O Brooklyn, my Brooklyn . . .
Perhaps to begin at the place where I was bornJewish Hospital of Brooklyn, now known as Interfaith Hospitalaround the corner from the Park Place station on the Franklin Avenue shuttle.
No, the place to begin is in the subways, which defined my identity as a Brooklynite and a New Yorker. From the age of four I knew which line I was on and knew the different stops and models of cars used on each. We lived in Borough Park at 57th Street and 15th Avenue and took the West End line at 55th Street, right over the fruit market on 13th Avenue ("The Best For Less"). Later we moved to Flatbush, on Ocean Avenue near Church, and still later to Coney Island, the headwaters of the Nile, so to speak. The West End cars had the conductor operating the doors from the middle of the car, which was about 75 feet long. The Sea Beach line and the Brighton line used articulated cars in fixed groups of three, with front-end numbers identifying the line, which were never used on other cars. Brighton was #1, Sea Beach #4. All the cars had woven cane seats, overhead fans, and yellow lights that made the car seem to be an island of warmth and light as it hurtled through the darkness. In 1954 "Que Sera Sera" was a big hit, the Sea Beach line still ran open-air cars to Coney Island in the summertime, the Culver line ran in a loop from Ditmas Avenue to Broad Street and back in a complicated dance of now-the-bridge, now-the-tunnel known oxymoronically as a Local Express, trains stopped at Myrtle Avenue, and DeKalb Avenue seemed to be the crossroads of the world.
'50s memories: Downtown, with the RKO Albee, Loew's Metropolitan, McCrory's and A&S; taking the Church Avenue trolley car, which dove under Ocean Parkway in a short tunnel; "The Bridge on the River Kwai" on the wide screen at Loew's Oriental; Coney Island when Astroland was new and Stauch's Baths and Ravenhall Baths were still operating; hot dogs for 15 cents at Nathan's; the last days of Steeplechase Park with the horserace ride; taking the 69th Street Ferry to Staten Island. (The ferries and all the elevated stations were painted Army green with WWII surplus paint.)
Later, after we moved to Flatbush in 1959: walking past the derelict Ebbets Field; Prospect Park from the Greek temple on Parkside Avenue to the Vale of Cashmere and Grand Army Plaza; free Sunday chamber music concerts at the Brooklyn Museum (and the mummies, and the exotic items in the gift shop, and the Gilbert Stuarts, and the Dutch house); cherry blossoms in the Botanic Garden(s); walking the Brooklyn Bridge and feeling you owned the entire city; airplanes landing at Floyd Bennett Field; Flatbush Avenue with Macy's, Garfield's cafeteria, Jahn's and Fulton's ice cream parlors, and five "air-cooled" movie theaters; Saturday double features of James Bond and war films at the Loew's Kings with the red carpets and grand stairway; "art films" at the Astor, including your first exposure to Fellini, Truffaut and British New Wave; the store on Clarendon Road that sold back copies of Mad magazine; seeing the known world from the top of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building; walking the length of Kings Highway one crazy day. Erasmus Hall High School, with its faculty full of Ph.D.'s, its famous alumni, the hapless basketball team forced to play against the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of Boys' High, the magnificent stained-glass chapel, the wonderful Christmas Concerts where half the kids singing "Adeste Fidelis" were Jewish, and a graduating class of 1250 in 1966, of whom the top two percent were accepted by Ivy League schools, every last one of them. And not to forget Brooklyn College, where in the mind's eye tuition will always be free, the year will always be 1966 and the time will always be ten minutes to two, but which in 1967 would be among the first colleges in the U.S. to see police violence against war protesters.
Still later, living in Coney Island high-rise heaven on the former site of Dreamland: the B&B Carousel, painstakingly repainted each winter; the arcade behind Nathan's with the continuous-loop tape of hysterical laughter, and the "Toilet Seat Game;" bike riding on the Boardwalk in March, past the old Half Moon Hotel; Mrs. Stahl's knishes.
Through it all: wondering why anyone would want to drive on an expressway from Brooklyn to Queens (yuch!) or build a bridge to Staten Island; the sign on the Belt Parkway under the aforesaid bridge welcoming you to "America's fourth largest city;" the insane statistic that approximately one out of every seventy-three Americans now lives in Brooklynand what fraction were born there?
13 October 1996
I lived at 1092 Sutter Avenue until graduating from Jefferson H.S. in 1951. I went to Berriman J.H.S. (P.S. 64) before H.S.. My father was the kosher butcher corner Atkins Ave. You have no info on East New York or New Lots in those days. I am interested in contacting fellow students and playmates from that era to talk talk about street games that we played, etc. My wife, Liane Reif, grew up on 1092 President street and went to Erasmus H.S.. She can be contacted at Reif@bbri.hrvard.edu.
20 October 1996