Japanese Brooklyn

Victorian Brooklyn is amazingly beautiful. In Victorian times skilled labour and land was cheaper than it is today and wealthy people were able to build really elaborate and architecturally significant residences rather than Mc Masions of today.

In a big lot of old postcards that I picked up on eBay I found this – a postcard featuring “The Japanese House, Flatbush, N. Y.” It looks like this wasn’t the only time this house was featured on a postcard: here’s another one.

Don Wiss of the Brooklyn photo store photo fame graciously allowed me to use his picture of the Japanese House, which turned out to be
Frederick S. Kolle House at 131 Buckingham Road.

Here are Don’s notes, mostly gleaned from the AIA Guide to New York City.

I did a little bit more digging and found a New York Times article, which somehow is fully available.

The house was built by a developer in order to promote Prospect Park area.

Alvord advertised the house in Country Life in America in the summer of 1903, calling it ”a faithful reflection of the dainty Japanese art from which America is learning so much.” But the house was ”thoroughly practical,” the ad continued, with a ”porcelain Roman bathtub, also needle and shower baths,” and a 22-minute commute to Park Row. It was offered at $26,500.

According to this calculator that translates to somewhere between 600K if you use Consumer Price index to 12 million if you use the relative share of GDP. Stupid Zillow is showing values in $1 million range, which is of course very wrong. I suspect that the current value of the house is much closer to the GDP share range :)

The NYT article goes on to say that Dr. Kolle, the first owner of the house was a pioneering radiologist. It seems like he purchased the house on the cheap after the unusualness of it did not attract many bidders. Also, in 97 the house used to belong (and probably still does) to the director of Flatbush Development Corporation who bought the house in the 70s.

The following quote made me drool:

“Except for the kitchen, the ground floor interior of the Fischers’ house is completely intact, with dragon figures in the stained-glass windows, Japanese decorative detail around the fireplace and a definite feeling of thinness to the partitions — there are leaded glass windows between the sitting and dining rooms. The Fischers have furnished the house with an eclectic mix of furniture and artwork, from Belter to Bauhaus, as well as memorabilia from the Kolle family.”

Apparently the Flatbush Development corporation is holding a Victorian House Tour, that at least in 97 featured the Japanese House as one of the stops. I wonder if they still do – I’d love to see it.

Looking at the butt-ugly condos and renovation in McMansion syle that I see all over, I can’t help but think – will they build houses that are postcard-worthy again in Brooklyn?

Michael on Used Books

New York City is home to what is probably the biggest used book store in the world. Strand is a real New York institution. A giant two level store in a pre-war commercial building on 12th Street and Broadway always drew me in with its outdoor book carts. Every time I entered the store proper I was already burdened with a good stack of 1 dollar hardcovers and 25 cent paperbacks. Even though I was rather poor at the time, I spent a disproportionately large part of my income on books written in a language that was still new to me. But at the Strand I got a pretty good bang for my buck.

In my many shopping sprees there I noticed an unsettling fact. I almost never went home with the books that I was planning to buy, but still my hands were crisscrossed by red marks left by super heavy plastic bags. In fact, in the area that I was most interested in, golden age sci-fi paperbacks, the Strand was strangely lacking. So when I learned about bibliofind.com, (which is a part of Amazon now) from a little ad in New York Times), I stopped going there altogether. Why waste my time in a cramped non-air-conditioned labyrinth of bookshelves blocked by frequently smelly bibliophiles and snarky Strand employees with crazy tattoos and piercings, when I could simply go online and order exactly what I wanted at similar prices? All hail long tail!

Just a few days ago I popped up from subway near Union Square and decided to see if the siren’s song of Strand’s outside book bins would still draw me in. Next thing I knew I was inside, checking my bag in and holding a stack of weird books. Inside the changes and forgotten details overwhelmed me. Even though they were slow to get on the whole web bookselling train (to this day when I order at abebooks.com or Amazon that have thousands of vendors, I am yet to get one book from Strand), the store thrived. They opened an Annex on Fulton St, another one which I never visited at 57th st and a tiny little booth almost the size of a porta-john in front of the Pierre Hotel, right next to the train stop. Rupert Murdoch chose a good location for his apartment.

And the original location began a slow barnsandnoblefication. No, they don’t have a cafe yet (and if they will I hope it’s going to be Joe’s and not Tarbucks). But they added 3rd floor, an elevator (so now you don’t need to walk outside into the side entrance to get to the rare editions department) and demolished the horrible little bathroom on the first floor. It was kind of weird standing where it used to be. The funny notes and cartoons were still taped to the bookshelves and columns, and the basement still had many antique pipes and old electrical cables (I noticed what I think was a cut pre-war high voltage cable the thickness of my arm in the wall). I saw – gasp – fresh cat5 runs.

When I paid for my books and went to get my bag from bagcheck, I commented on my relief to the fact that the old duct tape encrusted boxes where not replaced. The bagcheck guy laughed and said – hey, dude, this is the Strand. We don’t replace stuff until absolutely necessary. I hope they don’t change too much, although I welcome air conditioning, the elevator and the extra floor. I need to get a new camera and go and take some pictures there before everything changes again.

One of the books that I bough in the outside bin cracked me up because I am such an avid fan of Joel on Software:

My wife asked – “Timesharing of what?”. He heh, back in the 70s (when I was born) time sharing was a hot buzzword. And not the real estate kind.

About Air Hostesses, Citizen Journalists and Greasemonkey Scripts

Gothamist is a popular blog that uses New York newspapers the same way BoingBoing uses the Internet: they pluck quotes and pictures from interesting new stories mostly from the Post and New York Times, but also don’t consider it below them to pilfer content from other blogs. Unlike BoingBoing they have a few original posts, including interviews with various New York types. Usually these are no talent filmmakers, D-grade actors, performance artists and other artsie-fartsties. Many times I was tempted to write something similar to this Greasemonkey script, but just like with Xeni’s posts, Gothamist’s interviews have an interesting tidbit in them once in a while:

From an interview with a flight attendant:
“Do you live in a crash pad?
Oh god, there’s like 25 people there. All flight attendants and pilots. It’s crazy. if you want to see a good reality show, they should put cameras in there.”

This is an idea so good that I am truly surprised that Mark Burnett did not think of this yet. A reality show about airline workers would be so awesome it’s not even funny. Those crash pads must be overflowing with sexuality and drama. The only problem will be coming up with a name : “CRASHPADS� and CRASHPAD� are Registered Trademarks of Flight Crew Services”.

I could not pass on the temptation to slap together a Greasemonkey Dumbgothamist script (download it here) that crudely attempts to remove annoying “editorial we” from Gothamist. I spent about 20 minutes modifying Dumbquotes.