Friday, May 17, 2013
Are You Having Home Or Business Insurance Problems Post-Sandy? If Yes, Contact State Senator Montgomery's Office As Soon As Possible
Do you have any other issues related to your home or business insurance?
If the answer is yes, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, whose district encompasses flood prone Red Hook and Gowanus, would like to hear from you as soon as possible.
Please email her office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please write SD25 Insurance Study in the subject line
Thursday, May 16, 2013
to present an arresting and graphic fashion statement"
"Firefighters West and Rogers of Park Slope's Brooklyn Squad 1, who appeared in recently designed OSHA togs, weren't out of place on Fashionable Seventh Avenue."
(Photos above by Kathryn Kirk)
The article and photos above appeared in The Phoenix, "the hometown newspaper of downtown Brooklyn's historic brownstone neighborhoods" that was published weekly from 1972 to 1998. According to reporter, Kathryn Kirk, "the Streets of Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and Any City, USA, are filled with people in athletic attire. Sweat pants are the most recent fashion statement. Running shoes are de rigueur. T-shirts have evolved into an art form."
The captions that go with the photos are rather amusing.
And where did the 1980's Brooklyn Fashionista shop? Well at A&S on Fulton Street and at Benetton and Two To Tango in Brooklyn Heights of course.
What were you wearing in Brooklyn in 1987? Or any other year, for that matter. Let's see your old snapshots from the past. Send them to me to this email address and I will gladly post them here on Pardon Me.
* I would like to thank life-long South Brooklyn resident Celia Cacase for keeping some wonderful old Brooklyn newspapers. When Celia moved away recently, she left her collection of papers behind and I have been archiving them along with several community friends.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Keith Edwards, a parishioner of St. Paul’s is also a member of the Leadership Corps for the Climate Reality Project, an organization devoted to saving the planet. In 2012, he attended their conference that was given by former Vice President of the U.S., Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Chairman of the Climate Reality Project Al Gore.
"An amazing display of arrogance..How can a mayor that puts new "m[a]ndates" on its citizens for what we can eat, how much soda we can buy, where we drive, what we pay in rent, where we may smoke etc etc have the gall to complain about the federal government issuing mandates to enforce a 1972 law for the city to clean up its waters by getting the human sewage out.. just 6 more months of little general."
When Burger on Smith opened in January 2012, Kyle Huebbe and Blessing Schuman-Strange, the culinary team behind the farm-to-table eatery, described the menu as "New American, but elevated."
Their burgers were made from grass-fed beef, ground daily and supplied by a local butcher.
Obviously, they could not compete with all the new burger joints that opened in the neighborhood, though Huebbe beat out four other contestants to win Brooklyn Paper's first Burger Bash contest in 2009.
This is the second restaurant to call it quits at this location. Before Burger On Smith, it was the home of Faan, one of the first Asian-Fusion eateries in the neighborhood.
Are you surprised at the closing or was it predictable?
Monday, May 13, 2013
Mayor Bloomberg Holds Press Conference On NYC Water System Improvements Just Steps Away from A Very Foul Gowanus
Bloomberg also announced that $190 million dollars has been allocated by his administration to upgrade the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel and Waste Water Pumping Station at the head of the canal. "Despite the delays caused by Hurricane Sandy, this year we will still complete the pump station as well as the flushing tunnel that will circulate water from Buttermilk Channel to the canal and will significantly improve water quality," he told the press.
DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland proudly mentioned that "these upgrades will not only increase capacity, they will help alleviate neighborhood flooding and reduce Combined Sewer Overflow into the canal by 34%."
Though this was good news for Gowanus, the real reason for the conference was made clear almost immediately. In his thinly disguised speech, Mayor Bloomberg, who has lobbied hard against the Environmental Protection Agency declaring the Gowanus Canal a Superfund Site, took a jab at the Federal Government
"Unfortunately, we have also had to content with underfunded mandates from the Federal Government that have meant higher costs and less efficiency. And you should complain to the Federal Government about these. Over the last decade, 65% of DEP's capital spending went to address federal mandates. That alone costs the average NY City home owner $258 this year on their water bill. Some of these were necessary investments, but the fact that we were required to build them all regardless of immediate need or construction costs made all of the work more expensive and inefficient."
How very ironic that just steps away, the Gowanus Canal was looking and smelling even worse than it had in quite some time. Last week's heavy rain had caused raw sewage to flow into the canal and the surface of the water was littered with human waste.
I hope that Mayor Bloomberg had a chance to peek at the canal before dashing back to Manhattan.
Perhaps it would have helped him to understand that the 34% reduction in CSOs he was speaking of did not sound like all that much to members of the community.
And perhaps he would have felt just a bit foolish about opposing EPA's suggestion to install retention basins to alleviate the problems in a more significant way.
Today's conference was nothing but grandstanding and an effort to smear the EPA in an attempt to delay dealing with the CSOs.
I have come to expect the very least from our three-term Mayor.
Posted by Katia at 4:40 PM
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Hi Katia,Your story of the Lantz family, and your personal reference to Huntington High School, reminded me of the truth of "Six Degrees of Separation". I live on First Street. In 2011 my youngest daughter bought her home on First Street, consequently, two of my grandchildren are the sixth generation of my family living on First Street. During the 1950's and 60's my family had a second home in Northport. I became very familiar with and fond of the north shore of Long Island, including Huntington, which was a great town. My wife Joan and I bought our home on First Street in 1970 and our three daughters grew up here.
In the late 1970's Joan and I were looking for a summer rental in Northport and I believe we met the Lantzs, who were renting their home in Fort Salonga. They were charming and delightful, and their home was beautiful. We eventually rented a home in Eatons Neck from Mike and Corinne McGrady. Mike was a writer and the creator of the best selling novel, "Naked Came the Stranger". I have probably passed the Lantz home hundreds of times, never aware they were the fine people we met more than thirty years ago.
Great series. Great story. Great neighbors.
The Carroll Gardens Library on Clinton Street is offering a new series entitled "The Senior Edge", aimed specifically at the elderly residents in our community and will focus on "Using skills, Experience and Wisdom for a more Vibrant Life."
The first lecture is entitled "Volunteer, Tutor and Mentor: There Ways To Stay Involved And Get Engaged In Your Golden Years!" and will be led by Lisa Catanzaro, L.C.S.W.,
Please pass this information along to neighborhood seniors.
396 Clinton Street
Please note that the Carroll Gardens will be temporarily closed for customer service enhancements at the end of business on Friday, June 7th 2013 and will re-open on July 8th 2013.
On A Day Of Massive Flooding In Gowanus, Local Politicians Ask City To Evaluate Hydrological Impact Of Large Elevated Sites Like Lightstone Group's In Flood Prone Area
Rendering of proposed Lightstone Group's Project on shore of Gowanus Canal
image credit: Lightstone Group
In the letter addressed to Deputy Mayors Cas Holloway and Robert Steele yesterday , Councilmember Lander, Congresswoman Velázquez and State Senator Montgomery specifically mention the 12 story, 700-unit Lightstone Group's project at 363-365 Bond Street.
Lightstone intends to re-grade their building site by raising the site of the development by two feet at First Street to address FEMA's recently released post-Sandy Advisory Base Flood Elevations and to comply with changes to the Building Code.
Since the Gowanus Canal was originally engineered to drain the upland marshland surrounding the canal in order to keep water away from residences in Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, this change in hydrology raises serious concerns about flooding and drainage in the Gowanus area. It may mean more problems for nearby residents, who deal with flooded basements on an regular basis.
Lander, Velazquez and Montgomery are asking City Planning "if re-grading could-even in a limited set of circumstances- lead to such impacts, how will such impacts be evaluated?
For example, would the Department Of Buildings confer with the Department of Environmental Protection before approving building permits for a re-graded site in a flood hazard area, such as that planned for 363-365 Bond Street?"
Further, Lander, Velazquez and Montgomery believe that " it would be better to bring all stakeholders to the table to develop a comprehensive plan for the infrastructure, flood protection, and land use regulations needed for a safe, vibrant, and sustainable Canal area. We should seize this opportunity to create an innovative model for low-lying, mixed-use waterfront areas on a warming planet."
It is encouraging that our Electeds recognize the hydrological impact to surrounding areas if developers like Lightstone's are allowed to re-grade the Gowanus area.
We need a new hydrological study before any new development moves forward.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
As promised, here now the last, but hopefully not the final installment of Alan Lantz's wonderfully written account of his years in Carroll Gardens.
In two earlier essays, “Florida in Brooklyn” and “20 Years Later,” I attempted to trace the evolution of my adopted neighborhood, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, chronicling the changes that I observed from 1984 to 2004. I would have preferred to wait until 2024 which would have reflected forty years of transformation, but as I have aged, the observations of a previously grumpy young man have morphed into the dyspeptic reflections of a grumpy old man, so I am foreclosing upon my original intent.
First, in 1982, the year that we purchased our brownstone, today’s crop of young investment bankers would have been considered “ethnics.” Sipping a martini or swirling a glass of Chateau Petrus ‘59’ instead of imbibing wine made in the cellar would have been met with the observation, “There goes the neighborhood.” A note of confession: my wife and I retired to Carroll Gardens from Long Island as soon as our children left the nest. We had hoped to live in Greenwich Village but were unable to come up with the necessary bucks. We are, therefore, that most despised category of inhabitant – gentrificationists –albeit early ones. In our defense, my wife was born in Brooklyn and spent her youth living on Columbia St. in a neighborhood then known as Red Hook/South Brooklyn. (It is simply untrue that young women from this neighborhood were known as Red Hookers, meaning Marxist prostitutes.) She graduated from PS142 on Henry St. and her library was a half block from where we now live. And, we have a wine cellar, but it is stocked with Chateau Brooklyn Brewery.
Today’s Carroll Gardens has passed from the stage of gentrification to the stage of babyfication. When we arrived we rarely ever saw a pregnant woman. The sight of a stork flapping through the neighborhood would have evoked exclamations of disbelief from the stoop-sitting residents. Today, the startling vision of a severely pregnant woman threading her way through a phalanx of strollers bearing tiny testaments to lust has become the trademark of the new Carroll Gardens. Indeed, perhaps Court St. should be renamed Courtship Street.
In addition to babies, the lanes are lined with bars, boutiques, burgers, banks, bike paths, and, boxes of discarded books (not too many bibles, though, and certainly no Gutenbergs). Among the extinct enterprises are the mom and pop shops which repaired shoes, produced home-made mozzarella, sausage, gelato, ravioli, and soups; Camereri’s Bakery where the movie Moonstruck was filmed; also Joe’s Coffee Shop where we hammered out the details of our house purchase and which served as a neighborhood clubhouse where one could sit all day nursing an espresso and complaining about changes in the neighborhood. Joe’s has been transformed into “16 Handles,”
a dispensary where yogurt can be created in 150 different combinations. When you finish your yogurt, you can follow it up with 150 positions of yoga, or, if you prefer, practice pilates. Real estate offices jostle each other, their windows ablaze with photos of studio apartments, a steal for twenty-eight hundred dollars a month, especially appealing to wealthy pygmies.
Another transformation of note is Carroll Park. We were thrilled when a playground with swings and a slide were introduced into the northwest corner of the park. My young grandchildren couldn’t wait to play in it when they visited us from the hinterlands. The only experience comparable for them was to ride the unusually decorated subways. Some called it graffiti in those days, but it was their introduction to “art.” And the elderly residents sunning themselves in the park spoke a foreign language, and thus provided the children with an experience akin to visiting southern Italy.
Two further rumors about the park are undoubtedly spurious: the first suggests that the boccie court is to be converted into a stroller racing track. The second is that all adults entering the park will be required to be accompanied by a child.
On a more serious note, recent developments which may sound ironic are true. First, the Eileen A. Duggan Senior Center at 380 Court St. which for 39 years provided seniors in Carroll Gardens with reduced-price hot lunches, classes in exercise and painting, guest speakers, health advice, companionship – in short, a place to make them feel welcome in a rapidly changing society. This past summer when we returned from vacation we found that the seniors had been evicted from the Center to be replaced by Kidville, a national chain which sells children’s clothing in addition to sponsoring theme parties for children.
A small sample of the parties includes Wiggle-Giggles for Ones, Little Explorers Safari Party (2 and up), Pretty in Pink Ballerina Party(3 and up), Super Heroes Birthday Bash (3 and up), Special Kosher, Dietary, and Allergy restrictive Parties, and 16 more types of toddler pleasing celebratory events. In addition, these fetes may be enhanced by professional photographers, magicians, videographers, tattoo artists, face painters, and numerous other specialists. You may be reassured by the knowledge that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner recently held a party for their 4 year old daughter Serafina at the Brentwood, LA. Kidville.
One-half block down on the other side of Court St. is a children’s establishment called “If I Were a Toy” which features toys, games, art and music classes, balloons, an Italian playgroup, and haircuts. If it’s your child’s first haircut, he or she will receive a “First Haircut Certificate” and a lock of hair as a keepsake. The adjoining courtyard features about a dozen children’s rides for about fifty cents a pop.
Also lining Court and Smith Streets are newly established tutoring services which will help launch your child’s entry into the kind of competitive preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school, and career that will enable him or her to secure a job which will, in turn, enable the earning of a salary and life style which will make it possible to live in Carroll Gardens. Rumor has it that the College Board Corporation is in talks with Stanley Kaplan to develop a prenatal tutoring program.
The demographic of development is another rapidly changing element which makes every buildable square foot of ground an enticement to the developer. Indeed, in a preceding article which I wrote in 2004, I observed, that when the former longshoremen’s clinic was purchased by Long Island College Hospital, and then languished, that “the smart money on the street thinks it will be sold to developers whose vision and cash will spin the straw of former examination rooms into the gold of condos.” The property on which the building was located, along with the adjoining parking lot, was sold in 2007 for a reported 23.5 million dollars. The classic, grey marble building, erected in 1957 after a previous developer demolished a half block of 19th century brownstones - was itself torn down by a developer with plans to erect a seven story black behemoth of a building, with ten adjoining townhouses. 32 condominiums were projected along with a block of storefronts on Court St. Perhaps some desperately needed banks or real estate offices? Despite an outcry from the local occupants that the building was totally out of keeping with the 19th Century character of the neighborhood, the developer, the Clarett Corporation, rode roughshod over complaints of residents – which subsequently led to the zoning board’s passage of a requirement limiting the height of future buildings. Construction resulted in disruption of a formerly peaceful neighborhood, causing serious damage to an adjoining 1840 building. The developer denied any responsibility, costing the building’s owner a large sum of money to replace the large cornice. Subsequently, Clarett went bankrupt, convincing many in the neighborhood to believe in a Higher Authority. The current developer has been significantly more cooperative, changing the façade so that the building will be less intrusive. Both New York Magazine and the New York Times have published articles referring to the project, the magazine’s story illustrating the middle-size condominium that will be available for $1.85 million dollars. Better sign up immediately for your child’s tutoring sessions.
A final buttress to my thesis: On May, 3 1982 my wife and I were in the law office of Francis A. Scotto, Counselor at Law, 300 Court St. in Brooklyn for the closing on our house in Carroll Gardens. Mr. Scotto is long gone from the premises, but the Spa which replaced him left this past year, and about six months ago a Pediatrician’s office and clinic opened. Sic Semper Babiensis. Stay tuned for the next transformation.
I wrote this article in January, 2013. On Friday, February 15, 2013,The New York Times Arts Section reviewed an exhibit at the New Museum along with a picture of “Amazing Grace,” an installation of an assemblage of 300 discarded baby strollers collected by Nari Ward in 1993. (See photograph)
On February 18, 2013, The Times published a story entitled “Schools Struggle to Separate the Truly Gifted From the Merely Well-Prepared,” about how the NY City Department of Education was changing its admissions exam “to combat the influence of test preparation companies...especially for 4-year-olds…who are vying for increasingly precious seats in kindergarten gifted programs.”
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Cynthia and Alan Lantz in their Carroll Gardens home
photo credit: Max Kelly
In 1985, as a newlywed, I found my way to Carroll Gardens, settled and eventually bought and renovated a house and raised a family. Little did I know that Alan Lantz, the librarian of my former high school on Long Island, had settled in the neighborhood to retire just a few years earlier. Our paths crossed a few times before I realized that the tall, soft-spoken gentleman who sometimes stood in line at the local bakery and produce store on Court Street was indeed the same kind librarian I had first met in 1975, the year I arrived in the United States and started tenth grade without speaking English at the local high school.
Over twenty years ago my wife and I set sail from the bucolic hamlet of Northport, Long Island, in search of a new life on the Island of Manhattan. However, a ferocious storm in the form of Manhattan real estate prices drove us off course, and we landed instead on the rocky shores of Carroll Gardens in the Borough of Brooklyn. I described in my earlier essay “Florida in Brooklyn” how we originally looked on Brooklyn merely as a convenient conduit to Manhattan. Slowly, the rough charms of the Borough won us over, and we settled on Brooklyn as our final resting place (Union Street in Carroll Gardens, not Greenwood Cemetery). As we were drawn deeper into the rich, complex, urban stew that is Brooklyn, our earlier dreams of living in Manhattan evaporated like spit on a hot August pavement. Little did we realize then that we were part of a wave that would radically alter both the borough and the neighborhood. The engine of change was, for others, as for us, the cost of finding a place to lay one’s head at night
Only the super rich or the non-claustrophobic were entitled to inhabit Manhattan. All others who did not give up and head back to Des Moines or Sauk City had to evolve into a species known as “gentrifiers,” a term that evoked fear and contempt among the indigenous population, Over the bridge bearing the banner of gentrification trudged multitudes of young people, and the middle-aged like us in search of both shelter at a reasonable price and proximity to the neon charms of the City. Bohemians relocated from SoHo or the Village to Williamsburg or the then unnamed Dumbo. And, when daytrippers and baby strollers clogged those streets, the hip fled to Red Hook where even now they are under siege by Philistines and Progress. Young professionals who were shut out of the upper West Side poured into neighborhoods like Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Boerum Hill, or Carroll Gardens, bringing with them their tastes for radicchio and Chilean Sea Bass, and Ikea and Gap. Whereas for their parents the American Dream was home ownership, this new generation dreamed of finding a 700 square foot walk-up for under $2,000 a month.
Close-knit ethnic enclaves crumbled under the assault and retreated to Staten Island or New Jersey. Landlords urged on by realtors salivated and began a campaign to drive out long time occupants who paid lesser sums. Consequently, the former inhabitants of the brownstones in Carroll Gardens, usually multi-generational Italian families, were forced out or bought out on the cheap. The dumpster replaced the Brooklyn Bridge as the borough symbol, and the quintessential neighborhood sport of stoop-sitting came to be regarded with as much enthusiasm as Mad Cow Disease.
Gone now are the women who used to hang out of the window surveying the street scene and talking to the stoop-sitters below. Any woman who hung out of a window today would be the subject of a 911 call, suggesting an imminent suicide leap. Old Italian grandmothers in black have given way to hip young things in black with navel rings and tongue studs and cell-phones riveted to their ears.
A digression concerning black: When I once attended a performance at the New Wave Festival of The Brooklyn Academy of Music wearing a canary yellow sweater, the noir-clad minions of the avant garde shrank away from me as if I were Buffy the Vampire Slayer brandishing a large cross in their midst. Point taken. Now when I attend I dress in a sensible shade of charcoal.
There have been some positive changes. We remember when the New York area code, 212, became 718 for Brooklyn, a further stake in the Dodgerless heart of Brooklyn. Our friends on Long Island thought we had moved to Minneapolis. Now “718” is boldly emblazoned on designer T shirts hawked in trendy boutiques along Smith and Court Streets, and more than one tummy of a pregnant young thing is encased in a tight-fitting garment bearing the legend “Brooklyn Baby.”
Casualties of the transformation abound, however. Remnants of The International Longshoreman’s Union have been eradicated by the sale of their former union hall and its adjacent clinic. The marbled hall where hundreds of stevedores congregated to pick up their checks every two weeks has become ….a Mormon Temple. The clinic where longshoremen, their families, relations, and sometimes friends were treated gratis was sold to Long Island College Hospital where a skeleton staff does who knows what. The smart money on the street thinks it will be sold to developers whose vision and cash will spin the straw of former examination rooms into the gold of condos. The attached parking
lot has been privatized and the luxury cars now living there pay dearly to avoid the omnipresent traffic agents and their ticket pads.
Years ago a good friend of ours from Florence, Italy, stayed with us.When we walked him around the neighborhood showing him the bread bakeries, the pork store, the pasticcerias, the bocce court, the pasta and mozzarella makers, the coffee roasters, and a grocery store where a rudimentary Italian vocabulary was necessary to be served, we remarked that the neighborhood was like a small town in Italy. He snorted, “A small town in Southern Italy.” And, although no one now would mistake Carroll Gardens for Milan, still…..
Take Smith Street, for example. For years our favorite of the red-sauce Italian eateries held sway on Smith Street. Traditional. Papa in the kitchen, Mama behind the cash-register, the children behind the bar and waiting tables. A feast of veal parmgiana, broccoli raab, spaghetti, crusty bread, all washed down by a $10 bottle of wine, followed by inky expresso and biscotti. When we left, we glowed with contentment, our inheritance still intact. But a few years ago because of the explosion of upscale restaurants on Smith, Papa felt compelled to upgrade. An “authentic” chef was hired, and the menu began to sport such items as tuna tatare, crostini di buffalo, a rollatine of monkfish and skate, swathed in a reduction of goat cheese and chianti. We have never returned.
Chic Smith St. is one block away from our house. When we first saw it in 1978 we almost decided to stay in the suburbs. It was super-shabby, amply pot-holed, buildings sagging at angles that made the Pisa’s tower seem plumb-line vertical, and while not necessarily threatening, certainly not welcoming. Today the bodegas and ethnic social clubs have given way to such a number and variety of restaurants that rarely a week goes by without a new opening. There is an apocryphal story of a man who starved to death on Smith Street because when faced with choosing among the 300 eateries, he was paralyzed by indecisiveness and wasted away without ever crossing the threshold of one. Mom and Pop have been replaced by the concierge who tries to get reservations, the maitre d’ who welcomes you, and the ATM across the street where you excuse yourself to go after you see the menu prices. Just Kidding. There are still restaurants where great food can be had a prices well below those of Manhattan. Planted between the restaurants are clothing and craft emporiums, funky bars, antiques shops (since the customers are so young, what qualifies as an antique was created in the late 1970’s), an occasional realtor rooming with an “Abrogado,” and any other type of store-front enterprise that will be converted into a restaurant before the month is out.
Occasionally a double-decker red tour bus from Manhattan loses its way and the occupants stare down at the inhabitants of Carroll Gardens as if they were visiting a wildlife preserve. But the wilderness here is restricted to Carroll Park where pigeons, squirrels, and toddlers on swings play under the massive plane trees which surround a ball field, a bocce court, and a playground.
The Gowanus Canal, Carroll Gardens’ answer to the Grand Canal of Venice, is another institution which is being changed for the better. Ever since a highly successful cleaning program was undertaken , the once malodorous, highly toxic canal has become the site of
occasional boat tours. It is rumored that Brooklyn ladies dab water from the Gowanus on the back of their ears in the fashion of eau de cologne. A local beer garden styles itself
the Gowanus Yacht Club, and there is talk of a river walk with outdoor cafes and shops lining the once despised body of water. And, miraculously, crabs and fish have returned to the Canal. Gowanus seafood has not yet made it to the menus of Smith Street, but who knows? Can a Gowanus Regatta be far behind? Will cheering fans line the banks during the 2012 Olympics as world class swimmers thrash their way along the sparkling, crystalline waters?
Even now the dowdy precincts of Court Street are awash in spas, boutiques, yoga parlors, Starbucks, and artisanal bread bakers Admitting to the stigma of Brooklyn residence has been reduced to the extent that formerly when a friend of ours from Manhattan was introduced with us and was asked if he too came from Brooklyn,
he recoiled as if he had been struck with a lash. Recently we ran into him unexpectedly
dining in a Smith St. restaurant. We suspect that as soon as the rent on his Manhattan studio rises above $3,000, he may joint the ranks of those who throng the side walks in front of the myriad local real estate offices. And he may even become a fan of our soon-to-be named professional basketball team, the Brooklyn ________.
And finally, our choice of Brooklyn as a place of retirement is no longer considered by our former Long Island friends as a manifestation of insanity. Rather, they think of us as dimwits who somehow won the Megabucks lottery.
Please check back to read Part Three tomorrow.
You can find the first part Florida in Brooklyn here.
Monday, May 06, 2013
"Florida In Brooklyn": Part One Of The Carroll Gardens Chronicle By Neighborhood Resident Alan Lantz
I first moved to Carroll Gardens from Manhattan in the summer of 1985. I had gotten married and my husband was quick to point out that the floor-through brownstone apartment on Union Street between Henry and Clinton Streets in which he lived at the time was a much better (and bigger place) to start our life together than my studio apartment. Though I understood his logic, it was hard to abandon Manhattan for a neighborhood that none of my friends had ever heard of. "Are you moving to Brooklyn Heights or to Park Slope?" they would ask. At that time, those were the only two Brooklyn neighborhoods that Manhattanites would have contemplated moving to.
"No. To a little Italian neighborhood called Carroll Gardens" I would reply. "Oh!" was the inevitable response. "Where is that?"
I quickly grew to love the open sky, wide front yards and lovely family-owned stores of Carroll Gardens. Eventually, some of my Manhattan friends even came for a visit and seemed impressed by our large apartment and the quiet streets.
In those first few months, I always seemed to cross paths with a tall, silver haired gentleman who seemed so very, very familiar, though I could not place him. After all, except for my husband, I knew very few people in my new neighborhood. But I would see this man come out of a lovely brownstone on Union Street, or I would encounter him at Rainbow Market on Court Street, then our local produce store. I knew that our paths had crossed before, but where?
One day, it came to me. "If I didn't know any better, I would say that the librarian from my old high school on Long Island lives a block away from here," I told my husband one day. I had never forgotten the librarian. He had been so very kind and patient in the first months of me arriving in America and starting tenth grade without speaking the language.
But it seemed rather implausible that this was the same person. As far as I knew, the librarian lived on Long Island. What would he be doing here in Carroll Gardens? I immediately dismissed the idea. Until the next time I saw him.
I finally worked up the courage to ask him directly when he was standing in line at Rainbow Market one day.
"I know this will sound bizarre, but you have a striking resemblance with the librarian at my former high school in Huntington, Long Island. His name is Alan Lantz." His face split into a wide smile. "My name is Alan Lantz and I was the librarian at Huntington High for many years."
So, here we were, re-united in Carroll Gardens.
Over the years, we have become friends and Alan has shared the story of how he and his wife Cynthia found their way to the neighborhood, found an old home, lovingly renovated it and settled into retirement.
Alan has written a wonderful account of his Brooklyn journey and I feel very fortunate that he is allowing me to post it on Pardon Me For Asking.
There are two more parts, which Alan wrote in subsequent years, which I will also post as Part Two and Part Three in the next two days. So please make sure not to miss them.
Here now Part One. I am sure you will enjoy it immensely.
"Florida In Brooklyn"
“You’ve crossed from steroidal eccentricity into certifiable lunacy,” is the way in which our most charitable friends described our plan to retire to Brooklyn. After twenty-five years in the suburbs we finally decided to pursue the dream which sustained us while we attended to the quotidian tasks of working and raising a family on Long Island. We lived amidst heavily wooded, rolling hills, a short walk to the beach along a country lane decorated by car-squashed opossums. But we were weary of being held hostage by two cars. We were weary of being the only Democrats in a rabidly Republican community. We were weary of being under continual siege by formidable raccoons which nightly wrestled with our garbage cans. We hungered for city life as the Israelites must have hungered for the promised land after forty years in the desert.
Ever since our marriage vows we secretly promised that in addition to loving and cherishing each other we would some day move back to the City. Brooklyn was not a part of that dream: by “City” we meant only the Borough of Manhattan…and only the Village of Greenwich.
Like athletes training for the Olympics we subjected ourselves to a regimen of iron discipline. We subscribed to every cultural and anti-cultural event that the City could offer that we could afford. Having committed ourselves to the advance purchase of tickets, we could not flop down on the sofa after a hard week of work and postpone our obligations. I shudder to think of the number of times I slept through my favorite plays and operas - or through the clash of cymbals and symphonic cannon-fire in Avery Fisher Hall. Afterwards, my eyes would open long enough to climb behind the wheel of he car, then close again as I negotiated the hour and a half on the Long Island Expressway. My wife, meanwhile, screamed in my ear all the while to keep me semi-conscious until we arrived safely home.
Our target date was based upon the day our youngest child graduated from high school and flew the nest. Four years prior to that day we began our quest for a retirement site in New York City. All our dreams evaporated like spit on a hot August sidewalk as soon as we began to inquire about Manhattan real estate prices. Alternatives included the Bronx (“No thonx,” in Ogden Nash’s words) and Queens where we had already spent half our lives driving past cheek-by-jowl high rises lining the Expressway; and Staten Island where we would pay seven bucks to get home across the Verrazano Bridge to the Fresh Kills Landfill. Fuggedaboutit. Thus it was in 1978 we set out to find our Florida in Brooklyn.
Although my wife was born in the rarefied precincts of Brownsville, Brooklyn, she spent her formative years in a section known as South Brooklyn/Red Hook. During her high school days she moved to Staten Island. This was an era before South Brooklyn, aided by cachet-conscious realtors, went into the phone booth and emerged as …, CARROL GARDENS.
I, on the other hand, had spent only a few hours in Brooklyn. While a graduate student living in Manhattan I crossed the river to see the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field. The experience did not inspire me to take out borough citizenship papers. A shirtless, large-bellied fan in the seat next to me sprayed beer on himself – and me – every time the Dodgers scored a run. Fortunately, the game was a low scoring one. Further, the Brooklyn Sym-Phony, that famous assemblage of bangers and blowers provided the background music, a circumstance that led me to question Nietzsche’s assertion that “Life without music would have no meaning.” My second visit to the Borough was on the invitation of a classmate who asked me to Sunday dinner at his parents’ house. Present was his extended Italian family, and unexpectedly, an extended Italian repast. I gorged on the minestrone and the “maccaroni and gravy,” assuming that I had spanned the gamut of the meal. I was disabused of that fiction when in came tiny, fried fish, followed by chicken cacciatore, followed by veal and peas, followed by gnocchi and garlicky escarole, followed by fresh fruit, followed by gelato and cookies, all of which was accompanied by crusty bread from the corner bakery and innumerable glasses of wine concocted in the cellar. Thimble-sized cups of steaming, dark expresso, laced with anisette, completed the meal – followed by fervent apologies for the meagerness of the meal. The only reason I didn’t collapse was that I was afraid of dying on the BMT train and being buried in Brooklyn.
Now after all those years I was being squired around Brooklyn by a perky, young realtor who checked out our ages and finances. “You’re not rich enough to afford Brooklyn Heights or even Cobble Hill,” she said. “And you’re too old to pioneer in Fort Green or Boerum Hill. I think Carroll Gardens will do just fine for you.” Since we were totally ignorant of such brownstone arcana as “details,” “gentrification,” “floor-through,” “rent-controlled, “ “wbf and hwf, “ she undertook our education.
The first house she showed us on President St. was dark, narrow and gloomy, with ancient appliances, tattered linoleum, and peeling mauve paint. When she told us that at $75,000 it was a give-away, my wife and I nudged each other. For that price on Long Island we could buy a house on a wooded half acre with a two car garage and an inground swimming pool.
“If I had the money,” she said, “I’d snap it up, slap white paint on the walls, refinish the parquet under the linoleum and rent each floor for four-hundred and fifty dollars.”
My wife and I exchanged winks which meant, “Sure you would, and the Messiah would be here already except that he’s circling the block trying to find a parking place.” Six months later our young friend found a partner with whom she bought the house, did as she said, and today rents out each floor at a price beyond belief.
Over the next year we looked at perhaps fifty houses. We went on house tours showing before and after renovations. I took a course at NYU called “The Brownstone as Home and Investment.” We subscribed to the “Old House Journal” and joined the Brownstone Revival Committee. We discovered Sahadi’s, Barge Music, Almontaser’s Restaurant (now defunct), A&S (likewise defunct), The Brooklyn Museum, The Botanic Gardens, Prospect Park, and most surprising of all, my wife’s former elementary school, PS142. During the process a mysterious chemistry coursed through psyches, transmuting us from Manhattan Wannabees into avid Brooklynophiles. And, at last, we found the house that Fate had destined us for. After protracted negotiations and a price beyond our means, we captured our personal Grail: high ceilings, burl-walnut woodwork, cut-glass French doors, tin ceilings, marble mantles, the whole megillah. We were extrordinarily fortunate to find the brilliant architects Noel Yauch and Mel Smith who provided plans for and oversaw the renovation of the building, converting the five family building into a duplex and three single apartments.
Best of all were the neighbors who came as adjuncts to the house. Many of them had lived in the neighborhood fifty or sixty years in the same houses. They became wonderful friends. Now they sit on the stoops with us on warm evenings. They find parking places for us when the alternate side dance becomes onerous. They watch our house when we’re away and bring in the garbage cans after they’ve been emptied. The wives sit in the window and chat with us from across the street. We’ve had figs and apricots from their backyard trees which they tend carefully. The designated “Mayor” of the block performs a variety of services, everything from jump-starting our car to advising us where the best sopressato and mozzarella are to be had.
And yet some suspicions about our motives linger. Occasionally our neighbors query us, “Why did you move from Long Island to Brooklyn? Our dream was always to move away to Staten Island or New Jersey – to leave the neighborhood.” To which I reply, “I’m glad youse axed me that question.” And then I list for them the resources (in addition to our neighbors) which are available to us within a five block radius of our house: three bread bakeries; the “F”and”G”subway trains; two banks; two pharmacies; a laundromat; a park; drycleaners; two funeral homes (one for humans and one for pets); two bookstores; a public library (the same one my wife used as a girl); two Italian pastry shops; a wine shop; a police station; an Off Track Betting branch; two florists; a Chinese restaurant, innumerable Italian restaurants and pizzerias; a movie theater; gift and card shops; a health club; a bagel shop; a butcher shop; two tailors; two shoe-repair shops; two bus lines; two churches and a synagogue; two luncheonettes; a senior citizen center; a bocce court; a fish store; a hardware store and lumber yard; a health clinic; a video shop; hair dressers and barber shops; a paint store; a nail shop; a copy/print/fax service; a jewelry store; a bar; a slew of lawyers, chiropractors, MD’s, opticians and real estate offices; a VCR shop; a photographer; a vacuum cleaner repair shop; an Italian specialty food store that makes ravioli and mozzarella; a pet store; a pork store that specializes in home made sausages; a car service; a children’s clothing store; a coffee-roasting establishment which perfumes the neighborhood and sells every conceivable type of coffee.
I’ve probably listed only half the extant enterprises, and if I were to extend the radius to six blocks…well, that way lies madness. On Long Island an eight minute car ride would get me to a supermarket, a riding stable, a restaurant, a lawn mower repair shop, and a gas station.
Click here for Part Two of the Carroll Gardens Chronicle:
" 20 Years Later": Part Two Of The Carroll Gardens Chronicle By Neighborhood Resident Alan Lantz
Click here for Part Three of the Carroll Gardens Chronicle:
'The Babyfication Of Carroll Gardens': Part Three Of The Carroll Gardens Chronicle By Alan Lantz
Posted by Katia at 12:48 PM