Brooklyn Heights Blog » History http://brooklynheightsblog.com Dispatches from America's first suburb Thu, 21 Sep 2017 21:56:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 Never Forget-A Very Special Open Threadhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84700 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84700#comments Mon, 11 Sep 2017 14:28:49 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=84700

Today is a very special edition of Open Thread. The blog remembers the events of the World Trade Center and pays tribute to the nearly 3,000 souls lost. Our hearts are especially with the brave fire fighters, families and loved ones of local firehouse, Ladder 118/Engine 205, who lost six heroic men on that tragic day.

The Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association will hold their annual 9/11 memorial service on the Promenade tonight beginning at 6:30 pm.

Join Rev. Ana and the Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Clergy Association for a community-wide memorial for the lives lost in the attacks of September 11, 2001. We will pray and sing together, remembering loss and envisioning a world of peace. All are welcome. We will meet on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade near the Montague Street entrance.

Tell us where you were sixteen years ago on this day. How do you commemorate this day? Never. Forget.

Photo Credit: SongBirdNYC

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Hot Event At Brooklyn Historical Society Thursday Evening, August 10: How Curry Spiced Up New Yorkhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84434 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84434#comments Wed, 02 Aug 2017 02:14:20 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=84434

Did you think America’s first celebrity chef was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee? He was a mere toddler when J. Ranji Smile arrived in New York in 1899 to introduce curry dishes to the city’s high society. On Thursday evening, August 10 at 7:00 the Brooklyn Historical Society will present gastronomic historian Sarah Lohman and MIT scholar Vivek Bald, who will discuss Chef Smile’s “sometimes scandalous rise to fame and his lasting impact on American cuisine.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members. There’s more information and buy tickets here.

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Is The Brooklyn Heights Historic District a Mistake? Heights Resident Sandy Ikeda Thinks Sohttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83443 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83443#comments Mon, 31 Jul 2017 03:24:02 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83443

Sandy Ikeda is a professor of economics at SUNY Purchase, and a resident of Brooklyn Heights. He’s also a very personable and bright guy, as your correspondent can attest, having gone on two Jane’s Walks through the Heights that he led, one several years ago and one this April. On each occasion he showed extensive knowledge of the neighborhood, including information that I, a resident of thirty years, didn’t know.

IMG_8039For example, I learned that the townhouse on Clinton Street in the photo above served, in the time just after the conclusion of World War II, as a halfway house for Japanese-Americans who had been interned in camps during the war.

IMG_8040Then there’s this plaque on the townhouse at the corner of Clinton and Livingston, that identifies it as having been the clubhouse of the Brooklyn Excelsiors, baseball champions in 1850, and one of whose pitchers may have invented the curve ball. The Excelsiors were lineal ancestors of the Brooklyn Dodgers, my first love in baseball, even though I lived nowhere near Brooklyn at the time.

Despite his knowledge of, and obvious love for, Brooklyn Heights, Sandy has argued here that the designation of Brooklyn Heights as a landmarked historic district was a mistake. He says he and others have benefited from it; they “enjoy the quiet and charm of a place nearly frozen in time – we basically live in a museum with restaurants.” The problem, he says, is that the restrictions imposed by landmarking have constrained how owners may use or dispose of their property and, for a more far-reaching effect, have limited the supply of housing over the whole local market, making it less affordable for all.

These were “Jane’s Walks,” and Sandy is an admirer of Jane Jacobs, whose The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of Cities examined the question, “What makes cities work?” She championed the idea of the “neighborhood,” an area incorporating a mix of uses: residential, commercial, and public (schools, libraries, police and fire, parks) and a mix of old and new buildings housing people of diverse economic means. She opposed attempts to impose order or rationality through “urban renewal” schemes that were popular in the 1950s and ’60s. Neighborhoods, she thought, should be allowed to develop organically.

Jacobs also fought against the construction of highways through urban neighborhoods, which destroyed large parts of them and created divisions where none had existed before. Sandy noted with approval the efforts by Brooklyn Heights residents to keep Robert Moses from routing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway through Brooklyn Heights, an effort that caused Moses to re-route the highway to the edge of the bluff atop which the Heights sits, and to create the Promenade above it. Like Jacobs, Sandy saw Moses’ original plan to route the highway through the Heights as a heavy handed government intrusion into a neighborhood; one that would alter its character for the worse.

How, then, did landmark designation, which was brought about by local residents (though no doubt some were opposed) violate Jacobs’ principles? She believed neighborhoods should develop organically, but also (according to this brief bio) was “[a] firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop.” I didn’t put this question directly to Sandy during our Jane’s walk, but I think his answer would have been twofold: first, by tying their own hands with regard to the disposition of their properties, owners at the time of landmarking were also tying the hands of future generations of owners who had no voice in the matter; and second, that the wishes of the neighborhood’s residents in this respect were outweighed by the city’s need for greater density (which Jacobs also advocated) and the affordable housing this would make possible.

I haven’t found any indication that Jacobs took a position, pro or con, concerning the landmarking of Brooklyn Heights, which occurred a few years before she left New York for Toronto. I have learned, though, that Brooklyn Heights was her first home in New York City. She and her sister Betty lived on a block of Orange Street that, some time after they moved out, was demolished to make way for Moses’ Cadman Plaza housing development.

As Sandy and I walked along the Promenade, I asked him if, had Brooklyn Heights developed “organically,” we would be seeing a phalanx of high rises to our right instead of the backs of townhouses and their gardens. His first response was, “Yes,” but then he quickly added, “Well, you can’t really tell.” That’s true; real estate markets have their ups and downs, as do cities as preferred places to live. It’s also possible that the owners of townhouses along Columbia Heights might have made a pact not to sell to any developer. How enforceable that would be, and how long it could be effective, are relevant questions. It’s not unknown, though, for property owners to refuse a deal that would be lucrative in the short run in order to preserve a pleasant ambiance and the prospect of long term appreciation in value. This is just what happened when the owners at 75 Henry Street, part of the Cadman Plaza high rise complex, voted to say “no” to a developer’s offer that would have resulted in the construction of a new high rise on the location of the Pineapple Walk shops.

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For better or worse, New York, and Brooklyn in particular, is now considered very desirable. My guess is that the Heights, without landmarking, would today have the phalanx facing the water and many, though not all (some still survive in Midtown East), stretches of attractive row houses (as in the photo above) demolished and replaced by tall buildings, casting many shadows over the neighborhood. The Columbia Heights phalanx would make the Promenade a less attractive place to visit. I think the Heights would still be largely a “residential monoculture,” as that seems, in economic terms, the “highest and best use” as determined by market demand. We’d still have restaurants, probably more of them, and perhaps more high end retail.

What Jane Jacobs may not have foreseen when she wrote her first two great books was that her beloved West Village would be overrun by, well, people like me: people who could afford $350 a month (in 1973) for a one bedroom in a gut rehabbed tenement; people with jobs in law firms (like me), ad agencies, or banks, but who harbored artistic pretensions and were looking for authenticity, instead of the sterility of the Upper East Side or, heaven forbid, the suburbs. This began a trend of gentrification that led to what my friend David Coles describes here. Much of the West Village, like the Heights, became a landmarked district. It also became devoid of what Jacobs praised: a mixture of uses and of people of differing economic circumstances.

The Heights went through a similar process of gentrification, well described with respect to Brooklyn generally by Suleiman Osman in his The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn. The early gentrifiers were in the vanguard of those seeking designation of the Heights as a historic district. Today it is a much less economically diverse community than it was in the 1960s and before, and commercial rents have risen considerably, forcing out some locally beloved stores, the latest being Housing Works. I believe, though, that these changes would have happened with or without landmarking. Any new high rises built in the Heights, because of its proximity to water and its pre-existing charm. would have commanded very high rentals or asking prices. Their combined effect would have been to make the neighborhood less attractive, but not enough to make it affordable for those of moderate means.

Jane Jacobs may not have foreseen gentrification, nor the ability of private developers to disrupt neighborhoods by (sometimes surreptitiously) acquiring assemblages of land and purchasing air rights in order to put up massive structures. I asked Sandy if he believed that private, as well as government, entities could impose on neighborhoods in ways that frustrated Jacobs’ notion of organic development. He unhesitatingly replied, “Yes.”

The question is, was the landmarking of the Heights worth it on a cost versus benefit basis? I would say it was. To Sandy’s first objection, that it puts a burden on property owners in the district, I would say: should the burden become too great for a majority of them, they may petition the city to remove it. To the objection that it constrains the supply of available housing, I would say that the constraint, in the case of the Heights, is minor. My further answer would go to less economic than, dare I say, historic and romantic considerations. I think it’s important to save some neighborhoods, like the Heights and the West Village, as reminders, imperfect as they may be, of what the city once was like, and of the history that played out in them; not only, as in the case of the Heights, that Washington’s army camped here in August of 1776 and that he planned his troops’ escape from Long Island here, or that many great artists, writers, and political figures have made homes here, but also in the more impressionistic words of Truman Capote in his A House on the Heights:

These houses bespeak an age of able servants and solid fireside ease, invoke specters of bearded seafaring father and bonneted stay-at-home wives: devoted parents to great broods of future bankers and fashionable brides.

Landmarking couldn’t save residential or commercial diversity in the Heights or the West Village, but lack of landmarking wouldn’t have, either. Indeed, it would likely, in my opinion, have made things worse.

Photos: C. Scales for BHB.

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Brooklyn Historical Society Shows How Hollywood Gets History Wrong, For Free!http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84425 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84425#comments Fri, 28 Jul 2017 02:36:21 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=84425

This coming Monday evening, July 31 at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society begins a series of movie screenings, “Hollywood Does History… Poorly.” This series will “look at films that play fast and loose with history, often to absurd effect.” First in the series is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin (Could anyone do absurd effect better than him?). Newsday’s film critic Rafer Guzman and Slate writer Kristen Meinzer will introduce the show (and, no doubt, tell you what it gets wrong). Admission for this (as for all films in this series) is free, but you should reserve tickets here.

Other films in the series are Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) at 6:30 on Monday evening, August 7; (reserve free tickets here), and Forrest Gump (1994) at 6:30 on Monday evening, August 10 at 6:30; reserve free tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84342 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84342#comments Sun, 23 Jul 2017 03:53:23 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=84342

On Monday evening, July 24 at 6:30 the Brooklyn Historical Society will present a screening of Rebecca Messner’s film Olmstead and America’s Urban Parks. Frederick Law Olmstead, along with Calvert Vaux, designed Central Park and Prospect Park. Olmstead considered the latter his finest design. Ms. Messner will be present to discuss her film after the screening. This event is in conjunction with BHS’s new exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park. Admission is free, but you should reserve tickets here.

You always knew Betty Boop (image) had to be a Brooklyn native, right? It turns out she was. On Tuesday evening, July 25 at 6:30 BHS will present “The Amazing and Incredible History and Future of Brooklyn Animation,” a panel discussion featuring several experts in the field, and with video clips from past and present Brooklyn animation studios, including Fleischer Studios, Betty’s creators who are still going strong. Admission is $5 or free for BHS members; more information and purchase tickets here.

Betty Boop image: JacksCrafts.com.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84209 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84209#comments Tue, 04 Jul 2017 20:07:56 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=84209

Aspiring Izaak Waltons will get inspiration at the Brooklyn Historical Society this Thursday evening, July 6 at 6:30 for “Gone Fishin': Brooklyn’s Favorite, Forgotten Pastime,” a panel discussion featuring local anglers and environmental advocates. There’s plenty more coming up in the next couple of weeks, including a book talk on Tuesday evening, July 11 about a biography of Washington Roebling, who supervised the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge designed by his father, John Roebling. There’s more information here.

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At Brooklyn Historical Society This Weekhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84153 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84153#comments Tue, 27 Jun 2017 03:51:46 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=84153

On Wednesday evening, June 28 at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present a panel discussion on the timely topic, “Who is Muslim.” It will be led by Imam Khalid Latif, chaplain at NYU, and will feature a distinguished panel of Muslims living in America who will “challenge stereotypes, highlight alternative narratives, and share their hopes for America’s evolution.” Admission is $5, or free for BHS members. Tere’s more information, and you may buy or reserve tickets here.

On Thursday evening, June 29 at 6:30 Kay S. Hymowitz, contributing editor of City Journal and author of The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back, will discuss the

seeming Renaissance of Brooklyn’s ever-changing landscape through seven neighborhoods: Park Slope, Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brownsville, Sunset Park, and Canarsie. In this exploration, Hymowitz looks at the successes of black and white middle classes, local policies, and small businesses, while assessing the challenges left for recent immigrants and other diverse communities trying to thrive.

Admission is $5, or free for BHS members. There’s more information and you may buy or reserve tickets here.

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Author of Novel About Vanishing New York at Brooklyn Heights Branch Library Thursdayhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84061 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84061#comments Wed, 14 Jun 2017 03:02:48 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=84061

This Thursday evening at 6:15 the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library will present John Freeman Gill, author of The Gargoyle Hunters, “one of Booklist’s picks for Best New Adult Fiction of 2017,” to discuss and sign his novel at the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library’s temporary quarters, 109 Remsen Street.

The novel is based on a true but bizarre occurrence in 1974: the theft of an entire historic cast iron structure in lower Manhattan, the Bogardus Building, which had been disassebled and was lying in pieces on its lot waiting to be rebuilt. According to the novel’s publisher, Penguin Random House, the book “intimately portray[s] New York’s elbow-jostling relationship with time.”

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BHS Events Examine NYC Fiscal and World Beer Historieshttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84052 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/84052#comments Mon, 12 Jun 2017 12:47:20 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=84052

Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 13) evening at 6:30 the Brooklyn Historical Society will be host to NYU historian Kim Phillips-Fein, author of Fear City: New York City’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics. Professor Phillips-Fein will discuss “the fiscal policies that led the city to the brink of bankruptcy, the scare tactics used by the powerful to enforce austerity, and the lasting effects on the city and nation at large.” Admission is $5, or free for BHS members. There’s more information and you may reserve or buy tickets here.

On Wednesday evening, June 14, at 7:00, Patrick E. McGovern, author of Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Re-Created, will be joined by gastronomic historian Sarah Lohman, mixologist Eamon Rockey, and beer scribe Chris Cuzme to discuss McGovern’s book “and the exploding interest in resurrecting methods and tastes from a bygone era.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members. There’s more information and you may buy tickets here.

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Brooklyn Historical Society This Weekhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83999 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83999#comments Sun, 04 Jun 2017 22:15:45 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83999

This Tuesday evening, June 6 at 6:30 (all programs begin at 6:30 PM unless otherwise noted) the Brooklyn Historical Society will present, from its “Tales from the Vault” series, “Adopting Brooklyn as a Home,” featuring accounts by Puerto Rican, West Indian, European, and African immigrants to Brooklyn. “BHS archivist Brett Dion brings Brooklyn history to life through these immigrant stories, some even going back as far as a century.” Admission is $5, or free for BHS members. There’s more information and you may buy or reserve tickets here.

On Wednesday evening, June 7, there will be a panel discussion, “KEEP OUT: Immigration, Discrimination, and National Security.” Panelists will include Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union; Libby Garland, historian and author of After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965; and moderted by Lizzy Ratner, senior editor of The Nation. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members. There’s more information and you may buy tickets here.

“From the 1800s until post-WWII’s industrial decline, Brooklyn’s waterfront was a refuge for working class queer people.” On Thursday evening, June 7, Hugh Ryan, founder of the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History, will tell a history extending from the docks below Brooklyn Heights, through the factories of the Red Hook and Sunset Park, “to the transgender presence at Coney Island freak shows.” Admission is $5, or free for BHS members. There’s more information and you may buy or reserve tickets here.

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Karl Celebrates Brooklyn Bridge’s 134th Anniversaryhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83918 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83918#comments Thu, 25 May 2017 03:01:39 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83918

Our friend Karl Junkersfeld contacted me to alert me to today’s being the 134th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. He kindly sent me the video he made seven years ago, for the 127th anniversary. Video after the jump (click on “Read full story”); enjoy!

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83898 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83898#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 02:16:05 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83898

It’s a busy week at the Brooklyn Historical Society, with three evening events. All begin at 6:30, and admission for each is $10, or $5 for BHS members. Links to buy tickets are below.

For all the talk of a “paperless society” — this blog’s beloved founder had as a slogan “On the web because paper is expensive” — we still use lots of the stuff. Mark Kurlansky, who has written histories of Cod, Salt, and Oysters, will be at BHS on Tuesday evening, May 23, along with Atlas Obscura editor Ella Morton, to discuss his Paper: Paging Through History. More information and buy tickets here

On Wednesday evening, May 24, Daniel Sharfstein, professor of law and history at Vanderbilt University, will be joined by New York Times editorial writer and author Brent Staples, to discuss Sharfstein’s book Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War. The book deals with an historic irony: how Howard, an abolitionist and Union Army Civil War hero, persecuted “a brutal military campaign against the Nez Perce tribe and their leader, Chief Joseph, an outspoken opponent of forced relocation.” More information and buy tickets here.

Are we on the cusp of tyranny? On Thursday evening, May 25, Masha Gessen, author of The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Retook Russia and Timothy Snyder, Yale history professor and author of On Tyranny: Twenty Leesons from the Twentieth Century, discuss “A Republic, if You Can Keep It,” concerning “the global rise of nationalism and America’s political future.” More information and buy tickets here

When you get a chance, go down to Empire Stores in DUMBO and visit BHS’s new exhibition site. On display there now are many striking photographs of the Brooklyn waterfront. One that particularly caught my eye was of the Harbor View Lawn on Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1, before a summer “Movies With a View” screening, taken from an open helicopter door directly above and showing the lawn almost covered with blankets arranged in a neat array and people sitting on them or walking around.

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Shadows From My Past Screening at Cong. Mount Sinai Wednesday Afternoonhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83805 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83805#comments Sat, 13 May 2017 03:07:32 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83805

This Wednesday afternoon, May 17, starting at 3:30, Congregation Mount Sinai, 250 Cadman Plaza West (at Clark Street) will present a screening of Shadows From My Past, a documentary film by Curt Kaufman and Gita Weinrauch Kaufman that, based on letters from 1939 through 1941, tells the story of a Jewish family in Vienna struggling to save themselves and their children. It also includes interviews with many contemporary and recently deceased Austrians, including Simon Wiesenthal, Kurt Waldheim, President Heinz Fischer, Theodore Bikel, Jorg Haider, and Holocaust survivors, reflecting on Austria’s role in the persecution and deportation of Jews during the time of Nazi rule. Co-writer and co-director Gita Kaufman will be there to discuss the film after it plays. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.

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A Walk Through Red Hookhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83710 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83710#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 12:42:16 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83710

This past weekend your correspondent participated in two Jane’s Walks, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society of New York. The walks, which are free, are funded in memory of Jane Jacobs, an urbanist who lived for many years in the West Village and who advocated a community based as opposed to a centrally planned pproach to urban development.

My first walk, on Saturday afternoon, was through Red Hook. I’ve been there before, many times, but I wanted to see what was happening there now. Red Hook was for many years a thriving port community, but containerization and the need to be adjacent to rail transport caused most ocean freight activity to move to New Jersey. It has now become a magnet for artists and other creative people who don’t mind its remoteness from rapid transit. It does have the B61 bus that, after a long, slow ride gets you to or from the subways. As you would expect in such a community, Red Hook has lots of little restaurants, shops selling various crafts, and two(!) small, independent bookstores.

I arrived for the walk a few minutes late, but fortunately spotted the group waking along Van Brunt Street (many streets here have the names of the Dutch families who were the original European settlers in Brooklyn). I caught up with them just in time to ask the walk’s leader, Guy, about the dinosaur sculpture in the photo above. “It’s a metalworking shop,” he explained. Certainly a very creative one.

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The stretch of Van Brunt Street on which we were walking was home to many plant nurseries.

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When we arrived at the foot of Van Brunt, we found, behind the nineteenth century warehouse building that now houses a Fairway store, a vintage Boston “T” trolley car. It’s the last remaining of three cars – see my eariler post for a photo – that were located here.

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Here are some of the nineteenth century warehouses that line much of the Red Hook waterfront. Some still serve as warehouses; others have been converted to art galleries and other uses.

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Sunny’s is a classic dive bar. It originally served longshoremen and sailors – note the anchor in the window. In recent years, it became a favorite of the creative people settling in the neighborhood. It’s owner, Sunny Balzano, died last year. His widow is trying to save it by raising funds to buy the building.

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Here’s a view of the interior of Sunny’s.

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Steve’s makes the best Key Lime pies north of – well – Key West. I’m not sure if that’s Steve standing just outside the doorway.

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Whoever he was, he was soon busy serving a bunch of hungry walkers. His little pies dipped in chocolate are amazing.

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Next door to Steve’s is a motorcycle dealer and repair shop. In the background was a classic shiny aluminium travel trailer.

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The Thing found floating in the harbor.

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These tidy little nineteenth century row houses may once have been the homes of longshoremen who worked the Red Hook docks.

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The Widow Jane Distillery makes fine Bourbon whiskey in Red Hook. It takes its name from the Widow Jane Mine, a limestone mine in Upstate New York from which comes the water used to make the whiskey. The photo above, though, is of its Cacao Prieto Distillery, which makes chocolate bars and cacao based liqueurs and rums from Dominican cacao (hence the Dominican flag).

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A peacock and several hens strutted in the garden behind Widow Jane.

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The Mary A. Whalen is an historic coastal and harbor tanker, one of the last of her kind, docked in the Atlantic Basin at 175 Clinton Wharf. She has been preserved by PortSide NewYork, and is the site of many public events.

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Coffey Park is at the heart of the Red Hook neighborhood, providing 8.27 acres of green space.

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The Red Hook Houses, a public housing project, is to the east and south of Coffey Park. Red Hook is mostly just a few feet above sea level, and suffered flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The boilers in the basements of the Red Hook houses were rendered unusable by the flooding, The trailer in the lower left of this photo contains a boiler that provides service to the nearby buildings. The Housing Authority plans to build a central plant above the flood level to supply heat and hot water to all the buildings.

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One of ONE°15 Brooklyn Sail Club’s sloops sails past Red Hook’s Valentino Pier, which commands a superb view of the Statue of Liberty.

On Sunday, I took a Jane’s Walk through our own Brooklyn Heights. It was led by Sandy Ikeda, a Heights resident who is a professor of economics at SUNY Purchase. Sandy is a great advocate of Jane Jacobs’ views on what makes cities and neighborhoods work, and has some interesting thoughts about the effect of creating landmarked historic districts like the Heights. I’ll be doing a separate piece about that walk, so stay tuned.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83668 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83668#comments Sat, 06 May 2017 03:46:41 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83668

On Monday evening, May 8 at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present “100 Clark Street: A Case Study in Navigating Building Codes, Gravity, and Landmark Preservation,” a panel discussion about the difficulties faced by owner Margaret Streicker Porres and architect (and former Brooklyn Heights Association president) Tom van den Bout (his professional partner, Brenda Nelson, is also his partner in life and wife) in “saving [a] landmarked, 150-year old building [photo] from certain demolishment.” Their discussion will be led by Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or BHA members; more information and purchase tickets here.

On Tuesday evening,May 9 at 7:00, BHS will present “Talking Privilege with Hari Kondabolu and Jordan Carlos,” two actors and stand-up comedians who will “bring their observations [on race, gender, and social class] to BHS in this unmoderated, one-on-one conversation.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; more information and purchase tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83622 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83622#comments Sat, 29 Apr 2017 05:25:26 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83622

It’s a busy week coming at the Brooklyn Historical Society. At 6:30 on Monday evening, May 1, there’s a program for two wheel enthusiasts, “Bike Month: A Conversation with Paul Steely White and Mark Gorton.” White is Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives and Gorton is founder and publisher of Streetsblog and Streetfilms. Admission is $5, or free for BHS members; there’s more info and purchase or reserve tickets here.

On Tuesday evening, May 2, at 6:30 there will be a very timely discussion, “Bringing Truth Back: Reporting Facts in a Post-Truth Era.” It will feature a panel of distinguished political journalists, and will be moderated by Sopan Deb, “a culture reporter for The New York Times, writing about the intersection of politics and culture, among other topics.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; more information and purchase tickets here.

A book titled City of Dreams:
Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles
may seem to be an odd basis for a reading and discussion likely to appeal to Brooklyn baseball fans, especially on the sixtieth anniversary of the Dodgers’ departure. The book’s author, Jerald Podair, will be at BHS Wednesday evening, May 3 at 6:30, to read from and discuss his book. In it, he “challenges the narrative that owner Walter O’Malley happily abandoned Brooklyn and moved west,” and finds a villain familiar to Brooklyn Heights residents: Robert Moses. Admission is $5, or free for members; more information and purchase or reserve tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83486 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83486#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 11:17:27 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83486

Tomorrow evening, Wednesday, April 12, at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present a screening of part one of Ken Burns’s documentary, Jackie Robinson. This film focuses on Robinson’s early life, from his childhood in Georgia through his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It will be introduced by co-directors, producers, and writers Sarah Burns and David McMahon, and is presented in conjunction with BHS’s exhibition on Jackie Robinson and his historic breaking of major league baseball’s color barrier. Part two of the documentary will be shown the following Wednesday, April 19. The event is free, but you must reserve tickets here.

On Thursday evening, April 13 at 6:30, BHS presents Randy Cohen, of Person Place Thing, with award-winning novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; purchase tickets here.

Photo: jackierobinson.com.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83389 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83389#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 03:38:16 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83389

This coming Saturday, April 1, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. the Brooklyn Historical Society will host a Family Play Day

where families get to try hands-on activities and games that will be featured in a new exhibition about the history of the Brooklyn waterfront.

The activities will include building puzzles, making postcards, drawing murals, and others, and are designed for children ages two to twelve. Participants will become important in deciding what becomes a permanent part of the Society’s exhibition when it opens later in 2017. Snacks will be served, and those who attend will receive a gift from BHS. Admission is free, but you must reserve tickets here.

Did you know that Brooklyn briefly had an NHL team before the Islanders? Word has it that the Isles stay here may be brief, but not so much so as the Brooklyn Americans, who had previously been the New York Americans, and who played under the Brooklyn name for one season (1941-42) that proved to be their last. On Monday, April 3, starting at 6:30 BHS will present a screening of Dale Morrisey’s new documentary, Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans. The film will be followed by a discussion with Stan Fischler, MSG’s “Hockey Maven,” and Allan Kreda of the New York Times. Admission is free, but you must reserve tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society: Remembering Jane Jacobs; Appreciating Immigrant New Yorkhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83270 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83270#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 18:08:25 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83270

This Thursday evening, March 16, at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present “The Legacy of Jane Jacobs,” a panel discussion moderated by New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante and featuring Matt Tyrnauer, director and co-producer of the documentary Citizen Jane; Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line; and Samuel Zipp, Associate professor of American and Urban Studies at Brown University and co-editor of Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs. Jacobs’ pioneering work on urban preservation, initially focused on her home neighborhood, Greenwich Village, inspired the movement that led to the designation of Brooklyn Heights as New York City’s first Historic District. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; buy tickets here.

On Monday evening, March 20, at 6:30, BHS presents Tyler Anbinder, Professor of History at George Washington University, to discuss his book City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York, which

shares the sweeping story of how newcomers have continually helped to define and redefine this city and country over the past few centuries, and shows how together, we have created a beautifully dynamic, deeply complex community.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing. Admission is $5, or free for BHS members and one guest. Reserve tickets here.

Photo: Human Transit

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Benefit Folk Concert and Square Dance Saturday Evening to Benefit St. Ann’s Church Restorationhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83140 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/83140#comments Wed, 08 Mar 2017 03:49:20 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=83140

This Saturday evening, March 11, starting at 7:30 the Brooklyn Folk Festival will present a benefit for the restoration of the beautiful St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, at Clinton and Montague streets (photo), at which the event will be held. On the program are Eli Smith, playing American folk and banjo tunes; Eva Salina and Peter Stan doing Serbian accordion and singing; and a chance to swing your partner and do-si-do with Dave Harvey and the NYC Barn Dance.

Tickets for the event are $20 per person; $50 gets you into the event plus the final day (Sunday, April 30) of the 2017 Brooklyn Folk Festival, and $100 gets you all that as well as the first two days (Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29) of the Festival (Festival schedule here). You may buy tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82989 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82989#comments Sun, 05 Mar 2017 02:34:38 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82989

On Thursday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m., the Brooklyn Historical Society will present a conversation between Cindy Gallop, founder of IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn, and Juie Scelfo, author of The Women Who Made New York, on the topic “Are We There Yet, Sisters? Will We Ever Be?” The discussion will focus on “[p]ower dynamics, double standards, puritanism…are gender disparities still ruling, or even hampering, female lives?” Because of the nature of the content, this event is suggested for adults only. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; purchase tickets here.

If you’re a native of Ireland, or, like me, proud of your Irish heritage, or if you just like, at this time of year, to pretend you’re Irish, this Friday, March 10, starting at 5:00 p.m. BHS will present a Free Friday with free museum admission and the theme “Irish Brooklyn.” It will feature Irish history, Brooklyn whiskey, Brooklyn Brewery beers, and live music.

Image: public domain, via Wikimedia.

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Brooklyn Historical Society Hosts Panel on LGBTQ Rightshttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82921 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82921#comments Sun, 26 Feb 2017 00:49:13 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82921

This coming Wednesday, March 1, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present a panel discussion on the topic, “LGBTQ Rights: The Struggles, Victories, and On-Going Fight for Equality.” Participants will include Susan Sommer, Associate Legal Director and Director of Constitutional Litigation for Lambda Legal, along with James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, and Cara Page, Executive Director of the Audre Lorde Project. The discussion will be moderated by Linda Villarosa, who directs the journalism program at City College of New York. Admission is $10, or free for BHS members; reserve tickets here.

Photo by Benson Kua via Wikimedia Commons.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82776 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82776#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 04:29:54 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82776

This Tuesday evening, February 7, from 7:00 to 9:00, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present Black Voices, Black Art: Upending Convention with Kellie Jones and Kimberly Drew. Admission is $10, or $5 fOr BHS members. More information and buy tickets here.

Journalist and cultural commentator John Strasbaugh will be at BHS Thursday evening, February 9 at 6:30 to discuss his new book, City of Sedition: The History of New York during the Civil War. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members. More information and buy tickets here.

Friday, February 10 brings another of BHS’s “Free Fridays”; this one on the pre-Valentine’s theme “Mad, Dangerous Love”. Admission is free, and the fun goes from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. The event features “Brooklyn Brewery beer, vintage cartoons, a lecture on poisons, and more!” There’s more information here.

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Trump’s Muslim Ban Halted Right Here in Brooklyn Heightshttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82716 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82716#comments Sun, 29 Jan 2017 03:46:01 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82716

If you heard the roar of a crowd tonight, it was coming from the Eastern District federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza. At around 8:30 p.m., the chant “Let them stay! Let them stay!” was heard from a boisterous group of protesters outside the courthouse. Why were protesters outside the courthouse on a Saturday night? According to the ACLU facebook feed, it had filed an emergency petition for a stay against Trump’s executive order banning immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries. The first legal challenge to that order was heard tonight, right in our backyard.

The ACLU named two men being detained at JFK airport as petitioners in its court papers. Earlier in the day, there had been a protest at JFK airport with crowds chanting, “Let them in! Let them in!” According to ACLU’s petition, one of the men, Khalid Darweesh, is an Iraqi who had been granted a Special Immigrant Visa as a result of his service to the U.S. military as an interpreter and engineer. The other is Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, an Iraqi who was granted a Follow-to-Join Visa to rejoin his wife and children who had been granted refugee status.

At around 9:30 p.m., thundering cheers came from Cadman Plaza that sounded like a Superbowl win. Shortly after, the ACLU announced that it had won and the stay was granted. The stay is nationwide but temporary, and saves people who have already landed in the U.S. or are currently in transit from deportation.

A few sirens were heard near the protest site, but so far, no signs of anything but a loud and impassioned protest. As of this writing at 10:30 p.m., the protesters are still celebrating the win and chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!”

 

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Two Montague Street Buildings Designated Landmarkshttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82689 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82689#comments Wed, 25 Jan 2017 04:26:15 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82689

The Eagle reports that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted unanimously to designate two buildings on Montague Street’s “Bank Row” between Clinton and Court streets as city landmarks. We noted their nomination for landmark status last August. The buildings–181-183 Montague, the People’s Trust Company Building, now occupied by Citibank; and 185 Montague, the National Title Guaranty Company Building, now occupied by offices and Chipotle–are in contrasting styles, Neoclassical and Art Deco, respectively. They are both excellent representatives of their types. The Eagle piece notes that the Brooklyn Heights Association has campaigned for their designation for over a decade, and quotes Brooklyn Heights preservation pioneer Otis Pratt Pearsall as saying, “It’s a wonderful moment.”

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82631 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82631#comments Sun, 08 Jan 2017 05:10:55 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82631

This Wednesday evening, January 11 at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present “Civic Responsibility Then and Now: A View from the Archives”, in which BHS’s Director of Public History Julie Golia and Oral Historian Zaheer Ali will “delve into our archives to consider the varied approaches to Civil Rights tactics over the course of our nation’s history.” This event will be recorded live as part of Ms. Golia’s and Mr. Ali’s podcast Flatbush + Main. Admission is $5, or free for BHS members; you may purchase or reserve tickets here.

As a reminder, this Thursday evening, January 12 at 7:00 p.m. there will be a free screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, and based on Truman Capote’s novella. Seats are still availble; you may reserve tickets here.

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Catching Up With Kenn Lowy: The Last Owner of Brooklyn Heights Cinemashttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82571 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82571#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 17:12:31 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82571

Brooklyn Heights Cinemas, at the end of its 42-year run, was the oldest independently-owned cinema in all of New York City. When the cinema shut off its projectors for good in 2014, the neighborhood collectively mourned the loss of yet another community sanctuary. A place where neighbors and visitors gathered for shared experiences. A place where you walked in and the owner and employees knew your name and what you liked without asking. If you were a regular customer, you probably miss the last owner, Kenn Lowy, as much as the cinema itself. When the neighborhood thinks of the old cinema, we think of Kenn, although he only owned it for its last three years. In the interview below, Kenn tells his story of his one-man mission to save the cinema, a labor of love that was life-altering in both good and bad ways.

BHB: How did you become the last owner of Brooklyn Heights Cinemas?

KL: I had been going to the cinema off and on since I was 17 years old. My family had moved from Philadelphia to Cobble Hill in the late 70’s and that was the only cinema around. I lived for a time in Brooklyn Heights, Vinegar Hill, and Park Slope, and then I moved away for a few years. And when I moved back 20 years ago, it became my cinema again. I used to go there all the time. Then, in late 2010, there was an article in one of the local papers about the owner being indicted for wire fraud. There had been several times before when the cinema almost went out of business. I wondered what was going to happen to the cinema. So I went and saw Amy, the Manager there. She knew me as someone who saw almost every movie they played. I asked her what was going to happen and she half-jokingly said, “Do you want to buy the place?” Like an idiot, I said, “Yeah, maybe.” She said, “I don’t know if he wants to sell it or not, but I’ll ask.” Literally, a week later, I was sitting down with the owner and we started talking about how I could buy the place. That’s what led to it. It would have gone under unless someone bought it. The cinema had been losing money for years. The owner had other cinemas, one that was making money and another one that was going nowhere. It took about six months of negotiating. I had no money, so I cashed in my IRA’s and maxed out my credit cards. And that’s how I bought the place.

BHB: What led you to take such a risk?

KL: {Laughs} I thought at the time that I could make it work. I didn’t think they were getting the best movies. They were getting good ones, but not the ones enough people wanted to see to make it viable. But I wanted to keep it as an independent cinema. I thought I could make it work. I never thought I would make money from it. But as long as I could break even, I was going to be happy, just to keep it going. Personally, it was an important place to me. It had been my local movie theater, like for many in Brooklyn Heights. This was our hometown movie theater.

BHB: At the time, were you making a living with a day job?

KL: Yes. I was a computer consultant, mostly Apple computer stuff. I had been doing that pretty much most of my life. Until my early 30’s, I was a journalist and a musician. I’m still a musician, but that’s how I used to make a living. Then the music industry changed and journalism changed, where I really couldn’t make a full time living at it. That’s when I got into computers and I’ve been doing that for the last 25 years.

BHB: When you bought the cinema, did you think, “If I break even I’ll be okay because I could support myself with the computer consulting?”

KL: No, when I said “break even,” I meant to be able to support myself, where maybe I wouldn’t be saving a lot, but I wouldn’t be losing money. I tried doing the consulting half the time and the cinema the other half, but that just wasn’t working. The first couple of months, I was at the cinema on the weekends and just hanging out. But after that, I was pretty much there full-time, along with my manager and the projectionist. After a few months, I wanted to be more hands-on and not being there didn’t make much sense.

Kenn Lowy in his

Kenn Lowy in his Brooklyn Heights Cinema (Photos by: Claudia Christen)

BHB: During the three years when you owned the cinema, did you see the numbers or the character of the audience change at all?

KL: The numbers definitely went up, which was desperately needed. We were getting people from other parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. What I was able to do was get a lot of exclusives for Brooklyn. So we had a lot of movies for which we were the only theater in Brooklyn playing them. Sometimes it really paid off because they were big films, and sometimes nobody wanted to see them anyway.

BHB: How did you pull off getting so many exclusives?

KL: Some of it was luck and most of it was because of my buyer, Steve Florin, who was really looking out for us and wanted the cinema to do well. It shouldn’t have mattered to him personally, since he would get paid the same either way. But he really wanted to help and made some great deals. Sometimes, there were so many films out, there wasn’t room at BAM or Cobble Hill to play them all. So they would come to us and ask, “Hey, would you want to play this?” Every once in a while, it was a film where it was like, “Are you kidding me? Of course I want to play this.” And then certain distributors would just come back to us and ask if we would take other films.

BHB: Can you name some of the films that sold the most seats at the cinema?

KL: Oh sure, I can think of a couple that really stand out, and it was interesting because they were films that were either exclusives or close to it. One was The Descendants and the way we got it was interesting. It was playing at BAM and then Cobble Hill, and after New Year’s, the other theaters started playing other films. And it was still doing well, and then it got nominated for the Oscars and then the Golden Globes, and we were still playing it. It did so well and we played it for so long, that regular customers started coming in and asking, “When are you getting a new film?” And I would tell them, “It’s doing so well, I can’t let it go!” They were very understanding.

The other film was The Artist, a black and white film. I saw it at the NY Film Festival and I really wanted it. I told my buyer and he said, “I’m not sure how well it’s going to do.” But we got it and it was the same thing – got nominated for the Oscars, and then the Golden Globes. We played that for a long time too.

The third one was Margin Call, the film about the Lehman Brothers collapse. We were the only theater in Brooklyn that had it. And I had never even heard of it. So my buyer called and said, “I’ve got this movie and it’s going to do well.” I looked it up and saw the trailer and thought, “Yeah, we should show it.” About a month later, we were the only theater in NYC showing it. So people from all over the city were coming to see it.

BHB: What films did the worst?

KL: One was a foreign film from Czechoslovakia. I can’t remember the name. Usually you have to guarantee a two-week run, but we had to stop showing it after one week. It was a shame, because it was a good film, but no one wanted to see it. Even the distributor called me and said, “Listen, we’ll let you out of this.”

And then there were a couple of small, local films that I played because it was the right thing to do and I wanted to support them. One was Battle for Brooklyn about the Atlantic Yards. We played that for about a week. And we played it every Wednesday night for months and the producers did a Q and A at every showing. The film didn’t do badly, but I mention it as an example of what we tried to do as a local theater. And I really liked the filmmakers.

The absolute worst one was Jack and Jill with Adam Sandler. What happened was that we were showing a film and it wasn’t doing well. And we had a week lapse before the next film was going to be released. So I had to find something and my buyer said, “I’ll get you the Adam Sandler film for a week. It’s a terrible film, but it will make money for you.” I looked at the trailer online and it was abysmal, but I said, “Fine, it’s just a week.” Well, it did so badly, even the distributor didn’t believe it was doing that badly. So they sent someone to check on a Sunday, and that person was the only one there in the whole theater for the last two shows. My projectionist went and sat down next to her and said, “Listen, you don’t have to sit here.” After about 10 minutes, she said, “I can’t take it anymore,” and left.

BHB: When you bought the theater in 2011, did you have any idea that the building owner was planning on selling the building?

KL: No, but the owner, Tom Caruana, was very honest with me about his intention to develop the building. He gave me a 2-year lease and told me that he might give me an extension, but that he would probably develop it. So he did tell me that I might only have 2 years. He never intended to sell the building. The reason he sold it was because he couldn’t develop it. He was actually a really good guy. The original development plan didn’t have the theater in it, but there was a huge uproar, and I called him up and he said, “We changed it, the theater is in.” He had changed his mind immediately. He was a really big fan and really appreciated the support the cinema had in Brooklyn Heights and he wanted to keep it going. The rent he would have gotten was really low for the space, and he didn’t have to put us in the plan. He made me almost like a partner in the plans. When he went to Landmarks, he asked me to come and speak up on it and I said, “absolutely.” His architect asked me, “Would this work, would that work?” And he was in contact with my architect as well. Tom was a really good guy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Brooklyn Heights Association killed that plan. And they’ll say, “oh no, we don’t have that kind of power,” but they definitely did.

BHB: Do you know Tom’s background? How long he owned the building and why at that point he wanted to develop it?

KL: My understanding is that Tom inherited the building from his grandfather. What happened was that there was a 21-year lease on the theater and an automatic renewal for another 21 years. So he couldn’t do anything with it until the additional 21-year lease expired. His plan was to develop it, never to sell it. He did his due diligence. He went to Landmarks and told them what he wanted to do, worked with the staff, and showed them the plans. But by the time he went there, the staff had already told the Commissioners whether they think the plan should be approved or not. The staff told the Commissioners, “This is a good plan, it should be approved.” But the Brooklyn Heights Association was like, “oh no, we can’t do anything to that building, because the building has this brick wall with historical relevance.” And Steve Levin, who’s actually a friend of mine, I don’t mean to say anything bad about him, but he also said, “Oh yes, this is very important, we need to preserve this wall.” The first Commissioner who spoke was a Brooklyn Heights resident who came to the theater all the time. He said it is important that the building be preserved, and then it was all downhill from there. Landmarks was very insistent on preserving that brick wall and the columns. It was all about that wall. I spoke to Judy Stanton, who probably came to see every film we showed, and she said, “We love the cinema, but this is not about the cinema. This is about the building.”

Tom then went to Landmarks a second time about a year later, and the same thing happened. Landmarks rejected the plan. And we were all just shocked. I thought it was a done deal. Tom was going to preserve the bricks, and did everything Landmarks wanted, but it wasn’t the way Landmarks wanted it done. I went back to the cinema and talked to Amy, my manager, and I said, “You know, if I were Tom, I would just sell the building.”

BHB: What was different about Tom’s second plan from the development that was approved and being built right now?

KL: Actually, it was very similar. The only difference was that the first floor was going to be a cinema. The original plan had the cinema in the basement. But the Commissioners didn’t like the idea of a cinema in the basement and even asked, “Are there cinemas in basements?” And I really had to bite my tongue, but I did say, “You know there are no windows in cinemas, so there are a lot of cinemas in basements. Like, for example, the Paris Theater.” They still didn’t like the idea. Then the plan moved the cinema to the first floor, and they still didn’t like that.

BHB: What is your understanding of why they rejected the second plan. Was it still the issue with the columns and brick wall?

KL: Yes, that was it, but I don’t remember exactly what the problem was. I remember thinking it was completely absurd. And I also told Tom, “Listen, there’s an election coming up. Bill de Blasio will be elected and new Commissioners will be in place.” But at that point, I think Tom had enough. He just wanted to be done with it.

BHB: So, how did the new owners finally get a plan approved by Landmarks?

KL: I think there were two things. First, they had more experience doing things with Landmarks and went in with more information. Second, they had the advantage of working with new Commissioners after the election.

BHB: Was the cinema ever in the plan with the new owners?

KL: No. I spoke with them and discussed market rent and there was no way it could happen. The market rent is $12,000 a month for the new space and my lease was $5,500 a month. If Tom had kept the building, the building was already paid for. He just needed to pay for the development and he could have afforded to give me a huge break. The new owner who bought the building for seven million dollars couldn’t afford to do that.

BHB: If you could do it all over again, would you buy the cinema?

KL: That’s really an interesting question that I don’t think anyone ever asked me before. It’s difficult to say, because I absolutely loved owning the cinema and I really miss it. But it absolutely destroyed my life. I will be in debt for the rest of my life.

BHB: But the three years that you owned it were fulfilling?

KL: It really was. The first two years were great. The first year, we broke even. The second year, we made money. But the last 9 months, we lost so much money. The movies just didn’t catch on. It was that particularly brutal winter. People didn’t want to go outside. By the end, I was worried about how I was going to pay the bills all the time. The Weinstein Group took me to court and they’re the slimiest people I ever dealt with. They wanted to force me into bankruptcy. I made good-faith efforts to pay as much as I could. The other distributors wrote off the debts, but the Weinstein Group wouldn’t. Their lawyer told my lawyer that only if I filed for bankruptcy, they would write it off.

BHB: There was a lot of talk about you finding another space for the cinema. What happened?

KL: I looked for a long time. But there just was nothing out there. The landlords wanted so much money. There was one landlord who had a space in Cobble Hill and I was told that he really wanted to do business with someone local and would give me a break. I went to talk to the landlord and when he told me the number, it was laughable. It wasn’t a break at all.

BHB: There were also reports that you would reopen at the old ReBar space in Dumbo.

KL: That was another one. I went and talked to the landlord and he wanted $11,000 a month for 2,500 sq. ft. I said to him, “You know it’s a really small space. If I sold out every show and every person bought a large popcorn and soda, I still wouldn’t come close to making the rent.” I told the owner, “You’ll never get that kind of rent for this space.” The owner said, “I think I can.” I said, “The only business that could make that kind of money in this space is a meth lab.” That’s the problem. The landlords in NYC are lunatics. What’s happened to NY is sickening, and it’s only going in one direction. And people say, “Well, there will be a mid-course correction.” But it’s too late, way too late.

BHB: So where are you now and what do you see in your near future?

KL: I’m spending half of my time in NYC, and half of my time in Europe, where I can make some money. Basically, trying to get back to where I was before. Getting back to, “would I do it over again?” I wouldn’t be in debt, but I wouldn’t have had that experience. Anyone who’s been in debt will tell you it’s completely draining.

BHB: What would you say to your most loyal customers?

KL: That’s easy. I would say, “I’m very sorry I couldn’t keep it going,” and thank them for the years of support. That is one of things that I miss more than anything else, the interactions with the customers. We had so many regular customers. I looked forward to seeing them. They should know my manager Amy and I really valued them and we miss seeing them.

———-

Calls for comments to the current President of the Brooklyn Heights Association and attorney for the Weinstein Group were not returned.

Judy Stanton, former Executive Director of the BHA, provided the following statement:

“The BHA was working via the LPC (Landmarks Preservation Commission) process to preserve 70 Henry, and we opposed proposals that involved demolition of the building. The BHA supported the cinema. In our view, it was possible to retain the cinema within the original walls of the building. A nearby example of that type of preservation approach is the incorporation of the St. Ann’s Warehouse theatre within the old walls of the Tobacco Warehouse. “

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Societyhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82525 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82525#comments Mon, 12 Dec 2016 04:51:47 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82525

This Tuesday evening, December 13, at 7:00, food historian Sarah Lohman will be at the Brooklyn Historical Society to discuss “How Immigrant Cooks Shape American Food”. Joining her will be Jonathan Wu of Fung Tu and Mario Carbone of Carbone. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members; purchase tickets here.

Criminologist Michael D. White, co-author with Henry F. Fradella of Stop and Frisk: The Use and Abuse of a Controversial Policing Tactic, will be at BHS on Wednesday evening, December 14, at 6:30 to discuss the subject of the book, “the first authoritative history and analysis of one of the most controversial policing tactics.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members; purchase tickets here.

On Thursday evening, December 15, at 6:30 Andrés Reséndez will discuss his book The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America,
“the myth-shattering story of the mass enslavement of American Indians by European colonists, which he argues was a major factor in the decimation of indigenous populations across North America.” Admission is $5, or free for BHS or Green-Wood members; purchase or reserve tickets here.

Don’t forget the Brooklyn Documentaries, featuring Ric Burns, next Monday evening, December 21, at 6:30. Admission is free; register here.

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BHS to Present Brooklyn Documentary Films, Featuring Ric Burns, Wednesday, December 21http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82485 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82485#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 20:04:19 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82485

On Wednesday evening, December 21, at 6:30, at the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival will present a screening of Brooklyn documentary films. The main feature will be an excerpt of Ric Burns’ New York, A Documentary Film, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker. The event is free, but you must reserve tickets here. Hurry, as this event is likely to be fully booked soon.

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Al Capone, Brooklyn Native, Subject of Book Talk at BHS Mondayhttp://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82467 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/82467#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 02:28:18 +0000 http://brooklynheightsblog.com/?p=82467

On Monday evening, December 5, at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host a book talk by Deirdre Bair, author of Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend. Born in Brooklyn in 1899, Capone rose to infamy as head of the rackets–principally bootlegging during the prohibition years–in Chicago. “With exclusive access to his descendants,” Ms. Bair “reveals the man behind the notorious gangster.” Admission is $5, or free for BHS or Green-Wood members. Purchase or reserve tickets here.

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