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Blogger One More Folded Sunset and photographer Larry Racioppo are working on a series of pieces on Brooklyn's Third Avenue. This is the second. Click here for the first, and stay tuned for more.
Larry Racioppo, 2017
VFW Post #7096 has been at 804 Third Avenue since 1956. When it opened, there were around ninety active posts in Brooklyn. Today the VFW website lists fifteen. Post #7096 sits in the shadow of the Expressway, right around the site of the Gowanus village the Dutch settled almost four hundred years ago. Before it was a VFW Post, Klonowski's Bar & Grill was here - one of the many waterfront saloons along the avenue. Today the building's windows are bricked in, and it’s hard to get a look through the small grilled window in the door. Unless you're a vet or an invited guest, you might have passed by hundreds of times without knowing what goes on inside. A knock on the door changes everything.
Over the course of a couple of blustery winter afternoons, I sat at the bar at #7096 & talked. I spoke to Christopher Leon, who has served as Post Commander since 2013, and Mickey Velasquez, who held the same post for a year, succeeding longtime commander Ken Dunn. Both men are Brooklyn born and work close by, at the MDC. Both saw active duty in Desert Storm, as Marines, and both have sons in the services.
When you step in the Post, you'll see it's been recently renovated. The paint still looks fresh. A fix-up was on the cards for years; the building was deteriorating and the back room, used for Post functions and party rentals, had become unstable due to water damage. Before I visited the place, I'd read several accounts of a long and contentious dispute between the VFW and CBS (who owns the next-door property), but this was a story of the past, no longer up for conversation.
The work to fix things up was a hands-on effort by Post members, and donations from local businesses helped. Home Depot was especially generous.
Renovation of the party room – photograph courtesy of Christopher Leon
The renovated party room - Larry Racioppo, 2017
The back room is available again to non-members for party rental, and at the time of my visit it was set up for a lavishly decorated 60th birthday party. The rental fees help with operating costs, but rooms like these serve an equally important purpose: they make a VFW Post a place not only for veterans, but also a central part of civilian life. Larry Racioppo remembers how important the Parisi-Torre Post #8903, nearby on 22nd Street, has been to his family:
My extended family has been having parties here as long as I can remember - christenings, first communions, confirmations, birthdays, etc.. St. John the Evangelist, our local church, where most of the religious ceremonies took place, was just a few blocks away. In 2009 my cousin Joe came up from Atlanta to have his 60th Birthday party here.
My Dad holding my nephew Michael at his Christening party, Parisi-Torre Post - Larry Racioppo, 1989
Color Wall, Parisi-Torre Post - Larry Racioppo, 2009
My Aunt Angie photographing my cousin Joe (center) and his old friends, Parisi-Torre Post - Larry Racioppo, 2009
I have to admit I wish I'd visited Post #7096 prior to its renovation.
Pre-renovation at #7096 – photographs courtesy of Christopher Leon
The bar at the Lukoski Post remains in place today, but the photographs and Color Wall, the jukebox, the arcade games and the pool table have vanished. While some of the Post-related memorabilia will be back on display again soon, the machines are gone for good. I asked Chris if the jukebox, at least, was making a return, but he said no, it wasn't what the younger guys wanted any more. And he's right. The pictures show a cozy, clubby, paneled bunker of the 50's or 60's. They readily play tricks on the senses. Memories and nicotine have seeped into every square inch of the rooms, and just looking at these old photographs, my clothes seem to accrue the smell of cigarettes. It's a comforting sight if you're over fifty, but it's not a scene for a young veteran in, say, his or her twenties or thirties.
Behind the bar, Edward F. Lukoski Post - Larry Racioppo, 2017
Behind the bar, there's a copy of the booklet that commemorates the Post's opening. Aviation Machine Mate Edward F. Lukoski, another Brooklyn native, who attended local PS 10 as a child, died in 1943 when the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Franklin was bombarded by Japanese aircraft. The booklet is a time capsule. The ads build a picture of the local businesses of mid-twentieth century South Brooklyn, with phone numbers bearing the SO South Brooklyn or ST Sterling exchanges. Candy stores, ship-scalers, taverns, delicatessens, appliance stores. The White Eagle Market (later Eagle Provisions) is listed, along with a score of other Polish businesses and family sentiments - a reflection of the neighborhood's sizable Polish population.
Photo courtesy of One More Folded Sunset
As I turned the pages, I recognized just three places still around today: Our Lady of Czestochowa, Joseph Duffy Funeral Home, and the Bay River Liquors ("Brooklyn's largest liquor store"). The closely related spheres of spirits and the spiritual linger the longest.
The Post's new looks are a point of pride, but right now, the bar room looks too bare. Chris plans to decorate it and bring back some of the earlier displays, and add more recent contributions. He wants to liven the atmosphere of the place while still acknowledging its early history. He wants to make it relevant. Talking to Chris, you sense his resolve. He's taken on his role as Commander with a good deal of energy, but it's a tough mission, nevertheless.
Post Commander Christopher Leon - Larry Racioppo, 2017
Today enrollment at the Post stands in the sixties. Although the roster includes veterans from recent combat, recruiting younger members in any number remains a challenge. Somewhat ironically, the most recent recruit is a wheelchair-bound veteran of the Second World War. Mickey believes that demographics - the sheer numbers of troops who have seen active service in Iraq and Afghanistan - and the common period of time lapse between a veteran's military discharge and his or her joining the VFW will bring a boom in enrollment within the next decade, but Chris isn't so sure.
Looking back to older pictures of the Post in post-war decades - when veterans, spouses, children, filled the place -he'd like to recreate the same lively atmosphere, but he understands how different the pattern of family life is today. Now, in most households, both parents juggle the dual demands of career and family; as the parent of four children, three of them young girls, Chris shares the shuttles to swim meets, and after-school activities, and all the rest of the to-and-fro of modern family life.
Along with a busy family calendar, patterns of entertainment have changed too, and an older-style Post atmosphere doesn't work so well for younger generations. Declining VFW membership is a national issue, and it's generally accepted that fresh approaches to Post operations are needed. These have included a focus on health and fitness (including pain management clinics), volunteer opportunities - like Habitat for Humanity, art therapy and displays of veteran art, public speaking classes, enhanced networking opportunities, and a conscious effort to welcome female veterans. Some Posts have had striking successes by reworking the old VFW model. Chris cites Long Island as having one of the nation's strongest VFW enrollments, with a tight veteran community support system, and the ability to draw in younger recruits, but in the city, the scene is sparser. Some of the urban Posts in booming cities may find other demographic challenges too. Post #7096 is sited in a waterfront neighborhood targeted for gentrification, and the cost of housing here is now well beyond the budget of many working and middle-class families. As the neighborhood becomes more affluent, and younger, and older businesses fade, there's less connection to the older institutions. The area, like the Post, stands at a point of transition.
Mickey Velasquez – One More Folded Sunset, 2017
The longer I spent talking to Chris and Mickey though, the more respect I gained for their strength of purpose, especially their dedication to preserving the Lukoski Post, and meeting the needs of a new generation of veterans. Take Mickey's life, for example. He believes he was destined for the military. His grandfather served in World War II, and his mother sang him to sleep (or so the story goes) with the Marine Corps Hymn. When his parents went out in the evening to a show, or dancing, it wasn't a teenage girl who came to babysit for Mickey & his brothers, but Butch and Paul, Vietnam vets who put the small boys through their paces with military training workouts in the family basement. The kids loved it, and it was a surefire means to get them tired out & ready for bed with none of the usual while-the-cat's-away babysitting malarkey. By sixth grade, Mickey enrolled in Marine Corps cadet training, in Williamsburg, and as soon as he was old enough, he enlisted. He served from 1981 to 2001, and from 2001 to 2014 he was in the Army National Guard. His unit was based at Battery Park right after 9/11. Though he now lives in Staten Island, and could easily attach himself to a VFW post closer to home, he calls 7906 his "living room." He's as committed to the place as he is to the VFW values of "selfless service" No longer enlisted, he's still eager to give back to his community, and on call to serve the needs of his fellow veterans. He can't envision life any other way.
The VFW's historical mission has always been one of advocacy - of lobbying for post-service benefits & support services for American veterans - and the Posts provide veterans with a local and caring support community. Given the nature of modern warfare, today's veterans have a greater need than ever. Next month, on April 28th, #7096 will be celebrating Patch Day, and the Post's 61st anniversary. Civilians are welcome to attend. Go visit - you'll be made welcome. In an increasingly polarized and indignant America, it's more important than ever to take the time to open doors.
Head over to One More Folded Sunset for a verison of this post with a few more images included, and stay tuned for more posts in our Third Avenue series.
In January 2017, a new piece of art was installed at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street, at the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. Two snow-white resin sculptures representing “Miss Brooklyn” and “Miss Manhattan” were hoisted above the busy street traffic on two slowly rotating “Lazy Susans” supported by a stem-like post. Now, as they steadily revolve in opposite directions, they enjoy a 360 degree view of the area from whence they were banished nearly 60 years ago.
The original “Miss Manhattan” and “Miss Brooklyn” were not rotating. Once upon a time, they were firmly planted near the granite pylons at the Brooklyn approach to the Manhattan Bridge.
The approach to the Manhattan Bridge (1940-50s). Brooklyn Eagle photo collection, Brooklyn Collection.
The Manhattan Bridge, the youngest among the three bridges connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn, was opened on December 31, 1909. It was built to alleviate the traffic load of the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges. Unlike its immediate neighbor, the legendary and much beloved Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge was sort of a stepchild in the public imagination. With its eight lanes for train, horse-drawn and automobile traffic, it was designed to be a muscle, a working horse, a purely utilitarian structure. However, it caught the attention of the City Beautiful movement, and the Carrère & Hastings architectural firm was engaged to beautify the approaches to the bridge on both sides.
The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy in architecture and urban planning that flourished in the United States in the late 19th-early 20th century. The founding idea of this movement was that the introduction of beautification and grandeur to urban planning elevated the spirit of the citizenry, promoted social harmony and helped increase the quality of life. The City Beautiful movement was never particularly strong in New York City though; its biggest mark was made in Chicago, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. However, it is credited with interfering on behalf of the homely Manhattan Bridge.
Carrère & Hastings introduced its design in the Beaux-Arts style in 1910 and the plan was not only approved, but also lauded as the most artistic treatment of a bridge entrance attempted on this continent.
The Manhattan end of the bridge featured a Beaux-Arts plaza with its signature arch and colonnade. The arch was modeled after Porte St. Denis in Paris, and the colonnade after Bernini's famous colonnade that encircles St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
Arches were very popular in those days. The Manhattan Bridge arch is one of only three remaining in the city now (the other two are the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch on Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn and the Washington Square Arch in Manhattan.)
The arch’s pylons are decorated with high reliefs by Carl Augustus Heber. Two winged figures, female and male, represent “The Spirit of Commerce” on the left and “The Spirit of Industry” on the right. The “Buffalo Hunt” frieze by a celebrated sculptor Carl C. Rumsey is set in the center of the arch, just beneath the cornice.
The Arch with the Buffalo Hunt frieze by C.C. Rumsey. Photo by author.
"The Spirit of Industry" by C. A. Heber. Photo by author.
The Brooklyn gateway to the bridge was markedly more modest. It featured two white granite pylons, each guarded by allegorical female figures known as “Miss Manhattan” and “Miss Brooklyn” installed in 1916. The sculptor responsible for them was none other than Daniel Chester French, best known for his statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“Miss Manhattan” and “Miss Brooklyn” each weigh 20 tons, measure 12 feet tall and are made of granite, and the same model was used for both figures. This is where the similarities end.
“Miss Manhattan” sits haughtily with her right foot atop a chest of money (or jewels?); in her right hand she holds a winged globe reminiscent of a cross-bearing orb, an ancient symbol of authority; a peacock, flashiness and luxury incarnate, is by her side. (The peacock, in the belief system of the Ancient Greeks, also represented immortality/eternity.) The bows of three ships hint at the status of Manhattan as an important port and an international trade hub. She is all dignity, privilege and hubris. (Apparently, an original design for Miss Manhattan also included a royal crown, but it was overruled by the Bridge Commissioners as smacking of imperialism.)
Allegory of Manhattan by Daniel Chester French. Photo by Irving Herzberg (1967), Brooklyn Collection.
Miss Brooklyn’s demeanor could not be more different. Her expression is gracious, introspective and calm; she is surrounded by a church spire (Brooklyn to this day counts more houses of worship than any other borough); a lyre and a child with a book (a reference to the borough’s patronage of culture and education). The book on the child’s lap is massive. It must be a Bible, another reference to the borough’s spiritual thrust. Her head is adorned with a laurel wreath. In her hands she holds a tablet with the Dutch inscription “Ein Drach Mackt Maght” (“In Union there is strength”), a hint at the Dutch origins of Brooklyn and at the fairly recent New York City consolidation of 1898.
Allegory of Brooklyn by Daniel Chester French. Photo by Irving Herzberg (1967), Brooklyn Collection.
The model for the pair was the legendary Audrey Munson who is considered to be America’s first supermodel. She posed for many famous sculptors and photographers. For Daniel Chester French alone, she modeled twelve times. Incidentally, she was also used as a model by C.A. Heber when he created “The Spirit of Commerce” for the Manhattan side of the bridge.
Meanwhile, the years went by, and the Manhattan Bridge continued to be a “poor relation” to the Brooklyn Bridge. Despite heavy use and an apparent design flaw, the bridge suffered from neglect and irregular inspection and maintenance and in the end required several costly repairs. Its slow aging coincided with the rapid growth of private car ownership and increased flow of traffic.
Enter Robert Moses and his ambitious plans for dramatic restructuring of the city’s thoroughfares. Robert Moses, to this day, remains one of the most polarizing and controversial figures in the history of New York City. He became a major force in the city's planning in 1924 and remained unstoppable for some forty-four years. Under his supervision, New York and its environs acquired, among other things, a functional system of parkways, highways, bridges and parking spaces which accommodated the ever growing fleet of personal and commercial vehicles. For all the good he has done for the city (he is credited with building, throughout his career, 13 bridges, 416 miles of parkways, 658 playgrounds, and 150,000 housing units across all boroughs of the City of New York and surrounding areas), his legacy is tainted by his overt racism and deliberate planning that marginalized minorities. He is also responsible for the destruction of several city landmarks, such as the original Penn Station in Manhattan and Ebbets Field stadium in Brooklyn.
Robert Moses. Photo: Brooklyn Eagle photo collection, Brooklyn Collection.
The Manhattan Bridge – forever in need of an upgrade – had the bad luck of finding itself in Moses’ way.
The early 1960s marked the beginning of the end of Moses’ career when his plans started to meet with more and more resistance from city officials and citizens. As a result, three of his bombastic, larger-than-life crosstown projects were among the few that he was not able to push through. Had one of them, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, also known as “Lomex”, succeeded, we would have lost the Manhattan-side entryway to the bridge. During the reconstruction in the early 1960s two decks were reinforced to be able to carry trucks weighing up to twenty tons. Another level was designated for cars only. The approaches were to be reconstructed to provide access on the Manhattan side for the newly projected Lower Manhattan Expressway and on the Brooklyn side for a new interchange with already existing Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
In 1961 Moses filed a request with the Arts Commission of the City of New York for permission to remove and destroy both entryways to the bridge. That would mean the loss of all art - architectural and sculptural - which had been adorning the entryways for nearly 50 years. In his application he described it as “ornamental and architectural masonry”. One of Moses’ arguments was that art created a distraction for motorists. A public outcry immediately followed. Preservation advocates cited the commission paid by the city to the creators of these artifacts: Rumsey received $15,000 for the “Buffalo Hunt” frieze (worth $335,000 in 2017 money); Heber, $10,000 for his winged allegorical reliefs ($225,000); French, $8,000 ($180,000) for each of his sculptures.
The Arts Commissioners were also reluctant to grant the permission and they pushed the vote back in order to find an art institution willing to take custody of this “masonry.” The Brooklyn Museum stepped forward. It expressed interest in accepting the two “Misses” and the Rumsey frieze.
Eventually, the plans for Lomex were scrapped and the Manhattan-side entryway narrowly escaped destruction. It was eventually landmarked (in 1975) and underwent renovation in 2000.
The two granite maidens were removed from their original location and installed by the entrance of the Brooklyn Museum in 1964. Upon inspection, they were deemed to be in decent shape and required only a thorough cleaning. Their new home happened to be a fitting place for the work of Daniel Chester French, since his sculptures - allegorical figures of Greek Epic, Greek Lyric Poetry and Greek Philosophy, as well as the pediment – had already graced the museum’s façade. (Another piece of art produced by Daniel Chester French in Brooklyn, the Alfred T. White Memorial, can be found in the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden.)
Brooklyn Museum circa 1910, well before the "maidens" arrived. Photo: Brooklyn Eagle photo collection, Brooklyn Collection.
Brooklyn Museum, 1967. The allegorical figures of Brooklyn and Manhattan have already found their new home here. Photo: Irving Herzberg, Brooklyn Collection.
The new renditions of Miss Manhattan and Miss Brooklyn are created by Brian Tolle, famous for his Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan. Serett Metalworks company is responsible for the monument’s “hardware”, the post and pivoting platforms.
Welcome home, ladies!
The subject of this blog post was presented at the Medgar Evers College Conference Women and the Abolitionist Movement that took place on Sunday, March 26th 2017 in celebration of Women’s History Month.
Women formed a central part of the abolitionist movement in the years that led up to the civil war and during war time. They participated in many varied ways, from writing and giving speeches to becoming conductors of the Underground Railroad and assisting union soldiers by organizing Sanitary Fairs around the country. There were others who participated in a more unconventional role that afforded them no agency. This is the story of one such woman, or rather, an enslaved girl of 9 years old, and her part in the abolitionist movement.
Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights and its Reverend Henry Ward Beecher would often use the enslaved as characters during sermons where he would impersonate an auctioneer and ask the congregation for offerings to purchase the enslaved persons freedom. His emotional and dramatic speeches would encourage the audience into tossing money and jewelry into collection plates; there were several girls and young women that were the subject of these “auctions."
Henry Ward Beecher. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
The auction of most renown was that of Sally Maria Diggs, an enslaved 9 year old child who was also known as “Pink” or Pinky due to her fair complexion. Sally was born into slavery. Her mother and 2 brothers were sold by their owner to the state of Virginia and she and her grandmother were sold to a slave owner in Baltimore. Her grandmother was able to secure freedom for herself but not for Sally, so she enlisted the help of Reverend Beecher to secure her granddaughter's freedom. On February 6th, 1860 during an auction service at Plymouth Church led by Beecher, $1100 in money and jewelry was raised to buy Sally’s freedom. Reverend Beecher returned all the jewelry with the exception of a large fire opal ring. At the end of the auction he baptized Sally and gave her the name “Rose Ward” after Rose Terry, a poet who had put the ring in the collection plate, and Ward, his middle name. He placed the ring on Sally’s hand, saying, “With this ring I do wed thee to freedom."
Churches: Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims-Slaves. Brooklyn Eagle photo collection, Brooklyn Collection.
This act and others like it moved Beecher’s congregation and gave them a glimpse of enslavement and the horrors of the slave auction. However to others it was viewed as typical theatrics.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle Feb. 6, 1860. Brooklyn Collection.
After her auction, Sally Maria Diggs, now known as Rose Ward, slipped away into anonymity. She lived in Brooklyn with the family of another reverend for a short time and then returned to live with her grandmother in Washington DC. She was educated at the Howard University Normal School where she was rediscovered by the new pastor of Plymouth Church, Dr. James Stanley Durkee. She became a teacher and married a Washington lawyer named James Hunt, taking his name to become Rose Ward Hunt. She started her family and lived a quiet life. Dr. Durkee contacted and arranged to have Mrs. Hunt join Plymouth Church at its 80th anniversary celebration and commemorate the day that she was freed at auction. However an article in the May 11th 1927 Brooklyn Daily Eagle spoke to Mrs. Hunt’s reservations regarding reliving that moment and making the trip back to Plymouth Church.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle Wed, May 11, 1927. Brooklyn Collection.
The article stated “Today on the eve of her departure for Brooklyn to attend the 80th anniversary celebration of the church that took her out of bondage, she has gone into semi-retirement and is denying herself to all comers. Her husband, a gray-haired Negro lawyer, answers the doorbell and politely but firmly explains that his wife is giving no interviews on the 'Pinky' episode so long ago.” When pressed further about his wife’s upcoming visit to the church Mr. Hunt explained that his wife "had nothing to say about the trip” and added that she barely remembered the episode at the church, but had certain associations that kept it from fading from her mind. This spoke to the frame of mind of a 9 year old child being put in front of a packed crowd at Plymouth Church, and the uncertainty of her fate. Mr. Hunt did continue to state that there were “Lots of Mistakes” to the published reports of how “Pinky” was found but that he would not undertake to correct them. In the end the entire encounter was summed up in the most accurate way: “At the Hunt home the impression was gathered that these Negroes did not enjoy recalling that slave auction of 1860 at Plymouth Church. Hunt himself would discuss his wife’s part in it only with the greatest reluctance.” Mrs. Hunt did visit Plymouth Church in 1927 on the Church’s 80th Anniversary where she sat beside Rev. Durkee during the sermon. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle covered the story of her visit, her speech to the congregation and the thousands that turned out to see the infamous “Pinky.” It also featured the unfortunate headline “Former Slave girl greeted by thousands, regrets she did not 'make more' of her life."
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 11 1927. Brooklyn Collection.
Churches: Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims-Slaves. Brooklyn Eagle photo collection, Brooklyn Collection.
Mrs. Hunt was described several times as being humble or trembling nervously, clearly overwhelmed by the amount of attention she received. She spoke of her recollection of the auction and the one thing that stood out in her memory. It was a story of a comb she wore in her hair that Rev. Beecher had her remove as he told her, “My child never wear anything in your hair other than what god put there.” According to Mrs. Hunt all other incidents in her story were repeated to her by others and felt like they were not her own recollections.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle May 16, 1927. Brooklyn Collection.
In the rest of her speech, Mrs. Hunt thanked the Plymouth Church and Reverend Beecher for their Christ-like work, love, understanding and compassion, and for their work with securing the freedom of the enslaved. She also thanked them for giving her “a good start to citizenship” and for the gift of education. She also spoke on the fact that her mother and siblings remained enslaved and were not seen by her again, and expressed her gratitude to the church that allowed her to escape the same fate. “I am glad of this opportunity to publicly acknowledge that I have always had a feeling of deep love and gratitude toward this church whose congregation did so much for me." These agents of the almighty snatched me from a fate which can only be imagined, never known, as my dear mother and brothers have not been heard of by any of our family since that separation 67 years ago.” She spoke to her optimism for the future and mentioned that she would probably not visit Plymouth Church or Brooklyn again. One year after her visit to Plymouth Church Mrs. Hunt passed away in Washington DC after a serious operation and a week of being ill.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle Oct. 28, 1928. Brooklyn Collection.
She was commemorated in the form of a portrait of her as “Pinky the slave child” with Reverend Beecher that was painted by artist Henry Roseland. The funds for the portrait were secured by the "Negro Citizens of Brooklyn" and it was presented to the church in a special service. The Eagle’s subheadline described her as “Their Race’s Champion.”
Churches: Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims-Slaves. Brooklyn Eagle photo collection, Brooklyn Collection.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle June 3rd 1932. Brooklyn Collection.
The story of “Pinky” is not the typical take on a role played by a woman in the fight against abolition. She was not a willing participant or an adult at the time. As a child, she was put into a position that persuaded others to take note of the horrors of enslavement that encouraged them to react. Was this the best solution or way to persuasion? Absolutely not, but was it effective in getting people’s attention? Unfortunately it was. It remained vividly in the minds of those who witnessed it and became a part of Plymouth Church and Reverend Beecher's history.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16 1927. Brooklyn Collection.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sept. 4, 1938. Brooklyn Collection.
There are so many more questions that can be raised about this episode in history. Mrs. Hunt and her part in Brooklyn’s abolition story is definitely one that deserves to be known and understood.
Blogger One More Folded Sunset and photographer Larry Racioppo are working on a series of pieces on Brooklyn's Third Avenue. This is an excerpt from the first. In future posts, they'll be interviewing businesses owners, uncovering art, and continuing to find inspiration in the avenue's changing landscape.
I'm drawn to city borders. Not 'edge of town' divisions, but the ones inside the city limits, where infrastructure, for better or worse, creates some kind of boundary: a rail track, a highway, an elevated train line. They're city landmarks, hardly ever for their architectural merits, but as barriers, and bold font strikes on a map. Sometimes the route of a train line or highway creates a neighborhood, sometimes it hews to an older route, and sometimes it breaks the pattern of a long-established grid. Sometimes it divides communities forever. As I walk in the city, I often follow elevated train lines. Partly it's a question of light - the shadows of the slatted tracks falling on the sidewalk or a building in the late afternoon - and partly it's the sound of the train juddering overhead. And if you happen to be up there, the shift of the platform beneath your feet as the train arrives or departs brings the platform, the journey, the permanence of anything at all, into the slightest moment of doubt. And then life composes itself again. Right around the elevated lines, things moves more slowly. While Els in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn were dispensed with over half a century ago, in much of the city they're still the way of life. From a train car, a ride on the tracks offers unparalleled views of the urban landscape. I take the F or the D or the Q as much for the journey itself as for the shore at the end of the line: those views of sky and of rooftop, of ragged graffiti tags, of in-your-face encounters with cornices, upper-floor window drapes and every variety of store sign. I take the train to escape the moraine of over-hyped territories farther north. It's a relief. But I'd just as soon be down below, where life still accommodates knots of businesses resistant to rapid change. The floating garment murals of the J & R laundromat, the clinking cocktail glasses of the Starlite Lounge, the Couch Potato of New Utrecht. Miraculous survivors all, Julius Knipl would be reassured by all of them. And borders like these make for a kind of infrastructure demimonde, where time and place are blurred at the edges.
Away from the elevated subway lines, there are darker borders. Living close to Third Avenue, I dip into the sub-expressway stream regularly, especially in the nearby teens and twenties. And its waters are deep. There's an overlay of history here. A Lenape homeland is 'acquired' and farmed by Dutch & later other European settlers. The area witnesses the Battle of Brooklyn. Paths become roads, then avenues; horse-drawn street cars become trolleys. A grid fills in with housing and industry, and a succession of immigrants make their homes in the brick and frame rowhouses close to the bay. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Third is marked by the growth of the working waterfront and its attendant industries. The area is booming. By the early 1940's, Commissioner Robert Moses' Parkway arrives, and a by now flagging waterfront gets a shot in the arm from the production demands of World War II. After the war, the area's economy sags again. The Parkway has helped to usher in the Age of the Automobile; a flight from city to suburb ensues. It also leaves Third both physically & environmentally scarred. For those immigrants who come to the neighborhood post-war, steady, well-paid jobs are thinner on the ground, and like the rest of urban America, by the 60's and 70's the area falls victim to economic and social turbulence. After a period of slow, steady recovery at the end of the century, the waterfront becomes once again a speculatory landscape, ripe for 'repurposing,' and bigger, outside players are ready to make moves on the area. As a misguided realtor put it, blissfully unaware of a typographical Freudian slip, the area's "bourgeoning."
The avenue today is certainly softer than it used to be, and pictures of thirty years ago show as much. Its transition continues, and commercial rents and property prices are booming. Some of the older businesses are holding their ground, while others are closing or moving away. There are fewer auto shops today, and the sex shops - video parlors and strip clubs - are thinner on the ground. Industry City, once dubbed by the New York Times "the Soho of Sunset Park," promotes a re-invented neighborhood, replete with co-working 'creatives,' and 'artisans,' and catering to expensive tastes. An $18 cup of coffee and a $600 marble dog bowl are yours for the taking here. A developer-driven city plan for a sleek new BQX streetcar on Third is purported to help transit-starved lower-income residents, but many suspect other motives behind the apparent benevolence. Some residents and businesses are buoyed by the new wealth coming into the area, while others fiercely resist the forces of gentrification.
Even tamed from its harder-edged decades, Third's still got its own rich, particular presence, and the aging expressway's still formidable. Ever-cautious, I race across its lanes, but if the light's against me mid-way, I have to admit I don't much mind. I like the expressway's dank median, sometimes so much that I'll miss the white light and have to wait all over again. Look about: a bevy of trucks, an exterminator's van worked over in technicolor, a windscreen memorial to a lost driver. Look up: the girders do have a certain beauty, and the shade of green paint that coats them looks like oxidized copper. Still, I can't believe they're capable of holding up the traffic overhead. How does this hulk of iron & cement stay standing? By all objective standards I should hate the expressway, but that's not entirely the case. Against my better judgement it draws me in.
Much of the history of this area is well documented - its colonization, its Scandinavian heritage, its waterfront heyday, and the waves of colonists and immigrants - from Dutch through to Mexican & Central American - who have made this piece of Lenapehoking their home. But some of its history is vague in aspect. The first Dutch house in Brooklyn was sited where exactly? A nineteenth century streetcar stable partially survives a Moses demolition blitz, but fades into anonymity. Photographs record the demolition as it happens, but what of the photographer himself, who remains something of a cipher? We'll look at a short stretch of the avenue, between Prospect and 38th, and observe its passage through time. We'll see it through the shadows and the girders of expressway, and we'll walk with Whitman - "one of the few artists who could see past the infrastructure to the souls it carried" - for inspiration.
"When Commissioner Moses finds the surface of the earth too congested for one of his parkways, he lifts the road into the air and continues it on its way."-November 1, 1941, New York Times
At the opening ceremony for the Gowanus Parkway, the Times, effusive with praise, cast Moses as an Olympian, and in the process of planning and executing his parkway vision he certainly showed a Greek god's indifference to mere mortals. Residents along the parkway's southern path pleaded for an alternate path, taking it along Second Avenue instead, away from the commercial hub of Third, but Moses had little sympathy. He declared the area around Third "a slum," and suggested that using the existing structure of the elevated train line below 38th would be a money saver. For Third Avenue residents north of 38th there was no elevated line; the Fifth Avenue El traveled down Fifth from Flatbush, before it swung over to Third at 38th. In The Power Broker, Robert Caro's brilliant biography of Moses, Caro describes the effect the Parkway had on the Sunset Park community, but he pays less attention to the northern section of the Parkway route, and concentrates instead on the area from 38th to 63rd, defined as Sunset Park. The issue of neighborhood names arises here. The date by which Sunset Park (below 36th or 38th) became a neighborhood name & not just a park is hard to call, though some sources have cited it as the 1950's or '60's. By most accounts though, the area above 38th was still South Brooklyn in 1940. And before it was South Brooklyn, it was Gowanus. Today the stretch above 38th is one of those moniker no-man's-lands. Is it South Brooklyn (outdated by now?), Sunset Park, or the newer Greenwood Heights? Today the Sunset Park border begins anywhere from 16th south. (Perhaps the Parkway & the Prospect Expressway markers were influential here.) Neighborhood names, it seems, are fiercely guarded, and today they fall victim to realtor appropriation & hyperbole, and the backlash to same. They depend on standpoint - age, ethnicity, political persuasion, economic interest. Where you live though, is largely a consequence of when you arrived on the scene.
The Sunset Park Caro focused on in The Power Broker suffered more than its South Brooklyn neighbors when the Parkway was built, in that the parkway divided a substantial residential community, west of Third Avenue, from the rest of Sunset Park, but all along the avenue's path the effects were catastrophic. Extensive demolition took place around Hamilton Avenue, the northern point of the Parkway, and all along the east side of Third a more than one hundred foot slice of buildings was demolished. Over 1,300 families were displaced.
And through that shadow, down on the ten-lane surface road beneath the parkway, rumbles (from before dawn until after dark after the opening of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel flooded the area with freight traffic) regiments, brigades, divisions of huge tractor-trailer trucks, engines gunning and backfiring, horns blasting, brakes screeching, so that a tape recording of Third Avenue at midday could have been used as the soundtrack for a movie or of a George Patton tank column. And from above, from the parkway itself, came the continual surging, dull, surf-like roar, punctuated, of course, by more backfires and blasts and screeches, of the cars passing overhead. Once Third Avenue had been friendly. Now it was frightening.
The never bucolic Parkway became an Expressway in 1961, when it was widened, and redefined as an interstate. This was all part of an expansion, through Bay Ridge, to the yet-to be-completed Verrazano Bridge, with more demolition & displacement along the way. Whatever its name, the roadway has never been popular. A blight on the avenue, a danger to pedestrians and drivers alike, a source of noxious environmental damage. For decades it's served as a symbol of transit failure: its design outdated, its structure degraded, and its capacity to handle traffic woefully insufficient. It's synonymous with bleak traffic updates on 1010 WINS. For decades the community has demanded its replacement, and for a while a tunnel looked like a real possibility, but plans were ultimately shelved. 'Interim' repairs continue.
Color photos by Larry Racioppo, 1993. To read One More Folded Sunset’s complete post about the long history of Third Avenue, including more images from the Brooklyn Collection, click here, and stay tuned for more posts on Third Avenue.
Ina Clausen (center), 1957, Prospect Park, Brooklyn.
With the inauguration of Donald Trump in January, it seems that we have entered a renewed moment in the public sphere, with each week defined by protests, community meetings, and urgent calls to contact your elected officials. This moment, however, is not so very brand new -- there is of course a long and varied history of protest movements and resistance both in the United States and abroad. Given the current political climate, I thought it would be appropriate to mine the Brooklyn Collection for some local precedent.
I turned to one of my favorite special collections, the Ina Clausen Collection, for inspiration. A bit about the collection’s namesake, Ina, according to our online finding aid: Ina Clausen was born February 21, 1943 to Einar Clausen and Linda Hansen Clausen in Brooklyn, NY. She attended the Prospect Heights High School, where she was on the art staff of her high school’s publication, the Cardinal. Clausen graduated in 1960. In the late 1960s Clausen co-founded a women’s collective print shop at 573 Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn. The shop was called the Greenpoint Print Shop, and was supported by donations of equipment from David Dellinger, who published Liberation Magazine in New Jersey. At the print shop, Clausen designed and printed materials for several local activist groups, including the Southern Conference Educational Fund, the Southside Community of Greenpoint, the National Association for Irish Freedom, Yellow Pearl (an Asian-American organization based in Chinatown), Los Tintos Indios, a Red Hook-based Puerto Rican group, and several women’s liberation groups. Clausen served as president of the Greenpoint Print Shop until late 1972, when she and the other officers all resigned and turned the corporation over to another group. During this period and beyond, Clausen participated in local activist organizations, including the Flatbush Committee to End the War in Vietnam. She also designed and published informational packets to educate women about the Women’s Liberation Movement. Her work in this movement included contributions to the feminist journal Up from Under, which focused on working women.
Let’s take a look at some of the flyers, pamphlets and journals in this collection and hopefully walk away with some inspiration from ticked-off Brooklynites of the past.
Flyers from the Flatbush Committee to End the War in Vietnam.
Call for a Coney Island Boycott, 4 July 1968. "Don't risk being herded behind gates like dogs."
Cover of Feelings from Women’s Liberation magazine, which Ina helped to design and publish. This periodical focused on creative writing and poetry authored by women participating in the movement.
Poem entitled “I am a Sandwich” from Feelings magazine, written by prominent feminist Shulamith Firestone. Text reads:
I turn into your sandwich
A fat one
Of pinklayered ham,
Of slicky kosher
A squished mound
But sometimes I can only make
A flat little hamburger
Needing too much ketchup,
Or a BLT on toast,
And falling apart,
But well mayonnaised
For all that.
On rich days
For 10c extra,
I add the red dream
Of a libby tomato."
At the Greenpoint Print Shop, Ina published another more overtly political magazine entitled Up From Under. The Brooklyn Collection owns six editions of this periodical, which features long articles from different voices in the movement, as well as practical how-to’s for women and satirical cartoons or advertisements. Some selections from those editions:
Up From Under cover, Volume 1, No. 4, 1971.
"Somehow we survive."
"I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there, and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator." - Mother Jones, Labor organizer circa 1900
Activism for women in prisons.
Dissemination as a community effort.
A practical how-to on changing a lightbulb. Others in this series include: fixing a flat tire, fixing a toilet, etc.
And this is only the beginning of the inspiration! The Ina Clausen collection is available upon request through the Brooklyn Collection.
Happy belated birthday, Ina!