Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn in the 1940s’

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]

Who was crowned Miss Brooklyn in 1939?

March 2, 2015

All spring, the contest was heavily advertised in the Brooklyn Eagle. Any single woman born in New York City and currently living in the borough between the ages of 16 and 23 could enter.

Missbrooklynfinalists2

Interestingly for a beauty contest, beauty was not necessary, according to the Eagle. “Judging will be on the basis of poise, personality, and appearance,” the guidelines stated.

MissbrooklynrulesThe judges, a group of business leaders, were tasked with looking for someone who exemplified the “typical local girl.”

Hundreds of women entered the competition that year, with several deemed finalists (and getting their photos in the Eagle) before the winner was revealed during Brooklyn Week at the World’s Fair in May.

So who won? The crown went to Miss Elinore Bertrand, 16, of West 2nd Street, who attended Bay Ridge High School.

Missbrooklyn1939She was awarded $25 and the chance to compete for Miss New York later that summer.

Bertrand (at right) seemed to be a bit of a sore loser. After she failed to grab the Miss New York title, she was so upset, she ran away to Philadelphia!

Miss Brooklyn wasn’t the only beauty contest of the era. Miss Rheingold, running until 1964, may have been even more popular.

And Miss Subways, which existed from the 1940s to the 1970s, was huge citywide.

Dean Street: once “the worst block in Brooklyn”

October 24, 2011

Today, Dean Street between Carlton and Sixth Avenues appears to be a pretty decent stretch of Prospect Heights, mostly lined with restored row houses and brownstones.

Could it really have been so horrible in February 1947, when a priest charged that it was “probably the worst block in Brooklyn” in terms of its concentration of “juvenile delinquents”?

The New York Times articles chronicling the charge don’t provide a lot of details, mainly noting that police say they’ve “tried to interest the 350 children and youths living on the block in a wide variety of sports programs” to no avail.

Apparently not all the residents of the block thought the kids were so bad. According to the Times, “some [residents] believed it was no better and no worse than other slum streets.”

That “slum street” has some awfully pricey real estate, even with Atlantic Yards going up at the other end.

A creative commune in 1940s Brooklyn Heights

July 28, 2011

Brooklyn Heights has always attracted literary residents. Walt Whitman lived there in the 19th century, Hart Crane, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer in the 20th.

And from 1940 to 1941, one house at 7 Middagh Street became home to a rotating group of authors, poets, and artists whose stars were rising (or in a few cases, falling) at the time.

It all started in 1940, when George Davis, then the literary editor at Harper’s Bazaar, rented the townhouse with his friend, 23-year-old Carson McCullers (top left).

McCullers had just published her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. She and Davis leased the house for $75 a month and let friends W.H. Auden (top right), Paul Bowles (below), British composer Benjamin Britten, and stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (bottom left) move in.

At “February House” (so named because many of the occupants had birthdays that month), Auden wrote The Double Man and McCullers worked on The Member of the Wedding.

But like most situations involving adults sharing living quarters, things didn’t work out. Residents moved out amid disorder and excessive drinking. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was the final nail in the coffin, with only Davis remaining from the original group.

By 1945, 7 Middagh Street was history, razed to make way for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.