Saturday, March 24, 2007

Before Coney Island: Was New York's First Amusement Park in Williamsburg?

With all the controversy swirling around the impending "redevelopment" of Coney Island, we thought we should point out that in 1833, a waterside amusement park (so much as amusement parks even existed in those days) known as Raynor's Regatta Pavilion occupied the block bounded by North 6th Street, Kent Avenue, North 7th Street and the East River.

This paragraph from describes the park:
From just above Grand Street because of the soil conditions, willow trees flourished and the section was known as 'Willow Grove'. In the midst of it was a sort of tavern. RAYNOR'S Regatta Pavilion took an entire block on Kent between North 6th & 7th, running down to the rivers edge, partly on a bluff. There was a garden and a pleasure railway of wood that ran in a circle, refreshments of all kinds were served, a place for regattas.

The photo above is not Raynor's - its a "Pleasure Railway" (an early precursor of the roller coaster) that was part of Colonel John Stevens' Elysian Fields complex on the Hudson River shore in Hoboken, NJ. The lithograph dates to 1833 - the same year this map of Williamsburgh was published, showing the Pleasure Railway at Raynor's on Kent Avenue. So in our quasi-scientific logic, we'll surmise that its a pretty decent representation.

As best we can determine, Raynor's Regatta Pavilion was "redeveloped" in the late 1800s to make way for the real train tracks of the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal, which itself was "redeveloped" as a Sheriff's Impound Lot in the late 1990's, and stands ready for its next role as part of Douglaston Development's The Edge residential highrise complex.

And so, after taking two very different paths, here in 2007 both Brooklyn amusement parks face a similar fate.

Site of Raynor's Pleasure Regatta, 2007 [Flickr]

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lowest of the Low


Gazing out at the East River all day, its easy to forget that the river is not really a river at all: its a "tidal strait" - essentially a big crack in the rocky shoreline of the Atlantic. Ocean tides push in and out twice a day; at the south end of the system, exaggerated and accelerated by the Harbor's narrowing passage; at the northern extreme, confused by the confluence with the Harlem River and the Long Island Sound.

While the East River has always been a valuable link in the chain of navigable waters that makes up the New York Harbor waterways, its status as a tidal strait have always made it a strange beast. Since New York's earliest days, sailors have sought to master the river's currents and tides, employing favorable currents to their advantage (and understanding how to circumvent unfavorable tides when necessary).

This week marks a period containing the lowest low tides until this December, and Sunday we took advantage of nature's deep exhale to scramble around the East River shoreline and photograph the ruins of the former Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal piers - much of which spends high tide under water - and all of which is likely to be removed forever by developers creating the new piers and promenades of Northside Piers and the Edge residential projects.

lowest tide photoset [Flickr]

B.E.D.T. Background and History [insijs]


Koolman Fire Followup


Following last Tuesday's fire at the Koolman garage in Williamsburg, crews spent the weekend power-washing the iconic ice cream trucks. It appears that all the trucks that were housed in the Grand Street depot were damaged to varying degrees - from heavy smoke damage to totaled. Huge holes could be seen in the roof of the structure as well.

We spoke to a group of Koolman drivers Sunday, who said they are still awaiting the FDNY's report on the cause of the blaze. When asked if the trucks were insured, they gave us the who knows what will happen look, with one driver commenting, "you know how insurance companies are; they'll probably try to get out of it."

Koolman Fire and Cleanup Photos [Flickr]

Will Koolman Fire Melt Ice Cream Dreams?

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Kent Avenue Retrospective

Kent Avenue @ North 6th: 1953 #2

Kent Avenue at North 5th

kent ave at north sixth st 2007

The first two photos have appeared on imnotsayin before. We thought it would be fun to do a 'then and now' post. Unfortunately we couldn't find one of the same view from pre-April 2006 when the BEDC warehouse at right was still standing as "Four Gs Truck Rental" and the waste transfer facility was just beyond it.

The intersection, with its panoramic view of Manhattan, is a popular spot for photographers. We'd love it if someone else has a shot from this angle, and would be willing to share it!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thursday Eye Candy: Roadmaster


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Making sense of Williamsburg's New Sushi Scene

sense sushi

Tuesday night we got sidetracked by the Koolman fire en route to reporting on what promises to be the flashiest debut along the North Sixth bar/restaurant/club corridor since Mikey's Hookup moved to its new digs a few months back.

We snapped the above photo during mock service last evening, and when we stopped in Wednesday to ask questions, everyone seemed to be either a harried owner/manager or a contractor, so our information is limited for now. But here's what we DO know:

The address is 106 North Sixth Street. The building is a gorgeous little brownstone commercial space that dates to the late 1800s and housed a meatpacking concern called the Pacific Beef Company. Appropriately, the keystone of the grand first-floor arch is the carved head of a steer.

The building's last tenant was a steakhouse called Bull's Eye. According to locals, the restaurant closed under suspicious legal circumstances (table settings remained in place for several years) and "the place always had a funny smell".

The new tenants held a "grand opening" party called Electrovibes on New Years Eve, while interior renovations were still in full swing. The promoters' - ku-deta, World Clique, and Glide Dance - taste in DJ-performed club music appears to have strongly influenced the interior decor, as well as the dinner soundtrack. This place is very much in the vein of neighboring Thai scene/restaurant Sea. Hopefully the quality and value of their food approaches that of Sea as well.

Oh, did we mention, the new joint is called sense? We'll assume no caps; any place cool enough to not put their name on the sign probably knows enough to not capitalize either. And we believe its pronounced "sensay", though we could have been hallucinating from the all the purple zebra-striped velvet wallcover. Sensei - pronounced "sensay" in good ol Yankee phonetics - is Japanese for 'teacher', which could be the play here, or we could just be making shit up again...

Interestingly, the restaurant/club/scene's business card boasts the improbable domain name "". A quick spin through WHOIS confirms our suspicion that's just wishful thinking: the url is parked by a Norwegian "chess communication" company.

The folks inside say they'll be rehearsing a for couple more evenings, and open f'r real real real sometime this weekend.


Bristol Banksy Black-Out Blunder

Our intrepid London Correspondent spotted this BBC News item Tuesday, describing how a classic Banksy mural was accidentally rollered with "thick black paint" by a government contractor assigned to clean up adjacent graffiti.

Recent notoriety for the celebrated UK street artist (in February a Banksy piece sold for £102,000) has come with controversy. In January we reported that Banksy's "Rat Playing Ball" was removed from a London wall by thieves who later tried to eBay the masonry for £20,000. And last December, a Banksy mural here in Williamsburg was hit by the Splasher during one of his earliest sprees. That scene was quickly rollered over by Faile in a (futile) attempt to limit the attention the Splasher was apparently seeking.

We'd held off reporting on it, given the glut of Splasher-related postings lately...but a few days ago, one of the Faile stencils on North 6th (the same spot as the Banksy splashing and recent American Apparel pasting) was rollered with white paint. We're not sayin there's any connection with the Bristol rollering, we're just sayin...

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Will Koolman Fire Melt Ice Cream Dreams?


A smoky fire tonight inside 152 Grand Street in Williamsburg may mean less ice cream trucks on North Brooklyn streets and could threaten the livelihood of dozens of immigrant workers, just as the the soft-serve season gets underway.

Things heated up inside the garage that houses dozens of Koolman ice cream trucks shortly before 10 pm Tuesday evening. The blaze, which firefighters attacked from both Grand Street and South First, appeared to damage a number of the vending trucks (some are over 40 years old) as well as the structure itself.

A 2002 profile of Koolman in the Brooklyn Rail describes a locally-owned company marked by its strong work ethic, with many drivers who own and painstakingly maintain their trucks, and "return to their far-flung homes of Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo" during winter downtime.

Koolman Fire Photoset [imjustsayin/Flickr]

Koolman Ice Cream Truck History [Brooklyn Rail]


Tuesday Eye Candy: Commute


monday's sunset as seen from the foot of south fifth street [Flickr photoset]

Monday, March 12, 2007

Williamsburg Goosed Again: Northside Waterfront's Canadian Invasion


First it was the the wave of bohemian artists, fleeing the newly-gentrified SOHO and DUMBO neighborhoods. Then came the speculator-developers, displacing the hipsters with high rents in the wake of 2005's massive rezoning. Now there's a new invasion: the Canadians!

Actually, the latest influx of interlopers is Canadian Geese (Branta canadensis), which have been frequenting the new - as yet unopened to humans - East River State Park, along the river between North 7th and North 9th Streets.

With last Spring's clearing and seeding of the formerly overgrown lots, the geese have designated the new park a veritable Vince Lombardi Rest Area along their "Atlantic Flyway" - a New Jersey Turnpike for migratory birds that parallels much of North America's East Coast. But instead of Roy Rogers burger combos and 64 oz coffees, these travelers chow down on a diet of grass, seeds, aquatic vegetation and occasionally insects and fish.

The big birds have at times been rounded up, driven off and even hunted from other parks they call home because of their perceived health-risk, a taste for freshly-seeded lawns, and the signature green turds they leave behind. Which makes us wonder how they'll coexist with nature-starved neighborhood humans once the park opens...

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

(Don't!) Name Your Favorite Smokeasy


This one's been on the tip of our toungues for a couple of years now. With the 2003 smoking ban in New York City bars, it was inevitable that an underground society of permissive establishments would - and did - evolve.

In the spirit of Prohibition-era speakeasies, a small percentage of New York bars and clubs are known among regular patrons to look the other way after a certain hour...long-forgotten ashtrays suddenly reappearing on bar-tops; that distant-yet-familiar haze returning as if to say 'the insanity is only temporary, we'll all come to our senses soon enough...relax, you're among friends..."

It happened Friday night in a very local place, in the shadow the Williamsburg bridge. And we've seen it in the depths of Red Hook, on the avenues of Park Slope, and in the fringes of Chinatown.

Tell us: are there smokeasies in Midtown? In Queens? The Upper West Side? What about other states - and even countries? Are there conscientious objectors elsewhere?

Please don't mention the establishments by name! We wouldn't want to spoil the fun. But go ahead, stay inside where its warm; belly up to the bar; light up, and tell us your smokeasy story...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

And Our First Runner-Up Is...? Second-Tallest Building Remains Unclear

Chrysler Building pinnacle

...still very much in doubt. Yesterday, the folks at FX Fowle Architects weighed in on the burning question: "Who is number two?" - what's the second-tallest building in New York (for now)?

They were kind enough to send over an actual CAD elevation (we've linked to a lower-res jpeg), showing the under-construction (but already-topped-out) New York Times Building at 41st Street and 8th Avenue in exquisite detail. According to the blueprint, its non-functional mast reaches 1,046 feet from the sidewalk. However, on very close inspection, a 3.3 foot-tall safety beacon assembly pushes the overall height - in our opinion - to just over 1,049 feet.

Unfortunately, we don't have that level of detail for the venerable Chrysler building, but most online sources agree that she maxes out at 1,046 feet - a dead-heat with the Times building, if you don't count "non-architectural features" such as safety beacons. This is where the debate heats up among skyscraper geeks, and where most folks lose interest and go back to their conversation about last night's episode of Lost.

Interestingly, the topping-out of the Chrysler building back in 1930 had its own drama: it was part of a "height race" with the Bank of Manhattan building to be the world's tallest building. During construction, its entire metallic spire had been concealed from the public and built inside the building's fire shaft. The now-iconic pinnacle was hoisted into place in one piece, suddenly eclipsing both the bank building and the Eiffel Tower in a dramatic reveal that kinda makes you wish it were 1930 again (except for the Great Depression thing)...

And so the question remains, until 1 Bryant Park tops-out at 1,200 feet sometime later this year.

New York Times Building Elevation [courtesy of Fox & Fowle Architects]

Friday, March 09, 2007

Silent but Tasty: New Vietnamese Restaurant Puts the 'h' Back in Williamsburgh

Silent h staff

After a couple of weeks of doing the permit dance, Vinh Nguyen's long-anticipated Silent h Vietnamese Restaurant and Bar opened this past Wednesday - and appears well worth the wait. The welcome variant to the neighborhood's glut of Thai restaurants is located at 79 Berry Street at North 9th, the site of the former Oznot's Dish.

Imnotsayin stopped in and sampled the lunch headliner: the Banh Mi (Vietnamese Street Staple Sandwich) "Classic Special". The sandwich is a mouthful - both literally and descriptively:
Roasted Pork from Chinatown New York, Vietnamese White Pork Salami and Paté, served with Vinegared Carrot and Daikon Julienne, Cilantro, Jalepeno, and Vietnamese Aioli on toasted Baguette.
That said, it was one of the tastiest things we've eaten for lunch in ages. The combination of tastes and textures - at once spicy, sour, salty, crunchy and creamy - come together on a wonderfully-tender, slightly warm baguette (baked fresh right around the corner at the Polish bakery on North 8th Street). Yum! Now we're eager to circle back for a dinner entré or two.

The place is bright and impeccably clean, and Nguyen and his attentive staff seem to be having a great time. The one remaining detail is getting their liquor license squared away, hopefully in time to sip cold 33s on warm spring evenings in the sidewalk seating area. Meanwhile, B.Y.O.B. is welcome.

Silent h is open Tuesday through Sunday from Noon to 4 pm for lunch, and 6 to 11 pm for dinner. 718-218-7063

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Looking Up in Manhattan 2: New York Times Tower


Our second stop on the new skyscraper tour took us just a few blocks west on 42nd Street, where the New York Times' shiny new home rises from the otherwise-vacant parcel immediately across from the Port Authority Bus Station on Eighth Avenue.

The soon-to-be new headquarters for the venerable broadsheet is actually sited at 41st Street and 8th Avenue, but given its height and sheer mass, it is clearly visible from much of Midtown and the West Side. The 52-story late-modernist monster by architect Renzo Piano (Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris; Kansai Airport, Osaka) is currently the third-tallest building in New York. Its (strictly ornamental) spire, completed last July, reaches 1,043.9 feet - versus the Chrysler Building's 1,044.3 feet.

Note: upon further research, there's some disagreement among various online sources, with some listing the building's overall height as 1,142 feet. This is pretty significant among the skyscraper-geek set, as it determines whether Times Tower ranks as NYC's 2nd- or 3rd-tallest building, at least until 1 Bryant Park tops out, later this year. We're on the case, so stay tuned for clarification on this.

UPDATE 3/10/07: NY Times Building architects weigh in

Height issues aside, the new Times HQ is both interesting - it uses a unique curtain wall of ceramic tubes to optimize energy efficiency; and somewhat dubious: most observers haven't decided whether its beautiful and elegant, or just plain ugly. Many of the early renderings suggested the building's curtain walls would cause beautiful daylight and twilight reflections, but so far the jury is out. Additionally, the building is slated to have some exterior lighting, and that could very well make the Grey Lady's new digs shine in the nighttime skyline.

Times Tower Flickr Photoset [imjustsayin]

Great set of renders and background []

Wired New York's NY Times Tower Forum 2001-Present [Wired NY]

Awesome police-style lineup of NYC skyscrapers - existing, proposed and under construction []

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tuesday Eye Candy: Kent Avenue Classic

Kent Avenue @ North 6th: 1953 #1
From the 1953 film noir "Pickup on South Street"

A couple of weeks back, a reader tipped us off to this scene from the 1953 Richard Widmark film Pickup on South Street. The picture was released as a Criterion Collection DVD in 2004, and though we're not generally fans of noirs that don't follow pinot, the flick was pretty darn good.

Note the building at right - 150 Kent Avenue, whose demise we chronicled in an earlier post. Here it is again in the film, from a slightly different angle: still part of the BEDT complex. And again in the foreground of this late 2004 photo, with the former waste transfer facility still standing where the Northside Piers luxury tower now rises.

Does anyone recall George's Restaurant, at the extreme left of the photo above? It would have been around 131 - 133 Kent Avenue from the look of the sign.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Splasher IS American Apparel?

the paste was still wet

Imnotsayin was this close to nabbing the Splasher in mid-pasting tonight: we shot these pics of his latest work on North 6th in Williamsburg while the paste was still wet. Or were we?

Even at first glance, the latest batch of posters is strange:

• The new posters appear paint-splashed. The Splasher splashes others' art, and posts clean manifesto posters alongside. It doesn't make sense for him to splash his own work.

• On closer inspection, the splashes are part of the print. In fact, the posters are identical color copies or color prints; most likely from a digital photo of a real Splasher posting. The entire print has a pinkish cast and all the postings have identical "paint splashes", integral to the print.

• The dead giveaway: all the new posters have an American Apparel snipe - a black band that overlays everything, including the fake paint splash. The snipe says "Try This!" alongside what appears to be an actual American Apparel advertising still - logo and all. The photo itself is "splashed" with an exact (tiny) version of the large "paint splash".

Here's our theory:

American Apparel IS the Splasher. Their clever marketing department cooked up the original Manifesto and began posting it and splashing prominent Faile, Obey, Banksy, etc works in key AA neighborhoods - the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, knowing it would spark a controversy among hipsters and artists.

Much to American Apparel's delight, prominent NY news outlets including New York Magazine and the NY Times picked up the story. The Times has run two stories, including a huge splash (sorry) on the front of Thursday's Metro section.

Delighted by the unexpected press, American Apparel decides to cash out, hiring a local street artist to paste up the mashed-up ads, and exposing itself as the culprit.

Naturally, they'll deny everything - after all, graffiti in all forms is still technically a crime, isn't it? But they'll reap plenty of publicity, and unlike the recent Aquateen/Mooninite debacle in Boston, pasteup graffiti isn't often mistaken for improvised explosive devices...

That, or the Splasher's gone corporate on us.

Either way, we'll get them him next time...

More American Apparel / Splasher Love [Flickr]

Previously on imnotsayin:

Paint Job Failes to Curb Street Art: Take That to the Banksy

Williamsburg Graffiti War Rages On; Dadaist Manifesto as Rationale for Destruction