Skip to main content

A Walk Around Brooklyn: the year 2000 seems like a different era

The acclaimed two-hour public television documentary A Walk Around Brooklyn was released in 2000, but a recent re-viewing shows it illustrating a different era, before Brooklyn crossed the rubicon of a red-hot real estate market (and, of course, before the 2003 announcement of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, much less the opening of the developer's Atlantic Terminal mall, which came in 2004).

It's not just the lingering view of the Twin Towers from Fulton Ferry or that fact that the former fireboat house in that scene had yet to be turned into the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Or that opening shots from the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower (below) date from when the building contained dentists' office rather than luxury condos.

It's also that, among the relatively few talking heads, some are now deceased: comedian Alan King, who grew up in Williamsburg, and Weeksville preservationist Joan Maynard. (Others interviewed on camera include the Brooklyn Brewery's Steve Hindy and the Rosen brothers who run Junior's restaurant.)

And the landmark restaurant Gage & Tollner, in an increasingly incongruous location on the Fulton Mall, has since closed, was briefly resurrected as a T.G.I. Fridays, and soon will be reincarnated as an offshoot of the Harlem-based Amy Ruth's.

The Golden era

The film was produced with the assistance of the office of Howard Golden, Brooklyn Borough President from 1977 through 2001, and it is very much a sign of a borough striving for recognition and getting some of its due.

The concept, of course, was a bit of a fudge, because no one can actually "walk" around Brooklyn in a couple of hours, but the point was to affirm Brooklyn's burgeoning mosaic. The web site description states:
So it's no wonder that when [actor/host] David Hartman and [Brooklyn-born architectural historian] Barry Lewis set out across the East River to make the latest episode in their series of video walking tours of New York communities for Thirteen -- a follow-up to their acclaimed specials on Harlem, 42nd Street, and Broadway -- they found not one Brooklyn, but a vast patchwork of neighborhoods steeped in 400 years of history.

Under Golden's administration, from 1985 through 2001, the Borough President's Office sponsored the annual Welcome Back to Brooklyn Festival, honoring Brooklyn-born celebrities and enshrining on the Celebrity Path in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. (In 1985, those inaugurated included Aaron Copland, Moss Hart, Gil Hodges, Danny Kaye, Phil Silvers, Mae West, and Walt Whitman. Whew.) The last Celebrity Path installment was in 2001.

The Markowitz era

Then Borough President Marty Markowitz took over and, though hardly one to eschew nostalgia, Markowitz's office has sponsored some more forward-looking celebrations, notably the Brooklyn Book Festival.

But that was launched in 2005 and as late as 2003, after the Atlantic Yards project was announced, Markowitz sounded almost abjectly thankful that a major developer would propose such an ambitious arena-plus-towers plan in Brooklyn. He said in a December 2003 radio interview, "Y’know, it wasn’t that many years ago that no one wanted to invest a dime in our borough. We should be celebrating it..."

Instead, it might have been more fruitful for Markowitz to see himself, and city administrators, as negotiators with a strong hand.

Dodgers: Brooklyn heart?

The documentary does a decent, if understandably swift, job traversing the past and present of several Brooklyn neighborhoods, and inevitably lands at the site of Ebbets Field, with accompanying nostalgic photos. A dialogue ensues.

DH: Do you realize, this team, when Mr. [Walter] O'Malley moved the team, in the late 50s to Los Angeles, the people of Brooklyn, of course, thought he was evil, the devil, he took the heart, the soul, the guts, the identity of Brooklyn, to Los Angeles.

Lewis: Y'know, I hated O'Malley too, but--when you look back in retrospect, I think he really knew what he was doing. In those days, in 1957, L.A. looked like the future, Brooklyn was the past. And isn't it ironic that, today, L.A. is more of a symbol of the past and Brooklyn is the symbol of the future.

Hints of the market

There are only a few hints, some indirect, of the hot real estate market that had begun, and was to heat up even more. Neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill are described as affordable alternatives for those who can no longer afford Brooklyn Heights, rather than destinations of their own that now even attract celebrities.

A stop in Bedford-Stuyvesant, clearly an attempt to dispel stereotypes that the entire neighborhood is poor and drab, takes us to a spectacular row house and points out the stunning architectural stock in the neighborhood's southern segment. A few years later, the real estate market there took off.

And a visit to DUMBO focuses not on the development efforts of the unnamed developer David Walentas, who owned a good number of old loft buildings and was strategizing a way forward, but the role of artists and galleries, many of them in fact nurtured by Walentas.

BL: You look around and think, well, who would want these buildings anyway. You have not just the artists, you've got manufacturers who are also leaving Manhattan. This could be their last stand in New York if they don't get these buildings. And then, in back of everybody, you have these upscale developers who are hoping to take these buildings and turn this entire waterfront into a new SoHo.

DH: So the prices are going to shoot up.

BL: Million dollar lofts, lots of coffee bars.

Uh-huh.

At Coney Island

The documentary ends appropriately at the raffish, rundown, but still-vibrant Coney Island beach, where Lewis takes a stab at predicting the future.

DH: This is now, what about the future?

BL: Well, y'know, it's New York, you never know what the future is. Hey, we we were at the Gowanus Canal. And for all we know, it's going to be a wonderful sightseeing journey through old, industrial New York.

Actually, in perhaps even more of a surprise to a time-traveler from 2000, the Gowanus neighborhood will be the home of numerous luxury developments.

Lewis predicted more accessibility:
Coney Island--well, for one thing, it's still the magnificent South Shore Long Island beach it always was. It's the front door to the Atlantic Ocean for seven and a half million New Yorkers. I can almost picture hydrofoil boats coming down from Manhattan around Gravesend Bay and landing people here on Coney Island in the future.

The melting pot

Lewis continued with a tribute to Brooklyn's setting:
Y'know, Elliot Willensky wrote a wonderful book When Brooklyn Was The World. And he said, "Where land and water meet, wonderful things happen. And y'know, it's still where land and water meet.


And it's a place where developer Joe Sitt proposed housing near the beach, the city resisted, and has instead suggested a land swap as part of a very ambitious housing and amusement development project still under serious debate.

In conclusion

The film ends with our two guides tuckered out at the beach.

DH: Hey Barry, good job, we've done Brooklyn.

BL: Isn't a great city? I mean, this is one of the great cities of the United States. It's had its trials, it's now coming back, and it's coming back into its own, and in its own way, and that's what I love around Brooklyn.

This city is a city of 50,000 acres. Y'know, in Texas, it would just be a mid-size ranch. In Brooklyn, it's the world.


And a very attractive area, it turned out, for housing as the real estate market soon crested.

Seven years later, a "Walk Around Brooklyn" would generate a very different documentary. After all, the latest promotional video for Downtown Brooklyn is narrated by an actor with a plummy British accent.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.