Results 1 to 8 of 8

Thread: Brooklyn Nostalgia

  1. #1

    Default Brooklyn Nostalgia

    February 22, 2004

    CITY LORE

    Put Down That Violin. Now.

    By THOMAS BOYLE


    Is it "Only the dead know Brooklyn" or "Brooklyn knows only the dead"? Gage & Tollner, above, has joined the Dodgers as one of the borough's dear departed.

    OUT here in Brooklyn, we hear that New Jersey's Nets are coming. This could be great news, but at the same time it brings back the bitter memory of the nasty departure of our baseball Dodgers in 1957. And just over a week ago, Gage & Tollner, our oldest restaurant and most charming culinary relic of the dear departed 19th century (sorry about that, Peter Luger), closed its doors, bringing to many residents, and former denizens, of Kings County yet another tear-stained loss of a classic past. In my household, such emotions don't always run as high as they might: here is the response of one of the younger members of the family: "Gag! That good-old-days stuff is so over. Especially in Brooklyn."

    Pretty cold, eh? And a bit hurtful to someone like me. I like to make a pretense of skeptical rationalism but must admit that I felt a secret tickle when it became likely that a real major-league sports team would extract sweet revenge for the loss of the Dodgers; not to mention a pang of remorse to realize that the prospect of visiting a gaslit restaurant a couple of subway stops away from my house was, well, over.

    This despite the fact that although I've worked in Brooklyn since 1969 and lived here for most of those years, I haven't forgotten that I was still a high school kid in Pennsylvania rooting for the Phillies against the Dodgers when that not always distinguished team (a k a Dem Bums) still occupied Ebbets Field, or was it "Wait-Till-Next-Year'' Shrine? And the gaslit seafood palace in question (along with the Fulton Street shopping district it occupied) had been flying well below my personal consumer radar for decades.

    I raised the issue with Martha Nadell, a colleague who recently taught a course called "Brooklyn in Literature." One of the striking discoveries she made in preparing the reading list was just how thoroughly the books were shot through with nostalgia. Was it knee-jerk nostalgia? "Depends on the writer," she said, "but you can bet it's out there, in literature and life. Especially life. I'm from Brooklyn, but I of course meet the newcomers every day, and it seems for a lot of them it takes about 24 hours to acquire this sort of patina of enhanced memory."

    This struck close to home. In spite of sympathy for my neighbors across Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights who may lose homes and jobs if the Nets build their arena, I still can't erase from my mind the stirring echoes of certain faces and names - Pee Wee, Jackie, Duke, Campy - or my enduring romance with local Victoriana. Am I afflicted with enhanced memory syndrome, too? Are we just still suffering the hangover from that old outer borough inferiority complex, grasping at mythical straws from the past to shore us up against Manhattan's perceived superiority?

    To this last question, the answer seems a simple negative. Cabbies no longer hesitate to bring us back across the bridges after a night in what, regrettably, many of us still call "the city." Dozens of fine new restaurants can be found only blocks from Gage & Tollner. Even Miranda of "Sex and the City" and Grace of "Will and Grace" have made their fictional crossings of the East River to join us in domestic bliss (though not without the requisite, and finally obsolete, outer borough jokes). Economic and cultural revivals in place in the brownstone neighborhoods are spilling over into corners of our borough not dreamt of as cozy or cutting-edge, at least for the past century.

    Brooklyn suffers the usual urban problems of crime, poverty, bad housing and racial inequality. But statistics show that things are getting better. Bed-Stuy, with its beautiful architecture, is undergoing restoration. Once-devastated neighborhoods like Bushwick are on the verge of rebirth. Places like Brownsville and East New York are seeing their vacant, refuse-strewn lots and burned-out buildings filled in with affordable housing and decent stores.

    Which brings us back to the nostalgia for the good old days. Why is it so pervasive here, so much so that we embrace even the dimmest and least reliable memories? Believe me, the old saw that one in seven American families passed through here in pursuit of streets paved with gold doesn't wash as a reason for schmaltzy retrospection. Even those writers who choose to dwell on the pleasures of their Brooklyn youth seem ultimately to subvert what at first glance appears to be a misty-eyed dream.

    PETE HAMILL, writing in New York magazine in 1969, conjured up a Park Slope past as "something special, almost private" that was about to disappear with the loss of The Eagle, the jobs at the Navy Yard and, of course, the Dodgers. But 25 years later, in "A Drinking Life,'' he made sure the reader got a frightening sense of those gang-ridden 50's streets: "The codes demanded that all loyalty go to the gang, ahead of the family, church, city, or country. Everybody had to drink hard and fight to the death; the women had to 'put out' for the men."

    Jonathan Lethem's recent novel "The Fortress of Solitude'' deals with danger and racial strife from the perspective of the child of one of the first "new" families in Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill in the late 60's and the 70's. In "Bailey's Cafe,'' the Brooklyn College grad Gloria Naylor seems ambivalent: "I grew up in Flatbush believing that Brooklyn was the capital of the world and that all colored people except my family were rich."

    The photographer Weegee said about certain good old days in Brooklyn: "Looking back on the years of Murder Inc., I find I used up 10 press cameras, five cars, and every night 20 cigars and 20 cups of coffee. For me crime had paid, in a very lush way." And his famous photograph of Coney Island, taken July 28, 1940, at 4 p.m.; do these millions of close-packed revelers suggest a paean to community or induce a nightmare of sweaty claustrophobia? Take your pick.

    Brooklyn is a place where change is dramatic, constant, often sudden. Coney Island Avenue can change within a block or a year from Irish to Polish to Mexican to Pakistani to Orthodox Jewish. How can one pin down a thought, a moment, a generation, without resorting to a little polishing of the veneer of the past?

    I guess the more we know, the less we know. I think, finally, of Thomas Wolfe's 1935 story "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn," a title I once borrowed for a book of my own. Wolfe's narrator, a man with one of the "dese, dem and dose" accents that barely survive today, encounters a stranger with a map on a subway train headed for New Utrecht Avenue, Borough Park and Bensonhurst. The stranger says he is lost because he wants to go to Red Hook. Why would anyone want to go to Red Hook, the narrator asks in disbelief. Because, the stranger says, I'm trying to get to know Brooklyn. The narrator scoffs that nobody can get to know Brooklyn with a map; he's been living here all his life and he can't get to know it. Indeed, he finally says, to get to know Brooklyn, you'd have to be so old you'd be dead.

    Thus, Wolfe's title. Thus, the patina of enhanced memory.

    Thomas Boyle, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, is the author of several crime novels set in Brooklyn.



    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default just another one of my rants...

    I moved to Brooklyn over 12 years ago but have been mildly annoyed by this sort of nostalgia my entire life. I've heard it from my Grandparents and my Father since they used to live in Brooklyn. I used to subscribe to the defunct magazine Brooklyn Bridge and every month the letters section was filled with misty-eyed recollections of Brooklyn from former inhabitants. There is a whole industry based on this and there are many books written with this OH HOW WONDERFUL BROOLYN ONCE WAS theme. Almost all of this comes from former inhabitants of my borough. For every ex-Brooklynite who laments for all that what once was I have one simple question: So why did you leave ?!?!

    What is rarely said (but implied) by all this Nostalgia is that these folks are wishing for the days before Brooklyn experienced a huge migration from the 1940's-'60, the so-called "white flight" phenomenon. Families who lived in Brooklyn for generations left in droves because they were uncomfortable with living in close proximity to immigrants and people of color. For example much of my family was horrified that I moved here and my Grandmother practically begged me not to. I'm ashamed to say that some of her reasoning was racist, but she also felt that crime had increased so much that Brooklyn was a much more dangerous place. (And also like many, she forgets that she was an immigrant herself!!)

    So my family, like many others, fled Brooklyn to the greener pastures of Long Island and similar 'burbs elsewhere. I couldn't find any data on this but I don't think Brooklyn ever became as dangerous in that period as most people say that it was.

    And these are the folks that now fuel most of the nostalgia for Good Ol' Brooklyn. So to these people I say: You should have stuck it out. You should have ignored the xenophobic urge to buy into the Suburban myth. Put away your Brooklyn Dodgers jersey and take a good look at the real reasons you left home.

  3. #3

    Default

    You can't blame people for leaving; government policy supported the suburban explosion. The mainstream American dream, then and now, is to raise a family in a peaceful tree-shaded small town (watch Little Shop of Horrors for the most entertaining presentation of this American dream-- adding a man-eating space creature to the degradations of post-war inner-city life). Economic policy encouraged home-ownership, highway subsidies made commuting by automobile viable for the first time, the manufacturing base was moving to where land is more plentiful and cheap, and Americans followed the money. Crime, drugs, and racial tension only added fuel to the fire.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Brooklyn Nostalgia

    Even Miranda of "Sex and the City" and Grace of "Will and Grace" have made their fictional crossings of the East River to join us in domestic bliss (though not without the requisite, and finally obsolete, outer borough jokes).
    "When I first moved here, I had a 718 number. I cried myself to sleep every night." :wink:

  5. #5

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by dbhstockton
    You can't blame people for leaving; government policy supported the suburban explosion. The mainstream American dream, then and now, is to raise a family in a peaceful tree-shaded small town (watch Little Shop of Horrors for the most entertaining presentation of this American dream-- adding a man-eating space creature to the degradations of post-war inner-city life). Economic policy encouraged home-ownership, highway subsidies made commuting by automobile viable for the first time, the manufacturing base was moving to where land is more plentiful and cheap, and Americans followed the money. Crime, drugs, and racial tension only added fuel to the fire.
    I agree that the government - along with the automobile lobby - were behind the American "dream." And I also acknowledge the many economic and social factors that ultimately worked against the borough. I still contend that if folks had stuck it out, demanded their fair share of the city's budget, and tried in other various ways to make things work here, Brooklyn would not have suffered quite as dramatically, and we wouldn't have to endure the annoyingly tacky Brooklyn nostalgia industry .

  6. #6

    Default

    Agreed. It is so rare that urban communities stick together to weather socio-economic change. It's so ingrained in the American character to just move on to someplace else when things start to get hairy. It always seems like there's someplace greener or sunnier to move, with better schools. There can also a bit of a stigma attatched to those that don't leave the the old neighborhood and strike out on their own, constantly drawing off the best and the brightest of a community.

    Totally tangental; Speaking of the Auto Lobby, Didn't GM buy all the streetcar companies and run them into the ground so that people would have to ride buses?

  7. #7

    Default Old Brooklyn vs New

    Quote Originally Posted by GowanusGuy View Post
    I moved to Brooklyn over 12 years ago but have been mildly annoyed by this sort of nostalgia my entire life. I've heard it from my Grandparents and my Father since they used to live in Brooklyn. I used to subscribe to the defunct magazine Brooklyn Bridge and every month the letters section was filled with misty-eyed recollections of Brooklyn from former inhabitants. There is a whole industry based on this and there are many books written with this OH HOW WONDERFUL BROOLYN ONCE WAS theme. Almost all of this comes from former inhabitants of my borough. For every ex-Brooklynite who laments for all that what once was I have one simple question: So why did you leave ?!?!

    What is rarely said (but implied) by all this Nostalgia is that these folks are wishing for the days before Brooklyn experienced a huge migration from the 1940's-'60, the so-called "white flight" phenomenon. Families who lived in Brooklyn for generations left in droves because they were uncomfortable with living in close proximity to immigrants and people of color. For example much of my family was horrified that I moved here and my Grandmother practically begged me not to. I'm ashamed to say that some of her reasoning was racist, but she also felt that crime had increased so much that Brooklyn was a much more dangerous place. (And also like many, she forgets that she was an immigrant herself!!)

    So my family, like many others, fled Brooklyn to the greener pastures of Long Island and similar 'burbs elsewhere. I couldn't find any data on this but I don't think Brooklyn ever became as dangerous in that period as most people say that it was.

    And these are the folks that now fuel most of the nostalgia for Good Ol' Brooklyn. So to these people I say: You should have stuck it out. You should have ignored the xenophobic urge to buy into the Suburban myth. Put away your Brooklyn Dodgers jersey and take a good look at the real reasons you left home.

    You, not being born/raised in Brooklyn of the past, do not understand.
    You do not understand that you could not "stick it out" after you come home from work and find your apartment burglarized, or when you get held up on the street at gun or knife point. You do not understand how difficult
    it is to put up with blasting music from the neighbors at all hours of the night when you need to get some sleep to go to work tomorrow and your neighbors dont have to worry about that because they are on welfare with 5 or 6 kids running loose and no daddy in the household.

    You dont understand what it is like to step over trash tossed out windows or into hallways because your neighbors dont like to go to the basement to deposit the trash.

    You dont understand a lot of things because you were not there in the 60's and 70's when normal life went out the window and the only thing for a respectable citizen to do was to LEAVE.

    Surely we lamant for the Brooklyn we remember. You would have loved it.

  8. #8
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Australia
    Posts
    7,476

    Default

    Good to see the buildings still there.



    Social Clubs, Long Gone, Left Their Meeting Places Behind

    By CHRISTOPHER GRAY


    The Carlton:





    Union League Club:






    President Lincoln


    General Ulysses S. Grant

    Lincoln Club:





    Crescent Athletic Club:



    THE five-borough consolidation of 1898 was a bitter pill for many in Brooklyn, who correctly foresaw the eclipse of their influential city by the powerhouse of Manhattan. Few things document that change as well as the collapsed network of men’s social clubs in Brooklyn, at least four of whose clubhouses survive.

    Three of the four were built within two years of one another. So competitive were the Brooklyn clubs that the Carlton (a k a Carleton) put up a headquarters in 1890 at Sixth and St. Marks Avenues in Park Slope simply because of rumors that another club was organizing to build nearby.

    The Carlton had been dry, but after an 1889 meeting at which the membership voted, 38 to 11, to serve beer and wine, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that it had “stepped to the front rank of Brooklyn clubs at a strike.”

    This momentously fermentative change was thus in effect for the opening of the clubhouse, attended by 1,500 guests, including the mayors of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

    The club served a 10-course dinner, and members lent paintings by Jervis McIntee, George Inness and Eastman Johnson for the event. The Carlton was apparently designed by Mercein Thomas, and it is a mild, even modest, essay that could just as easily be a small apartment house, which indeed it has become.

    Not so the Union League Club. Founded in the 1860s to support the Union cause, it built an elaborate clubhouse in Crown Heights at Dean Street and Bedford Avenue in 1890. The architect, Peter Lauritzen, chose the Romanesque style, in dark brownstone and a peculiarly tepid light-brown brick that gives it a provincial air.

    The two facades hinge on an octagonal corner tower that culminated in a lookout within an eight-sided belfry, the flanking mansard roof topped with eagles and lions. At the entrance, the busts of Lincoln and Grant are still crisp, although the roof has been stripped of its majesty, like a tree that has lost its leaves in a hurricane.

    Hundreds waited at the club for results of the presidential election of 1900, and pandemonium followed the announcement that the Republican McKinley-Roosevelt ticket had won. “Bryan shouters seemed to be in the extreme minority,” The Eagle reported.

    Another group of Republicans opened the Lincoln Club, also in 1890, on Putnam Avenue, between Irving Place and Classon Avenue, in Clinton Hill. Although somewhat fallen, this is one of the great club buildings of New York, a wild, chunky Queen Anne fantasy of turrets, buttresses, monograms and custom-shaped brick.

    The architect was the Mexican-born, Paris-trained Rudolph Daus, and his masonry is something to marvel at. Over the main-floor windows run half-round arches of delicious ribbon-pattern terra cotta. Above the fourth-floor windows on the left are perhaps the largest splayed arches in New York, at least five feet high. And the terra-cotta monogram at the top, “LC,” is the size of a Mini Cooper.

    There was plenty of nuance in the temperance issue — the Lincoln served ale, but not wine. The Eagle reported that the billiard room was the largest at any club in Brooklyn, nine tables in all, the interior in quartered oak. Two ensembles played at the opening night, Cappa’s Seventh Regiment Band and Hazay Natzy’s Hungarian Band.

    The final work in this quartet stands at Clinton and Pierrepont Streets, in Brooklyn Heights, built in 1906 as the Crescent Athletic Club.

    With 12 stories, the Crescent was larger than most clubs in Manhattan, with a swimming pool, a rifle range and a 3,000-square-foot wine cellar. In 1918 the club opened up the range to nonmembers to improve military preparedness. “American youth takes naturally to shooting,” said Montaigu Sterling, the member in charge.

    But Brooklyn’s clubdom was peaking just as the Crescent opened its magnificent high-rise palazzo. The Carlton Club left its building in 1907, and the Union League lost its house a few years later. The Lincoln Club dissolved in 1931, and in 1939 foreclosure overtook the Crescent. It had been a brief, shining moment.

    The Crescent is now St. Ann’s School; the Carlton has been converted to apartments; and the Union League houses a senior center and offices. In each case, very little of the interior appears to survive.

    But the musty old Lincoln has the air of a place that has seen little change, even though the facade is covered in paint. It is now the headquarters of a fraternal group, the Independent United Order of Mechanics, Friendly Society, Western Hemisphere. Multiple e-mail and telephone inquiries beginning in June were not returned. There is no doorbell, and on two recent visits the building looked absolutely vacant, although not in any way abandoned.

    The architectural historian Andrew Dolkart, who examined the building in the 1980s for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, says he recalls “lots of oak,” and it seems likely that the interior is still impressive, a time capsule waiting to be pried open.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/re.../15scapes.html

Similar Threads

  1. Walking in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn
    By krulltime in forum Photos and Videos of New York
    Replies: 16
    Last Post: March 11th, 2014, 07:56 PM
  2. Brooklyn in Color in Brooklyn (Atlantic Ave Subway Art Show)
    By sean in forum Events, Groups, and Meetups
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: October 17th, 2006, 11:03 PM

Tags for this Thread

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  


Google+ - Facebook - Twitter - Meetup

Edward's photos on Flickr - Wired New York on Flickr - In Queens - In Red Hook - Bryant Park - SQL Backup Software