A Day on Sheepshead Bay

November 29, 2006

“If you’d come here five, ten years ago,” said the old waitress, “you would have seen twice as many boats, three times as many restaurants and none of these great big places. Back then the tallest building was three stories high.”

She leaned on the counter, wiped her hands on her apron, and talked about the neighborhood’s many vanished businesses. In recent years, dozens of mom and pop stores have disappeared as real estate developers bought up blocks, demolished the existing structures and replaced them with luxury condominiums.

Similar stories can be heard in nearly every corner of the city but the denizens of this neighborhood are a stubborn lot, and most are determined to stay put here in Brooklyn’s only fishing village, Sheepshead Bay.

The Bay, named after the sheepshead (a large saltwater fish), is renowned for its abundant waters. Fishing once played a vital role in the neighborhood’s economy and the area around the concrete piers on Emmons Avenue still includes several bait and tackle shops, seafood restaurants and clam bars.

While the sheepshead disappeared from these waters long ago, the piers remain crowded with dozens of ducks, gulls, swans and fishing boats. The fleet usually goes out after dawn and returns before dark. The boats are met by shoppers who eagerly swap cooking tips and snatch up the catch of the day, often including flounder, tuna, bluefish and crabs.

A bit further down the road, tucked between the yacht clubs and construction sites, are a few rusted gates. These lead to narrow alleyways crowded with tiny bungalows. Most of the alleys and cottages are what remains of Sheepshead Bay’s first housing development, built around 1920 by a developer named Robert Densely.

A bit farther down the street, past the few retirement homes and “no-tell” motels, Emmons Avenue turns into an entrance to the Belt Parkway. The sand dunes begin where the sidewalk ends. The trails in the sand lead down to a quiet beach, where amateur fishermen patiently throw their nets into the water and haul their evening’s meals from the Bay.

The fishing fleet on the bay  Posted by Picasa

The Brooklyn VI boasts a “Curtious” Crew  Posted by Picasa

The Crystal Marie  Posted by Picasa

Fisherman on deck, filling bag for customer Posted by Picasa

Entrance to Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club  Posted by Picasa

Bernie’s Bait & Tackle  Posted by Picasa

Stella Maris Fishing Shop  Posted by Picasa

Sand dunes  Posted by Picasa

Brush on sand dunes  Posted by Picasa

Cottages at 3082 Emmons Avenue  Posted by Picasa

More cottages at 3082 Emmons Avenue  Posted by Picasa

View of Bay from 3082 Emmons Avenue  Posted by Picasa

View from the center of Lake Avenue  Posted by Picasa

Houses on Hitchings Avenue  Posted by Picasa

Swan  Posted by Picasa

Swans and ducks near the Ocean Avenue footbridge  Posted by Picasa

Ocean Avenue footbridge  Posted by Picasa

WPA Guide: Sheepshead Bay
Wikipedia: Sheepshead Bay
Forgotten NY: Sheepshead Bay
Forgotten NY: Alleys of Sheepshead Bay
Sheepshead Bay Party Boats
NY Fisherman: Sheepshead Bay
Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club
The Belt Parkway

Behind the Gates of New York Marble Cemetery

November 26, 2006

Every day thousands of people pass the thick stone walls and tall iron gates but few step behind them. New York Marble Cemetery is open to the public only a handful of days each year; from March through November, the gates generally open (for a few hours) the last Sunday of each month. However, since the Cemetery lacks both staff and shelter, if the weather is inclement or no volunteer is available, the entrance to this secret garden will remain locked.

Today was the cemetery’s last scheduled opening for 2006. A stream of curious visitors came, encouraged by the open gate and the unusually mild weather. A volunteer provided literature and information about the cemetery, its founders, the current state of repair (a section of the 12-foot high walls recently collapsed) and the trustee’s efforts to protect and restore it.

New York Marble Cemetery (also known as the Second Avenue Cemetery) is the oldest public non-sectarian cemetery in New York City. Established in 1831 to serve the city’s gentry, more than 2,000 interments have taken place here. Unlike most American cemeteries, this half acre patch of green has no gravestones, ground markers, mausoleums, lamps, flower arrangements or monuments. Although the setting is stark, this isn’t a place where the original decorations have been lost or stripped away; by design, the cemetery is simple, unadorned and restrained. The original landscape consisted of a level stretch of lawn marked only by shrubbery and white sand paths.

Founded during an epidemic when in-ground burials were forbidden, interments are 10 feet underground in solid white marble vaults, each the size of a small room. The 156 vaults are arranged in a grid and access provided by removal of stone slabs set below the lawn’s surface. The numbers of the vaults and names of the original owners are on marble plaques set into the surrounding walls.

Although the most recent burial was in 1937, New York Marble Cemetery is not simply a place of historic interest; despite appearances, it is a working burial facility. Each vault belongs to the heirs of the original owners and descendants retain the right to be interred here. In fact, some have made plans to ensure that this cemetery, the last place in Manhattan where a person can still be legally buried, will be their final resting place.

Visitors at outer gate Posted by Picasa

Alley leads from the outer gate to the inner gate Posted by Picasa

Visitors enter cemetery through inner gate Posted by Picasa

Vault of publisher Uriah R. Scribner Posted by Picasa

Vault of Elisha Peck Posted by Picasa

Visitors on the lawn Posted by Picasa

Volunteer answers vistors’ questions Posted by Picasa

Visitors and plaques along the south wall Posted by Picasa

View to west wall Posted by Picasa

Shrubbery and east wall Posted by Picasa

Broken stone awaits repair Posted by Picasa

  • New York Marble Cemetery
  • Cemetery Schedule and Map
  • Letter Regarding Construction Behind Cemetery

  • 14th Annual CANstruction Competition

    November 20, 2006

    Fourteen years ago the Society of Design Administration created CANstruction, a philanthropic competition for architects, designers and engineers. The challenge is deceptively simple: these creative professionals must transform cans of food into sculptures and constructions.

    The nutritious entries were assembled on site at the New York Design Center, a building devoted to interior designers and furniture showrooms. From November 9 through 22, the exhibit was open to the public during normal business hours; the entry fee was a single can of food.

    At the end of the exhibition, the structures were disassembled; this year, one piece, a Mobius strip, collapsed during the competition. The packages of food (generally about 100,000 cans) are donated to the Food Bank for New York City, which distributes it to feed New York’s hungry.

    Space Shuttle by National Reprographics Posted by Picasa

    Subway Car Interior by Guy Nordenson Posted by Picasa

    Trojan Horse by Arup Posted by Picasa

    Tango Dancer by Thornton Tomasetti Posted by Picasa

    Rabbit in Hat by Robert Silman Associates Posted by Picasa

    Campfire by Leslie E. Robertson Associates Posted by Picasa

    Lion by Perkins + Will Posted by Picasa

    Candy Apple with Bite Taken by Pei Cobb Freed Posted by Picasa

    Dragon by Robert A.M. Stern Posted by Picasa

    Sushi with Chopsticks by DeSimone Consulting Posted by Picasa

    Empty Can by Helpurn Architects Posted by Picasa

    Frog by diDomenico + Partners Posted by Picasa

    Can as Skyline by Fradkin & McAlpin Assoc. Posted by Picasa

    Sea Serpent by HOK Architects Posted by Picasa

    Piggy Bank by R.M. Kliment & Frances Halsband Posted by Picasa

    Typewriter by Coburn Architecture Posted by Picasa

    Apple with Sliced Wedge by Handel Architects Posted by Picasa

    Crocodile by Arquitectonica Posted by Picasa

    Lady Bug by Ferguson & Samamian Posted by Picasa

    Hand Cradling Can by Ted Moudis Posted by Picasa

    Monopoly by Mancini Duffy Posted by Picasa

    Lion & Lamb by Butler Rogers Baskett Posted by Picasa

    Connect Four Game by Magnusson Architecture Posted by Picasa

    Snail on Leaf by GACE PLLC Posted by Picasa

    Whale Tail by Weidlinger Associates Posted by Picasa

    Can with Electric Can Opener by Bovis Lend Lease Posted by Picasa

    Sombrero by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Posted by Picasa

    Frog by STV Posted by Picasa

    Cornucopia by Earth Tech Posted by Picasa

    Ant at a Picnic by Severud Associates Posted by Picasa

    Dripping Faucet by Gensler Posted by Picasa

    Earth Viewed from the Moon by Beyer Blinder Belle Posted by Picasa

    Lady Bug by Urbitran Group Posted by Picasa

    Leaning Tower of Pisa & Italian Flag by Dattner Architects Posted by Picasa

    Bobsled on Track by Gilsanz Murray Steficek Posted by Picasa

    Can with Can Opener by Conant Architects Posted by Picasa

    Sushi Platter by NELSON Posted by Picasa

    Dragon & Castle by Perkins Eastman Posted by Picasa

    Grand Piano by ads Engineers Posted by Picasa

    Remains of Mobius Strip by Platt Byard Dovell White Posted by Picasa

  • Canstruction
  • Society for Design Administration New York Chapter
  • SDANYC Canstruction 2006
  • NYC Canstruction Rules
  • Images From Past Canstruction Competitions
  • Food Bank For New York City

  • Spring Awakening on Broadway

    November 19, 2006

    I love the theater but rarely attend Broadway shows.

    Why? Well, have you seen the prices of tickets lately?

    Thinking about going to Beauty and the Beast? Orchestra and front mezzanine seats — if you can find them — will cost you about $132 each. Dying to watch the Lion King? One ticket now sells for $135. Want to see the award-winning Jersey Boys? You’ll have to wait until March and pay about $150 for a seat.

    So when I had the opportunity to see a new musical on Broadway, I jumped at the chance. I ran to the theatre without even pausing to read reviews or learn anything about the show and frankly, I’m glad I did. I just saw Spring Awakening with no preconceptions or expectations and from the opening scene, I was completely enthralled.

    This rock musical is based on a 19-century German play of the same name that was so controversial, it was banned from the stage for more than 70 years. In this adaptation by singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik and playwright Steven Sater, a dozen small town teenagers struggle towards maturity, trying to make sense of the conflicting messages they receive from the repressive, dictatorial adults in their lives and the urgent, confusing stirrings within their own bodies.

    It sounds like a typical, stale coming-of-age story, but Spring Awakening is fresh, vibrant, exciting, intense and still packs the power to shock. This isn’t a show for the kids or blue-haired Aunt Hilda, but I can’t remember the last time any theatrical performance kept me on the edge of my seat the way this one did. And the music … I never thought I’d walk out of a theatre humming tunes about incest, abuse, rape, abortion and suicide, but I did, I did, I did.

    Spring Awakening poster Posted by Picasa

  • Spring Awakening
  • Spring Awakening Music Video
  • New York Times review
  • New Yorker review
  • Michael Musto Interviews Duncan Sheik
  • Apple Store Soho

  • The Sign on Miller’s Famous Restaurant

    November 19, 2006

    This sign is posted on the door of Miller’s Famous Restaurant at the corner of New Utrecht Avenue and 56th Street in Brooklyn. I didn’t see anyone littering, smoking, spitting or playing a radio near the entrance, so I guess the sign must be working.

    Sign on Miller’s door Posted by Picasa

  • Miller’s Famous Restaurant

  • Christmas Fair at “Little Denmark in the Big Apple”

    November 18, 2006

    Housed in a landmark brownstone in historic Brooklyn Heights, the Danish Seamen’s Church is both a house of worship and cultural center for New York’s Danish community.

    The church, which was founded in 1878 by Danish minister Rasmus Andersen, has been in its current location for nearly half a century. This Lutheran congregation’s name comes from one of the church’s primary missions: caring for the thousands of Danish seafarers who come to New York each year. Model ships are displayed in the chapel; an engraved brass ship’s bell is near the door.

    This is the only church the Americas where Danish-language church services are held every Sunday. In addition, the congregation, which refers to itself as “Little Denmark in the Big Apple,” supports a variety of clubs and activities, offers Danish lessons and hosts visiting Danish politicians, musicians, artists and celebrities.

    The biggest event on the church’s calendar is the annual two-day Christmas Fair, which draws such a large crowd that the greater part of the festivities are held a block away at the neighboring Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church.

    This year’s Fair, held November 17th and 18th, included Danish Christmas ornaments, arts, crafts, products, food and drink. This was a day to enjoy Denmark’s glorious pastry, open-faced sandwiches (smørrebrød), hot dogs, beer and babies.

    Church exterior Posted by Picasa

    Ship’s bell inside the sanctuary Posted by Picasa

    Girl on the stairway Posted by Picasa

    Girl in striped top Posted by Picasa

    Baby in red fleece Posted by Picasa

    Baby tooth Posted by Picasa

    Brothers Posted by Picasa

    Danish hot dogs Posted by Picasa

  • Danish Seamen’s Church
  • Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church
  • Danish Seaman’s Church Festival

  • The Grand Tour

    November 10, 2006

    “Most real New Yorkers wouldn’t be caught dead on a tour bus or walking around with a group of tourists.”
    — Margot Adler

    Once upon a time I wanted to visit an historic spot located far outside the city. Although it was possible to make the trip using public transportation, doing so appeared to be extremely complicated and time consuming. With all the transfers and waiting involved, just getting there and back would have taken up most of the day, leaving little time to actually see the place.

    However, while researching transportation alternatives, I learned that a few private companies offered one-day guided excursions. The price was about twice that of public transportation, but the tour sounded great — instead of spending most of the day in train stations, I’d have hours to explore my destination, plus a knowledgeable guide. Although I’d never been on a guided tour (and didn’t know anyone under retirement age who had), it appeared to be my best option, so I went ahead and bought a ticket.

    The distance involved required us to board the bus early in the day for what was advertised as a four-hour drive. Two hours later the bus pulled into a particularly charmless roadside restaurant and souvenir shop while the guide explained that, for our convenience, we were now going to stop for an hour.

    We finally arrived more than five hours after leaving the city. As soon as we stepped into the parking lot, our guide announced that we must stay together; she didn’t want anyone wandering off during the tour. As she hustled us from spot to spot, reeling off names, dates and numbers, along with frequent shrill admonitions that we “stay together!,” we soon realized that quite a bit of the information she spouted differed from the accounts most of us had learned in school. When a few members of the group questioned her version of the facts, she grew querulous and strident, insisting that she knew what she was talking about, “Or I wouldn’t have this job, would I?”

    An hour after we arrived, the guide announced that we were going to have lunch and led us to a small caféteria where the food was inedible and the prices shockingly high. We stayed there for more than an hour, returned to the site for a brief visit, and were then herded back onto the bus. The return trip to the city included another extended stay at the souvenir stand we’d visited in the morning. A more experienced traveler attributed the forced stops for our convenience to the tour company having a financial interest in the place.

    As it turned out, we who participated in the outing would have been better served had we traveled on our own and carried good guidebooks. After that waste of time and money, I vowed to avoid all guided tours.

    Then, today, I ran into Justin Ferate, who changed my mind about what a tour could be. Justin, a charming, erudite, hyperkinetic storyteller, leads walking tours around New York, including a free, weekly excursion in midtown Manhattan dubbed The Grand Tour.

    Today I joined the crowd following Ferrate while he led a Grand Tour. Although it begins near Grand Central Terminal, this isn’t simply a walk through the famed train station; it is a jaunt around the storied neighborhood with a man who is clearly in love with his subject.

    He regaled his audience with a narrative that effortlessly wove together stories and trivia about subjects as diverse as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, how to buy a great cheesecake, the delicate sensibilities of Victorian traveling women, Barbra Streisand’s unsuccessful attempt to buy an apartment on Fifth Avenue, the history of Spanish tile-making, instructions on making an egg cream, fine points of Greek mythology, the architecture of modern airports and the best cleanser for removing tobacco stains from a painted ceiling.

    Of course, the tour appeals to the out-of-towners who make up most of the crowd, but the depth and breadth of Ferate’s knowledge, combined with his rapid-fire professorial/comedic style, is guaranteed to impress even know-it-all real New Yorkers, including me.

    If you ever find yourself in midtown on a Friday afternoon, do yourself a favor and join one of Ferate’s excursions. Um, did I mention that the Grand Tour is free?

    Dapper tour guide Justin Ferate Posted by Picasa

  • Justin Ferate
  • Margot Adler interviews Justin Ferate
  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Grand Central Partnership
  • Altria Group, Inc.

  • Election Day

    November 7, 2006

    I’m fairly diligent about voting. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I missed a major election. Back in September, during New York’s primary, I asked one of the people working at the polls how she got her job. She told me that it was simple; she went to the Board of Elections Web site, downloaded an application and mailed it in.

    It sounded easy enough and looked like an interesting way to spend the day, helping my fellow Brooklynites fulfill their civic duty, so I decided to apply. About a month and a half after submitting my application, I received a post card telling me to report for work at a polling place in South Brooklyn. The card told me the location, the time (5:30 a.m.) and instructed me to “wear my badge.”

    Badge? What badge? I contacted the Board of Elections and was told not to worry, they’d give me a badge when I reported for work. I asked about training; I was sure that the Web site had said something about going to a class. Don’t worry, they said, someone will show you what to do when you get there.

    With that shaky assurance, this morning I grabbed an umbrella, a nutrition bar (it was too early to make breakfast), the postcard and headed out the door just before 5:00. It was still dark. My first surprise occurred when I realized that although there are quite a few delis between home and the polling place, none of them were open at that hour. I’d have to report for duty without any caffeine in my system.

    The polling place was located inside an elementary school. Workers (all of whom appeared to know what they were doing) scrambled to have everything in place so that voting could commence promptly at the stroke of six. About a dozen large gray mechanical voting machines, similar to old-fashioned telephone booths, were arranged the length of one wall. In front of each booth was a folding table and two folding chairs; another folding chair stood next to the booth.

    Each table was covered in papers as workers arranged them into neat piles of affidavits, voters bills of rights, paper ballots and other important forms. Each booth and table was assigned a number. Large-type sample ballots translated into four languages were taped to the walls.

    There weren’t enough pens to go around. There weren’t enough badges. Worst of all, there was no coffee. But promptly at 6:00 the doors swung open and the voters began to come in. Early morning was the busiest time of the day. The rush ended around 9:00, the time that most people were at work.

    This was the procedure: Each voter stepped up to a table, told the worker his or her name and waited while it was found in the registry book. The worker assigned a three-digit number to each voter (001, 002, etc.) and wrote it and the number of the booth into the registry. The voter then signed the book and received a small white slip of paper, about the size of a credit card, upon which the worker had copied all the numbers. Holding the bit of paper, the voter took a few steps forward, handed the slip to another poll worker, and stepped into the booth.

    The worker sitting next to the booth pulled a large lever. The booth’s long gray curtains closed and a white bulb atop the machine lit up. The voter inside the booth clicked the levers for the candidates of their choice, then moved a large red lever which recorded the vote, turned off the white light and opened the curtains. During the height of the morning rush one of the levers got stuck but the workers grunted and yanked, pushed and pulled. Eventually it came free and the democratic process continued.

    Most of the workers were cordial and chatty. Some seemed to misunderstand the rules; one demanded identification from each voter, even though it was not required. Some disappeared for hours at a time, others spent a good portion of the day outside smoking, a few squabbled, one spent all day obsessing about his next feed (he fussed about breakfast, then lunch, then dinner) and several put their heads down on the tables and napped.

    At one point during the day a news crew showed up and shot some footage that never made it onto the air. No one notable came in to cast their vote and, much to my surprise, even though there are many students living near the polling place, very, very few showed up.

    At 9:00 p.m. the doors were finally locked. My table had served a little over 200 people. The votes were counted and recounted to ensure that they had been properly recorded without discrepancies. All the important papers and register books were signed by the workers, placed in large Manila envelopes that were signed and sealed, and turned over to the NYPD police officers who’d kept us company throughout the day.

    By the time I got home the preliminary results were on the news. The system, awkward and cumbersome though it was, had worked. The voters had done their jobs and the poll workers had, too. Now it is up to the winners to do theirs.

    Warning  Posted by Picasa

    Count Every Vote Posted by Picasa

  • NY Board of Elections
  • Poll Worker Positions
  • The Propaganda Remix Project
  • Voting Machine Joke

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