Its a new year. Say goodbye to something thats been around for the last 100.

Meet 511 Lafayette Avenue. Also known as Brooklyn Block 1783, lot 93.

It’s the building across the street from my apartment. Also known as a small scale personal obsession since I moved in 3 years ago. It’s a double-wide red brick structure with a mansard roof and dormer windows. Pretty unusual for this part of Brooklyn.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 2.14.57 PM

My little photo project started as a private thing – This building dominates the view from the front of my apartment, and the longer I lived here the more I noticed how much time I spent staring at it figuring out what had changed from day to day.

So, I started taking photos and posting them to this tumblr whenever I noticed a change. Then, I created an instagram and took the same photo every day, posting it as a kind of super-slow time lapse.

In the “about” section of the tumblr, I describe watching a decaying building as a “metric for the passage of time”. Because I’m kind of a jerk.

I think what I meant, what I mean, is that in a city where things move extremely quickly, and where I felt kind of out of control of my own future, this slowly decaying architecture helped me stay grounded. Became a routine to help me keep track. It was kind of meditative. Like watching a forest grow.

I started researching the history of 511. Talking to people on the block about what they knew about it.

Breaking in and photographing the interior never appealed to me in the same way. There’s a whole community built around that – Urban Spelunking, the documentation of abandoned spaces. But for me, this long term timelapse has always been about distance, observation, voyeurism. I liked the idea of building a timelapse file that theoretically would take years to complete. I considered making the world’s most boring desk calendar.


A few days before Christmas of this year, a demolition crew showed up. By the time I came back from the holiday all of the windows were gone, and today the building is a shell: no interior walls, no flooring. A dumpster comes every morning and is full by noon.

So now, at the beginning of a new year, I feel compelled to share a little bit about this thing that is being lost.


According to city records, 511 Lafayette Avenue was built in 1915. The first digitized record I have for it is an occupancy certificate from 1940. Then nothing until a mortgage dated 1964.

The ownership history of 511 follows a lot of the patterns of the neighborhood. The family that bought it in the early 60s lived there until the 80s. The building was bought in the mid 90s by a small-scale landlord, shadily mortgaged in 2008, falling into disrepair by 2010. In 2014 it was foreclosed on, re-mortgaged by a large real estate group, and then slated for full demolition in 2015. Those are the facts.

The details are more curious and I’m not going to go into all of them now, because I am still fact finding. But here is a sampling:

The building is lived in by the family that bought it in the 60s until the mid 80s. It is split into 2 apartments, one on the ground floor, and one on the second floor and the attic.

Here’s a photo of it from the Brooklyn Building Census of 1980:

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 10.14.36 PM

IN 1985, a murder (the guys on the block say drug-related, the New York Times says burglary) happens. The owner, her son, and possibly a tenant are killed.

After some passing around of the deed, 511 goes to a man named Kamau Kambon – an activist and intellectual. Kambon had some kind of relationship with the owner: I think together they ran something called the “Institute of Life Synthesis”.

Kambon will become semi famous in 2005 after giving a speech calling for the extermination of all white people. In that speech he also mentions having taken a decision to live completely off the grid (he built his own cabin with his wife in North Carolina). I’m finding out more about him.

But he remains basically the owner (there are some fun blips I’m skipping here), until 1996, when the building is sold to a family that seem to be some kind of small-time landlords. The mortgage is filed as $95,000.

By 2008, this owner takes out a second mortgage with something called “The Mendel Group” (note: not a bank), on 5 properties in and around Bedford Stuyvesant. Its for $1.3 million.

Meanwhile, in 2007, city violations start coming in. I won’t go into all of them, but the biggest one is for creating an illegal 3rd apartment in the cellar. The violations get bigger and bigger (reaching $24k for a single fine of failing to comply in 2010).

But by 2010, the building is abandoned. The first order to seal the vacant building is dated 6.27.2009.

On 3.26.14, the city files the following complaint: “Vacant bldg. for 2 years open front door, windows & fence down; occup by squatters”.

On 4.25.14 the property is foreclosed on. Bought out by a company called “Flushing Ave Plaza” (formerly the “Mendel Group”).


This is what the building looked like on that day.


On September 24, 2015, Flushing Ave Plaza took out a $2.2mil mortgage on 511 and a second property on Skillman. Presumably to renovate them.

This is what the building looked like on that day.


On Nov 19, 2015, the Flushing Ave group submitted a demolition notice with the city.

This is what the building looked like on that day.


This is what the building looks like today. Right now.


Look, I’m not super sentimental about this stuff. The entire history of New York City is a tearing down of the old to replace it with newer, more profitable things. A land of opportunity. Its not particularly romantic, but in my opinion it is part of the culture of the city – inextricable from living here.

But the story of this one building, in this spot, in this neighborhood, is completely fascinating to me. The more I learn about it the more I understand how real-estate (essentially the life-blood of this city) moves. And I am going to keep learning.

Watch this space. I imagine in the next year we will see the shell of 511 come down and presumably something pretty tasteless go up in its place. We will see who ends up living there. For the first time in almost 10 years that lot will be occupied.

The more I learn about it, the more I understand that 511 encompasses exactly what is happening and has happened to Brooklyn in the last century. It started as a personal project about the passage of time on a small scale – seasons, objects moving around, private mysteries. But now its feels more like bearing witness to the changing neighborhood. Its becoming a kind of Quixotic mission of mine to capture every last moment that this building has. To find every tidbit of information I can.

So, this new year, I’m pouring one out for 511 Lafayette Avenue. And also saying a toast for the discoveries to be made in the coming year.


About meredithries

Meredith is a set designer living in Brooklyn, NY. See her work at: This is a repurposed old blog. Because continuity is important. Malaprop is a malapropism
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