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One of the Biggest Industries in the Country—Construction—Still Has a Big Woman Problem


This is a Getty image.

You know the photograph: 11 construction workers smoking, eating and socializing across a beam hovering some 800 feet over Manhattan. It was 1932. The project was 30 Rockefeller Center (a.k.a., the RCA, GE and Comcast Building). The image illustrates our temerity, fearlessness and creativity, even in the middle of the Depression. Here we see our country and ourselves at our best, through what is undoubtedly a group of immigrants, not one of them a woman.

If that shoot was staged today, eight decades later, one of those workers would likely be a woman. Well, not quite one. Almost one.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data spanning 2011 to 2015, women represent 9.1 percent of the more than 9 million people employed by the construction industry in the U.S. About 2 percent of that 9 million live in New York City, and 8.4 percent of them are women.

Read complete story on CommercialObserver.comOne of the Biggest Industries in the Country—Construction—Still Has a Big Woman Problem

The Best Part of Pokémon Go Is Not What You Think

Across the street from The Plaza.
The launch of Pokémon Go on July 6 was insignificant for me. I have no connection to the creatures or the trading cards. I do not play video games. Hearing of people walking into highways and bodies of water while playing did nothing to incite my interest. Then my brother began playing with our nephews. They’re six and eight. Watching their amazement was exciting. The digital world made real. Within minutes they’d each caught one.
Three days later I had an appointment across town, requiring significant walking and a bus. It was time. After downloading the app I quickly appreciated how many Pokémon Go users there are, as no variation of my name was available. I consulted a menu, avoiding the most obvious words. Not available: sunchoke, mackerel, tangerine, tagliatelle. Wow. I settled on bitterlettuces, then created my avatar. I was ready to go. I knew none of the rules.
Read complete story at Observer.comThe Best Part of Pokémon Go Is Not What You Think


La Pecora Bianca at 1133 Broadway, NYC

On the day after Thanksgiving (the second ever) in November 1864 confederate soldiers set fire to the St. James hotel at Broadway and West 26th Street, part of a 21-hotel-wide plot to set the city ablaze. The New York Police Department and Fire Department of New York (and a bad choice of chemical fire-starters) thwarted the plans. The St. James, built in 1859, survived until 1896, when it was demolished.

Two years later it was replaced by the 16-story St. James building (1133 Broadway), designed by architect Bruce Price. According to a Landmarks Preservation Commission report, the new building was popular with architectural firms, including Mr. Price’s, which opened an office there. 

Last August the red brick and terra cotta Beaux Arts building, currently operated by Kew Management, welcomed the Italian restaurant La Pecora Bianca into part of the ground-floor space designed by McKim, Mead & White for the Havana Tobacco Company in 1904. Rizzoli Bookstore and the restaurant Inday occupy the remainder.

Read complete story at CommercialObserver.comLa Pecora Bianca at 1133 Broadway

In the (Construction) Zone, NYC

Debris, noise, unpleasant odors, obstacles, lack of water, restricted or no use of elevator, lead and silica particles in incessant dust, life-threatening hazards: this is what construction looks like inside occupied buildings. Residential construction is a current fact of life in New York City, and for some, it’s not a matter of walking by or around, but living through. 

“My neighbor saw the workers fleeing the building,” Upper West Side resident Leslie Pearson told the Observer. “Her gas meter, the prewar, old-fashioned kind, was spinning round and round. So we called Con Edison and they figured out someone had accidentally cut the gas line. But no one knocked on any doors. They just fled.”

Read complete story at Observer.comIn the (Construction) Zone

Over the Top: Extreme Amenities Conquer Manhattan, And Beyond

The playroom at Hunters Point South. (Photo: courtesy Related Companies)

In years past—olden times and post-college times—it was a coup to land an apartment in a building with a laundry room in the basement. Hauling dirty clothes and towels across the street never gets fun (especially if that street is, say, Second Avenue and a subway tunnel is in the works). Perhaps you had an elevator. Hauling groceries up six flights never gets easier, nor does your strength increase or your weight decrease due to this forced exercise. (Fortunately it’s possible your refrigerator wasn’t full-size.)

Perhaps you graduated to an elevator, then a doorman and a gym. Today, however, these elements are more likely to be considered necessities than amenities. Comfort and pleasure are expected, and increasingly built in. And while anyone who has ever had a private washing machine and dryer can assure you their quality of life was vastly improved, it’s simply not enough anymore. The city’s newest residential buildings—many still in the works—are offering oh so much more.

Read complete story at Observer.comOver the Top: Extreme Amenities Conquer Manhattan, And Beyond

Gowanus Reborn: A haven for manufacturing and artists stands on the precipice of major development

Mortality has long been a theme in art. Decaying fruit or flowers, burnt out candles, clocks, skulls: symbols reminding us that death is inevitable appear everywhere. Memento mori is the term, Latin for remember [you must, you have to] die.Back in the day—medieval times—it was mostly about preparing for the afterlife. Artists are still influenced by death and its role in life, of course. And seldom does the relevance strike harder than in Gowanus, where access to the ultimate muse is as inspiring as it is ironic. 

Read complete story on Observer.comGowanus Reborn

A Portrait of the Artists Documenting WTC’s Progress

Photo by Chris Sorenson

Before this past June, Conrad Stojak’s workspace was a friend’s garage in Queens.

Today, the Jackson Heights-based artist, who is turning old parking meters into sculptures, works from the 67th floor of 4 World Trade Center. He likes water, so he chose the southwest corner—the one that offers unparalleled, unobstructed views of both Upper New York Bay and the Hudson River. It’s the ultimate studio, courtesy of Silverstein Properties.

Courtesy, as in gratis.

Long attached to the belief that art brings vitality, excitement and dimension to any landscape, after 9/11 Silverstein head Larry Silverstein invited artists to work in vacant spaces around the World Trade Center site. And, why not? The empty, unfinished floors look a little like a Soho artists loft in the sky. The space is divided up fairly loosely, with some artists taking a city view—others opting for the Battery. (One artist has an entire floor all to himself.) And these artists have been squatting in these WTC studios for more than a decade.

Documentation of the reconstruction was all Mr. Silverstein asked in return.

“It’s something that’s important to them, but also important to us,” Mr. Silverstein told Commercial Observer. “This is really a little way of producing a running documentation of what transpires daily, weekly, monthly, in a way people can understand and appreciate for generations to come. To keep a document is enormously important to us. They’ve done it so well.”

Read complete story on A Portrait of the Artists Documenting WTC’s Progress

New Landscaped Roof Spaces Encourage Residents to Stay Awhile

“You would think New York City is the worst place for a garden, but being on a roof here is priceless,” said François Bléhaut, project manager at Gunn Landscape Architecture. “If you work in, say, Midtown, it’s really magical to be able to see the sky. It’s really unique to have space above your head. It’s more magical than anywhere else because of the contrast.”

The same can be said of all things trees, shrubs, grass and flowers in an urban environment.

“This is actually something that has science behind it,” said Gwenn Fried, manager of Horticultural Therapy Services at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation. That’s the use of plants and things in nature as a modality to effect change in a person. Plants, Ms. Fried said, are non-judgmental, intellectually and sensorially stimulating and normalizing. At one of the service locations, the Hospital for Joint Diseases, a terrace garden is currently in construction, to supplement the treatment that includes workshops and trips to nearby parks.  

Landscaped terraces, rooftops and other outdoor spaces have been all the rage in New York City for years, and demand shows no sign of ceasing, according to real estate brokers and designers.

Read complete story on On Top of the World: New Landscaped Roof Spaces That Encourage Residents to Stay Awhile

Alfa Development’s Michael Namer On History, Architecture and Sustainability

IMG_4205Many artists conceal changes to their work. Process is not always appreciated, and can be misconstrued as flaw. The appearance of an early layer—whether imperfectly erased or deliberate—is called pentimento (see Hellman, Lillian) and some artists hate it. Others revel in the study of development, the steps taken from beginning to end. Michael Namer, the chief executive officer and founder of Alfa Development Group, is among the latter.

Istanbul-born, Havana-escaped, Los Angeles-raised, New York-formed, the 61-year-old West Village resident is today, in his words, a painter by avocation, a developer-builder by vocation. Each layer of his life, his work, his building is as integral as the next.

We’re sitting in a muted model guest room on the seventh floor of the HGU New York, formerly known as the Grand Union Hotel. At 34 East 32nd Street in Manhattan, which should be ready for guests sometime in 2016. Earthy grays, blues and khakis inside deliberately negate the flashing brightness of the city. Mr. Namer, in navy sports coat and tie, stretches his khaki-clad legs, flashing the bright orange soles of his brown suede wingtips.

With seemingly little effort he’s inserted himself in every aspect of his current project. He draws himself in, deriving pleasure from everyone and everything around. On the 10th floor, the top, he found newspapers stuffed into the plaster spread during the 1915 expansion of the 1905 original building. Slowly, he extracted the pages from the wall.

“I’ll show you downstairs,” he said, delighted, describing Vanderbilt headlines and local postcards and art that will fill the 40,000-square-foot hotel, reminding or teaching guests that this place, like the city around it, is rich with history, culture and life. Mr. Namer hopes guests of the hotel and the not-yet-named, recognizable-chef-headed restaurant will be aware of their surroundings. This is New York and nowhere else.

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In Hamilton Heights, A Townhome Reflects the Neighborhood’s History

IMG_4077“Hamilton Grange is destined to be a first-class and exclusive residence quarter,” predicted The Real Estate Record and Guide in September 1890.

Hamilton Heights, the northern Manhattan neighborhood referenced above, was named for founding father and Broadway star Alexander Hamilton, who acquired 32 acres there by 1800. The area remained relatively rural (mansions and farms plus the Croton Water Aqueduct construction) until the 1880s, when the Eighth and Tenth Avenue streetcar lines were extended. Rapid transit inspired residential growth, primarily led by William H. De Forest, a silk importer turned developer turned mental patient.

It was thought that this picturesque area would mimic the East Side, where rows of townhouses reigned, space was running out and land values were high. Tenth Avenue was renamed Amsterdam in 1890 to encourage the uptick. And a subway stop at 145th was in the works.

Mr. De Forest had acquired most of Mr. Hamilton’s land (roughly W. 141st to W. 149th Streets, west of Convent Avenue) and more, divided it into hundreds of lots, and sold or developed them with his son. In 1886, pre-city zoning, he created a 20-year deed restricting new construction to “brick or stone dwellings at least two stories in height.”

That was code for private residences, which was code for unrelated people living under one roof is vulgar, something other ethnicities and races might do. There were limitations on use, too, a condition of sales that were not uncommon throughout the city: no stables, no factories, no bawdy houses and so forth. No manure in my backyard.

Read complete story on In Hamilton Heights, A Townhome Reflects the Neighborhood’s History