Archive for the ‘Brooklyn’ Category

Girls picnic on the beach at Coney Island, 1905

June 13, 2016

Sandwiches? Fruit? I’m not sure what’s in this box lunch these four girls are sharing on the beach at Coney Island in 1905, but it doesn’t resemble Coney beach eats like hot dogs or Mrs. Stahl’s knishes.

Picnicconeyisland

What does it feel like to go to the beach in black stockings and wool suits . . . or the heavy hats the woman in the background has on?

[Photo via Shorpy]

A Coney Island pie maker invents the hot dog

June 2, 2016

Feltmans1890swestland.netLike so many wonderful New York stories, this one comes from Coney Island.

It was after the Civil War, and this spit of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean was fast becoming a summer resort favorite for the city’s middle class.

Enormous hotels opened; a boardwalk was built with bathing pavilions and restaurants to accommodate crowds.

FeltmantheconeyislandblogSupplying pies and other baked goods to those restaurants was a German immigrant named Charles Feltman, who ran a bakery on Coney Island.

Feltman, who is also described as a butcher (like most things in history, the details are a little fuzzy), wasn’t the first person to mix a slender sausage called a frankfurter with bread and sell the concoction from a cart.

“By the 1870s, small [sausage] stands were to be found along the beach, to the dismay of conventional restaurant owners who regarded them as unsanitary, fire hazards, and a competitive threat,” explains Savoring Gotham.

Feltman’s genius, the story goes, is that he pioneered the elongated bun that fit the frankfurter perfectly and made it the top-selling street food for hungry beachgoers.

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“Feltman and a wheelwright named Donovan conceived the idea of installing an oven in Feltman’s pie wagon, which enabled him to sell boiled sausages wrapped in pastry rolls up and down the beach,” wrote Michael Immerso in Coney Island: The People’s Playground.

Nathans1939andrewhermanmcnyAs Coney boomed, he replaced his cart with Feltman’s, a beer garden–like restaurant on Surf Avenue, selling his hot dogs for a dime a piece.

By the 1920s, Feltman was undercut. A former employee, Nathan Handwerker, opened his own hot dog stand a few blocks away and charged a nickel per dog.

Feltman’s survived until 1954. Nathan’s—like hot dogs all over the city—is still going strong.

[Top postcard: westland.net; second image: the Coney Island blog; third postcard: New York World’s Fair Carousel; fourth photo: Andrew Herman/Federal Art Project/MCNY (1939)]

The never-built East River bridge at 77th Street

June 2, 2016

As the Brooklyn Bridge began rising to the south in the 1870s, plans for a second bridge linking Manhattan to Long Island were getting off the ground.

Eastriverbridge77thst1877nypl

“The projectors of this proposed bridge over the East River, between New York and Brooklyn at 77th Street, by way of Blackwell’s Island, have, in response to the invitation sent out, received ten separate designs and estimates from as many engineers,” an 1877 newspaper story stated.

“Ground will be broken as soon as a plan shall be decided on.”

Eastriverbridgearticle1881Of course, there is no East 77th Street bridge (and Queens is just across the East River, not Brooklyn).

So why didn’t the project go forward?

It started to, tentatively. In 1881, a caisson was sunk into the river on the Queens side, off the outpost of Ravenswood, according to the Greater Astoria Historical Society’s The Queensboro Bridge.

But it was the future Brooklyn Bridge that captured New York’s fancy.

With less money and interest, the company chartered to build a bridge to Queens put a stop to construction.

EastriverbridgethumbnailAlmost two decades after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, and only a few years since Brooklyn and Queens became part of greater New York City, plans for a bridge were drawn up again . . . resulting in the graceful cantilever span known as the Queensboro Bridge in 1909.

New York is a bridge proposal graveyard, as these images of other bridges never built attest.

[Top photo: NYPL; second image: Arkansas City Weekly Traveler; third image: Greater Astoria Historical Society]

 

Bits of a Brooklyn hamlet named for a freed slave

May 30, 2016

In 1839, Brooklyn was booming—and changing.

The former village had become an actual city just five years earlier. The growing population of approximately 40,000 residents included free black men and women, as slavery had been abolished statewide in 1827.

Amid this transformation, the Lefferts family, one of Kings County’s biggest landowners, began selling off farmland in the Bedford section of the city.

In 1838, an African-American named Henry C. Thompson purchased 32 lots. A year later, he sold two lots at Dean Street and Troy Avenue to James Weeks, a Virginia-born stevedore thought to have been a freed slave.

WeeksvilleBHSmap

So began the settlement of Weeksville, a village of African Americans with its own school, churches, businesses, baseball team (the Weeksville Unknowns), and newspaper, the Freedman’s Torchlight.

Weeksville also had a main street on a former Indian trail called Hunterfly Road. On the map above, part of Hunterfly can be seen jutting out on the far right.

WeeksvilleBHS

Like the rest of Kings County, Weeksville thrived in the 19th century. By 1855, it had 531 residents occupying tidy, wood-frame houses.

“Here, [residents] had a chance to control their own lives,” wrote Judith Wellman in Brooklyn’s Promised Land.

Weeksvillehouses2016“They could grow their own gardens, feed their own chickens, and keep dogs or goats, pigs, a cow or two, and a horse if they wished. People could walk everywhere.

“And if they wanted more than they could buy in local stores or more work than they could find in Weeksville, they traveled to downtown Brooklyn, just a 10-minute ride on the Long Island Rail Road, where work was plentiful and ferries crossed the river to Manhattan.”

Weeksville was a haven for former slaves before the Civil War, and the community also welcomed black New Yorkers fleeing racially motivated terror during the Draft Riots in 1863.

Notable residents found a home there, such as Susan Smith McKinney-Steward, the first African-American female physician in New York.

WeeksvillebrooklyncornerYet like so many other enclaves, Weeksville was a victim of Brooklyn’s success.

The opening of Eastern Parkway in the 1870s ushered in development and a population surge. An expanded street grid obliterated small villages.

Weeksville turned into more of a mixed-race neighborhood after the Civil War and then was largely absorbed into urbanized Brooklyn.

“Who knowsh where Weeksville is? a 1935 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle asked readers, somewhat rhetorically.

WeeksvillehunterflyplaceIn the 1960s, Brooklyn would rediscover Weeksville.

Researchers combed the streets of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant and found four wood frame homes dating between 1840 and 1880.

Renovated and redone with period furnishings, the homes are among the remnants of Weeksville that have survived into the 21st century.

A bit of Hunterfly Road, plus curious found objects such as a tintype of a well-dressed young woman (top right), also remain. The former location of the village is now a landmarked site with a visitor’s center.

[Top image: Weeksville Heritage Center; second image: public domain; third image: Brooklyn Historical Society]

Vintage signs from a rough around the edges city

May 30, 2016

Some of these 1970s and 1980s–era signs are losing the battle with the elements, like this hand-painted original for Utica Avenue Electronics (VCRs!) in Crown Heights.

Signsuticaaveelectronics

Others advertise small businesses in a contemporary city that can be cruel to struggling mom and pop shops.

Perhaps that’s why Continental Shoe Repairs on Broadway and Barclay Street is no longer open.

Signscontinentalshoerepairs

The sign for Ashland Pharmacy, in Fort Greene, notes that they accept the union plan.

Which union plan? In an older New York, when health insurance wasn’t quite so complicated, the distinction may not have mattered.

Signsashlandpharmacy

City Water Meter Repair Co., Inc. is the only water meter repair shop I’ve ever seen.

Based on the condition of the sign (N.Y. City!), it looks like they’ve been around since the East Village’s heyday as a slumlord neighborhood.

Signscitywatermeterrepaircoinc

You have to love Fort Grene’s Luv-n-Oven Pizza: the rhyming name, the old-school white, green, and red sign, the fact that gyros and hamburgers are on the menu.

Signsluvnovenpizza

A classic greasy New York corner pizza place that is making me hungry just looking at it.

The remains of a luxury ship at a Brooklyn church

May 26, 2016

NormandieposterThe biggest bottle of champagne in the world helped christen the French luxury liner the S.S. Normandie when it first launched in 1932.

Too bad this nautical marvel and Art Deco beauty didn’t plough the Atlantic for long.

In 1941, after the Germans took over France and with the Normandie safely docked in New York, the U.S. Coast Guard seized control of the ship.

The plan was to renovate the 1,000-foot liner into a ship for troops and to rename it the USS Lafayette.

Workers were busily converting the 1,000-foot vessel when it caught fire and capsized in its berth on the Hudson in February 1942.

Normandieonitsside1942

The destruction of the Normandie—everyone thought it was sabotage, but that wasn’t the case—was major news in wartime New York City.

People lined up to view its remains, as Pete Hamill recalls in his memoir, A Drinking Life:

Normandiedoors

“[His mother] took us there again and again, to gaze at its parched hull, more than a thousand feet long, its giant propellers high out of the water. In my memory, the ruined liner looks humiliated, like a drunk who has fallen down in public.”

After the Normandie was hauled away, its ruins were sold for scrap metal—with a few exceptions.

Normandiedoors2

NormandiechurchThe magnificent doors of the first class dining room from the Normandie’s luxury liner days were salvaged by Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral (right) in Brooklyn Heights.

To this day, the doors—with their intricate medallions showing scenes and sights in Normandy and lovely carvings of trees and leaves—greet visitors to the church at two different entrances at Henry and Remsen Streets.

They’re a quiet remnant of New York during World War II, a time that fewer and fewer residents have any memory of.

An old Brooklyn phone exchange comes into view

May 16, 2016

Hidden behind the shrubs in front of a residence on West 12th Street is this small weathered sign for a fence company—complete with an original vintage phone exchange!

Cloverdalesign2

Bucolic-sounding Cloverdale covered the Flatlands area of Brooklyn beginning in 1928. Like New York’s other two-letter neighborhood exchanges, it was officially replaced by seven digits in the 1960s.

JRMoyersonsadJ. R. Moyer Sons doesn’t appear to be in business on Utica Avenue in Flatlands anymore. The last Google-able trace of the company dates to the 1970s. I wonder how long the fence sign has been hanging there.

More hiding-in-plain sight vintage phone exchanges can still be found all over New York . . . if you look very carefully.

Beautiful ruins of a Brooklyn ketchup factory

April 25, 2016

It’s a haunting relic of New York’s manufacturing glory days, and it sits less than half a block past the corner of Franklin Avenue and Bergen Street in Crown Heights.

Heinzfactory

The H.J. Heinz Company moved into this handsome red brick plant around 1920.

HeinzfactorynyplThey purchased it from the Nassau Brewing Company, which had a long beer-making run under various names in a complex of buildings beginning in the 1860s until 1914.

This 1941 photo from the New York Public Library offers a glimpse of the factory, looking from Franklin Avenue, on the far left.

“57 Varieties” and “Food Products” can still be read on the facade, a reminder that the laborers in this building produced a lot more than ketchup.

I’m not sure when Monti Moving and Storage came in to the picture, but they decamped in 2001, leaving their own fading imprint behind.

Today, the factory appears to be occupied by different kinds of makers: furniture designers, artists, and other light manufacturing and design groups, according to a 2007 New York Times article.

Heinzfactorycropped

And cheese makers too, who use the deep underground vaults leftover from the building’s brewery days as cheese caves, reports a fascinating article in Edible Brooklyn.

Down on his luck at the Brooklyn docks in 1938

April 11, 2016

Reginald Marsh painted the city’s extremes: gaudy, seedy Coney Island, sex at burlesque shows, Bowery revelry, and the might and strength symbolized by ships and industry.

Reginaldmarshdocksbrooklyn1938

But his solemn forgotten man (and a second man, lying down on the left) perched at the edge of a dock in 1938’s “Docks, Brooklyn” reveals a loneliness and despair unlike anything depicted in his other paintings and illustrations.

And it just sold for more than $6,000.

Spring comes to brownstone Brooklyn in 1949

March 28, 2016

This is Brooklyn just four years after the end of World War II.

Liferalphmorseicecream

In 1949, when Brooklyn on the north side of Prospect Park was still a collection of working-class and middle-income neighborhoods and urban decay had yet to take hold, a Life photographer went out and took some photos.

Liferalphmorselaundry

In a Life spread titled “Spring Comes to Brooklyn,” Ralph Morse captured street life in the neighborhoods located in the shadow of the Williamsburgh Bank Tower.

Liferalphmorseteenagers

The images look like simple snapshots. Backyard gardens are planted. Kids play in the (strangely car-free) streets. Teenagers hang around corner candy stores and newsstands.

Liferalphmorsemangardenbackyard

Women clean off stoops while minding babies and toddlers. Neighbors stop to chat at the front door. Laundry hangs between buildings.

Liferalphmorsebabycarriage

It’s almost the 1950s, and the modern era has begun. But what’s interesting is how unguarded residents seem. It’s as if there’s no element of danger to worry about or shield their kids from.

Liferalphmorsewomansweepnigboy

This part of Brooklyn would change dramatically in the next few decades. And of course, the brownstones of Brooklyn would then become some of the most sought-after housing in the entire city.

Liferalphmorseboyssidewalkbankbldg

But here is Brooklyn before all that, depicted by a very talented photographer in one moment in time. Many more photos are available to scroll through at the Life archives.

[Photos: Life/Ralph Morse]


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