Volume 78 - Number 28 / December 10 - 16, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Scoopy’s Notebook

Villager photo by Scoopy

Neglect has uncovered an ancient sign for alcohol at MacDougal St., right, which shares space with contemporary street art, like the poster of the woman at left.

Floods, Famke, flagons and a failure to fix: Lucy Cecere thinks the state of the famously derelict building at MacDougal and King Streets is just a shame. “Do you know how much he’s been offered for that building?” she said incredulously when we stopped in last week at her and her husband Lenny’s store, Something Special, up the block. Meanwhile, neighborhood rocker Patti Smith has been left having to clean up — and pay for — the mess, as the “Godmother of Punk”’s building keeps getting flooded and the rats are running wild as a result of her neighbors’ negligence. “She spent so much money,” Cecere said, shaking her head. Con Edison recently spent two weeks at the site fixing some electrical problems Cecere implied were caused by the deserted building. Suddenly, a slender brunette in large dark sunglasses popped inside the little shop — and it seemed as if the temperature rose. “Do you have anything for me?” she purred, waited briefly, then left. “That was an actress,” Cecere said, then pointed up to her “wall of fame” behind her to two magazines with “Bond girl” Famke Janssen’s photo on their covers. Then Cecere, naturally, had to fondly stroke the photos of her favorites of all, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. The local celebs “get everything” sent to the hole-in-the-wall mailbox store, Cecere said, from their letters to dresses and baby things. But we digress… . Trying to get Famke out of our mind, getting back to the building, we noticed that the neglect has done more than fray neighbors’ nerves; it has also uncovered — under layers of red and green paint that have eroded and flaked off — an ancient sign by the door from when the place used to vend grog to Greenwich Villagers. Perhaps dating back as far as the mid-1800s, the sign — painted directly on the building’s cement facade — advertises, “Bottled Porter, Ale & Cider.” In an interesting twist, the eyesore has become a magnet for street artists, and the old cider sign is now flanked by contemporary graffiti poster art. Told of the aged ale ad, Cecere said the place once also had the distinction of being “Manhattan’s oldest cigarette store.” Maybe it was a combined beer-and-tobacco depot? At any rate, now it’s just a rundown rat hotel. … But all is not lost: The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is on the case. “We have gotten the city to issue some violations” to the building’s owner, said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director. “They put up a scaffolding around it. We would like to take them to court on several fronts — including demolition by neglect under the Landmarks Law, and have the city go in and make repairs and bill for cost. We’d like to get to the point where we take them to court, but we’re not there yet.” Berman said a trap door on the roof was left open six months, during which rain streamed into the building. Over the past two years, G.V.S.H.P. has written five city agencies (Landmarks, Buildings, Health, Sanitation and Housing Preservation and Development) urging action, but government’s wheels can turn at a snail’s pace. “We’ve been making very, very slow progress,” Berman said. “It takes months for the city to write a letter. It’s clearly a health hazard and a danger to other buildings. The owners don’t seem interested or capable of taking care of it. It’s a 175-year-old building. It’s worth millions.” Told of how the building is literally eroding, with the old sign becoming visible, Berman said, “This building has many layers of history; we’d like to see them revealed through a restoration of the building, rather than having the building fall apart. Yes, it is like a modern-day ruins, but there is no archaeology team there to make sure that it doesn’t fall apart.” We e-mailed him a photo of the sign for his inspection, to which he responded, “Wow. Yeah, my guess would be that is 100 years old at least.”

Strictly business now: One Downtown political candidate, we can’t say who, recently admitted to us he has been advised by his “handlers” to keep his trademark irreverent sense of humor in check. We actually already had an inkling of that after he recently stopped laughing at all of our jokes and no longer was cracking any of his own. Actually, we have seen this phenomenon occur at least once before — with the formerly funny Scott Stringer. Like the mystery candidate, after he was elected borough president, Stringer became much more serious. Too bad — we kind of like the funny.

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