Archive for the tag 'history'

The Vitagraph smokestack (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

The Vitagraph smokestack (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Preservationists have been bracing themselves for news of the Vitagraph smokestack’s fate ever since scaffolding was placed around it in October. Now the developer who owns the 1263 East 14th Street property has filed plans to construct a new eight-story residential building with 302-units.

Sheepshead Bites was the first to report that Hampshire Properties purchased the 107-year-old smokestack and adjoining lot, currently occupied by the Shulamith School for Girls, for $20 million. No plans for construction were immediately filed.

That paperwork went in on Friday, as YIMBY reports:

Woods Bagot is listed as the architect…  Renderings for 1263 East 14th Street have not yet been released, but at first glance, its prospects would appear promising.

Hampshire Properties is listed as the developer, and the residential zoning area will measure 277,406 square feet. The property has an alternate address of 1277 Locust Avenue, and is currently occupied by an 85,000 square foot school that must first be demolished.

The building will be 80 feet fall, covering 64 percent of the lot, according to DOB filings. There will be enclosed attendant parking for 152 cars, the minimum required by zoning. There will also be parking for 153 bicycles.

Documents show that there will be a fitness room, meeting room, lounge with reading and children’s spaces, an outdoor recreation area, a tenant business center and a multi-purpose room.

There will be no commercial space in the new development. It’s not clear if the units will be condos, rentals or a mix of the two.

The plans are still pending review by the Department of Buildings, and no permits for demolition have been filed.

Hampshire Properties, is a Midwood-based manager and developer of residential and commercial properties, including several in Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach.

When scaffolding was erected around the smokestack earlier this year, preservationists were concerned it would be demolished. A petition started by neighbors currently has 534 signatures.

More than a century old, it’s one of the last symbols of Midwood’s film production history. Vitagraph was a leading silent film company based out of the building now set to be demolished. It was purchased by Warner Brothers in 1925, and later NBC, which also used the more modern facility across East 14th Street until the early years of the 21st Century.

The former Vitagraph facility was repurposed by Yeshiva University in 1967.

Attempts to landmark the smokestack, which sits at the northeast corner of the former studio and on which the Vitagraph emblem is still visible to subway straphangers, have previously failed to win approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Preliminary rendering of the new building to replace El Greco at 1801 Emmons Avenue. The view is from Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road. (Source: Sergey Rybak)

Preliminary rendering of the new building to replace El Greco at 1809 Emmons Avenue. The view is from Emmons Avenue and Sheepshead Bay Road. (Source: Sergey Rybak)

EXCLUSIVE: A seven-story condominium building with ground-level retail, abundant parking and a 9,000-square-foot landscaped public plaza will soon be constructed at Sheepshead Bay Road and Emmons Avenue, replacing El Greco Diner, the new owners told Sheepshead Bites in an exclusive interview.

Buyer Sergey Rybak detailed his preliminary plans following the $13 million sale of the 1809 Emmons Avenue property on Friday, which he purchased with partner Jason Reznik under the name 1809 Emmons Avenue LLC. Rybak’s company, Rybak Development, is overseeing construction.

Rybak Development already has a track record in the area. The company is part owner of the MatchPoint NYC sports complex on Shell Road, and is developing several luxury condominium projects in the area, including 3041 Ocean Avenue and 104 West End Avenue, as well as commercial projects like 1810 Voorhies Avenue. Their roster of developments is almost exclusively in Southern Brooklyn.

At the moment, all plans shared with Sheepshead Bites, including the plaza and the layout of the building, are subject to change. The final project, he hopes, will be as-of-right, meaning no approval from the Community Board or Board of Standards and Appeals will be required – but that can change, too.

See more renderings, and learn details of the plan for 1801 Emmons Avenue.

elgreco

UPDATE: See the exclusive renderings for the building the new owners have planned for this space.

El Greco Diner is bustling with nostalgic patrons since news of its impending closure after 40 years of business became public.

“It’s been crazy since you ran the story,” owner George Venetoklis told Sheepshead Bites. “Lines to get in. Too bad we are closing. Packed as we speak.”

Venetoklis said the deal for the 1821 Emmons Avenue location officially closed Friday morning. He declined to name the buyer or the sale price, but Sheepshead Bites learned that Rybak Development purchased the property for $13 million with plans to build a mixed-use property and public plaza. An auction to sell off the restaurant’s equipment is scheduled for late December.

Venetoklis said a sale has been in the works for some time, as he, his brother Peter and mother Anastasia put blood, sweat and tears into keeping it going in a changing community and economy.

“We had a really good run. A lot of businesses, at some point the model just changes. Our model was large portions at good prices. Our food prices were beginning to skyrocket and we couldn’t keep up,” he said. Other economic factors were also at play. “Real estate taxes, labor costs, everything took its toll. As a family, we realized we put in our time. Forty years, it was time to move on.”

A final breakfast of two eggs over easy with sausage and English muffin for this reporter.

A final breakfast of two eggs over easy with sausage and English muffin for this reporter.

El Greco’s owners did mount a search prior to the deal to sell the business and keep it in operation, but they said businesses like theirs have a shrinking place in communities.

“We were looking for a more modern version of the El Greco family to come in and take over,” he said. “I think that [Sheepshead Bay] has been doing well, but it’s just that the larger corporate-run businesses are the ones that have greater longevity and more backing and more ability to do things in a different way. That’s just what the nature of the beast is.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to close the diner. Founded by George’s father Minos in 1974, El Greco’s remained a true family business, where the two brothers were raised and eventually worked to keep the elder Venetoklis’ memory alive 20 years after his passing.

I was three-and-a-half when it opened, and my mother is fighting off tears.” he said. “I have four children … and they were heartbroken. I can understand it because I was basically their age when I was growing up in this restaurant. My 8-year-old turned to me and said, ‘Dad, what are you going to do?’ I said ‘I’ll spend more time with you.’”

Venetoklis said it’s the relationships he makes with customers, employees and business suppliers that he’ll miss the most.

“The highlights have been the customers and the friendships we made. This place has never closed, the business has a life of its own. It doesn’t sleep. And I’ve worked every shift in this place; I’ve seen the neighborhood change. I’ve seen the menu change – we had items that we’ve had to remove because the customers weren’t around to eat them,” he said.

The restaurant, recently named one of the borough’s best diners, was teeming with longtime regulars on Saturday afternoon. Chatter about the pending closure could be overheard at almost every table.

Among the regulars were Marc and Zoya Baroda, a Mill Basin husband and wife who met at the restaurant nearly 20 years ago and who now visit regularly with their three children, ages 6 to 15.

“I worked here as a hostess, and he was the pickle man,” said Zoya. It was 1995, and she got the job because she was a frequent patron. “I grew up here. I came here before I met him, before I worked here, and this was the place to go after a club or a night out and this is where to meet up.”

Marc and Zoya Baroda with their three kids. They say they'll be back again before the restaurant closes for good.

Marc and Zoya Baroda with their three kids. They say they’ll be back again before the restaurant closes for good.

Her future husband made the regular deliveries for Mr. Pickle – which he’ll continue to do until the closing this week.

“He’d flirt, of course. He delivered, and would come to the cashier and I’d have to pay him and he’d flirt,” she said.

It took a vacation out of town to work up the nerve to ask her out, said Marc.

“I was talking, talking and one time when I went on vacation to Mexico, one of the guys who works for me, I told him to tell Zoya when I come back I’m going to be looking for her,” boasted Marc.

He did, and they married two years later. They took their wedding photos inside the restaurant.

“There’s an old joke I used to do with Peter and George after we got married. Every time she got pregnant, I’d tell them the price of the pickles went up,” he laughed.

When they found out it was closing, “I was shocked. I was completely distraught. And my phone has been going off non-stop. My friends who moved out of Brooklyn saying that they have to come to New York to have that last breakfast or lunch or whatever,” said Zoya. “I’m very sad to see the place go, but all good things must come to end.”

“I’m not just losing a diner, I’m also losing a client. But I’m not losing a friend,” he said of Peter and George.

Venetoklis said such sentiments have been endlessly echoed by regulars, and that’s what they’ll remember the most when they lock the diner’s doors for a final time.

“It’s bittersweet. It hurts, but at the same time it feels good,” he said.

800px-Coney_Island_Boardwalk-2

Can our beloved boardwalk be saved?

Councilman Mark Treyger asked the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to make Coney Island’s Riegelmann Boardwalk an official “scenic landmark” yesterday, an effort to block the city from replacing its planks with concrete and plastic, reports the New York Daily News.

“This is a globally recognized iconic structure that draws millions of visitors each year,”  Treyger told us. “Many New Yorkers recall stories from their childhood when their families took them to the boardwalk. We strongly believe that the boardwalk is worthy of being designated a city landmark, and is worthy of the same designated services every other piece of our local infrastructure has.”

As we previously reported, the city began construction to replace the boardwalk this month, despite fierce protests from residents, politicians, and activists, who say the concrete will ruin the walkway’s historic character and who question the environmental impact of the project. Shortly after Superstorm Sandy, activists filed a lawsuit demanding a full environmental review of the boardwalk project before construction commenced, pointing out that concrete has not necessarily proven to be more resilient against extreme weather, but a judge ruled against them.

Now the boardwalk’s fate is in the hands of the LPC. The landmark approval process is notoriously sluggish, and it will likely take at least a year for the boardwalk to reach the panel, but Treyger believes the move will put increased pressure on the Parks Department to halt the project.

“Money has been allocated [by local politicians] to make changes to the boardwalk instead of replacing it. This is very much counter to what the community desires,” Treyger said.

The boardwalk’s tropical wood planks have been around since the 1920s. If approved by the LPC, the boardwalk would become Brooklyn’s fourth scenic landmark. Currently, only Prospect Park, Eastern Parkway, and Ocean Parkway are protected scenic sites.

Former Richard Yee's site at 2617 Avenue U

Former Richard Yee’s site at 2617 Avenue U

The owners of Cherry Hill Gourmet Market are working to open up a new Glatt Kosher market in the former site of the legendary Richard Yee’s Restaurant at 2617 Avenue U.

Neighbors began noticing construction in late summer, with the black paneling ripped out and windows papered up. The inside is being gutted as of last week, and a manager of Cherry Hill market, Sam Nitka, told Sheepshead Bites it’s all in preparation for a gourmet kosher market to open next year.

“[Cherry Hill] will financially support it, and we believe there’s a demand for it in the neighborhood,” said Nitka.

The store will sell kosher certified meats, packaged groceries, organic vegetables and more, and will be Sabbath observant. It’s expected to open in June or July 2015, Nitka said, with a name to be decided.

The new market will also take over the former site of Shulman’s Picture Framing on the corner, and will likely utilize the small parking lot behind the property.

Richard Yee’s closed in 2008, though the property remains in the family’s name. The restaurant was among the first place to hawk Chinese fare outside of Manhattan’s Chinatown, having opened in 1967 (following an earlier creation by Richard’s father, Joe, in Flatbush). When it closed, it was the oldest surviving Chinese restaurant in the borough.

After its closing, the venerable food columnist Robert Sietsema reflected on its legacy:

Yee’s represented a new type of restaurant when it opened in 1952: Emphatically located nowhere near any Chinatown, it offered a nightclub ambiance with the Polynesian flourishes that were expected of upscale Chinese restaurants at the time, including flaming cocktails, tiki-hut décor, a separate cocktail lounge, and an evolved Cantonese cuisine perfectly suited to the young families that were flooding the neighborhood in the postwar era. Classic dishes included sliced roast pork with garlic and sherry, steak kew, lobster in scallion sauce, and some of the city’s first “sizzling platters.”

A more in-depth account of Yee’s history can be found in the book “Gastropolis.” It was apparently a favorite of local Jews (and Sandy Koufax), so it becoming a kosher market is not altogether removed from history (and better than the fast food chain Sietsema predicted). Yee invented or inspired many dishes that are now ubiquitous in American Chinese shops, and one of the most famous was his crab balls.

A member of the Yee tribe appears to have set up a blog to remember the restaurant’s legacy.

The location has sat empty since Yee’s closed, so we’re glad to see it being put to use by a local business. We’ll keep you posted as the opening nears.

Nostalgia Train via MTA on Flickr

Nostalgia Train via MTA on Flickr

If you’re looking for fun outside of the neighborhood this weekend, and have a young (or old) train fan in your life, be sure to catch the MTA’s Holiday Nostalgia Train, running along the M line between 2nd Avenue and Queens Plaza on Sundays (10am to 5pm) through December 28.

The cars, originally in service between the 1930s and 1970s, ran along the lettered lines from the Grand Concourse to Coney Island and have everything from ceiling fans and padded seats to incandescent light bulbs and vintage advertisements.

It’s definitely a great (and inexpensive…there’s no admission outside of your normal subway fare) family activity to check out this holiday season.

For more information on the nostalgia train, and other special events taking place this month, visit the MTA website.

Photo via the MTA

- Christine Bush

verrazano-narrows bridge

Opened on November 21, 1964, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge celebrates its 50th anniversary this week, so we’re honoring the occasion by looking at some of the statistics, quirks, and interesting bits of info that make up the massive crossing’s history. From parachuting off its tower, to a cameo in Saturday Night Fever, to nearly 22 dozen light bulbs, here are 25 things you may not have know about the bridge.

1. It could have been a tunnel, instead. The original discussion for crossing the Narrows began in 1888 — but that was for a tunnel. After a bridge was proposed and the design nixed, they went back to the tunnel idea, and actually began digging. The abandoned tunnels, which only went 150 feet but still remain, were nicknamed “Hylan’s Holes” after then-Mayor John F. Hylan, who championed the failed project. It went back and forth between tunnel/bridge until talk about a bridge, under the recommendation of Robert Moses, became serious in 1946.

2. It was built in five years. It took 16 years to build the Brooklyn Bridge (completed 81 years before the Verrazano), and one year and 45 days to build the Empire State Building (completed 33 years before the Verrazano).

3. It weighs 1,265,000 tons, making it the world’s heaviest bridge at the time it opened.

4. The cost to build the bridge, in 1964 dollars, was $320 million — which would be around $2.45 billion today.

Verrazano Bridge 1960 Brooklyn

Source: Matthew Proujansky via Wikimedia Commons

5. About 7,000 people were displaced in Bay Ridge to make room for the bridge, including dentist Henry Amen, whose office was leveled, but who found a new one nearby — he is still practicing there today at age 88.

6. The length of its central span, which made it the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened, is 4,260 feet, the equivalent of just over 14 football fields. It lost that title in 1981, and is currently the eleventh longest in the world; but it’s still the longest in the United States.

7. About 12,000 men worked on its construction, and three men died in falls. Workers walked off the job for four days, demanding safety nets, which they got, and which, afterward, caught and saved three more workers who also fell. None of the workers were invited to the opening; instead they attended a mass for the three victims.

8. Nobody is buried in the structure’s foundation, like they claim in Saturday Night Fever. In the film, the bridge symbolizes freedom and a better life…in Staten Island. The film was released 20 years after the groundbreaking of the bridge — that year, 1959, the population of Staten Island was 220,000; by 1980, it was 352,000, so Tony wasn’t alone in these thoughts.

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AndrewDiceClayOfficial.com

AndrewDiceClayOfficial.com

On the eve of the release of his new memoir, Sheepshead Bay native Andrew Dice Clay sat down with the Village Voice and recounted how he got his start in comedy.

The foul-mouthed comedian never intended to be a funnyman; he was a theater geek aiming to be an actor. But to warm up to the stage, he decided to tackle what he called “the toughest club in the country” – Sheepshead Bay’s Pips Comedy Club, formerly on Emmons Avenue.

Here’s what he said about the 1978 experience, and how it led Andrew Silverstein to become the Diceman:

That night would change my life. September 13, 1978. When I went on for the first time at Pips, that became my home until I came out to L.A. But I was very prepared to go on at Pips because I came up as a musician, as a drummer, and singer and entertainer. I was more into theater, so when I was thinking about getting on a comedy stage, it was more about having an act already. I didn’t want to “go up there and see what happens,” and I prepared a certain kind of act. I would come onstage as Jerry Lewis’s character from The Nutty Professor and take my magic formula, and turn into the John Travolta character from Grease.

At the time, Travolta was just the biggest star in the world. I mean, he was coming off the heels of [Saturday Night] Fever. We’d resembled each other since he was in Welcome Back, Kotter. We really looked similar; I could do a dead-on Travolta. But when I saw Grease at the Brighton theater in Brighton Beach and I saw him sing and dance, I said, “I have the act. I know what I can do.”

To perfect the act, Dice rehearsed at Kings Highway’s Fly Studios, then watched Grease and Fever over and over again, jotting down notes on the dance cues. He continues:

And that night when I went on at Pips, I came onstage as Jerry Lewis. My whole family was there: my parents, my sister, my grandmother, my friend Johnny. It was amateur night, and when I went on as the Nutty Professor, they’re booing me because I’m this nerd: “Get the fuck off the stage!”

But the club owner knew when to shut the light when I was doing my transition, took my magic formula. When I turned around as Travolta, they went ballistic, like it was Travolta. They were throwing tables over. You talk about a 90-seat club, with the air conditioning right in the ceiling: the toughest club in the country to play. When that would click on it was like a tractor going on. And I got hired to headline that weekend. The owners come over and they go, “Who’s your manager?” I look over at my father and go, “He is.” And that was it. I never came offstage for 10 years, until I made it.

Apparently, the comedian, who will also play a ’70s radio-station magnate in an upcoming Martin Scorsese series for HBO, feels Brooklyn is even worse than the bad, old days of the 1970s.

Brooklyn was a different world back then, and today it’s even worse. ‘Cause today it’s more bullies. That’s all you read about. And I always hated bullies. I wasn’t a bully in any way. I was tough, I could fight, but I wasn’t with the 15 guys coming over to one guy to terrorize him and kick him in the face. I hate that attitude.

Anyone remember Dice from the old ‘hood? Tell us about his performances at Pips!

Photo by Erica Sherman

Photo by Erica Sherman

Passersby have stopped to ogle adorable pups and cute kitties in the storefront windows of Puppy City for more than half a century. But the long-time neighborhood staple, and the place where the now ubiquitous “Wee-Wee Pad” was invented, unceremoniously closed its doors for good earlier this month.

“For rent” signs were posted at the 2539 Ocean Avenue storefront approximately two weeks ago. The store’s website declares in bold letters, “Closed – After over 50 years of service Puppy City has closed its doors,” and offers little explanation. The website and phone number now forward to that of Ozone Park-based Puppy Paws, and neighbors shrug their shoulders when asked what happened.

What happened was a combination of age and rent, according to Puppy Paws’ owner Boris.

“[Puppy City owner Kenny Simon] was getting up there in age,” said Boris. “And the store was there for 50 years. You can only imagine how much his rent went up during that time.”

Allen Simon (Source: TV Land via Pets Advisor)

Allen Simon (Source: TV Land via Pets Advisor)

Boris, a Sheepshead Bay native who worked at Puppy City for approximately a decade, said he hoped to take the reins of the operation, but the landlord wouldn’t work with him.

“The new landlord didn’t want to budge because he thinks he has a landmark,” he said. “We wanted to purchase it, but not at the rent he wanted, so we chose to rather purchase the domain, the phone number, and the contents of the store.”

It was a lackluster end to a business with a pedigree in the industry. Once a small chain throughout the borough, the Ocean Avenue location was its first and last. And from that basement at 2539 Ocean Avenue, one of the best-selling products in pet history was devised: the wee-wee pad.

Puppy City was opened by Allen Simon, a former carpet installation business operator, in the 1960s. He tinkered with potential products in the basement of the store, first developing a cologne for canines before striking it big in the 1970s with the Wee-Wee pad.

Back then, pet owners used newspapers until their pets were housebroken, but the former carpet maven noticed how urine soaked through the paper.

“I said this is ridiculous; I’ll make my own pad,” Simon told Pet Advisor in 2010, and he did so by using a thicker, more absorbent material lined with plastic to prevent floor damage.

He passed Puppy City to his brother, Kenny, and launched Four Paws, a pet product company that now rakes in more than $30 million in sales annually. The Wee-Wee Pad remains the number one selling product, beloved even by celebrity trainer Cesar Milan. The Wee-Wee Pad was featured on CNBC’s The Big Idea and Simon was profiled on the Joan Rivers show How’d You Get So Rich?.

His brother kept Puppy City’s doors open for another 40 years, committed to local pet owners. He could not be reached for comment for this article.

Scaffolding went up last week. (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Scaffolding went up last week. (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Neighbors are raising the alarm over potential plans to tear down a symbol of Midwood’s movie-making history, the 107-year-old Vitagraph smokestack near East 14th Street and Avenue M.

Scaffolding now surrounds the smokestack, which still has the historic silent film company’s name on it, though no plans have been filed to indicate its fate. The appearance of scaffolding has some worried that new owners plan to demolish the structure.

Brooklyn Eagle reports:

The smokestack, at East 15th Street and Locust Avenue, is an artifact from the historic Vitagraph Studios, a silent film company founded by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith in 1897. It is now shrouded in scaffolding after permits were filed to erect a heavy duty sidewalk shed and pipe scaffold at the location.

“It is 110+ years old, and an important part of Brooklyn and film making history,” [neighbor Ellen] Levitt added. “I don’t think this is landmarked, which is a shame.”

Despite the age, passersby could clearly see the Vitagraph name embedded in the brickwork before scaffolding was erected. (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Despite the age, passersby could clearly see the Vitagraph name embedded in the brickwork before scaffolding was erected. (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

The smokestack is part of the larger property at 1277 East 14th Street, which was most recently the site of Shulamith School for Girls. The complex became part of Warner Brothers after Vitagraph was sold in 1925.

The Encyclopedia of New York City has this on Vitagraph Studios (via Forgotten NY):

An open-air, rooftop motion picture studio, opened in 1898 by American Vitagraph in the Morse Building at 140 Nassau Street [Manhattan]. The film Burglar On The Roof was produced in the studio during its first year. In 1890 the company moved its offices to 110-16 Nassau Street and then opened a glass-enclosed studio in 1906 at 15th Street and Locust Avenue in Flatbush…

…Warner Brothers purchased American Vitagraph in 1925 and used the studio for many of its Vitaphone short subjects before closing it in 1939; it continued to produce film there even after the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) bought the studio in 1952 and began using it for color television broadcasts.

Though a portion of the sprawling complex continued to operate as a studio into the 21st Century, the more historic facility at 1277 East 14th Street was repurposed by Yeshiva University in 1967.

Attempts to landmark the smokestack itself have failed to win approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

A new petition by neighbor Melissa Friedling is making the rounds to save the smokestack.

“Prodigious and proud, the smokestack stands beautifully emblazoned with inlaid brickwork spelling out Vitagraph (visible from the Q train as you approach the Avenue M subway station),” the petition states. “We would like to make a plea for preserving it as a landmark for the the borough of Brooklyn and for cinema posterity.”

The property sold in July 2014 for $20 million. Despite using an anonymous LLC moniker, Sheepshead Bites has learned that the new owner is Hampshire Properties, a Midwood-based manager and developer of residential and commercial properties across the nation. They manage several properties in Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach, among others.

Though Hampshire Properties has confirmed ownership, they did not return requests for comment on the plans.

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