We Made It Ma! Williamsburg Named One of States Seven to Save
A brisk but clear morning high atop the roof of the former Esquire Shoe Polish Building in Williamsburg brought out the latest effort in putting public focus on massive and often uncontrolled development in this part of Brooklyn. In front of a few TV camera crews, Jay DiLorenzo, president of the Preservation League of New York State joined Ward Dennis of the Waterfront Preservation Alliance of Greenpoint and Williamsburg to announce that the League has listed the industrial architecture of the area as one of its “Seven to Save” in New York State. The League’s purpose is to highlight the most endangered places in the state regarding the preservation of historic buildings, districts, and landscapes. DiLorenzo said that his organization’s objective is to “balance historical preservation and community character with new development.”
While the League doesn’t have any formal relationship with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the designation is intended to put “strategic attention and extra effort,” as DiLorenzo put it, on important areas up against significant and rapid development. Other areas include Kingston in upstate New York, where there are community efforts much like that in Williamsburg-Greenpoint not only to preserve local character but also to maintain mixed low-rise and pedestrian-friendly communities that can revitalize public use of an underutilized waterfront. “All up and down the river, industry used to keep people away. But now they are coming back. Communities that take advantage of their history are better in the long run,” DiLorenzo said.
From the roof of the Shoe Polish Building—one of the first large post-industrial structures in the neighborhood to turn into a residential tower—the character of the area was clear: industrial factory buildings, some nicer than others, with swaths of “walk to work,” low-lying, working-class housing stock. But from 10 or so stories up, the rising skeleton of the luxury “finger building” on North 7th, and the almost completed tower on McCarren Park looked even more egregious than from the ground, as if they would replicate the awkward green presence of the Citicorp building in Long Island City. Of course, the “character” of a neighborhood is always changing but in most rapidly gentrified neighborhoods—such as Tribeca, SoHo, and DUMBO—there came to be an understanding, forced or not, that a certain aesthetic continuity not only paid homage to the past but benefited the feeling of an area in the long run.
It seems relatively clear that developers have come into the Williamsburg-Greenpoint area with a different idea: “arty” people like tall, sleek, postmodern structures, not the industrial—read: dirty—aesthetic. Maybe it’s true that the area didn’t have the same concentration of wrought iron as SoHo or massive loft space as DUMBO, but the Municipal Art Society found significant reasons to review the area after it saw the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that the city produced before the area’s rezoning last spring. Beginning in December 2004, the Society surveyed all 182 blocks that the city went on to rezone, identifying 264 buildings and historic districts (including manufacturing buildings, 19th century rowhouses, churches, synagogues, banks, and schools) in the area that appear eligible for listing on the state and National Register but were not included in the EIS.
Unfortunately, the Municipal Art Society, much like the State Preservation League, can only make recommendations and try to influence the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. But without strong advocacy from area politicians and city council members it’s a difficult battle. Such was the recent fate of the effort to landmark the Austin-Nichols building on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, where, led by developer-friendly local Councilman, David Yassky, the city council overturned the landmark designation and even overrode a surprise veto by Mayor Bloomberg, who himself is certainly no enemy of developers.
Compared to other Northeast cities like Boston, New York politicians are rather infamous for the anemic attitude to landmarking and regulating development. But that could change. Landmarking is one proven and tangible strategy that community groups have to keep a permanent foothold in a given area. And while politicians can easily fall into the deep pockets of developers, they also want to stay in office. “Politicians and municipal officials are open to pressure from their constituents,” DiLorenzo said, the tall cranes of a community in rapid development visible behind him. “Some are more engaged than others. But it should be seen that preservation is not a stumbling block but a stepping stone to livable communities.”
38. (Williamsburg, Pier 88)By Raphael Rubinstein
FEB 2021 | The Miraculous
In July 1937, the government declares that all artists employed by the Works Progress Administration must be citizens of the United States. Among the people who are thus disqualified from receiving aid are two young painters, one from Russia, the other from Holland.
Pat Steir: Paintings, Part IIBy David Rhodes
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
After arriving at the gallery, located on the Via Francesco Crispi, a short walk downhill from Berninis Palazzo Barberini, I needed a few seconds for my eyes to adjust after the August sunlight outside. Then, the full subtlety and clear radiance of these cool, austere paintings had full effect. This second iteration of a two-part summer exhibition by Pat Steir comprised eight paintingssix predominantly red, yellow, and blue on black and two white on black.
four from field recordings of mind in morningBy Hank Lazer
JUL-AUG 2021 | Poetry
Hank Lazer’s poems in the Brooklyn Rail are from his forthcoming book field recordings of mind in morning (BlazeVOX), which will include links to musical improvisations with composer and banjo player Holland Hopson. Lazer has published thirty-one books of poetry, including COVID 19 SUTRAS (2020, Lavender Ink), Slowly Becoming Awake (N32) (2019, Dos Madres Press), Poems That Look Just Like Poems (2019, PURH – one volume in English, one in French), Evidence of Being Here: Beginning in Havana (N27), (2018, Negative Capability Press), and Thinking in Jewish (N20) (2017, Lavender Ink). In 2015, Lazer received Alabama’s most prestigious literary prize, the Harper Lee Award, for lifetime achievement in literature.
The Brooklyn Presence at SXSWBy Nic Yeager
MAY 2022 | Film
Between March 11 and 20, four Brooklyn-based short films screened at SXSW, each shot in Brooklyn and made by and featuring Brooklynites. SXSW is known for celebrating innovation in tech and education, and these projects offer their own kind of innovation: namely, an irreplaceable artistic ingenuity that flows out of this borough.