Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I live and work, is the modern poster child of urban gentrification, transitioning in recent decades from an affordable largely Jewish and Hispanic neighborhood to the expensive “hipster” capital of America. So it’s not a huge surprise to see one of the neighborhood’s last gritty, high-trafficked corners is now up for sale — though it does mark the end of an iconic local landmark.
The vacant lot at the corner of Bedford Ave. and North 1st St., best known in recent years as a chainlink-fence enclosed “museum” of ratty, rescued stuffed animals (on display on most days, and in all types of weather), is officially on the market, as observed by the local blog Brooklyn Vegan.
The corner was valued at $8 million according to a 2014 New York Times story about its deceased former owner, Luis Rivera, a local handyman and auto repair technician who bought the lot in 1983 and used it as an open-air auto body shop (he slept in a car).
He later started a display of stuffed animals he’d collected, including some additional gorillas from a friend and fellow local named Camen Bonilla, a Puerto Rican immigrant and longtime resident.
Rivera died in 2010 and the property passed onto relatives, according to the Times, but they continued to allow Bonilla to visit the lot and maintain the eccentric display, even as a Whole Foods and Apple Store moved in up the street. At least until now.
Asked back in 2014 about the prospect of the family selling, Bonilla wasn’t amused. As the Times recounted:
What would she do if the lot became an apartment building or was sold to a developer? Her hands flared out, her chin jerked forward.
“They don’t care about the people who are living here before,” she said. “And they chase the people who live here before out.”
“How come the Spanish and the white people can’t live together?” Ms. Bonilla asked. “We’re supposed to live together.”
Bonilla’s wishes aside, the lot is being listed by Marcus & Millichap brokers Michael Salvatico, Matthew Steinsberg and Shaun Riney.
Salvatico told me in a phone call that they “just started marketing” the space in the last two weeks and had already received interest from “some of the typical big retail players in NYC” and international buyers.
Salvatico said he and his colleagues envision the lot becoming a two-story retail or mixed-use space. “It’s one of the best corners in Brooklyn, in my opinion,” Salvatico told me.
I agree, but … for how long?