The Lantz's home in Carroll Gardens
Cynthia and Alan
photo credit: Max Kelly
Alan and Cynthia in 1987, after they moved into their home on Union Street
(family photo)Florida In Brooklyn", Alan Lantz's humorous account of moving to the neighborhood to retire, which he followed up with "Twenty Years Later", Alan comments on the recent changes to our community in an essay called "The Babyfication Of Carroll Gardens."
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.
The Carroll Gardens Chronicle
"THE BABYFICATION OF CARROLL GARDENS"
By Alan Lantz
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.”