 12th Street Books is a rarity in a city hellbent on making bookstores disappear.

Asti was a sweet place (although I don’t recall being serenaded by the waiters) and represents the charm of not-ordinary New York, something the aesthetic of the glossy Strip House wouldn’t quite comprehend.

Not sure when the bookstore’s last day is (soon) but you can get a shopping bag of books for $5.

It feels wrong to just sit and watch everything glossed over in CEO Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. Would they put up with this in Boston?* Just curious.

*where the Mayor hails from.

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Photo: Baslow

Parks in the News: Brooklyn Bridge Park, McCarren Park Pool, New York City Waterfalls(Okay, not a Park …)

A small segment completed at Brooklyn Bridge Park

A small segment completed at Brooklyn Bridge Park

*The “arborcidal” (tree-killing) New York City Waterfalls Public Art hours are being cut in half to preserve the Brooklyn trees (which are not responding well to its salt water mist). Not exactly scientific but … it’s something. (See previous post on this.)

*Last concert (Sonic Youth) at McCarren Park Pool in Greenpoint, Brooklyn performed on Saturday (8/30) before the space reverts back to an actual pool, ending its recent incarnation as a popular concert venue. Pending Landmarks Preservation Commission approval, pool reconstruction scheduled to be completed in 2011. (Long time that seems?) Sunday’s (8/31) New York Times has the story.

*Brooklyn Bridge Park: Recently it was announced that BBP’s completion is behind schedule at least five years. Community activists are (again) pushing for “housing-free” Park. Presently, 1400 units of “luxury housing” are in New York State’s plans for the park. The Brooklyn Paper reports: “In the decades since community activists and local officials started planning Brooklyn Bridge Park, the proposal has changed from a sprawling public greenspace that would be part of the city’s regular park system to a state-built and-operated development whose open-space component would be maintained through fees charged to residents of luxury condos within the park’s footprint.”

Stop the “Arborcidal Waterfalls:” The Latest on NYC Public Art

Waterfalls Left; Brooklyn Bridge; Dying Trees

Waterfalls Left; Brooklyn Bridge; Dying Trees

The Brooklyn Paper reports on the “NYC Waterfalls,” the Public Art project by Olafur Eliasson installed in four NYC river locations, which has become “arborcidal” (tree-killing) in Brooklyn Heights.

The Brooklyn Paper is always a bit over the top and yet it captures the essence of the situation. Arborcidal waterfalls…? Perfect. (The Villager has great reporting and articles but it’s, um, pret-ty serious. In Brooklyn, the weeklies have a bit of fun with it all. It’s also effective.) The problem is that the salt water from this nearby “public art” project is spraying its mist on the surrounding trees and causing them to decline. Residents and business owners are trying to get the project to end early – by Labor Day.

Sponsors The Public Art Fund turned to the NYC Parks Department for a solution (a “solution” which seems akin to the Parks Department watering the artificial turf to keep it from reaching scorching temperatures – at times, it can get twice as hot as regular grass – at 165 degrees instead of reconsidering the actual use of it). “Every morning, arborists from the Parks Department now rinse the trees and leaves along the Promenade and in the River Café’s garden with fresh water and flush salt from the soil,” the paper reports.

In looking into the Waterfalls a bit deeper, I experienced a revelation. Here, I was thinking Public Art was about Public. Art. until I read the press release and realized in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, it, like everything else, is about the economy. The press release informs that The Economic Development Corporation (EDC), “estimates that the Waterfalls, funded with private support raised by the Public Art Fund, will contribute $55 million to the City’s economy.”

(How do you figure they figure that estimate out anyway?)

Isn’t the creativity and inspiration of people the main goal once in awhile? (Or… Not. At Washington Square Park, the aspects of the Park that inspire were slighted by the designer and NYC Parks Department in their redesign “plans.”)

I do appreciate the artist’s intention: “In developing The New York City Waterfalls, I have tried to work with today’s complex notion of public spaces,” said Eliasson. “… I hope to evoke experiences that are both individual and enhance a sense of collectivity.”

However, upon viewing from the F train, I agree with the Brooklyn Paper assessment: “in reality, the project’s scaffolding and weak water streams look more like a giant Erector Set from the borough’s shores.”

So… What do you think? What will win out? Saving trees or boosting (allegedly) the economy?

Currently, the project is set to run until October 13th.