Monday, May 2, 2016

St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church

Last evening, after their Easter celebration, St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church burned in a massive, four-alarm blaze battled by nearly 200 firefighters.

Photos shared immediately on social media showed the church engulfed in flames, exploding through the stained glass rose window, destroying the roof, leaving nothing but the brownstone shell. Thick, dark smoke billowed high into the air over the area around Madison Square Park.

Tim Teeman, Twitter

photo: Zokster Something

The congregation of St. Sava had just celebrated their Easter services earlier in the day. Photos posted to their Facebook page only two hours before the fire showed a full house inside the landmarked historic church.

Early reports stated that no one was inside during the fire. Parishioners stood on the street, watching and weeping.

“We're all alive, but the building is gone,” the parish priest, Fr. Djokan Majstorovic, told RT. And what a beautiful building it was.

Easter celebration, photo via St. Sava Facebook page

In 2003, Christopher Gray wrote about the church for the New York Times. Built in 1855 by architect Richard Upjohn and sold to the Serbian congregation in 1943, it was originally an extension of downtown's Trinity Church.

Gray wrote, "The interior of the church is a spectacular antique -- a vast, high space, with all of the 19th-century decoration, hanging brass lamps, wall coverings, oak pews and polychromed tile floor almost untouched."

New York Architecture called the interior "Upjohn's masterpiece... Its loftiness and brilliance of proportion make it entirely different from anything else of its time. The most striking features, the long single aisled nave and open roof ceiling, resemble St. Louis' 13th Century Sainte Chapelle in Paris. When combined with the fully exposed truss ceiling of Norway pine, the beautifully polychromed panels with gold stars on a field of blue, and the painted apse walls (by German artist Habastrak), the chapel interior becomes as ecclesiastically proper as its Mother Church."

Easter celebration, photo via St. Sava Facebook page

By 9:00 p.m., photos showed a hollow shell, without a roof, as firefighters continued to spray their hoses on the steaming remains.

Some news reports stated that the structure was in danger of collapse.

Ashley Sears, twitter

St. Sava's was in the midst of restorations -- and negotiations.

In 2014, the Real Deal reported that Robert Gladstone’s Madison Equities sued the church for "allegedly breaching a letter of intent by not disclosing a $13.5 million bill the religious institution owed to brokerage Tenantwise. Madison agreed to help fix up the landmarked sanctuary on West 26th Street in exchange for the use of its air rights."

"Madison is looking to tap into unused air rights at the site of the landmarked church at 13 West 25th Street, as well as those belonging to the property adjacent to the church — just under 200,000 square feet of air rights in total — to construct a commercial building."

Councilmember Corey Johnson noted on Twitter, "Developer wants to build 850ft tower here."

That tower would go on the parking lot next to St. Sava's, home to what remains of the Chelsea Flea Market.

With the landmarked church destroyed, the future of both sites is uncertain.

after the fire, photo via St. Sava Facebook page

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

S&G Gross


S&G Gross pawnbrokers has been in New York City for over a century. Their building on 8th Avenue and 34th Street is an antique treasure for its neon sign and vintage symbol of the three golden spheres.

Now Gross is gone.

The gates are down, a sign in the window says: "We have moved" and "We've been purchased by Gem Pawnbrokers," up the avenue at 40th Street. Gem is a chain with over 25 locations around the city, Westchester, and Long Island.

"Thank you all the years as our dedicated customers," Gross says in their goodbye note, "it was our pleasure to serve you."

"Established in 1901 by Sol and Gus Gross," according to their website, "the business has continued under the leadership of Robert Gross. The succession has been continued by Robert's son Gary and Gary's daughter Randi. All three generations continue to work together to form a strong nucleus for the continued success of the business."

After 115 years, that's over. With no fanfare. Just an empty window with empty jewelry cases and a lonesome handwritten sign for LADIES MOVADO.

The pawnshop had been in this location since 1918.

How old are those golden spheres? They are dented in spots, like moons struck by passing asteroids but still defying gravity.

It is extremely rare in the city to find the medieval pawnbroker symbol, and in glorious three dimensions such as this. (The symbol dates back to the Medici Family.) I have always enjoyed walking by and seeing them, looking up to make sure they were still there.

The trio also appears atop the neon sign. I will hate to see them go.

What will happen to this piece of New York history now that the Gross family has left the building? What horrible frozen yogurt or cupcake chain will come to destroy them?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Avignone to Sweetgreen

Ever since the beloved Avignone pharmacy was forced out of its very, very long-time location on Bleecker Street, we've been waiting to see what would take its place.

And here it is. Sweetgreen.

It's a chain store. They make salads.

They have over 45 locations across the country. They have a "story" and "core values." Their number one core value, according to their website, is "win, win, win."

At this newly opened location, they held a "private tasting exclusive to NYU." Everyone inside looked really young and healthy and excited to be there. One young woman carried a tote bag that said "EAT PLANTS!"

at the private NYU-only tasting 

In the battle of Old New York versus New New York, I guess Sweetgreen won, won, won.

Avignone was the oldest apothecary in the United States. Family run, it had been in business in New York City for 183 years. Then its building was sold to a hedge fund called Force Capital Management. They tripled the rent to $60,000, essentially forcing Avignone out. The spot sat empty for a long while.

Here's Avignone on PIX 11 News from last year:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Lee's Art Shop


After 65 years in business, Lee's Art Shop on West 57th Street is closing sometime in the next four to six weeks.

from Lee's Art Shop

The building was purchased in 2013 by real estate investor Joseph Safdieh of Safka Holdings, after which he proceeded to sue the owners, David Steinberg and Jill Isaacs, according to The Real Deal, "for refusing to further extend the due diligence period on the property despite several outstanding issues relating to its certificate of occupancy."

That deal fell through--and Thor's Joe Sitt got in on the action. Safka then sued Thor.

Through all the fighting over the property, Lee's stayed open.

photo: NY Times

Steinberg and Isaacs are the children of Gilbert Steinberg, who died in 2008. With his wife, Ruth, Steinberg bought the original store in 1951 and moved it to this building in 1975. They purchased the building 20 years later.

"The building would likely be transformed into a high-end retail box," industry pros told The Real Deal three years ago. The distinctive structure was built in 1897 and is known as the Society House of the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was once home to a Schrafft’s restaurant. And it is landmarked.

Lee's is beloved across the city. "It never fails," wrote the Times in 2012. "You go into Lee’s Art Shop, half a block from Carnegie Hall, as a customer — usually for something prosaic like a couple of Pilot Razor Points from their amazing 215-slot pen rack — and leave wishing you were an artist."

The shop is currently having a major liquidation sale, with deals up to 75% off.

Market Diner Demolished

When we last checked in with the doomed Market Diner it was locked behind green plywood. Now reader Shade Rupe sends in photos of the gruesome remains.

photo: Shade Rupe

A bit of stone foundation still stands. A stairway to nowhere. The rest is dust.

photo: Shade Rupe

The Market Diner was here since 1962. It was beautiful and unusual. Developer Joseph Moinian's Moinian Group bought it, evicted it, and is replacing it with a 13-story building. If it matches their existing two towers across the street, it will be yet another dull, dead luxury box.

You can like those towers or hate those towers. But here's the thing: All the glass boxes around the city are making us sick--mentally and physically. They are literally killing us as they hasten our deaths.

Cognitive neuroscientist Colin Ellard studied what happens to people on the sidewalk when they stand in front of a bland glass façade. In one study, he placed human subjects in front of the Whole Foods grocery store on the Lower East Side, strapped skin-conducting bracelets to their wrists, and asked them to take notes on their emotional states.

He reported, “When planted in front of Whole Foods, my participants stood awkwardly, casting around for something of interest to latch on to and talk about. They assessed their emotional state as being on the wrong side of ‘happy’ and their state of arousal was close to bottoming out. The physiological instruments strapped to their arms showed a similar pattern. These people were bored and unhappy. When asked to describe the site, words such as bland, monotonous and passionless rose to the top of the charts.”

Moinian's two towers across the street

In his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery calls this “an emerging disaster in street psychology.” The loss of old buildings and small businesses, the homogenization from suburban chains and condo boxes, is more than an aesthetic loss. It is damaging us both psychologically and physically.

Writes Montgomery, “The big-boxing of a city block harms the physical health of people living nearby, especially the elderly. Seniors who live among long stretches of dead frontage have actually been found to age more quickly than those who live on blocks with plenty of doors, windows, porch stoops, and destinations.”

You have to wonder if the developers and corporations putting up these buildings and facades actually want anyone around. Montgomery points out that many corporate towers are built to be “deeply misanthropic,” intended to actively repel people with repellant street-level design. In a city where people are reconceived as consumers, not citizens, it is best to keep everyone moving and disconnected.

Market Diner in happier days

The opposite is true when people walk along a diverse block of small businesses and buildings. As Ellard found on the Lower East Side, they feel “lively and engaged.”

Visually interesting architecture and human-scaled, idiosyncratic storefronts enliven us. I would bet that they stimulate our brains to produce happy chemicals, warding off stress and the damage it causes. It's not far-fetched to say that buildings like the Market Diner, with unusual shapes and inviting facades, don't just make us feel alive, they keep us alive. And yet City Hall continues to encourage developers to kill them off.

More and more, we are living in a zombie city, its aliveness murdered by politicians and developers. It's only a matter of time before all of New York becomes the undead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Gene's Coffee Shop


A few weeks ago, while wandering around the east side of midtown, I found myself for the first time in Gene's Coffee Shop on 60th Street between Park and Madison. One of those overlooked treasures of the vanishing city, Gene's felt like a real find. An endangered species. A good old New York City coffee shop. Excited to be there, I thought: Now I have a place to eat in this neighborhood.

Well, call me a jinx.

photo via Yelp

Reader MM writes in: "On Thursday, there was a sign that they were closed for the day because of a gas cut-off. This seemed plausible, there's a huge building going up directly across the street. Today there was an eviction notice in the door."

Is this yet another case of death by gas cut-off? It almost happened to the B&H Dairy. It did happen to The Stage restaurant in the East Village, La Taza de Oro in Chelsea, Mariella's Pizza in Gramercy, and possibly several other small and older restaurants.

Businesses struggle without gas, lose money, and fold. Or the landlords take advantage of stricter gas codes, tightened since the Second Avenue explosion, and use them to evict. We don't know if that's the case here, but it's a growing problem in the city that no one in the mainstream media is reporting on -- and it is killing local businesses.

For some time, Gene's has been buried under scaffolding, which may have been a contributing factor to the closing.

Writes MM: "I work in this neighborhood, a lot of the diners have been dispossessed, usually because their buildings are knocked down. In this case, Gene's was suffering a little from the construction, but I figured they'd do okay when the new building went up. You could order and have things delivered in less than 10 minutes. The restaurant was always sparkling clean, with friendly staff of Greek and Spanish guys, dishing out food for people who worked nearby and for tourists. Eviction papers indicate the lease goes back to 1983, though the restaurant may be older."

Unless there's hope for Gene's, another authentic New York coffee shop vanishes--in a city where we are losing them by the day.

via Facebook

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Missing Mural

Peter Missing is at work on a new mural at the First Street Green Art Park -- a giant, golden, cyclopean version of his infamous upside-down martini glass, a.k.a. "The Party's Over," with scenes of toppling buildings and flowers.

On his Instagram page, he writes:

"We have started a new mural at Houston and 2nd Ave Peter Missing and Cyril Mazard at Art Park, NYC ... Happy to be back in the ghostland and my hood of the Lower East Side. Stop by over the next week and spin the art and politics around and grab me a mud coffee with milk and sugar from 1st and 1st - the nexus of the universe. See you soon and bring good vibes."

To which he adds, "Missing Foundation performance in front of mural May 21, 2016."

Mark your calendars. And let's hope the performance will include witches, yuppies, and mysterious satanic rituals. Just like in the old days.

(h/t to Alex)