Abroad

Due to some travels (and preparations leading up to same), it won’t be until later in August that regular posts occur again on this blog. In the meantime, I thought I’d send a very brief snapshot of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I’m staying the first part of my trip and where I lived way back in 1995. The brick commercial loft building above is where I lived–a 3500 SF loft on the second floor (facing North 10th Street which is the facade you see here). It was an illegal sublet, rented to us by an artist who’d used the place as a studio. At the time Williamsburg was full of artists living in cheaply converted space, with rents extremely affordable compared to fancier parts of Brooklyn, not to mention Manhattan. I was one of a first wave of “invaders”–donning a tie and taking the train back into the city during the week to work a professional job–and I was fascinated by the mix of artists, elderly Polish-Americans, and those like me who found the run-down, somewhat bleak nature of Williamsburg a refreshing break from increasingly gentrified Manhattan.
Today, although my building still appears as untouched and run-down as ever, the surrounding neighborhood has transformed. Below is directly across Berry Street from my old place, where there used to be a vacant lot and a storage warehouse with amazing graffiti:

The new Berry Street

These luxury loft condos are but one example of new construction that has popped up everywhere, along with vacant storefronts and repair shops converted to ultra-hip lounges and restaurants. The lonely, sparse sidewalks were literally choked this evening with hipsters, wanna-bes, and kids from Manhattan in for a Saturday night fling. The quiet sense of possibility I knew back then has been replaced with American Apparel and all sorts of consumption.
There is even a huge new complex at the river, which used to be lined by empty warehouses and weedy yards. Now 35-story condo towers are preparing to open, with new pedestrian piers, tens of thousands of square feet of available retail and restaurant space, and parking garages. An immense old warehouse designed by the architect Cass Gilbert (who is perhaps best known for the Woolworth Building in downtown Manhattan, in 1913 the tallest building in the world) in the rarely employed neo-Egyptian style has been totally renovated and is currently renting out with amenities (and prices) not before seen this side of the East River.

From Egyptian warehouse to luxury lofts

The amount of gentrification in the old neighborhood just boggles the mind. It shows how quickly an urban place can transform, within the context of vast numbers of people and dollars that is New York. Does it all feel right? No; I miss the grittiness of the old place. A lot of the new architecture is banal. Most of the artists have departed for cheaper digs further out in Brooklyn or Queens.

But hey, if you just have to have that perfect pomegranate mojito, you no longer have to take the train into Manhattan to get it.

Birmingham, I won’t be around to attend Design Review this coming week, comment on the latest (non-drive-through!) plans for Chick-Fil-A, etc. But we’ll be back and ready to examine lots of new topics in just a couple short weeks. Stay cool.

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