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Knish Knosh

May 23, 2014 3:06 PM | 0 comments


Join us this Wednesday evening May 28th, when the "world's leading knish expert and author" Laura Silver will be with us to talk about her new book, "Knish, In Search of Jewish Soul Food".  Ms. Silver will share with us her travels and research through various countries and communities, as she traces the origins and contemporary expressions of this ubiquitous culinary icon that once reigned from Brownsville to the Lower East Side.

We'll have a knish reception at 6:30, with the talk beginning at 7:00 p.m. 


Researching Reinhardt

May 15, 2014 11:58 AM | 0 comments

If reports are to be believed, Brooklyn has been undergoing some kind of ground-shaking cultural renaissance for the past ten or twenty years. The borough -- once sleepy, then neglected -- is now a ballyhooed land barnacled with oft-parodied "artisanal" this-and-that shops, awash in alternative art-spaces, and peppered with the black and white "gear" of our recently dispatched cagers. Brooklyn is it! Brooklyn is cool! Brooklyn is a global brand, a baby's name! But if you Google "Brooklyn is" you will also see the gloomy auto-fill death of this shangrila not too far off on the horizon.  Right beside those proud paeans to the borough's hipness you'll also find this Google-generated sour epitaph: "Brooklyn is over." But before we go throwing dirt on our home and, here at the Brooklyn Collection, raison d'etre, let's take a look back at another link in the long chain of Brooklyn's cultural relevance, even if it is a link that was forged in Queens (undoubtedly New York's Coolville of the future).

We recently received a very generous donation of Brooklyn Dodger material from a life-long collector, Mr. Al Todres. The gift is largely comprised of the kind of ephemera that would have been swirling around any devoted fan's house: magazines, newsletters, lapel pins, ticket stubs, programs, and team yearbooks -- all of the little things that give so much color to the historical record.

The two images here are both scans of team yearbooks from the 1941 and 1942 seasons. And though these yearbooks are noteworthy because they commemorate remarkable seasons (in 1941 the Dodgers clinched their first pennant in 21 years, and in 1942 they ran a close second to the Cardinals, who won 106 to the Dodgers' 104 games) they are particularly noteworthy because of the young man who designed them.

It might be hard to see, but there beneath the disembodied hand and varied typeface (the disembodied hand and varied typeface which he chose) is the name of one of America's most notable post-war painters:

Not unlike the sighting of a yet-to-be heralded Richard Avedon in the pages of The Helm and The Mast, here we have a still unknown 28-year-old aspiring painter and day-job designer for the Brooklyn Dodgers named Adolph (Ad) Reinhardt. Curious to learn if Reinhardt grew up in Brooklyn, I headed upstairs to the Arts and Music division to see what I could find.

In this collection of Reinhardt's writings you'll find a (very funny) chronology of the artist's life written by the artist himself where we discover the following:

1913: Born, New York, Christmas Eve, nine months after Armory Show. (Father leaves "Old country" for America in 1907 after serving in Tsar Nicholas' army. Mother leaves Germany in 1909.)
1913: Malevich paints first geometric-abstract painting.
1914: Matisse paints
"Port-Fenetre, Collioure."
1914 Mondrian begins "plus-minus" paintings.
1915: Gets crayons for birthday, copies "funnies," Moon Mullins, Krazy Kat, and Barney Google.
1916 Juan Gris paints "Dish of Fruit"
1916 Dada in Zurich.
1917 Cuts up newspapers. Tears pictures out of books.
1917 October Revolution in Russia. Lenin replaces Kerensky.
1918 Malevich paints
"White on White"
1918 Peace. World War I ends.
1919: Enters Public Grade School No. 88, Fresh Pond Road, Ridgewood, Queens.

To see exactly where in Ridgewood Reinhardt lived, I checked census records on (free here at the library!) and found the following listing from a 1930 record:

That's 16 year old Ad Reinhardt third from the top. And though you can't see it here, the family is listed as residing at 2529 Madison St. in Ridgewood, Queens. But when I check Google maps to see where exactly 2529 Madison Street is I turn up nothing. Google is flummoxed. Paging through our atlases I also come up empty-handed. This part of Ridgewood is a bit too far into Queens to be captured by our Brooklyn-only atlas collection. Hitting nothing but dead ends, I see if I can't get a general idea of his whereabouts on Madison Street through the Enumeration District listed on the 1930 census. In the upper right hand corner you can find the ED for each page's listing of inhabitants; in Reinhardt's case it is 41-611. Going back into I search their Maps, Atlases, and Gazetteers database and find the Enumeration Districts for 1940 (close enough for our purposes) and turn up this:

From this rather bleary map, it would be my guess that Reinhardt lived somewhere on that block of Madison which I have circled in red. There are no addresses on this map, but the houses here were very likely in that 611 district. Here's how Google's ubiqutous eye saw this block back in 2012.

From here, Reinhardt need only walk 6 short blocks to PS 88. However, proximity, and the Dodger yearbooks above, were not Reinhardt's only connection to Brooklyn. As his chronology plainly states, 1947 saw the beginning of Reinhardt's teaching career at Brooklyn College and, as luck would have it, we have a few yearbooks from his time there. Below we see an arms-crossed Reinhardt surrounded by his colleagues in the 1951 Broeklundian.

And here's a close-up of the artist/professor from the 1954 yearbook.

And lastly, in a very Reinhardt-esque collage, we see the artist's head, along with those of the other Art Department instructors, stationed like statuary in Panini's Gallery of Views of Ancient Rome. (Reinhardt's is the large, topmost head just off center).

And though Reinhardt is perhaps best known for his weighty, abstract black paintings, he was also a talented and prolific comic artist (all those years of copying out Krazy Kat must have amounted to something!) and both of these modes were recently on display at a large show of his work at a Manhattan gallery back in late 2013. But if you missed that, you can always come by the Collection to have a peek at these Dodger yearbooks, where you'll find a number of gems like the ones reproduced below:

A Library for Children -- the Stone Avenue Branch

May 7, 2014 12:07 PM | 1 comment

The Stone Avenue Library Branch has stood at 581 Mother Gaston Boulevard for 100 years, and has recently celebrated that fact with a renovation and re-opening party. Of course, the street wasn't called Mother Gaston when the branch was built -- that came later, after local activist Rosetta "Mother" Gaston opened the Heritage House as an education and community center in this very library.  Another name change worth noting is that of the branch itself. Now known as the Stone Avenue Library, it first opened its doors in 1914 as the Brownsville Children's Library -- reportedly the first library in the world to cater specifically and exclusively to children.

Children wait patiently outside the Brownsville Children's Library, c. 1930

A recent New York Times article touched on the history of this branch, but we think it's worth delving into a bit more deeply. At the end of the 19th century the Brownsville neighborhood was changing rapidly. What had once been a pastoral suburbia was developing into a dense urban community as thousands of immigrants -- almost entirely Eastern European Jews -- moved to the area. Demand for library services was high, perhaps in part because of crowded and unsanitary conditions at the tenements that sprouted up to house this new population. Then, as now, the library provided a communal space outside the home and the opportunity for self-edification. The original Brownsville Branch opened in 1905, operating out of the Alliance Building at Pitkin Avenue and Watkins Street.  Its circulation doubled twice in its first two years of operation, driven from the start by enthusiastic demand for juvenile fiction. According to a 1908 annual report, republished in Margaret B. Freeman's 1940 thesis The Brownsville Children's Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library : its origin and development, fully two-thirds of the branch librarians' time and effort was spent on the children's collections. "The little readers are the most insistent and are very willing to wait a whole afternoon for the return of a book they want."

Crowded quarters in the Brownsville Branch children's room, 1909.

In that same year a Carnegie-built Brownsville Branch opened in its own space, but still the demands of local children taxed the branch's resources. A plot of land was purchased at Stone and Dumont Avenues (the latter now called Mother Gaston Boulevard) -- just six blocks from the standing Brownsville Branch -- for the purpose of easing some of the burden. Clara Whitehill Hunt, who served as Superintendent of Work with Children for the Brooklyn Public Library, proposed a novel idea for the space -- that new building be just for children.

Hunt included several design suggestions for the branch to serve the particular needs of its intended patrons. Practical suggestions included "1. We must get inside the building those long lines of children who have had to wait, out-of-doors, their turn at the loan and registration desks," and "5. Turnstiles are not needed, instead make the aisle beside the loan desk narrow. Children can be controlled better than grown-ups and turnstiles are dangerous with swarms of children." Indeed, Hunt thought of every last detail: "7. Woodwork should extend high enough so that dirty hands cannot reach the plaster." She was also adamant that the iron fence surrounding the library property have closely spaced bars, so that no curious heads could poke between the bars, only to find themselves stuck here. With these and many other specific recommendations folded into its architectural plan, the Brownsville Children's Library threw open its doors to welcome its target constitutency on September 24, 1914. 

Even with Hunt's design specifications in place, as you can see above, the queue inside the Brownsville Children's Library still snaked back upon itself multiple times and ran out the door down the block. In the annual reports from the branch's early years, much is made of what came to be known as "the line", which formed daily as librarians struggled to check in returned books fast enough to meet the demand of children checking out books. As Freeman details in her thesis, this line often extended down Dumont Street and past the entrance of a local butcher's shop, who complained loudly that the crowds of eager readers -- albeit orderly and well-behaved -- were ruining his business by blocking his doorway.


You can hardly begrudge the patrons their eagerness to get inside the building -- in addition to all the books they could want, for free, the children also had access to the large fireplace pictured above and meeting spaces for their various clubs and clans. Decorative elements were added to tickle a young one's fancy, including the fantastical scene depicted in the fireplace tile as well as rabbits heads carved into the arms of the reading benches. "The rabbits' ears," Freeman wrote in 1940, "laid flat along their necks, are now worn to a satiny smoothness by the affectionate pats of small hands." In these years before the mass availability of popular entertainments like movies and music, libraries were a primary bridge to the outer world, be it real or fictional. Moreover, many of these children were living in crowded tenements, so access to a nook of one's own was a precious thing. 

The Brownsville neighborhood changed as the 20th century wore on, losing much of its homogeneity as an Eastern European Jewish enclave when other populations moved in, including, over the years, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, and Arab-Americans. The branch saw a decline in its juvenile readership, which is explained in Freeman's survey by a rise in affluence among its original patron base, who could now afford to own their own copies of beloved titles.  In 1929 the branch extended its resources to teenagers, and it was in this location that the civic service group the Brownsville Boys Club held their planning meetings for several years.

Above, a 1953 Brownsville Boys Club meeting. In that same year, the club would open a recreation center just off of Mother Gaston Boulevard and Linden Boulevard.  The center still stands today as part of the Brownsville Playground.

After World War II the neighborhood saw even greater change.  Tenements were razed to make way for low income housing projects and the population was accordingly uprooted and resettled.  Today the branch is nestled among several housing projects -- the Van Dyke, Tilden, Brownsville, Howard and Seth Low Houses.  Juvenile readership declined with these neighborhood changes, and the need for a no-adults-allowed library branch was found to be less pressing.  Renamed the Stone Avenue Library and broadened again to serve patrons of all ages, it has continued to serve the Brownsville neighborhood alongside its predecessor branch just six blocks away.   

 Above and below, children's programs at the Stone Avenue Branch in the 1970s.