Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

A sleek 1937 poster of New York City’s two public airports

September 27, 2021

Doesn’t this poster make you excited to fly? Well, considering the state of commercial flights today, maybe not. But in 1937, when the poster was created, it would have…the era of air travel was a thrilling development.

Air travel surged in popularity in the 1930s. Only 6,000 people took a commercial airline in 1930; by 1938 that number rose to 1.2 million, according to USA Today.

Ready to serve those air travelers were New York City’s two municipal airports. Floyd Bennett Field, near Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn, began to handle commercial passengers in 1931.

North Beach airport was named for the North Beach amusement resort developed by the Steinway company in Queens in the late 19th century. Opened in 1935, North Beach was eventually renamed for Fiorello LaGuardia.

What about Idlewild, aka JFK Airport? That one didn’t open until 1948.

[Poster: LOC]

It’s hard to believe this unspoiled beach is Coney Island in the 1870s

September 27, 2021

Before the Cyclone, before Nathan’s, before the boardwalk, sideshows, amusement parks, bathhouses, mass numbers of beachgoers wading into the surf, Coney Island was an actual island where settlers in the English colony at Gravesend let their animals graze, according to Brooklyn magazine.

Coney’s transformation into the world’s most famous beach resort began in the first half of the 19th century, with the arrival of Coney Island House.

But things really ramped up once the railroads arrived in the 1860s, and then when Ocean Parkway was completed in the 1870s, states westland.net by Jeffrey Stanton.

By the end of the 1870s, the big hotels came in, and pretty soon, thousands of New Yorkers every summer headed out by rail, road, or steamboat to what was dubbed the People’s Playground and Sodom by the Sea. After the turn of the century, Coney became even more popular.

Its era as a “spit of sand” that had been “lonely with rabbits” was long gone. But perhaps these 1870s beach photos, from the collection of the Brooklyn Public Library by George Bradford Brainerd, were taken at a pivotal moment in time.

That moment would have been after Coney Island had become a destination but before the great hotels ushered in the era of bathing pavilions and amusement parks, of cheap food and curiosities like disaster spectacles, exotic animals, and infant incubators.

[Photos: Brooklyn Public Library]

New York City’s oldest public school is in this 1867 building in Greenpoint

August 30, 2021

With its red brick facade, ornate entryway, and cathedral-like windows, Public School 34 in Greenpoint is a Romanesque Revival-style beauty.

But this elementary school that truly looks like a school also makes history.

Built in 1867 on Norman Avenue two years after the Civil War ended and President Lincoln was assassinated, it’s one of the oldest, and by some claims the oldest, public school building in New York City that’s still in use today.

Also called the Oliver H. Perry School—after the naval officer who helped defeat the British during the War of 1812—the building (below, in 1931) is rumored to have done a stint as a Civil War hospital.

“Walking inside the buildings long hallways, they certainly have the feel of hospital wards,” stated Geoff Cobb, a writer at Greenpointers.com, in 2016. “There are no four-walled classrooms, instead the long ward like halls have been divided up, but it is not hard to imagine that the building was once filled with wounded union soldiers.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission report that designates PS 34 a historical landmark doesn’t mention a hospital, though. Instead, it calls out the architectural loveliness of the school, as well as that it was built to serve a recently urbanized Greenpoint thanks to the booming shipbuilding industry along the East River.

It’s not a surprise that Brooklyn maintains such an early school building; the borough—which of course was a separate city at the time—was an educational leader back in the 19th century.

“Public education began in Brooklyn in 1816 and by the late 19th century had grown to the point that Brooklyn had one of the most extensive public education systems in the country,” wrote Andrew Dolkart in Guide to New York City Landmarks.

Today, PS 34 is a neighborhood school with a Polish-English dual language program, a reflection of the Polish immigrant community in Greenpoint. The site Brooklyn Relics has more gorgeous photos.

[Top photo: Wikipedia; second photo: NYPL; third and fourth photos: Brooklynrelics]

A bizarre August tradition along old New York City’s waterfronts

July 29, 2021

The lazy dog days of summer along the waterfronts of late 19th century New York could could also be dangerous, thanks in part to a strange old tradition called “launching day.”

Boys at Rutgers Slip in 1908

On either August 1 or the first Friday in August (sources differ on exactly when it was held and how long it lasted), boys (and some men) along the city’s rivers would pick up another boy or man and launch them into the water.

“Yesterday was what the boys along the water front call ‘Launching Day,'” wrote the New York World on August 3, 1897. “They throw each other into the river, clothes and all, saying, ‘Now swim and give yourself a bath.'”

“Splinter Beach” by George Bellows, 1916

The origins of launching day aren’t clear, but one Brooklyn newspaper stated in 1902 that it “has been a summer event ever since Robert Fulton launched the first steamboat into the Hudson in 1807.”

Launching Day was apparently held in Brooklyn as well. “Tomorrow will also be a fine day for the little boys along the river front who will observe ‘Launching Day,'” reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on July 31, 1897, a Saturday. “This juvenile holiday will, in all probability, last for three days, as some little boys do not like to be thrown overboard in their Sunday togs.”

Boys on a Brooklyn pier

It all sounds pretty innocent. On hot summer days boys all over the city without access to swimming pools or beaches cooled off by wading into the East and Hudson Rivers. Near South Street they dove off the docks at Market and Dover Streets; in Yorkville and East Harlem they swam into the water near treacherous Hell Gate.

The problem with Launching Day, though, was that many people didn’t know how to swim in the 19th century city. Inevitably, newspapers carried tragic stories the next day about people who ended up in the water and never resurfaced.

1911 New York Evening World headline

“August 1 has been known about the waterfront for many years as ‘Launching Day,'” wrote the New-York Herald on August 2, 1900. “Anybody who ventures on a pier is in danger of being thrown into the water….John Kriete, 21 years old, an iceman of 312 East 84th Street, pushed a workman, George Krause, of the same address, overboard at East 100th Street yesterday and fell in afterward himself. Kriete was drowned.”

“In Brooklyn the drowned body of Thomas McGullen, the 10-year-old son of John McGullen of No. 70 Hicks Street, was taken from the water at Henry Street,” wrote the New-York Tribune on August 2, 1903. “He was pushed off the pier by his playmates, who were celebrating ‘launching.’ They thought he could swim.”

The action along an East River dock

Exactly when launching day died out I’m not sure. But by the 1930s, newspapers interviewed people who recalled the tradition.

In the Daily News in 1934, a police reporter wrote: “I’ve known how to swim for 30 years because I was one of the West Side kids who used the Hudson River. We don’t have it now but then we had an annual ‘Launching Day’….Everybody near the water got thrown in, clothes and all. You had to swim or else.”

[Top photo: George Bain Collection/LOC; second image: George Bellows; Third photo: New-York Historical Society; Fourth image: New York Evening World; Fifth image: NYPL]

A painter in Astoria captures what he saw across the East River

July 26, 2021

When painters depict the East River, it’s usually from the Manhattan side: a steel bridge, choppy waters, and a Brooklyn or Queens waterfront either thick with factories or quaint and almost rural.

But when Richard Hayley Lever decided to paint the river in 1936, he did it from Astoria. What he captured in “Queensboro Bridge and New York From Astoria” (above) is a scene that on one hand comes across as quiet and serene—is that a horse and carriage in the foreground?—but with the business and industry of Manhattan looming behind.

This Impressionist artist gives us a view at about 60th Street; the bridge crosses at 59th, of course, and that gas tank sat at the foot of 61st Street through much of the 20th century.

Is the horse and carriage actually on Roosevelt Island or even still in Queens? Often these details can be found on museum and art or auction websites. Lever came to New York City from Australia in 1911 and taught at the Art Students League from 1919-1931, establishing a studio in the 1930s and teaching at other schools. But aside from this, I couldn’t find many details about his work.

He did paint the Queensboro Bridge and East River again though, as well as the High Bridge over the Harlem River and West 66th Street, among other New York locations. The title and date of the second image of the two ships is unknown right now. “Ship Under Brooklyn Bridge” (third image) is from 1958, the year he died after a life of artistic recognition and then financial difficulties, per this biography from Questroyal.

The 1916 stunt that made Nathan’s Famous a Coney Island hot dog icon

July 26, 2021

No summer visit to Coney Island is complete without a stop at Nathan’s Famous, the iconic boardwalk restaurant that offers everything from burgers to frog legs (really) but made its name back in 1916 selling delicious, cheap hot dogs.

Nathan’s Famous in the 1910s or 1920s

Yet the five cent frankfurters Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker began hawking from a stand on the then-unfinished boardwalk wouldn’t have caught on—if not for a clever stunt he came up with to convince the crowds on Surf Avenue to give his hot dogs a try.

Nathan’s in 1936, with a little competition by Nedick’s on the corner

The story starts in the 1910s, when the reigning hot dog king at Coney Island was Charles Feltman, who ran a successful restaurant and beer garden and supposedly invented the hot dog (or hot dog bun, more precisely).

Handwerker worked for Feltman as a roll cutter and then a hot dog seller before deciding to go into business for himself with a friend, according to Nathan’s Famous: An Unauthorized View of America’s Favorite Frankfurter Company, co-authored by William Handwerker, Nathan’s grandson.

Nathan’s expanded its menu by 1939

Feltman’s and other hot dog establishments sold their franks for 10 cents each. Handwerker priced his at the same rate, but he realized he wasn’t selling enough to make a profit. So he cut the price to a nickel.

Selling hot dogs for the cost of a subway ride sounds like a smart business move. But there was a lot of concern at the time that a hot dog so cheap couldn’t be made out of beef or pork but something a lot less appetizing, like horses, explained Larry McShane in a New York Daily News article marking Nathan’s centennial in 2016.

A Nathan’s customer in 1939

Anticipating this concern on the part of the public, Handwerker came up with a genius idea: He’d hire men to wear white doctor coats and sit around his stand enjoying the cheap franks.

Handwerker “borrowed some doctor’s coats and stethoscopes from Coney Island Hospital personnel and put them on some men and had them eat franks in front of his stand,” wrote William Handwerker. “Potential customers said, ‘If it’s good enough for doctors, it has to be good enough for us.'”

Juicy hot dogs…and an amazing neon boardwalk sign!

Sales increased, and Handwerker began attracting a devoted following. His little frankfurter stand (which didn’t even have a name for its first two years, according to William Handwerker) was on its way to becoming a Coney Island classic.

[Top photo: via New York Daily News; second photo: MCNY 43.131.5.13; third photo: MCNY 43.131.5.91; fourth photo: NYPL]

A 1970s remnant of a Crazy Eddie record store

June 7, 2021

I have no idea why the original owner of this yellow paper bag from Crazy Eddie’s held onto it for so long. But when it turned up for sale at a vintage shop (pressed in plastic, no less), I couldn’t resist spending a few bucks to own a piece of 1970s/1980s New York history.

If you lived in the New York City area in those decades, then you remember the electronics store and record/tape shop Crazy Eddie—mainly for the commercials, which featured a DJ named Jerry Carroll gesturing and shouting that the store’s prices were insane. (Sometimes in a santa claus cap for the annual Christmas in August sale.)

The original Crazy Eddie was on King’s Highway in Brooklyn. But the store’s TV ad schtick and actual low prices spread franchises to the Bronx, Manhattan, upstate, and Long Island.

Unfortunately it was all over for Crazy Eddie’s owners by the 1990s, thanks to inflating sales numbers and other illegal business practices that mandated store closures and jail time. New Yorkers turned to other electronics stores like (Nobody Beats) the Wiz and J&R Music World, but these too are long gone from the cityscape.

A quick Google maps check shows that the original King’s Highway store is now a bank branch.

[Second image: New York Daily News February 22, 1980; third image: Youtube]

Brooklyn’s 14th Regiment armory, day and night

May 31, 2021

Designed to look like a Medieval fortress with towers and turrets, the 14th Regiment Armory—also called the Eighth Avenue armory—has been part of Park Slope since 1893.

In daytime or at night, this block-spanning armory with brick and bluestone trim is a Victorian wonder, as these postcards (the first one with glitter!) from the collection at the Museum of the City of New York reveal.

It owes its existence to the wave of armory-building undertaken by New York between the Civil War and World War I. Not many survive, but putting the spotlight on one on Memorial Day will hopefully encourage New York to take a closer look at these magnificent beauties.

[First postcard: F2011.33.1067; Second postcard: MCNY, X2011.34.2288]

The 1957 rallies to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn

May 24, 2021

By the mid-1950s, the writing was on the wall. Shabby Ebbets Field, opened in 1913, wasn’t cutting it for Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley. He wanted a newer, bigger stadium for his team.

But one key city official wasn’t on board with O’Malley’s plan for a Buckminster Fuller–designed domed ballpark with plenty of parking at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. That man “was Robert Moses, who basically held veto power over any city project budgeted at more than $250,” wrote David Hinckley in the New York Daily News in 2017.

While Moses was trying to convince O’Malley to build his new ballpark in Fresh Meadows, Queens, O’Malley began scouting out sites 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, according to Hinckley.

In the spring of 1957, Dodger fans still thought they had a chance. So a group of Brooklyn businessmen led by Henry Modell (of Modell’s Sporting Goods fame) formed an organization aptly called the “Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn Committee,” based at the Hotel Bossert in Brooklyn Heights.

Their goal, as outlined in a letter to the Brooklyn Tablet in May 1957, was to convince officials to go ahead with the domed stadium plan, have residents sign petitions, and “organize and stage borough-wide rallies and mass meetings to demand action.”

The rallies happened outside Brooklyn Borough Hall beside the imposing columns; adult and kid fans held placards, wore buttons, and hoped that a show of support would keep the beloved team in the County of Kings.

Unfortunately, these rallies didn’t make a dent. O’Malley announced his plan to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles at the end of the season. Ebbets Field was demolished in February 1960—by a wrecking ball designed to look like a baseball.

[Top image: Keyman Collectibles; second and third images: Brooklyn Daily]

The Brooklyn Bridge is celebrating its birthday

May 17, 2021

Work began in 1870 and was finally completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths). Now, the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday on May 24.

What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and procession of 150,000 pedestrians walking across this engineering marvel for the first time on May 24, 1883? After politicians, including President Chester A. Arthur, gave speeches, the bridge was opened to the public just before midnight.

“From high water to roadway 120 ft—from high water to centre of span 135 ft—from roadway to top 158 ft—width of Bridge 85 ft—with tracks for steam cars, roadway for carriages, and walks for foot passengers, and an elevated promenade commanding a view of extraordinary beauty and extant,” the caption reads.

[Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art]