Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: real estate

The Slummification of Kissena Boulevard

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This is where I grew up and where my mother still lives. It may not look like much, but it is one of the nicer apartment buildings in my Queens neighborhood. My grandmother lived a few blocks away, in a lower-income apartment. When I was in elementary school and my mother went back to work, I went to my grandparents after school. My grandmother made an excellent tuna fish sandwich, with chopped celery and dill.

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My father was a physical therapist at a city hospital and my mother still works in publishing, so they never made that much money. They worked hard to put me through two very expensive private colleges, just so I could obtain two completely useless degrees — a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. in Film. I was totally spoiled by them.

I had an excellent childhood growing up in the Flushing/Kew Garden Hills area of Queens. The public school was good, the public library was two blocks away, and the neighborhood was incredibly diverse — blacks, Jews, Puerto Ricans, Indians, Chinese. I’m still good friends with guys from the neighborhood who I’ve known all my life. They’re the first people I see every time I fly into New York.

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I am so diverse — here I am with my Jewish childhood friend Barry at the Blue Bay Diner in Bayside last week, which looks exactly the same inside as it did when I was in high school.

When I was a child, Queens felt isolated from the excitement of Manhattan, but it was close enough to travel to by subway. (…ok, first you take a bus to get to the subway) My parents took me to museums and concerts all the time, so I was able to participate in the “high culture” of the city. We also lived near Queens College, which had a symphony orchestra. I spent many weekends in the audience with my parents, falling asleep to Schubert.

Although the stores in my neighborhood weren’t very fancy (still no Starbucks!), you could get everything you needed just by walking down the block. There were grocers, a bakery, a Radio Shack, a cleaners, a pharmacy etc. This was perfect for my parents, who didn’t drive a car. It also created entertainment for me. After school, my friend, Rob, and I could pass several hours just stopping in the Kissena Boulevard shops, or reading the comic books in the stationary store.

I only felt embarrassed about “Queens” once I went to Columbia, and met rich kids from the Upper East Side, Beverly Hills, Boston, etc. They had actually gone skiing in Aspen and visited museums in Florence. All of a sudden, Kissena Boulevard was very small time. I began to feel ashamed of my background, like a Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, moving from the steelmill to the hoity-toity ballet studio. It felt as if the entire borough of Manhattan looked down on Queens. The only reason to visit Queens was to go to the airports or see a sporting event. There was even talk about building a new stadium in Manhattan, so there would even be less reason to travel to Queens. Queens was the home of misfits, from Archie Bunker to Ugly Betty. During snowstorms, Manhattan was quickly shoveled by the plows since it is the center of the business and tourism worlds. Queens was always plowed last. Queens had her big moment in 1963-64 when the World’s Fair was in Flushing Meadows Park, but then most of the fair buildings was just left behind to decay.

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“Sorry, we don’t have enough money in the budget to fix the NYS Pavilion.” – Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Eventually, I learned to embrace my Queens neighborhood. There was a cool mix of people on the street, and it felt more “New York authentic” than many of the streets of Manhattan. Today, “Sesame Street” reminds me of Queens, not Manhattan. Big Bird could never afford Manhattan. Sadly, whenever Sophia comes with me to visit my mother, I’m always disappointed that she can’t see the area in the same positive way I do.

“It looks like a slum,” she said recently, as we walked down Kissena Boulevard. This hurt my feelings, especially because, in my heart, despite my romantic view of the neighborhood, I believed the same. At one time, the street was lively, with all sorts of shops and ethnic food. Gene Simmons, who grew up nearby, even named his group KISS, after Kissena Boulevard. Now, the neighborhood has deteriorated almost beyond recognition.

Half of the stores on the block are gated and closed — some stores have been empty for five years! Can’t the management company find any tenants? What happened to the bakery, the pharmacy, the seafood store, the stationery store, the women’s clothing store? Surely some business can make a profit here? People are afraid to walk outside at night because everything looks so abandoned. Why has this happened?

Perhaps the answer can be found on the website of the management company, Pelcorp. On the site, they advertise the entire block, not as available individual stores catering to a community, but only as a 240,000 sq. ft. shopping center. There had been rumors that the landlord isn’t renting out the stores because it’s interested in selling the entire block to a big-box entity like Kmart. This might explain why no stores never seem to be rented, despite having “For Rent” signs plastered on the gates of shuttered stores. Is the management company waiting for the opportunity to unload the entire property at once?

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A view of Kissena Boulevard at noon, a far cry from what this busy street used to look like.

The management company has every right to sell the entire complex if they want to, but should they be allowed to thrust the entire neighborhood into a downward spiral? Who wants to live in an area where more than half the stores have been closed for years?

It is pretty sad state of affairs. I remember how The Garden Bakery made the best onion rolls I’ve ever tasted. There was “Sweet Donut,” a little coffee shop/donut store. Dr. Sakow, the friendly optometrist, fitted me with my first pair of dorky eyeglasses in the third grade. All of these stores are now gone, with no replacements.

Even if the management company does want to sell the entire property, shouldn’t they at least be responsible for its upkeep? What about all the garbage and graffiti everywhere? Why should I be embarrassed to show my wife the “old neighborhood?” Why should my mother have to walk past the junk in the parking lot? People still LIVE in the neighborhood.

At one time, the landlord/management company was a local one, headed by a New York builder. He was always seen around the area because he also created middle-income housing across the street. After his passing, his son took over the real estate property, and it didn’t surprise me at all that his management company is based in Palm Beach, Florida! Out of sight, out of mind.

From their website:

Our President, Prescott Lester, is the fourth generation of Builder Developers. He is responsible for building and developing nearly 3,000 residential units in Palm Beach County, Florida. Projects included Lakes of Laguna in West Palm Beach with 2,204 residential units and Cascade Lakes in Boynton Beach having 556 dwelling units.

Mr. Lester’s Greatgrandfather began building in Brooklyn, New York around the turn of the century. He was followed by his son David Minkin who became one of New York City’s Master Builders. Mr. Lester assisted and succeeds his great uncle, David Minkin, in running the family’s building, management and brokerage operations.

Here is a promotional photo of the late David Minkin, Prescott Lester, and former NY Mets (yeah, Queens!) pitching great Tom Seaver, who has apparently sold his New York baby boomer appeal for some hard cash.

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Despite a history of New York building, the fourth generation of builders now “specializes in the marketing and sale of luxury properties in Palm Beach County. This includes waterfront, country club, and other estate properties.”

The Kissena Boulevard holdings, one of their four retail holdings still in New York, must be their least attractive holding, compared to their shiny new malls in Florida. No wonder they seem so disinterested in the upkeep of Kissena Boulevard!

I talked to a few people in my mother’s building and they are very unhappy with the way Kissena Boulevard looks. Some say they would even move away, if they could afford it. The shopping area is pretty disgraceful, and much of the blame must go to the management company. They have played a major role in making the area look like a slum. Of course, since Pelcorp is in Palm Beach, and the executives don’t get to come to Queens very often, I’ve included some photographs of Kissena Boulevard for Prescott Lester and his partners to see.

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The Pharmacy, now closed, the letters falling from the sign

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The Laudromat, closed

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The shoe store, closed

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The graffiti along the “Wholesale Liquidators” wall

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The garbage along the wall, opposite the closed shoe store

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The kosher deli, closed

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The Rainbow Women’s Clothing Store, closed

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The pharmacy, closed, is now a haven for pigeons

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The Bakery, closed for years

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The fish market, closed

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Ugly graffiti and disrepair along the property walls

Movin’ On Up

Yesterday, Chac commented on an old post about relationships and astrology:

Aquarius woman here…¬† OK – I think you may want to look at the ascendant signs (your outward masks) and your moon signs (emotional behaviors) before totally giving up. Your sun sign is how you see yourself – your ego, if you will. So, here is my point: My ego is Aquarius. My outward appearance is Libra. My moon is Scorpio. Lots of sex, inner-conflict and intellectual sparring. Basically, a female version of Bronte’s Heathcliff. My poor, poor boyfriend… I’ll bet you are just a bit more curious about Sophia’s other signs now – you should be ūüôā

Do I understand what she wrote?¬† Not at all.¬† But maybe the stars are the best explanation for the tiff I had yesterday with… uh, Sandy.¬† (I promised… uh, Sandy, that I wouldn’t talk about her without her permission, so for now, I will be using the name… uh, Sandy, as a stand-in for… uh, Sandy).

Please point me to a book or blog where a writer does a good job in capturing in words a marital tiff.¬†¬† I’ve mentioned this before.¬† I am hopeless.¬† I have no skill in describing those irritating little marital tiffs.¬† Just writing the dialogue wouldn’t make any sense.¬† It wasn’t an all out fight.¬† In fact, we had a nice day at a friend’s “Memorial Weekend” BBQ.¬† When we got home, Sandy asked me to pick up some saucepan that I had washed earlier (and put it on the floor to air-dry).¬† I got upset, raised my voice, said something sarcastic¬†and it all went downhill from that.

So, the fun ended and back I¬†went¬†to my “bachelor” apartment.¬†

I don’t particularly like my apartment.¬† It’s one of those separated man’s limbo-land apartments. All the really nice stuff is back at Sandy’s.¬†¬† My couch has crumbs under the pillows.¬† My computer table is a bridge table.¬†¬† After living in a home with a “woman’s touch,” this apartment just seems drab.¬† So… utilitarian.¬† Women seem to know where to put everything so it looks nice.¬† Like flowers.

Sometimes Sandy and I joke about starting an online “home-shopping” website for separated men.¬† With one click of the button, they can order everything they need for their new “bachelor pad” — a couch, a bed, a TV, a lamp, a vacuum, and a toaster — and they’ll be all ready to live their new miserable lives.

But¬†I don’t¬†sit and wallow, especially on a holiday weekend.¬† If my apartment looks bad, it’s my own fault.¬† I’m creative.¬† I can change things.¬† So, today, I undertook the process of Bachelor Pad Home Makeover.¬† Today, in a few hours, I’ve already¬†turned my apartment from a depressing dump into a place where I can bring a classy one night stand who says to me, “What a nice apartment.¬† Which way to the bedroom?”

I took some architectural photographs to show the process of my one day home re-design:

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The first step was to kick out my roommates.¬† While they can be a fun bunch who like to party, I’m getting too old for this “dorm living.”

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I’m also noticing that many of the more “high maintenance” Los Angeles women (you know the type)¬† refuse to f**k when there are other men, women, and children looking on in the bedroom.¬†¬†¬†Talk about prudes!¬†¬† So, adios, roomies!¬† Remember to take¬†your stuff¬†from the fridge!

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Once my roommates were kicked out, it was time to paint.

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I’m a firm believer that the exterior of a home says as much about you as the interior.

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Always have a plan… whether it is in home renovation or life itself!

The results:

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Who’s living it up now… uh, Sandy?

Name Changes: I Now Live In Blogosphere Estates

1)  My Favorite Cereal

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I was walking down "aisle 10" in Ralph’s Supermarket today to buy my usual healthy, but cardboard-tasting "high-fiber" cereal, when I started reminiscing about the sugar-high cereals of my youth:  Lucky Charms, Trix, Frosted Flakes, and my all time favorite — Sugar Pops — or Sugar Corn Pops, depending on what year you started eating them.  I used to love those bright yellow crunchy bits of sugar that somehow were related to "wholesome corn" and kept their crunch quite well, unlike the wimpy and soggy Rice Krispies.   

My current supermarket had many cereals on sale, almost too many, and there was a whole section devoted just to Kellogg’s products.  But when I saw the familiar yellow box, I was quite surprised to learn that Sugar Pops were not called Sugar Pops anymore.  No.  Now, they are just called Pops.  The word "Pops" was written in some pseudo-graffiti font and there was some sort of promotion going on for snowboarding.  This was obviously a Sugar Pops for a new generation.   But are parents so stupid to think that Pops are any healthier than the Sugar Pops they used to eat, just because Kellogg’s dropped the "Sugar" from the name?

Maybe Sugar Pops are more successful nowadays as just Pops.  Changing names can be a powerful illusion, like changing Kentucky Fried Chicken to the heart-healthy KFC.

2)  Real Estate

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When I was growing up in Flushing, there was a housing project across the street.  The residents were mostly those on welfare and other federal assistance programs.   While it was a noble idea in principle, it was a nightmare for the neighborhood.   The crime rate zoomed, and women were frequently attacked walking the streets.  After a few years, there was so much community uproar about "the projects," that they were closed down.  A few months later, they were taken over by a private company, quickly painted over, and renamed "Georgetown Mews."   My friends and I always joked about this, as if this ultra-pretentious name somehow transformed this ugly complex into something sophisticated.

With real estate so hot, I see this type of "naming" used all the time.   For instance, on the way to Palm Springs recently, I noticed what used to be an empty lot in a god-forsaken desert area between LA and Palm Springs.  Now, it has been transformed into "Rawhide Ranch," as if any actual horse wouldn’t immediately drop dead in the area’s 120 degree heat. 

New York and San Francisco have always been very successful in turning a rundown part of the city into some hip enclave.  Step one:  promote the area with some cool name like Tribeca, Soho, DUMBO, etc.  Los Angeles is now getting into the game by "trying to trick hipsters into leasing Skid Row lofts: the Old Bank District."

Why not?  It works.

3)  Concentration Camps

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Changing your name is frequently a way of hiding your past.  When a company does something illegal, they often come back with a changed name — and a fresh start.  Sometimes a name is associated with a disaster. That’s why after ValuJet crashed in the Florida Everglades, they changed their name to AirTran.  It’s not surprising that Poland even wants to to rename Auschwitz.

"Poland is trying to change the name of Auschwitz concentration camp to emphasize that Nazi Germans, not Poles, were responsible for the most murderous center of the Holocaust.

The government has asked the United Nations to change the name of its World Heritage site from "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" to "the Former Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz.""

Who’s going to say that mouthful?  I think most people remember that the Nazis were the bad guys.   Name changing is a powerful instrument.  What do you think Poland is trying to forget about it’s own past?

I understand that living in Auschwitz might be a drag.  But, hey, why not just build a Six Flags there so Auschwitz can change its reputation from the "place with a death camp" to a "place for fun?"

Real Estate News – Los Angeles

The new Midnight Mission homeless shelter opened in downtown Los Angeles.  The Christian Science Monitor called it "one of the nation’s plushiest homeless shelters."

The $17 million state-of-the-art facility boasts a full-sized gymnasium, library, playroom, hair salon, education center, and professional kitchen.

The project could have been code-named "Keep the Homeless Downtown so they Can’t Hurt Real Estate Prices by Moving into the Super-Expensive Westside."

In related news,  Donald Trump will be the headliner in a two-day real estate seminar at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  His face is already plastered on billboards across town, with the ad slogan:  "One weekend can make you a millionaire."

An anticipated crowd of 25,000 will listen to speakers, including Trump, share their wisdom.  Some of the advertised topics include:

"The Lazy Way to Create Real Estate Wealth," "How to ‘Quick Turn’ Real Estate in Los Angeles With No Money, Credit or Risk," and "How to Get Free Money From the Government for Real Estate."

The "building affordable housing in Los Angeles" seminar has been canceled due to lack of interest.

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