Stories

6 NYC landmarks lost to Sandy (or are they?)

Last year's superstorm wiped these fixtures off the cityscape...but some could still rise back from the dead

Capsouto Frères

451 Washington Street, Tribeca

Status: Closed. Won’t reopen.

Photo: Courtesy of Jacques Capsouto

Photo: Courtesy of Jacques Capsouto

The celebrated Tribeca mainstay Capsouto Frères would have turned 33 years old this October. Superstorm Sandy decided otherwise.

The French bistro was popular for its soufflé. But most of all, the three brothers behind it, refugees from the 1956 Suez War, are credited with seeing in the industrial neighborhood the colorful (and swanky) area it would become. Tribeca was a desolate afterthought in the minds of most New Yorkers when the restaurant opened its doors in an old landmark spice warehouse in 1980. Capsouto Frères was one of the early successes that made others take notice. “We were an institution,” said Jacques Capsouto, 68, who ran the kitchen. “When we opened nobody knew what Tribeca was.”

The restaurant drowned under some five feet of water when Sandy hit a year ago, and its owners faced another hurdle when insurance money took a long time to come. Jacques Capsouto eventually announced in March that the restaurant was gone for good. “Like they say in France, ‘C’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est la merde.’”

 

Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse

Status: Gone

Photo: Mitch Waxman/newtownpentacle.com and U.S. Coast Guard

Photo: Mitch Waxman/newtownpentacle.com and U.S. Coast Guard

The 119-year-old Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse was never really a popular attraction. Its dome-shaped, 51-feet tall iron shell stood in shallow water off Staten Island and was accessible by boat only. After its first keeper quit on it following a nervous breakdown, the lighthouse momentarily hosted the last civilian keeper in the United States, only to be left again without an occupant from the time of its automation in 1955 to that of its destruction by Sandy. When the U.S. Coast Guard offered to donate it at no cost in 2007 following its decommission — GPS navigation had rendered it redundant — no qualified government or nonprofit agency sought to maintain the building. The Coast Guard eventually auctioned off in 2008 to an anonymous bidder, who paid $235,000 for it.

On the night Sandy wiped the New York City coast, the Old Orchard Shoal Lighthouse was obliterated, leaving behind little more than a modest pile of rubble on a concrete platform.

The lighthouse, which had been listed on the National Park Service’s Maritime Heritage Program, may find a more meaningful existence after its destruction. Members of the National Lighthouse Museum plan on picking up the pieces and rebuilding the structure in St. George, Staten Island, in memory of Sandy’s victims. “We haven’t done it as of yet,” Linda Dianto, the museum’s executive director, said. “We need to make sure that when we take it out of the water it’s done properly; it has to be desalinated or it will disintegrate. “That’s why we’ll hold up the project.”

 

Harbor Light Pub

129-18 Newport Ave., Rockaway Park, Queens

Status: Closed; reopening uncertain

Photo: Michael Schor/AP

Photo: Michael Schor/AP

The Harbor Light Pub, an Irish pub in the tightly-knit community of Belle Harbor, Queens, was known as a refuge from the many hardships that hit this working-class stronghold in the past 30 years.

On 9/11, 10 residents from the neighborhood, home to numerous active and retired members of the city’s police and fire departments, lost their lives in the attack — one of them the owners’ 23-year-old son. Just two months later, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into Beach 131st Street, the Harbor Light was turned into a makeshift rescue center for emergency workers.

The pub had been in the community for 32 years. “I’m 60 and I remember the Harbor Light opening when I was in my teens,” said longtime resident John Spoks, the owner of a bicycle shop nearby. But when Sandy made landfall in the Rockaways, the landmark was burned to the ground overnight by a fire that razed much of the block. An American flag out front and the restaurant’s steps and its blue awning were all that remained of the Belle Harbor landmark. “Everybody definitely misses it,” Spoks said.

The owners of Harbor Light Pub, Barbara and Bernie Heeran, a retired firefighter, initially vowed to reopen the doors of the neighborhood fixture. The last entry on the pub’s Facebook page is dated April 14. It reads: “Spring is in the air – missing everyone and hoping to see you all soon!” But the Department of Buildings’ online database does not list any active building permits issued to the pub’s address. The owners could not be reached for an update.

 

Bridge Café

279 Water Street, South Street Seaport, Manhattan

Status: Closed, but will reopen

Proprietor Adam Weprin, of the Bridge Cafe, in New York's South Street Seaport, poses for a photo at the restaurant's bar after his establishment was shuttered by Superstorm Sandy. (Photo: Richard Drew/AP)

Proprietor Adam Weprin, of the Bridge Cafe, in New York’s South Street Seaport, poses for a photo at the restaurant’s bar after his establishment was shuttered by Superstorm Sandy. Photo: Richard Drew/AP

Among Sandy’s casualties was New York City’s longest-operating tavern. What is believed to possibly be the city’s oldest wood-frame structure too took in nine feet of water – too strong a blow for a building 219 years of age. “You whisper at it in the wrong way and someone needs to be fixed,” said 48 year-old Adam Weprin, who manages the establishment his family took over in 1979.

But the Bridge Café – a favorite spot of the late New York City Mayor Ed Koch – will come back from the dead largely unchanged, Weprin promises. After some $400,000 in meticulous restoration, much of this historical landmark’s frame has been replaced, the foundation’s original wooden beams swapped for new ones and the floor redone. But the 1920s-era bar and mirrors have been spared, and the tin ceiling will remain. Even the floor’s notorious slant should stay the same. “I don’t think that people are going, visually, to see things are different,” Weprin said. “The floor is going be new but we’re busy enough it is going to get beaten again.”

One thing that will not make it back is a massive space heater in the front room, a beast that earned the nickname “iron lung.” “An eyesore,” Weprin said, “If you walked by it, it would melt your contact lenses.” The newly insulated building will make it possible to do without. Whether customers will embrace the trade-off of comfort for bygone times remains to be seen. “It’s going to be warmer, but I do know that somebody is going to complain,” Weprin said.

Re-opening has been postponed repeatedly. Weprin has floated Valentine’s Day as a possible date. But the owner says he’s stopped making promises. “I’ve been saying two months for 12 months.”

 

River Café

1 Water Street, Brooklyn

Status: Closed, but will reopen

(Photo: Adam Fagen/Flickr)

Photo: Adam Fagen/Flickr

The iconic River Café at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge is still not taking reservations. “We’re currently reopened for private events and we’re currently not serving breakfast, lunch or dinner,” a receptionist said over the phone. “However I’m under the understanding that we’ll begin accepting reservations in the next couple of weeks.”

The New York City barge moored to an East River dock is anchored in the New York City of another era amid a restaurant scene where fast turnover is the rule. From the moment of its opening in 1977, the restaurant has been trend-immune in its pursuit of fine classical cuisine and great wines. That has turned it into the embodiment of a certain extravagant vision of New York, where under one roof one can order Michelin-rated dishes and exquisite wines while gazing at the city’s skyline from a red leather banquette.

On the night of Sandy, two employees reportedly opened the doors of the main dining room, mid-storm, in a last-ditch effort that possibly saved the barge from sinking under the weight of accumulated floodwater.

“Repairs are going quite well. It’s just taking a couple longer than we had anticipated,” said a restaurant spokeswoman. The River Café’s profile on Yelp advises that that could happen as early as October 31. The spokeswoman would not confirm that date.

 

Astrotower

1000 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn

Status: Gone

Photo: Barry Yanowitz/Flickr

Photo: Barry Yanowitz/Flickr

The 270-foot observation tower amounts to a landmark in the hearts and minds of Coney Islanders, and millions who have visited. Built and installed in 1964 by a Swiss company on the site of Astroland, a futuristic theme park later supplanted by the current Luna Park, the projectile-shaped metal structure met a sudden demise in an emergency demolition in July. Fans reportedly rushed to the scrapyard where the tower’s sections were disposed to photograph its remains and recover pieces as memorabilia.

Authorities feared that the tower had come to represent a danger due to out-of-control swaying, leading the Department of Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri to hold a press conference during which he declared that “the amount of sway [was] too much in low wind to be able to say for sure that it would not collapse.

What’s unclear is whether the tower’s sudden swaying nine months after Sandy resulted from damage suffered during the storm, or from the removal of elevator machinery months before – part of a plan to turn it into a light tower. Commissioner LiMandri said back in July that building inspectors would investigate the possibility that Sandy had been a factor. The Department of Buildings did not return a request for an update on the investigation.

As for the tarp-covered remaining metal base, it has been compared to a grave – an analogy that Luna Park has embraced by decorating it as a skeletons-adorned graveyard for its Halloween celebration. Fans of the Astrotower on social media have found solace in renaming the Astrotower since it’s been destroyed. Its diehard fans now call it the AstroStump.

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