watching Tribeca grow up: another loft neighborhood pioneer profiled

lovely piece from a great resource
I’ve been meaning to write about The Broadsheet Daily, which I never look for in hard copy (published bi-weekly and available in residential building lobbies in Battery Park City and elsewhere in lower Manhattan) because I get their daily email alerts. This is the single best source that I have come across for comprehensive local government activity in the BPC, FiDi and Tribeca neighborhoods, including the critical mundane stuff like street closings and construction activities, Community Board 1 committee agendas and results, and even the schedule of inbound and outbound passenger liners. A veritable cornucopia!

I have added it to the roster of Favorite Links over there to the right, finally.

Yesterday’s daily news featured a long-time Tribeca resident and pediatrician who is closing her private practice after 24 years. She has literally seen her patients (and families) grow up in downtown neighborhoods that have had explosive population growth, and fascinating demographic changes. A terrific profile in its own right, it also captures Days Of Olde Tribeca that overlap with my own residential history in that odd triangle down there.

Dr. Bonita Franklin moved to Tribeca with her attorney husband and young children in 1983 and opened up her private pediatrics practice in 1988. I moved there in 1981, but our kids had established pediatric relationships by 1988 so we were never patients of hers. Our kids sit between hers in age (hers are now 32, 30, and 25) so we must have spent overlapping time in Washington Market playground and other gathering spots with her family, and it is very likely that our kids had friends who were friends with her kids. I may have had a nodding acquaintance with her:

"In the beginning, it was like a village — all the families knew each other. … it would be no exaggeration to say that walking down the street I knew, either by name or by sight, most of the people who had children in the neighborhood.”

Her “first office was on Greenwich Street," Dr. Franklin recalls, "just below North Moore Street, where the pizza parlor is now." She opened a second office in Battery Park City, on Rector Place and her Tribeca office eventually moved to Reade Street. She will continue to live in the neighborhood but will confine her practice to pediatric endocrinology at NYU.

Talk about having her finger on the pulse of the community! (Two communities, actually, Battery Park City and Tribeca.) A pediatrician is rather uniquely positioned to see how people behave at their most intimate level, and to note changes in the families who come to her practice.

I am drawn to her memories about the 1980s. (Did people really still “mostly refer[] to it as ‘Washington Market,’ but the newer label of ‘Tribeca’ was just beginning to take hold” in/after 1983?? I thought that transition was complete by then….) This is a very gentle way of describing change (my italics added):

"The neighborhood was such an interesting place in those days," Dr. Franklin remembers. "Options for shopping and entertainment were very limited, but there were also strange, wonderful things: a shadow puppet studio, a stained glass studio, and an enormous aquarium that stretched from Chambers to Warren Street, which my children loved." Battery Park City was a similarly quixotic landscape. "In those days," Dr. Franklin recollects, "there was nothing but sand dunes where Stuyvesant High School is now. My children would run up and down those hills. The neighborhood used to have art exhibitions there, and they would open the area on July 4 for everybody to watch the fireworks."

For her, as no doubt for many (all?), the “watershed moment dividing those memories from the present … was September 11, 2001”. Since I had left Tribeca before then, my memories of changes are more incremental, less dramatic. Here is how she put it:

"The people who left were replaced by an influx of new, young families who were very different," she reflects. "The character of the neighborhood changed rapidly after that. Suddenly there were more high rises, and more families coming for amenities that existed already, like schools and the art scene," as well as those that were planned as part of the neighborhood’s renewal.


But reflecting on how the community has changed, she observes that, "the people who were here before were more engaged in volunteerism. Many young parents were not fully employed in conventional jobs, which gave them more time for community work." She adds that, "the people who came after 9/11 are younger and wealthier, but also busier. There are more people in the financial industry, now, which was a rarity in the 1980s. But there are still plenty of artists and designers and architects."

(Note to self: were there really “suddenly” more high rises after 2001?)

Obviously, read the entire piece. Best of luck to Dr. Franklin and her family. When you see her on the sidewalk, send a nod her way from Manhattan Loft Guy.

no journey to 1980s Tribeca is complete without 3-footers beating 18-wheelers
The grandaddy Manhattan Loft Guy post about population growth in Tribeca as a media staple is my March 12, 2010, Quote For The Day, 2000 edition. That post collects (mostly) New York Times articles about the downtown population boom, which appear regularly every five years or so. Dr. Franklin’s reminisces (thanks, Broadsheet Daily!) give me yet another excuse to again quote my all-time favorite Olde Tribeca quote from that May 12, 2010 post, from a butter-and-egg guy who found that the neighborhood got too dangerous for him to stay (read the whole thing to understand that dynamic):

You’ve never seen so many people under three feet high…

Then there’s this other part of the social history of Tribeca: landlords harassing tenants to get them out of valuable real estate, as chronicled in my January 3, 2008, tales of Olde Tribeca / 1980s nastiness at 151 Hudson Street.

Dr. Franklin’s comments about the desolation around Tribeca reminds me some photos posted by the estimable Kevin Walsh in his website Forgotten New York (specifically, The Lamps of Pre-beca), linked in my September 25, 2010, the Lower West Side before "Tribeca".

I will stop before wandering further afield, down memory lane….

© Sandy Mattingly 2012

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