City Approves 700-Unit Rental Complex on Gowanus Canal

Gritty and offbeat as its reputation is, the Gowanus Canal may, in a few years, start becoming more bourgeois.

The City Planning Commission on Monday gave its approval for the construction of a 700-rental apartment complex on the largely industrial canal; it is to be built by one of the nation’s largest developers, the Lightstone Group. The project had been opposed by many residents who feared it would overwhelm schools and subways and accelerate the transformation of a neighborhood still sprinkled with artists into another high-rent neighborhood, like Dumbo or SoHo.

But many groups supported the project, not just because it would spruce up a derelict part of the neighborhood but also because it would create a new constituency for cleaning up the famously turgid waters of the canal, which is 1.8 miles long.

Construction is to begin this year, said Ethan Geto, a spokesman for Lightstone.

The complex is to consist of two buildings of graduated heights, 12 stories in some spots along the canal, but shorter inland, toward the low-rise neighborhood of factories and row houses. Most of the apartments are to be sold at market prices, but 140, or 20 percent of them, are to be reserved throughout the buildings for people of modest incomes. A family of four with an income under $49,800, for example, would be eligible.

The project is to include a 530-foot esplanade along the canal for public use; a provision of the latest plan for the project would increase the square footage of the walkway by almost 3,000 square feet.

Because Hurricane Sandy flooded the surrounding streets, the revised plans call for the lowest occupied floors to be raised two feet above the 100-year flood plain as defined in a recently updated map by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Mechanical and electrical systems are to be placed above that level as well.

The process was relatively painless for Lightstone because in 2009 a previous developer, Toll Brothers, won a zoning amendment permitting residential construction in a neighborhood zoned for manufacturing. The company had proposed some changes to those plans but abandoned them to avoid community objections and litigation.

In a statement, David Lichtenstein, chairman and chief executive of the Lightstone Group, said the new complex would “further enliven this vibrant neighborhood.”

“We view this development as an enormous opportunity to transform a neglected waterfront resource into a lively component of a thriving residential community with an abundant cultural and recreational life.”

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The House That Generosity Built: Staten Island Little League Plans Opener

Opening Day arrives two weeks late for Staten Island Little League this season, but after Hurricane Sandy’s knockdown pitch, having any season is cause for celebration.

On Monday, the league took one crucial step toward yelling “Play ball!” thanks to an organization called Pitch In For Baseball, which donated a truckload of equipment, including gloves, baseballs, helmets and bats.

“We lost a million dollars worth of equipment,” said the league president, Michael Colini, a police officer who lives in New Dorp. The winds bent and turned the light poles while the flooding, which reached 12 feet there, crashed a container weighing two tons into one of league’s buildings. The storm ruined lawn mowers, tractors, electricity and irrigation, the entire snack bar, $13,000 worth of uniforms, 100 dozen baseballs, 50 bags of catcher’s gear and plenty of other equipment. The four fields on Seaver Avenue were utterly demolished.

“The storm destroyed the fences and the salt water killed the grass and washed the infield dirt away,” Mr. Colini said. “We needed 125 tons of new baseball dirt.”

The league, a community cornerstone since 1953, serves 550 children ages 4 to12, and includes a “Challenger” division for children with special needs.

“There were old-timers there with tears in their eyes,” Mr. Colini said. “So I just promised we’d eventually build it back bigger and better.”

The league, which sacrificed a lot of revenue when it waived fees for any child whose family was registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, received numerous donations, including $50,000 from Honda to renovate the fields. Then several parents heard former All-Star shortstop Roy Smalley telling WFAN’s “Talking Baseball” host Ed Randall about Pitch In For Baseball. Mr. Colini sent an S O S e-mail to the organization. “They just asked, ‘What do you need?’,” he said.

Pitch In has shipped equipment to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Iraq, Poland, Serbia and other countries, as well as to American communities. But the recent spate of natural disasters — like a tornado in Joplin, Mo. — has shifted the organization’s attention toward home. Pitch In is helping more than 20 storm-tossed leagues in the New York region. In the city, it is donating to leagues in the Rockaways, Mill Basin, Gerritsen Beach and Staten Island.

“We are helping close to 10,000 children, which is a huge challenge for us,” said Mr. Smalley, Pitch In’s president. “It’s forcing us to grow, to keep up with demand.”

Mr. Smalley credited the organization’s executive director and founder, David Rhode, for realizing eight years ago that there was “both a need and a resource — there are kids who are not playing baseball only because they don’t have equipment and there’s a tremendous amount of equipment elsewhere sitting idle or getting thrown out.”

The organization also seeks cash donations to buy what is not donated. On Staten Island, Mr. Rhode said: “We get each league exactly what they’re looking for. For instance, today we needed five lefty catcher mitts.”

The children said the generosity helped revive their spirits. “I was really sad when I saw the fields, said Kevin Moylan, 10. “I was very nervous we weren’t going to have a season.”

The Little Leaguers’ relief at having their season salvaged — it opens April 20 — turned to excitement Monday afternoon as they headed out to help their coaches unload the equipment from Pitch In For Baseball. “Oh my God, look at these helmets,” shouted David Barrett, 10. “They’re beast,” said Kevin, as everyone stopped to try one on. It didn’t seem to matter that it was snowing. It felt like Opening Day.

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A 1930s Beauty Contest With Shapely Horns and Fine Beards

You probably knew this already, but there was a time when there were regular goat beauty pageants in Central Park.

The time was the mid-1930s, when, in a fit of post-Prohibitionary giddiness, New York City provided space for the Brewers Board of Trade to choose the year’s mascot for the ubiquitous bock beer advertising poster (a billy goat is a geissbock in German, and a bock beer festival was a springtime staple).

Or as The New York Times put it on the eve of a 1934 contest, “Amid the Virgilian landscapes of Central Park, the shy goatherds of Manhattan will bathe in the sweet light of publicity this morning, when they assemble at 11 o’clock to consecrate the choicest of their flocks to Bacchus.”

And so it was that 79 years ago Monday, The Times carried news that Pretzels, a breathtakingly attractive he-goat with “magnificent swirling horns, a long, sagacious beard and a relatively sweet disposition,” walked off the Central Park mall with the title of Mr. Manhattan and the right to face the winners from across the city and region for the crown.

While Pretzels did not actually live in Manhattan – he was a resident of the Westchester County village of Hastings-on-Hudson who was allowed to enter because his owner lived on West 26th Street – fully 35 of the other competitors, surprisingly enough, did, according to the brewers board. The Times explained: Continue reading “A 1930s Beauty Contest With Shapely Horns and Fine Beards”

Slaves’ Forgotten Burial Sites, Marked Online

They have been bulldozed over by shopping centers, crept over by weeds and forgotten by time. Across the country, from Lower Manhattan to the Deep South, are unmarked slave burial sites, often discovered only by chance or by ignominious circumstance as when construction crews accidentally exhume bodies when building a shopping mall.

Compounding the problem of preserving and locating slave graveyards, there is no comprehensive list of where they are and who lies within them. The situation troubled Sandra Arnold, 50, a history student at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies at Fordham University, who traces her ancestry to slaves in Tennessee.

“The fact that they lie in these unmarked abandoned sites,” Ms. Arnold said, “it’s almost like that they are kind of vanishing from the American consciousness.”

Last month, Fordham introduced Ms. Arnold’s proposed solution, the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans, a Web portal that invites visitors to input information about the whereabouts and residents of slave graveyards across the country. The goal is to create a user-generated database of these sites all over the United States.

Though there are other similar projects, most are conducted on a regional level, or do not focus specifically on places slaves were buried. Find a Grave, a database used by many tombstone hobbyists and amateur genealogists, lists hundreds of thousands of plots, including those belonging to slaves. In 2001, in an effort to avoid disturbing burial grounds during a property boom, Prince William County in Virginia began collecting locations. There are also private initiatives in Maryland to catalog all of the estimated 6,000 to 9,000 slave burial sites in the state.

But still slave graveyards risk being trampled by time and construction. One of the most notable examples was in Lower Manhattan, where construction of a federal office building was halted in 1991 after the discovery of bones 24 feet below the surface. Just 419 bodies were discovered, though estimates of how many free and enslaved blacks were buried there range from 10,000 to 20,000. The African Burial Ground, as it was named, is now a national historic landmark.

Just last year, construction was held up for a new Walmart in Florence, Ala., after local residents protested that it would overlap with hidden burial sites.

“There is certainly a very important national need; it’s more than just an academic exercise,” said Lynn Rainville, a research professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and an adviser to the database.

For Ms. Arnold it is also personal. The idea was born two years ago after she visited a Tennessee cemetery where her great-grandfather, who was born a slave, is buried. It was adrift in the middle of a field, she said, hardly the hallowed space that cemeteries typically are. “The fact that enslaved African-Americans don’t have that sort of dignity,” she said, “it bothered me.”

The project’s ambition — to be a comprehensive database for the country — is hampered in part both by the fact that slaves were often perfunctorily buried and by a historical quirk: headstones were a luxury in many Southern areas, and both enslaved and free people were often buried with plain stone markers or none at all.

“A huge number of old cemeteries, even from the 19th century, are simply lost in the landscape,” Eric G. Grundset, the director of the Library of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution, who has traveled the country researching the legacy of blacks in the war, said in an e-mail. “Memory is usually the primary source for locating such spots, so this project will rely very heavily on that for results.”

The database is still in its infancy, with just over a dozen entries uploaded since it began about a month ago. Irma Watkins-Owens, an associate professor of history and African-American studies at Fordham, is a co-director, along with advisers from Yale, Emory University and the College of William and Mary.

Ms. Arnold, who also works as a secretary for the African studies department at Fordham, said it was entirely dependent upon word of mouth for contributions. Researchers with reams of information may find the system somewhat unwieldy since it requires data to be inputted piece by piece.

Still, the news of the database excited preservationists like Lisa Martin Sanders for its potential. Two years ago, Ms. Sanders rediscovered and began to rehabilitate a rundown cemetery where her ancestors and an estimated 1,500 other slaves and free black people were buried in Sanford, N.C., now called the Black Heritage Community Cemetery. She is working on her next.

“I thought it was awfully sad that people can get thrown away,” Ms. Sanders said. “If we have somewhere we can go and actually look and research this information, we can better understand who we are,” she added. “If we lose that, where are we?”

The African Burial Ground National Monument in Lower Manhattan was established after bones were discovered under a site where a federal office building was under construction. A new database hopes to better track slave cemeteries. Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times The African Burial Ground National Monument in Lower Manhattan was established after bones were discovered under a site where a federal office building was under construction. A new database hopes to better track slave cemeteries.

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