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Sentinels of New York


Brick & Water Tower

As a NYC expatriate, I frequently go on-line to read of how my old hometown is changing. The thing I see most – and hear from friends still there – regards the gentrification of what gave (particularly) Manhattan its character – the small Mom & Pop stores on the perimeter of the core wealth.

There have been – for literally hundreds of years – small retail and trade shops specializing in virtually every conceivable trade, craft or supply for home, business, body or stomach, now largely decimated by landlords clutching at trendy chain-store lucre.

The quadrupling of rents is common; such was the fate of seminal punk/new wave club CBGB, perhaps one of the most publicized such insults.

One NYC photoblog and book by James and Karla Murray has documented the disappearance of these storefronts, and a Smithsonian Magazine post has (with the aid of  the Murrays’ photography) also noted this whitewash in before/after contrasts. Anthony Bourdain has also chimed in with a list of get-them-while-they’re-still-here bistros.

And, while hope and character still exist in many holders-on and scores of great shops in Queens, Brooklyn and da Bronx, an article in AMNewYork really made my heart sing. And yes — it’s related to storage!


Any marginally observant NYC walker will notice wooden water towers on top of just about every commercial structure. They are EVERYwhere, and most appear ancient; I had always assumed them to be remnants of an older infrastructure, now mostly inactive or soon to be obsolete – perhaps they were more costly to remove?

However, while leaving me with some questions about the mechanics of it all, the article makes it clear that their presence is greatly misunderstood, even by natives, and that their need is vital and ongoing.

I like to think that they’re watching, and that they have a special watery consequence in store for each and every sellout.


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