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Williamsburg: Then & Now

Aug 27, 2014 7:06 PM | 0 comments

Our collection of photographs by Anders Goldfarb are some of the most contemporary images in our holdings aside from those taken by Jamel Shabazz. However, unlike Shabazz who captures the personalities of Brooklynites, Goldfarb mostly captures the personalities of the borough's dilapidated buildings. In a 2012 interview with Goldfarb, Peter Mattei asked: "What emotion do you feel when you see these buildings? What makes you want to photograph them?"

"It's a form of compassion I think I have for the building," Goldfarb replied, "because they're old and the old as a rule tend to perish and I feel bad for them ..."

Goldfarb's explanation certainly holds true for many an old building in New York City and debates abound on whether gentrification is driving or repulsing this movement in Brooklyn's own neighborhoods. In a city increasingly obsessed with brownstones and loft conversions, my own inclination is to err on the side of preservation: that caring for these buildings is making a comeback. Lucky for us, the Brooklyn Collection possesses some great evidence to inform both sides of the debate, so you can decide for yourself. Our collection of Goldfarb's offers a fascinating smattering of photos from pre-gentrified Williamsburg. Situating these alongside current Google images of the same addresses offers food for thought on both ends of the spectrum:

Driggs and N. 8th Street, 1998

Apparently not much has changed for this old building, including the curtains and blinds!


Driggs and N. 8th Street, September 2013


Bedford between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, December 1997

Here the pizza restaurant remains while the liquor store has been replaced by a hat shop (established in 1895 evidently, but not at this location!).

Bedford between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, September 2013

Intersection of Throop and Lorimer Streets Williamsburg, February 1999


Intersection of Throop and Lorimer Streets Williamsburg, September 2013


Bedford and N. 5th Street, January 1997


Bedford and N. 5th Street, September 2013


Berry Street between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, January 1999


Berry Street between N. 7th and N. 8th Streets, September 2013


Intersection of Bedford Avenue and N. 9th Street, 1987


One of my favorite comparisons ... it seems to sum up the transition in Williamsburg between 1987 and today perfectly.

Intersection of Bedford Avenue and N. 9th Street, September 2013


As the following photos show, buildings are not the only New York City relics that have endured a bit of a makeover since the 1980s and 90s:

L Train Williamsburg, January 1988

Some for the better ...

All Aboard, March 8, 2009 A. Strakey

... and some debatably for the worse.

East Williamsburg, March 18, 1989

Anders Goldfarb


Bedford Avenue near N. 9th Street, May 1995

A Look at the Year Ahead: Brooklyn Connections

Aug 22, 2014 12:48 PM | 0 comments

We at Brooklyn Connections are gearing up for our 8th year reaching out to local schools, teaching research skills and learning about local history.  With an exciting two-year, $400,000 grant from the New York Life Foundation and additional generous funding from The Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund, David and Paula Weiner Memorial Grant, The Hearst Foundation, Inc., Tiger Baron Foundation, and Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, we can continue our efforts of teaching authentic historical research to students around Brooklyn!

Students at PS/ IS 163 learned about transit history.  They wrote and performed a play about their research findings!

Thanks to our generous funders, Brooklyn Connections will be able to expand in several important ways:

*Additional staffing will allow us to serve an impressive 32 partner schools.

*Connections educators will continue to write lessons and curricula that are Common Core and AASL aligned.

*Each partner school will receive a collection of Brooklyn history books, maps and other materials, ensuring that research can take place in the classroom.

*A pilot program for selected Brooklyn Public Library branches to introduce a mini-Brooklyn Collection.

*Targeted outreach campaign to reach underserved neighborhoods including Bedford-Stuyvesant/ Weeksville, Brownsville, Canarsie, Cypress Hills, East New York, and Spring Creek.

*Connections staff will organize two teacher open houses and several free teacher workshops that will focus on developing research skills in the classroom and local history.  These sessions will be open to all New York City educators.

Teachers touring the Brooklyn Collecton

*Presentations at local and national conferences including the National Council for History Education in March.

*We will work with Pratt University to provide professional development opportunities for MLS students.

*The completion of an 8-module social movements curriculum funded by the David and Paula Weiner Memorial Grant.

If you are a teacher, school administrator, parent or other education-minded Brooklynite who is interested in bringing Brooklyn Connections to a classroom near you, please check out our website.  We are currently accepting applications for partner schools for the 2014-2015 school year.

A Digest of a Different Sort

Aug 5, 2014 1:25 PM | 1 comment

Last week I was looking for a piece of ephemera for a project packet I was creating on Brownsville when I stumbled across something different: a digest, if you will. This digest then went on to change the entire course of my day. How did one small magazine change the entire course of my day, you ask? Well, I immediately stopped looking for information on Brownsville, that's how. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading about sports, history, restaurants, and women in "The Magazine For Brooklyn, About Brooklyn, In Brooklyn."

Brooklyn Digest Magazine was a small monthly magazine published out of the old Ridgewood Times Building on Cypress Avenue. Side note: The Ridgewood Times Building is quite different as well. Built in 1932, the newspaper castle (I mean, look at those merlons!) was taken over by a public school in the 1960s and is now condos and a Rent-A-Center. Such is the way of the world, eh? Oh, if you want to see the old Ridgewood Times, we can help you with that too. 


852 Cypress Avenue - Map Data: Google Maps, 2014

I am not sure when the magazine started and I don't actually know when it ended, either. I did try to cross-reference some of the information I found in The Digest with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, but when I searched for 'different digest' all I found was this snide looking Cream of Rice child:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 14 Feb 1943. 

I'm sure with a bit more digging I'll be able to find more information as to The Digest's specifics. I'll keep you posted. 

I do know that the Brooklyn Collection has four issues in the ephemera files: July, September, November of '46 and January of '47. Each issue was ¢15 or you could pay $1.50 for a year's subscription.

As expected, the stories and articles inside revolved around Brooklyn. These little booklets had their work cut out for them, as Brooklyn was and is a pretty big borough. As you'll see, they did a decent job covering all of their bases: 

You've got your feature!

In November of 1946, Gene Tierney was hot. Brooklyn born with a "love for fresh paint and gasoline," she was all over the silver screen and Brooklyn couldn't have been prouder. Below is a photo of Gene from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's portrait collection. She was a looker, no joke.  

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "Gene Tierney." Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.

In January of 1947 the feature was funnyman Mickey Rooney (who was also adorable, am I right?).

You've got your sports!

Some of the sports columns detailed past games or future matches, while others were just lists of incredibly relevant and helpful facts. Apparently the average speed of a hockey puck is 88 miles per hour. Golly gee, thanks Different Digest!

You've got your history!

The Digest had stories about old Brooklyn and some old Brooklynites: Coney Island, the Battle of Brooklyn, Whitman, Gershwin. One of them, coincidently the one about Walt Whitman, was written by George Wakefield, the former head of General Reference at the Central Branch of BPL (hey, that's where I work!) and, at the time of writing (July of '46) he was the Branch Manager at the Bedford Branch.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "Bedford." 195-?. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.

George Wakefield is pictured here with his colleagues at the Bedford Branch. He is the gentleman in the back on the left. 

You've got your humor!

From a section entitled "In Brooklyn It Happened."

Wild Bill Ames, the mimic-king from Ridgewood, tells of the nun who found a hundred dollar bill on Central Avenue. Not wishing to keep the money, the sister approached an ill-shaven character leaning against a poolroom window, handed over the large bill and said, "God Speed!" The next day the ill-kempt man knocked at the convent door, and when the Mother Superior opened the door the individual gave her $800. While the mother looked at him in astonishment, the man ejaculated, "Give this to Sister Francis; tell her that 'God Speed' paid seven to one." 

You've also got some pretty fantastic cartoons scattered throughout. In light of all we know about the Gowanus, this one is pretty spot on. 

Now that's a merman any Brooklynite could love!

The editors of The Digest felt that Brooklyn had long been glossed over by travel guide writers. The September '46 issue contained a Brooklyn Pocket Guide:

(FYI - Baedeker is this guy.)

The Pocket Guide touched on a variety of topics including but not limited to:

"The Geography: Brooklyn is a territory bounded on the west by a huge body of water described as the East River and on the north by a place known as New York City." 

"The Topography: The region's terrain is moderately level excepting the Myrtle El and Ebbets Field. The site of Coney Island, however, is never on the level." 

"The Geology: The striking aspect of the territory of Brooklyn is the number of underground chambers known as subways, generally used to quarter drunks and other such nondescript characters as Giant's fans who've fallen asleep coming from the Dodger game." 

"The Language: Philologists maintain that the greater part of the population by and large speaks two languages - English and Doubletalk. A strange and somewhat fictitious dialect has emerged for which a Bronx publisher has printed a "Brooklyn-English; English-Brooklyn" dictionary."


And, finally, you've got your ladies!

Brooklynology has reported on many past beauty pageants: grandmas, babies, beer. Beauty was big in the 1940s and 1950s and, what with the wars and the sailors and the like, finding a pinup girl in the middle of The Different Digest didn't surprise me. As expected, these girls were quintessential Brooklyn and each one of them came equiped with her own "Zoot Suitor from Brooklyn". 

Miss January - February 1947

Miss November 1946

Miss July 1946

These sweet, silly little monthlies were clever and, I assume, well-liked by their readers. Aside from the aforementioned sections, there were also restaurant guides and reviews, short stories, poems, and editorials.

What would today's Brooklyn Digest Magazine look like? Inevitably we'd have new faces and new topics, but surely the spirit would be similar: a cheekiness, a boldness, and a wealth of artistic talent. 

I do know one thing for sure, there are still smoking longshore(mer)men in the Gowanus.

Don't believe me?

I'll bet you two wooden nickels and a bottle cap.