Photo credit: Aaron Fineman
Early on a recent Friday morning, a crane hoisted an old Airstream trailer onto the second floor of a building under construction in the Alphabet City section of Manhattan. The shiny aluminum trailer (circa 1958) is destined to become a recording studio inside of the Lower East Side Girls Club, currently just a concrete shell on Avenue D between 7th and 8th Streets. There was not much clearance to slip the 23-foot long trailer onto the second floor –only 20 inches– so the chilly autumn air was fraught with anxiety as the 2,000 lb. trailer rose off a flatbed truck.
“I’ve been obsessing about this for quite some time,” said Dave Pentecost, a 20-year veteran of network television who serves as the Girls Club’s technology director. “It’s like tucking a Twinkie into a mail slot.”
The Airstream’s axle and tires had been taken off and replaced with huge casters that will enable one person to push the one ton trailer around while construction proceeds. A couple of nylon straps resembling fire hoses and rated to support six tons each, ran from a steel spreader bar that hung from the crane to a rectangular steel frame welded to the bottom of the trailer. It took a team of crane operators, mostly using hand signals, and a handful of construction workers wearing harnesses secured to the ceiling about 20 minutes to hoist the trailer up and in to its new home.
“That’s a relief,” Pentecost declared when the trailer was safely inside.
“It’s not every day you put an Airstream inside of a building,” noted Bob Barry, construction manager for the building, which will include more than 70 apartments in addition to the 35,000 square feet Girls Club.
The new facility is expected to be completed some time next year. It will include a bakery, art studios, classrooms, and recreation center spread out over three floors. The Airstream trailer will be used for “Girls Out Loud,” an Internet Radio Station slated for the site.
The Girls Club has participated in both New York Maker Faires (This year they made Dogzilla, which moved on a motorized base, barked, and was charged in a solar dog house. Last year they made Girlzilla, an 18-foot girl sculpture with a glowing translucent eye and recycled wire for hair.) A DIY/maker focus will be a big part of the new building, including its planetarium, which will span two floors and be used by local public school kids as well as participants in an after school program. Lower East Side Girls will do 3D production and storytelling using the Unity 3D game engine. The girls are already having lessons with something called the Mini Dome Authoring System, which Pentecost describes as “the geekiest workstation ever. You sit with your laptop under a four and a half foot bowl (a re-purposed RV skylight) and you can preview what things are going to look like inside the planetarium’s 30-foot dome.”
The Lower East Side Girls Club was founded by Pentecost’s wife Lyn and a group of Lower East Side women in 1996 to deal with what they saw as a lack of services for girls and young women in the neighborhood. They were displeased that The Boys Club of New York opted out of the national merger of boys and girls clubs into the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. (The Lower East Side became the last neighborhood in the United States with a “boys-only” Club.) The mission of the club is to develop environmental, entrepreneurial and ethical leadership.
The new building has been a long time in coming but things started to progress in 2002 after Michael Bloomberg became mayor. The city agreed to provide six lots for the building and the Girls Club eventually put a deal together with a private developer to build apartments on top of the Girls Club space. The group’s director of development told the Wall Street Journal that it has raised some $18 million so far and needs another $2 million for furniture, fixtures, and equipment.