Archive for the ‘Fort Greene’ Category

Stained glass window in the Williamsburg Bank Tower

Blue and Gold Mosaic roof in the Williamsburg Bank Building

Lion statues Wiliamsburg Bank Building

Flag Mosaic in Walliamsburg Bank Building

Lions Statues holding lockbox in Williamsburg Bank Building

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Black and white bank lobby

For some time now the Williamsburg Savings Bank has been shuttered for renovation.

I’d heard that the whole building, from the iconic clock tower (biggest in the world apparently) on down to the old bank lobby, was to be turned into condos and living spaces for the rich. I’d look out on that iconic tower, visible from pretty much anywhere in downtown Brooklyn, with some sadness, thinking it would be one more New York space which I’d only have access to from a distance. This summer, I looked over Nathan Kensinger’s photo essay of the still-being-renovated building and wondered if the public would ever have access to these spaces.

But thanks to a Brit in Brooklyn posting the week before, I found it that the newly renovated bank lobby is the winter home of the Brooklyn Flea Market.

Stained glass windows

And my, what a lobby . . .

I used to bank here, coming in to change money or even use the ATM, just for the chance to gaze up at the exquisite mosaic ceilings, or be served at the old-time metal teller grates. You felt like you’d stepped back in time – and indeed the bank, if not the building, had the feeling of being marooned in time since the Hanson Place of that pre-Atlantic Terminal era had a desolate, edge of the world feeling, a last repository of the near-abandonment which had once engulfed downtown Brooklyn. The destruction of the old Atlantic Station in the late 80’s, I’m sure, played a part, but apparently the bank tower, built in 1929 has been an analomy since its inception in 1929, when it was assumed that many like buildings would go up aside it. Alas, the Great Depression then central Brooklyn’s post-war decline put paid to that.

Chandelier and ceiling

I’ve read (I can’t find the freakin’ links now) that the hall is marketed as a venue for luxury acts, so I’m a little unclear what its long-term function will be. Apparently, the spaces behind the teller grates are to be reented out for retail, though there are no takers yet. Cultural ‘industries’ like Bomb magazine have rented out office space in the upper floors, and BAM has some kind of presence. Let’s hope this magnificent and historic lobby remains a public venue for years to come.

Teller windows Creative use of old teller windows

last stop

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Granite Wall inside Atlantic Terminal

Underwhelming . . .

This seems to be the consensus among the people I know in Brooklyn (and much of the Brooklyn blogosphere), and I have to concur. Especially after 8 years and $108 million ( 2 and half years late and $16 million over budget). The soaring windows are a nice touch, as is the limestone thing at the top of the stairs, but atmosphere, grandeur, the public space that should be a part of any train stations, are sorely lacking. This is the gateway to Brooklyn and the soon-to-be-constructed Atlantic Yards?

I admit that I was excited, almost despite myself, to see an actual train station finally re-opening where the original Atlantic Station was torn down in 1988. For years after I first moved here in 93, this was a pit in the ground, with a little tin shack to mark the station entrance. You’d descend a filthy stairwell into bedlam – crashing trains, harried crowds rushing though tunnels where the crumbling, mildew-stained concrete walls, blaring announcements and, eventually, a continual backdrop of jackhammers and construction hoardings. It went on for so long I began to think of the noise and unpleasantness as the station’s natural state, and would only go down if I absolutely had to.

So the new station is an improvement on all that. Still – eight years for a few steps, a glass front, some limestone, and three arches leading into a shopping mall?

Inside the station

Because the station, if you can call it that, is part of Atlantic Terminal, a dark and deeply unlovely mall whose chief aesthetic achievement is that it is marginally more atmospheric than the Atlantic Centre behind it, a mall which strives to have no atmosphere at all. When I tried to take a photograph inside Atlantic Terminal, a harried, nervous looking security guard came out and said: “no pictures – they can put you in prison for that,” though I don’t know what ‘they’ are worried about, since, well, it’s a mall. Outside, on Flatbush, is some of the worst traffic in Brooklyn and, traversing the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic, where heavy traffic barrels down six lanes off the Manhattan Bridge then veers north, south and east into Brooklyn, is a deeply unpleasant and even dangerous experience. The Atlantic Yards, and the basketball arena, will only make the traffic, and the notion of being anywhere near that traffic, much, much worse.

The Atlantic Terminal is owned by Bruce Ratner, the same dude behind the aforementioned Atlantic Yards development, which promises to bring a section of mid-town Manhattan to central Brooklyn, and pretty much over-run the two neighborhoods I’ve lived longest in New York, Fort Greene and downtown Brooklyn. From the time I lived around the corner, up behind what was the Daily News Plant, the area has been a pit, so some kind of development is welcome. But if the Atlantic Terminal is anything to go by, Brooklyn is in a lot of trouble.

Station circa WWII Atlantic Station circa WW2 (from aart.aarchives.com).

And the original Atlantic Station? It had an open concourse, benches, and big glass panels on the roof which must have let in the same slightly milky light you find animating the beautiful Victorian stations in England. Like so much fine architecture – the original Penn Station is most notorious example – it was allowed to decay, then someone thought they could make money by developing the site and station was declared beyond repair and torn down. Before construction could get started, the last recession kicked in, the developers ran out of money and left the pit I discovered and wondered about five years later. Thus, thus, has been the way in so many of our cities . ..

You can see photographs of the original station at arrts-arrchives.com (thanks to Brooklyn Born for telling me about the site).

All that remains of the original station is this lonely adjunct, marooned on a traffic island across the street, serving I don’t know what function.

Atlantic Station adjunct

New York Times City Room has a positive if bland take

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As I wrote a couple of posts (and at least a month – I’ve been AWOL on this blog lately) ago, I was invited to observe/ participate a Brian Lehrer form at the WNYC sound studios a couple of weeks ago. The invitation came basically that morning and I went because I thought it might illuminate some things about Bed-Stuy, where I’ve been a part-time resident for six years, and my quest to understand the roots of gentrification. 

And it did. 

Some stats: 

– According to one participant on the panel, Ibrahim Abdul Matin, a community organizer with the Black Muslim community in Brooklyn, 50% of black men in New York are unemployed. What he probably means is, not officially employed. They are unemployed the way I’m unemployed, working off the radar, here and there. Nonetheless, that’s huge number of people not integrated into the official economy. 

   He pointed out that the underground economy is not as strong in New York as it once was:

“As someone who grew up watching the crack era and seeing it all evolve, there was a time in New York where things were not that great, but you could join the underground economy and make a lot of money. You can’t do that any more. People aren’t making big money hustling.”

   Obviously, this is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does point to one reason why crime rates remain relatively low, despite the job losses, the unemployment. Folks in the inner city don’t want to do crack. 

– According to Pam Green, a____, the sub-prime mortgage hit Bed-Stuy hard. People lost their homes, left the neighborhood. Conversely, this has hastened rather than slowed down gentrification. She claimed there has been a 255% increase in white people moving into Bed-Stuy in the last year. “This change is too fast – you see the architecture changing, symmetry of housing changing, big condos going up . . .” 

– Ironically, those very factors that make Bed-Stuy a more liveable place for it’s residents than it was  a few years ago – stronger sense of community, a massive drop in crime rate, obvious drug use – has made it more vulnerable to gentrification. Crime rates are actually higher in neighboring Fort Greene and Park Slope, where more people have more money. Long-term residents have worked hard to make Bed-Stuy more safe, so now it’s more safe for the condo developers, and the people who want to live in those condos as well. 

– Which leads to: Rental prices in central Brooklyn have tripled in the last few years. Where the average price for a one-bedroom was five hundred, not it’s fifteen hundred. As storeowner Atim Annette Okim (calabra imports) pointed out, who can afford $1500 a month making $7.50 an hour, which is what so many low-skilled jobs pay?

   So gentrification marches on, even in the recession . . .

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Back to the old sod . . . 

Recession or not, Ratner Atlantic Yards project on hold or not, development continues apace. Downtown Brooklyn has not just one but several new condos/ office towers, including this one here, which must rate as one of the most hideous condo/ office towers I’ve seen in quite some time. Like a combination  roadside motel/ battleship . .. 

Condo/ office tower on flatbush ave.

Condo/ office tower on flatbush ave.

And in my old neighborhood, Fort Greene, another huge complex, which I’m sure will change the character of DeKalb for good, 80 DeKalb: 

80 Dekalb

80 Dekalb

Not to mention another tower going up around the corner from a deserted patch of Willoughby Street, courtesy of Land-Lease, the Aussie development company now in negotiation with London’s Southwark Council to ‘regenerate’ the Elephant and Castle in what will be the largest such scheme in all of Europe: 

Lend Lease Tower

Lend Lease Tower

Let’s face it. Downtown Brooklyn is a short subway/ bike/ car ride from lower Manhattan. People with families don’t want to live in Manhattan. Downtown Brooklyn, and the areas around downtown Brooklyn, are just going to get more and more expensive. The recession hasn’t slowed development any – even out in Bed-Stuy the condos are still going up. Two huge towers on Greene Ave, one ten or twelve stories high, the other four or five but covering half a city block. When these are filled, Bed-Stuy, or that corner of Bed-Stuy, will become a crowded place. 

The place to rent, I hear, is no longer Brooklyn, but parts of Manhattan like the Upper East Side, or even Chelsea . . .

But the recession has slowed development somewhat. The above-mentioned Atlantic Yards which, if it ever goes through, will make most of central Brooklyn unrecognizable. But also on Willoughby, around the corner from the Land Lease tower, is two blocks of total desolation.  Seems a development company called United American Land booted out the thirty merchants from Willoughy, Duffield and Bridge streets to build a $208 million dollar commercial and residential complex. But the recession kicked in, and the project is on hold. 

In the meantime, the company struck a deal with the Metrotech Business Improvement District and art-hoc an arts organization. to create Willoughby Windows, art installations in a dozen of the abandoned storefronts. From the Daily News: ‘Artwork Helps Brighten Gloomy Brooklyn street as construction stalls”

Storefront by Cycle

Storefront by Cycle



Wiiloughby Windows

Wiiloughby Windows



Kind of cool and everything, but but on the two afternoons I went down, one weekday, the other weekend, the street was pretty much empty. And anyway, what does this art really mean, when it’s sponsored by the very development company that is responsible for evicting the small businesspeople who kept the area alive? 

As always, artists and development/ gentrification are inextricably, inexplicably and inevitably linked . . .whether they want to be or not.


Close up - Cycle

Close up - Cycle

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The Brooklyn sunset seen from the roof of my girlfriend’s old place in Fort Greene.

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Obama In a window in Fort Greene

Obama In a window in Fort Greene


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