Archive for the tag 'preservation'

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.

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.

Weiner is requesting money to implement long term solutions to Plumb Beach erosion

The Bloomberg administration is pushing a plan to help restore the existing wetlands throughout the city, and the city has released a draft of its strategy to restore the natural environments along New York City’s waterfront.

The initiative originates from a directive signed by Bloomberg in 2009, ordering relevant city agencies to create a strategy to to conserve, protect, enhance, stabilize, restore, and expand wetlands around the city – including those in Jamaica Bay. The intention was to provide City Hall leadership in conserving area of water too small to be protected by current state laws, according to WNYC News Blog.

“In the next three years the city will work with our state and federal partners to invest over $54 million at 17 sites to restore and enhance over 58 acres of adjacent wetlands and habitat,” said Aaron Koch, the senior policy advisor for the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability.

Over the years, many important ecosystems have dissipated, but despite that, New York is still home to many critical natural areas in Jamaica Bay, Staten Island, and along Long Island Sound.With the help of the city, more than 175 wetlands have been created or restored in the last 10 years.

One of the main focuses of PlaNYC, the Mayor’s environment-friendly initiative, are waterways. During a City Council Environmental Protection Committee hearing, Koch said that the city hopes to implement several plans to improve public management of wetlands units.

These include the transfer of more city-owned units to the jurisdiction of the Parks Department for additional preservation. The department has acquired almost 300 acres of wetlands in the past decade.

The NYC Wetlands Strategy Draft has been released to the public on January 18, 2012. The City will accept public comments on this draft strategy through February 18, 2012 at

Cool picture, right? I thought so, too.

The United Methodist Church of Sheepshead Bay (3087 Ocean Avenue), as previously reported, has swapped contractors and gone forward with a temporarily plan to stabilize the steeples. They began putting in the supports on April 29, and now a series of steel wires sprout out of the steeple, distributing its weight around and holding it in place. Cement has been poured in the yard anchoring the entire system, and a support also leans against the side of the steeple’s base.

We’ve heard from some that they don’t think it’s a particularly elegant solution, but I think it looks kind of cool. And, in the end, it means the church is looking to keep the steeples. Let’s just hope they can raise the money they need to restore them properly and safeguard the structure.


Photo by Diana Taft Shumate via Amusing the Zillion

By Howard Simon

PEOPLE OF EARTH! Aliens are here, at Coney Island, and there are people shooting them!

Photo by Howard Simon

No, we’re not talking about early arrivals for The Mermaid Parade, but the ones coming from Hollywood. Not to worry, though, because those Men In Black will be here to protect it, with the man who makes their wardrobe “look good” leading the way.

Filming for Men in Black 3, starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, began filming yesterday in the People’s Playground. As we told you before, they’ve headquartered in the historic Grashorn Building, saving it from potential demolition.

Now Amusing the Zillion is reporting that they’ve gussied up the boardwalk from West 12th Street to Stillwell Avenue for their time-travel twist, giving it a late-1960s look. Amusing the Zillion has more photos and details on that.

We went on location Wednesday to check out the area where the threequel will be shooting from May 2 to 5 and it was mostly calm before the Hollywood storm, except for an equipment truck on Surf Ave across from the Grashorn Building, and some production assistants on the watch. Most of the pink No Parking signs announcing the Men In Black 3 shoot are posted on West 10th Street and running the length of The Cyclone.

Grashorn Building in 1969.

Grashorn Building in 1969. Photo © Charles Denson via Coney Island History Project (and via Amusing the Zillion)

What more appropriate place in the world is there for the third installment of Men in Black III (MiB III) to be filmed than beautiful and bizarre Coney Island? And who better to save an endangered Coney Island building than Will Smith? (Ed. - Uh… anyone?)

The movie, centered around a top-secret agency that “polices, monitors and directs alien activity on Earth,” will see the return of original cast members Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as Josh Brolin (who will play a younger Agent K, Tommy Lee Jones’ character, in a time travel twist). They’ll be be filming in Coney Island from May 2 to 6, according to a report by Amusing The Zillion, and Coney’s oldest building — the dilapidated Grashorn, on the corner of Surf Avenue and Jones Walk — has also been given a stay of execution from the clutches of Thor Equities.

Amusing The Zillion’s Tricia Vita further notes that construction workers are currently repairing the interior of the Grashorn for use as the crew’s location headquarters, so they’ll be pulling the structure out of the dredges. The Grashorn was erected in the 1880s, but has recently fallen into extreme disrepair and inhabitation by squatters, and was slated for demolition.

Bonus points? A retro ’60s transformation for the film’s time travel scenes will be incorporated into some of the buildings along Surf Avenue, Jones Walk and the Bowery, as well as on the Boardwalk and in Wonder Wheel Park. The film is slated for release on May 25, 2012.

MiB III, time travel, the ’60s and Coney Island? It’s time to whip my hair back and forth in joy.

State Senator Carl Kruger is attempting to prod the mayor to step in and protect Coney Island’s boardwalk businesses, which are being kicked out by the new amusement operator, Zamperla USA.

New York Post reports:

State Sen. Carl Kruger – a longtime critic of the Bloomberg administration’s plans to revive Coney Island – was back on the fabled boardwalk today, this time saying he hopes to work with the mayor to help keep eight longtime boardwalk businesses from having to shut down.

… Kruger (D-Brooklyn), who met the business owners and members of the press, said he wanted to try and broker a deal with Zamperla and the city to save the businesses.

“I think what we are talking about is David taking on Goliath,” said Kruger (D-Brooklyn), on why he wanted to help the underdog merchants.

Continue Reading »

by Ryan Maye Handy

A crowd of Coney Island locals gathered on the boardwalk this Saturday to say goodbye to an old friend.

After 76 years, Ruby’s Bar and Grill, the boardwalk bar known for its vintage photograph-covered walls and classic jukebox, was closing for good.

Every October, Ruby’s Bar and Grill shuts down after the summer season. But this year, when Italian amusement park behemoth Zamperla did not renew the lease, Ruby’s owners opened their beloved bar for one last round.

“Today is not a day of mourning. Today is a day of celebration. Let’s celebrate Ruby’s the way Ruby wanted,” said co-owner Michael Sarrel to a crowd of Ruby’s regulars.

Keep reading and view a photo gallery of the Ruby’s rally.

Ruby's Bar & Grill, Coney Island. May 28, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Ruby's Bar & Grill in Coney Island. May 28, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

You’ve probably already heard about the odious decision to show the door to all but two of Coney Island’s boardwalk businesses. Zamperla, the Italian company that leases city properly and runs Luna Park, is single-handedly re-branding Coney Island with more upscale fare.

But the businesses are not going down without a fight. Several got together recently to discuss legal action and at least one, Cha Cha’s, feels crossed after being told his lease would be renewed.

Now they want the public’s vocal support. Fans of Ruby’s bar is asking everyone to sign their petition to renew the boardwalk staple’s lease. And the bar is having a rally and party tomorrow to show the powers that be that they will not go quietly into the freaky night.

From a Ruby’s rep, on the Coney Island Message Board:


It may very well be Ruby’s last day of operation, so it’s worth showing up just so you can tell the kiddies you were there for the death rattle, when they tell you they read in school about some amusement park in Coney Island – that place they only know for condos and shopping.

So sign the petition and show up to Ruby’s Bar & Grill on the boardwalk near Stillwell Avenue between 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to show your support and play a role in a tragically historic Southern Brooklyn event!

A c.1896 lantern slide, courtesy of Joseph Ditta. It's the earliest known photo of the plot.

There’s a certain lexical contortion that must be performed when writing a headline to celebrate the anniversary of a historic cemetery. I began the headline with “Happy Birthday,” then figured “happy” was not appropriate. So I went with “morbid.” But then “birthday” sounded way off, so I changed it to “deathday,” but nothing seemed right about that. So I went with “anniversary.”

Although language may bar my ability to create a proper phrase to capture the day, it doesn’t stop facts from being facts. Yesterday marked the 360th anniversary of the first recorded burial in the town of Gravesend – and possibly within the current confines of the Gravesend Cemetery, according to Gravesend historian Joseph Ditta.

(Read our August 2009 Q&A with Ditta about Gravesend’s history and preservation.)

The burial of the unnamed infant son of William Wilkins took place on August 18, 1650. This first interment occurred seven years after Gravesend was settled by former English subjects under Lady Deborah Moody on land granted to them by the Dutch governor of New Amsterdam. It took eight more years for the graveyard to take on more officious boundaries, when a resident offered 20 guilders – Dutch gold coins – to fence in the southwest corner of the village, which constituted the cemetery.

But if you go today, don’t expect to see the Wilkins baby’s tombstone. The earliest surviving stone marker is marked 1724, and the oldest legible stone dates to 1768. Still, that’s mighty old.

And speaking of going today, your opportunity is coming. Locals are lucky to have the knowledgeable (and eminently friendly) Joe Ditta presenting a pre-Halloween tour of the area on Sunday, October 24 at 11:00 a.m.

The tour will cover more than 250 years of the cemetery’s history, and is filled with all the intrigue reflective of the city’s twisted growth. Hear about murder-suicides, possible poisonings, and the warped burials of Coney Island sideshow freaks.

The tour is being given in conjunction with the Salt Marsh Alliance (based in Marine Park) and its resident History Club. (For information, see or call 718-421-2021.) Also, check out the Facebook fan page for Ditta’s book, Gravesend, Brooklyn, and the tour’s event invitation.

The original version of this article said the settlers were Quakers. This is incorrect. Lady Moody was an Anabaptist.