Tag Archives: Park Slope

GOWANUS! Brooklyn’s Troubled Waters

PODCAST The history of the Gowanus Canal, at the heart of a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood today, once used to be quite beautiful and non-toxic.

Brooklyn’s Gowanus — both the creek and the canal — is one of the most mysterious and historically important waterways in New York City. By coincidence, it also happens to be among its most polluted, shrouded in frightening tales of dead animals (and a few unfortunate humans) floating along its canal shores. Its toxic mix is the stuff of urban legends (most of which are actually true).

But this was once the land of delicious oysters. This was the site of an important Revolutionary War battle. This was part of the property of the man who later developed Park Slope.

But, in current times, it ALSO happens to be one of New York City’s hottest neighborhoods for real estate development. How does a neighborhood go from a canal of deadly constitution to a Whole Foods, condos and shuffleboard courts?

With the  Gowanus’ many personalities (and with Tom gone this week) I needed a special guide for this fraught and twisted journey — writer and historian Joseph Alexiou, author of Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal, bringing his expertise to help me wade through the most toxic portion of the show.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #201: GOWANUS! Brooklyn’s Troubled Waters

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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Further to that Lord of the Rings comparison, here’s a map from a 1909 history of the Old Stone House, documenting the moves of British troops in the summer of 1776.

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The view from Gowanus Heights, or the Heights of Guan. Print by Hermann Julius Meyer, 1840.

Courtesy Museum of the city of New York
Courtesy Museum of the city of New York

 

By 1910, the banks of the Gowanus were no more natural than the dankest tenement slum.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The Carroll Street Bridge, pictured here in 1960, originally built in 1889. It’s one of only two retractable bridges in New York City.

Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society
Courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

 

National Packing Box Factory at Union and Nevins Streets, pictured here in 1960.

courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society
courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society

 

The site of the ‘flushing tunnel’ at Butler Street in 1960.

Brooklyn Historical Society
Brooklyn Historical Society

Here’s the view from the other side, looking south, taken last weekend:

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The Gowanus at Smith and Ninth Street, 1978. (Photograph by Dinanda Nooney

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

 

Some views along the Gowanus from last weekend, admiring the glory of its dingy, busted architecture.
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Current residential construction, right along the Gowanus.

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I wasn’t joking about the doll parts. There’s a whole motley collection of weird junk around the Gowanus. Luckily, no deformed Gowanus rats in sight.

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Here’s a four legged fellow in the Gowanus — a table.

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A couple views of the Gowanus from the Bowery Boys Instagram page:

Out exploring in strange places for next week’s new podcast! #boweryboys

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

 

Gowanus alleyway on Nevins Street. #boweryboys

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on


For more information on the happy, shiny of the Gowanus Canal, check out Alexiou’s new book Gowanus: Brooklyn’s Curious Canal from NYU Press. Here’s the interview I did with Joseph on the blog a few weeks ago.

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Park Slope and the Story of Brownstone Brooklyn

PODCAST  Park Slope – or simply the park slope, as they used to say – is best known for its spectacular Victorian-era mansions and brownstones, one of the most romantic neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn. It’s also a leading example of the gentrifying forces that are currently changing the make-up of the borough of Brooklyn to this day.

During the 18th century this sloping land was subject to one of the most demoralizing battles of the Revolutionary War, embodied today by the Old Stone House, an anchor of this changing neighborhood. In the 1850s, the railroad baron Edwin Clark Litchfield brought the first real estate development to this area in the form of his fabulous villa on the hill. By the 1890s the blocks were stacked with charming house, mostly for occupancy by wealthy families.

Circumstances during the Great Depression and World War II reconfigured most of these old (and old fashioned) homes into boarding houses and working-class housing. Then a funny thing happens, something of a surprising development in the 1960s: the arrival of the brownstoners, self-proclaimed ‘pioneers’ who refurbished deteriorating homes.

The revitalization of Park Slope has been a mixed blessing as later waves of gentrification and rising prices threaten to push out both older residents and original gentrifiers alike.

PLUS: The terrifying details of one of the worst plane crashes in American history, a disaster that almost took out one of the oldest corners of the neighborhood.

And a special thanks to our guests on this show — Kim Maier from the Old Stone House;  Julie Golia, Director of Public History, Brooklyn Historical Society; and  John Casson and Michael Cairl, both of Park Slope Civic Council.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #181: Park Slope and the Story of Brownstone Brooklyn

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

Starting this month, we are doubling our number of episodes per month. Now you’ll hear a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

The Vechte Cortelyou House (aka the Old Stone House) depicted as it looked in 1699 (from a hand colored lithograph by the firm of Nathaniel Currier, MCNY)

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A collection of classified ads from the December 1, 1912 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, offering several living options in the park slope area.

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The stark Fourteenth Street Armory, located in the South Slope, depicted here as it looked in 1906 —  “a pretty place” (MCNY)
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Congregation Beth Elohim, pictured here on September 16, 1929, located at Garfield Place and 8th Avenue. (MCNY)

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The horrific place crash of December 16, 1960 — United Airlines Flight 826, bound for Idlewild Airport, colliding with Trans World Airlines Flight 266, heading to LaGuardia Airport. 128 passengers were killed, along with six people on the ground. (Top picture courtesy New York Daily News; the two after are from the New York Fire Deparment. You can find further images here)

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Some images from 1961 by John Morrell from the archives of the Brooklyn Historical Society:

A view along Prospect Park West at and 16th Street and Windsor Place.

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View of east side of 8th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets looking north. n.e. cor. 16th Street (right) & 8th Avenue.

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Prospect Park West looking south toward Prospect Park/branch, U.S. Post Office (at northeast corner of Prospect Park W. & 16th Street).

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By the 1970s so mansions and brownstones close to the park were getting renovated by ‘pioneers’ with the means to restore these homes to their original splendor .

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In 1969, New York Magazine touted the ‘radical’ alternative of moving to Brooklyn in an article by Pete Hamill:

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TOP PHOTOGRAPH by Luci West from Moving Postcard

Ungentrified: Brooklyn in the 1970s

The new Bowery Boys podcast that comes out this Friday will be about Brooklyn. So let’s get in the mood with some pre-Instagram tinted photography from the U.S. National Archives, most of them taken in 1974 by Danny Lyon. followed by some black and white images by Edmund V Gillon.

You might have seen many of these photographs before (perhaps even here on this blog), but it’s striking to revisit them in context of Brooklyn current gentrification patterns.  The homes of Brooklyn Heights began seeing the arrival of ‘bohemians’ as early as the 1910s, and brownstone revivalists (the so-called ‘pioneers’) discovered the neighborhood after World War II.

But a noticeable trend of Brooklyn gentrification happened in earnest in the late 1950s, with wealthy escapees from Manhattan (fending off the urge to suburbanize) moving into South Brooklyn brownstones and row houses and giving enclaves attractive new names like Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens.

The most successful example occurred up on the park slope as a movement of urban activists and historical preservations refurbished and brought to life one of Brooklyn’s original Gold Coasts. Its official name became, of course, Park Slope.

While the ‘brownstone Brooklyn’ movement was well at hand in 1974-5 — the date of most of these photographs — much of the borough was still facing blight and deterioration then.  Most of the neighborhoods pictured below are today considered ‘hot’, trendy places with incredibly high rents.

DUMBO, a name invented in the late 1970s, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.

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The RKO Bushwick Theater, at the Bushwick/Bed-Stuy border.

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Bushwick Avenue

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Two pictures of Bond Street

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Across from Lynch Park, near the Brooklyn Navy Yard

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There’s no location listed in the caption but probably Park Slope?

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Fort Greene, across from the park.
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This is taken on Vanderbilt Avenue but I can’t ascertain exactly here. Perhaps today’s Prospect Heights area.

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Images of the Fulton Ferry area in 1975 (courtesy the Brooklyn Historical Society)

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And a couple images from the Museum of the City of New York archives, all from 1975, taken by Edmund V Gillon. You can find many more of astounding photographs here:

397 Dean Street, considered part of Park Slope today

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Williamsburg, looking east on Broadway from Bedford Avenue and South 6th Street.

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Boarded-up buildings and the Bedford Avenue façade of the Smith Building, 123 South 8th Street

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Clinton Hill: Row houses on the eastern side of Washington Avenue between Dekalb and Lafayette Avenues

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The short shelf life of the Tip-Tops, the Brooklyn baseball team situated near the Gowanus River and named for bread

The piping hot uniforms of the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, worn by baby-faced manager Lee Magee

For a brief shining moment between 1914 and 1915, Brooklyn had two major league baseball teams — the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers and the not-so-legendary Brooklyn Tip-Tops.

Baseball has long been a sport of two parallel sports leagues — the National League and the American League — which have gotten together at season’s end to play the World Series since 1903.  But for an unusual moment in 1914 and 1915, there was a third baseball league called the Federal League.

A cartoon from the May 12, 1914 New York Tribune:

 

The Federal League was formed specifically in protest to the signing practices of the two dominant leagues, doing away with pesky reserve clauses (binding players to certain teams for almost their entire careers) and offering higher salaries.  For a second, it seemed possible that the Federal League might provide a new way to organize a major sport.

There were eight teams in the Federal league which such unusual names as the Chicago Whales, the Newark Peppers and the Baltimore Terrapins. (Yes, somebody named a ball team after a turtle.)

Within the New York area, one franchise was awarded to Brooklyn, owned by a baker named Robert Ward.  His bakery for Tip-Top Bread (centered at 800 Pacific Street in today’s Prospect Heights) was obviously so lucrative that he eventually sank one million dollars in funding the team that eventually took the name of his baking enterprise — the Brooklyn Tip-Tops.

Brooklyn’s other team, the Dodgers, had conveniently vacated their old wooden field, Washington Park, for their brand new home Ebbets Field in Flatbush.  Ward hastily prepared to move the Tip-Tops into the Dodgers’ old home by paying for a spectacular upgrade to the dilapidated Gowanus park.  It was located between 1st and 3rd Streets at Fourth Avenue.

The baker, with his brother George S. Ward, sunk more than $250,000 into the new concrete-and-steel ballpark, situated so near the Gowanus that fans got a good whiff of its toxic odors on summer days.

The new park itself was rather flawed with bleachers extremely close to the field.  According to author Daniel Levitt: “[T]he tiny foul territory caused nearly all foul balls to end up with the spectators.  At the time fans were not allowed to keep foul balls … leading to a tacky atmosphere as team officials constantly wrestled balls away from fans.”

Another set of cheap sets, derisively called ‘sun bleachers’, which provided an unpleasant scorching experience during the summer, were quickly closed after some bad publicity.

Below: Inside the refurbished Washington Park on opening day of their second (and final) season

Construction equipment still darted the grounds when they opened on May 11, 1914.  “The Federal League opened here with a bang,” said the Evening World.  “Bands, horns, sirens and vocal assistance from 16,000 fans gave New York’s fourth baseball club a noisy welcome.” (The other three being the New York Giants, the New York Yankees, and, of course, the Dodgers.)

At first, Brooklynites emphatically supported their new team, quickly nicknamed the BrookFeds.  But it soon became obvious that the team was nothing to write home about.

They finished their inaugural season with an unimpressive record of 77 wins, 77 losses.  In comparison, the Giants, located at the Polo Grounds, made it to the World Series.  However, the young team did finish better than the Yankees (57-94). And even managed to best the Dodgers (65-84)!

Given Ward’s religious beliefs, he instructed that no Sunday games be played at the park, a serious blow given that it was the only day off for many potential working-class fans.

Another strike against the team occurred during the winter when the team was unable to sign away more successful players from the other two leagues.  The one exception was the outstanding Lee Magee (pictured above in a Tip-Top uniform) who was hired away from the St. Louis Cardinals and even managed the team during the 1915 season.  He would later join the Yankees.

“If hustling, hard work and ambition among the players make a winning team, the Brooklyn fans will see one in Washington park this year,” Magee claimed.

An ad for second season opening day, from the Evening World.  The flag raising mentioned below is pictured above:

The fans showed up for the beginning of season two, but enthusiasm quickly ebbed.  In fact, that first game against the Buffalo Buffeds (yes, that’s their name!) seemed to auger a host of frustrations for the rest of the season;  it went unusually long almost into night — the park was not lit — with “three hours of errors and wrangling.”

Behind the scenes, the two other leagues were busy trying to dismantle the Federal League who had filed an anti-trust suit in January.  It did not help the mood in New York that the Tip-Tops were doing worse under Magee.  They completed their season 70-82, second to last behind the scathingly terrible Baltimore Terripins.

Below: Magee with the manager from the Buffalo Buffeds:

 

Machinations outside New York doomed the team.  The National and American Leagues managed to eradicate its rival through series of brokered deals and buyouts.  One of these deals changed the face of American baseball, when the owner of the Chicago Whales was allowed to buy the Chicago Cubs and move them into the Whales’ new stadium — Wrigley Field.

The only team that remained to battle back against the two leagues was the Federal League’s least successful team — the Baltimore Terrapins.  They sued the leagues saying it was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court who, in the landmark case Federal Baseball Club vs. National League, handed Baltimore something they were very familiar with — defeat.

On December 18, 1915, the Tribune revealed the fate of Brooklyn’s second baseball team:

“The Brooklyn Tip-Tops will withdraw from Washington Park, leaving the site barren of baseball and the city in the hands of the Superbas [Dodgers].  Organized baseball will reimburse George S. Ward annually with 5 percent of the assessed value of Washington Park for twenty years.”

By 1916, Tip-Top went back to meaning fresh white bread.

While Washington Park was eventually dismantled, a part of it still exists.  Today on the site is a yard for Con Edison.  The western wall along Third Avenue was once part of the ball park.  Perhaps if you go over to the Gowanus Whole Foods, you can walk over a block or two and check out this incredible piece of sports history!

 

One hundred years ago today, the mayor of New York died

Mayor William Jay Gaynor’s final appearance at City Hall was at a notification rally, declaring his independent candidacy.  He brandishes a shovel as a symbol of a new era of subway construction (the eventual fruits of the so-called ‘dual contracts’ which had finally be agreed to earlier that year.)

Today’s mayoral primary falls on a very grim anniversary in New York City political history.  One hundred years ago today, Mayor William Jay Gaynor collapsed and died while on a voyage to Europe, succumbing to an assassin’s bullet which had been lodged in his throat for over three years.

Gaynor was not in New York when he was shot, and he was not in New York when he finally succumbed to its effects years later.  On August 9, 1910, he boarded a German ocean liner in Hoboken, New Jersey, for a planned trip to Europe. A disgruntled dock worker James J. Gallagher approached and shot him through the neck.  The moment was gruesomely captured by a New York World photographer.

Although the injury derailed Gaynor’s presidential ambitions, it did not prevent him from leaving office.  The bullet remained stuck in his neck, slowly weakening his health and eventually deterioriating his ability to speak.

But he remained a feisty opponent of city corruption. So much so that corruption-fueled Democratic machine Tammany Hall refused to support his re-election bid in 1913, throwing their support to judge Edward E. McCall, a more pliant candidate to their whims.  McCall would run against Fusion candidate John Purroy Mitchel, the firebrand reformer and president of New York’s Board of Aldermen (city council).

Gaynor would not be sidelined.  On September 3, he announced an independent run for the mayor from the steps of City Hall.  To a crowd of 5,000 supporters, Gaynor’s secretary had to read his speech for him as he was unable to raise his voice due to his injuries.  At the very end, however, as his secretary declared the mayor’s intention to eradicate graft, Gaynor leaped to his feet and cried, “Yes, that is what we are going to do — shovel all those miserable grafters into the common dump!”

Gaynor at his candidacy announcement, buffered by supporters

The following day, he boarded another ocean liner with his son, intending to convalesce for two or three weeks.  It was unannounced voyage — Gaynor naturally wanted to keep his deteriorating condition quiet —  although the newspapers found out and splashed it upon their front pages.  “It was a feeble figure that went slowly up the gangplank leaning heavily on the arm of his son Rufus,” said the Evening World.

He was intending to return on September 21.  However, six days into his voyage, on September 10, the mayor finally succumbed to his wounds, aggravated by other afflictions in his stomach and lungs.

His body was returned to New York on the RMS Lusitania nine days later.  The following day, his body lay in state at City Hall as thousands of mourners paid their last respects.

Gaynor would be the second New York mayor to die in office — William Havemeyer died of a heart attack while in office in 1874 — and the fifth to die in office if you count those from before the Revolutionary War.

Gaynor’s passing turned the coming election into a free-for-all, with the remaining candidates scrambling to appeal to the former mayor’s moderate voting base.  In the end, Mitchel was elected that November, becoming the city’s second youngest mayor in history.

A memorial for Gaynor was placed in Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn in 1926, inscribed with the anti-corruption slogan “Ours is a government of laws not men.”  Gaynor lived in Park Slope at 20 Eighth Avenue.

Below are some images from his funeral at City Hall, September 20, 1913

All images courtesy the Library of Congress

Mourners at City Hall (LOC)

Former president William Howard Taft at Gaynor’s funeral (LOC)

History in the Making: Park Slope Ownage Edition

Park Slope, snow and Volkswagen, January 1978, photo by Dinandi Nooney (courtesy Google Life images)

Why was Park Slope named the best neighborhood in New York City? Being one of the city’s largest landmarked districts probably helps. [New York Daily News]

Say it’s 1900, you’re injured and you happen to be at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Here are your health care providers: [Shorpy]

There’s never a wrong time to revisit Emma Lazarus. [Tenement Museum Blog]

Take a closer look at Roosevelt Island’s strange, fabulous pneumatic trash tubes at a new exhibit on the island, “FAST TRASH: Roosevelt Island‘s Pneumatic Tubes and the Future of Cities.” [New York Times]

Gothamist takes a lovely photographic look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on its 140th birthday. [Gothamist]

Today in history: tragedies in Staten Island, Park Slope


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One of the strangest and most tragic accidents in New York history occurred 49 years ago today when two planes, one United Airlines, the other TWA, collided in midair above New Dorp, Staten Island. The United Airlines flight plummeted to Brooklyn, in the intersection of 7th Avenue and Sterling Place in Park Slope. A total of 134 people from the planes and six on the ground were killed.

Miraculously, a young passenger from Illinois, Stephen Baltz, flying unaccompanied aboard the United flight, actually survived the crash but died of his injuries the following morning at nearby New York Methodist Hospital, Seventh Avenue and Fifth Street. Today there’s a plaque there that somewhat macabrely incorporates pocket change from Baltz’ pocket into it. Stephen would have been 60 years old this year.


Courtesy Dumbo Books of Brooklyn

Wreckage from the TWA flight landed at Miller Field in Staten Island (seen below):

Nighttime at the Park Slope wreckage site. Physical proof of the tragedy can still visible on some of the buildings around Sterling.

 

Photographs courtesy LIFE/Google images

Location of the Brooklyn crash and what it looks like today:

View Larger Map