In preparing for my tour this Saturday, April 2, of East Williamsburg and Bushwick (via the Municipal Art Society), I've grown to appreciate just how fascinating and vexing these neighborhoods can be.
The tour route includes several individual landmarks, but also passes many banal, workaday houses that played a hugely important role, filling in empty lots that scarred Bushwick after decades of neglect, thus positioning the neighborhood for its revival--and now, in some cases, furious gentrification.
The latter might be exemplified by the story of how actress (and Girls ensemble star) Zosia Mamet bought a pink house in Bushwick in November 2013--a 3-family building with a legal basement office--and, as Bushwick Daily reported, decided to flip it in less than a year. I took a look at the records, via StreetEasy: in 2006, the building sold for $699,000; in 2008, for $875,000. In 2013, Mamet and her boyfriend bought it for nearly $1.04 million; it sold last year for $1.375 million.
Sure, the value may have risen through renovation and, who knows, maybe they decided the building was a better investment than home. (I'm not blaming nor praising Mamet, whose work I like; she's just riding the real estate wave.) Though the photo in the real estate listing, with its tight focus on the house and tree, makes it look almost bucolic, Flushing Avenue is a noisy truck route with few trees.
However pleasant the pink house, it's not exactly in a historic district. It's across the street from a Herbalife distributor, for Pete's sake. And the apartment building next door is worn.
But the house is in within walking distance of some trendy Bushwick/East Williamsburg bars and restaurants, and a massive new development--with a troubling back story--is coming nearby. In other words, from the real estate perspective, the long term trend is good.
Note: the pink house is actually not on the regular tour route, but is on one of two paths to the subway from the tour ending point. I will be taking that path.
In preparing for my Williamsburg tour Sunday (via the Municipal Art Society), I noticed the spiffy, six-story loft building 573 Metropolitan, which StreetEasy (and the building web site) tells me is "Williamsburg’s newest luxury loft building!" One-bedroom units rent for more than $3,000.
I've spent enough time in Williamsburg to know there's a lot more to the story--and there is. As with more than a few luxury lofts, 573 Metropolitan Avenue housed humble manufacturing businesses, and for at least some of the time could have been called a sweatshop.
The first reference to that address I could find, in the 1914 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, identified the location as a factory. But that had to be a predecessor building, since StreetEasy dates the building to 1920, a time of the area's growth, just 17 years after the Williamsburg Bridge started pouring people into the neighborhood from the Lower East Side and four years before the subway (now the L train) opened up nearby at Lorimer Street. (The G train stop didn't come until 1937.)
Perusing the Daily Eagle, I saw a 1937 advertisement for canvassers to sell floor lamps, a 1940 business opportunity to buy a 5,000 square foot garment factory (one floor?), a 1948 ad seeking operators for ladies coats, and a 1950 ad seeking operators for Jo-Ann Sportswear.
In 1942, according to the Daily Eagle, the Metropolitan Cloak Company at that location was enjoined by the court for wage and hour violations. In 1957, labor racketeering charges were filed involving a bogus garment workers union and the Vogue Knitwear company, according to the New York Times.
As of 1982, the D&L Dress Co. still operated at 573 Metropolitan. Fast forward to 2001, where when a New York Post article explained how "18 members of the The Mexican Boys gang were arrested last night on weapons and unlawful-assembly charges after a raid in Brooklyn" at a laundromat at 573 Metropolitan Avenue. (Surely that's an adjacent structure, with the same address.)
Then came the "art center and studio/co-working space 3rd Ward," as described by Hyperallergic's Mostafa Hedday, which leased 573 Metropolitan in 2005, and saw it shut down on Oct. 15, 2010 for code violations, three years before 3rd Ward itself crashed and burned.
Free Williamsburg described the shutdown, quoting a former tenant and employee of 3rd Ward as describing it as a "converted sweatshop" that had not been properly and safely converted. (The then-owner of the building, who has sold it to an LLC he may--or may not--control, also came in for criticism.)
Last June, the Times announced an 18-month lease, at $24/square foot, for State Senator Martin M. Dilan "for 2,000 square feet on the lower level of this six-story building, which was gut renovated in 2011." And this area around the second L stop in Williamsburg is home to a new wave of development. The factory jobs? They've either moved deeper into industrial Brooklyn or, more likely, gone completely. For the current building's status, see 573Metropolitan.com.
It's a crude shorthand, I know, for the complicated phenomenon of gentrification that involves people's homes and businesses and lives, an issue that comes up in most of my tours.
But... the three clearest signs of retail gentrification, I like to say, involve expensive coffee (well beyond Starbucks), yoga/Pilates, and dog grooming/doggy day care. And it just so happens the field of dog-related services lends itself to puns (as does the human hair salon business, I'm reminded).
Below are (and the list will grow) some notable examples:
Please note: I have nothing against these establishments! But they do provoke chuckles.
Touring Brooklyn Blog
Observations and ephemera related to my tours and Brooklyn. Comments and questions are welcome--and moderated.