The Brooklyn Nobody Knows: Greenpoint

william helmreichSociologist William B. Helmreich’s urban walking guide, The Brooklyn Nobody Knows: An Urban Walking Guide details the beauty, diversity and history that combine to make Brooklyn what is arguably New York’s hottest borough. By simply walking around, talking to residents, and absorbing the borough’s rich history, Helmreich captures the essence and unique facets of Brooklyn. The book is filled with detailed facts and vivid imagery that will inspire a deeper look at these popular (and lesser-known) neighborhoods. Over the course of the next several weeks, we will be running features on some surprising facts about each of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods.

Don’t miss Bill Helmreich at the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday, September 18! If you visit our booth and tell him your street, he’ll tell you something you didn’t know about it. Our booth is #406 and Bill will be there 11-12:30 (There may even be ice cream.)


Helmreich begins with a look at the neighborhood known as Greenpoint, which sits at the northern-most part of Brooklyn:

Greenpoint was once heavily populated by Polish immigrants, and some of the streets of the neighborhood are lined with Polish stores and restaurants. Although the Polish influence has grown less concentrated, one can still get a sense of the Polish cultural influences.

The area was already home during the (the nineteenth century) for Polish establishments. The Polish-owned establishments are dwindling, slowly receding into the history of the neighborhood as it gentrifies. Yet one still sees Polish men, likely immigrants, trudging home in their work boots, wearing faded shirts and trousers, at the end of the day, and carrying their knapsacks, usually filled with the tools of their trade. Their weather-beaten faces are creased with the lines of hard work and perhaps the assorted worries and even disappointment that have marked their tansition from the old world, an ocean away.

If some parts of Greenpoint look familiar, that may be because parts of the neighborhood have been used in TV shows and movies. While Helmreich was walking, he saw where The Good Wife was currently being filmed.

On nearby Diamond Street, I pass by Blue Bloods Productions. There’s a trailer that’s been driven here all the way from Universal Studios, California. Right now they’re filming The Good Wife. But in a week or a month it could be another series or film. Greenpoint has, in fact, become a popular location for film/TV studios, and there are quite a few scattered throughout the area.

Helmreich takes note of a garden that is full of a variety of flora. What makes this an interesting garden is its location near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). The juxtaposition of the garden’s scenic environment against the expressway contributes a unique feel to the atmosphere of the park.

(Lentol Garden is) named after former assemblyman and state senator Edward Lentol. The garden, surrounded by an eight-foot-high black steel fence, features juniper and holly trees, a Chinese dogwood, roses, tulips, black-eyed Susans, and other flora and fauna. Inviting looking, wooden benches line a landscape path where you pass by a birdfeeder and a birdbath. I notice that one side of the park border is literally attached to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway… It’s an oasis in a metropolis where every inch of green space counts, even if it’s hard against a major expressway.

Along Hausmann Street, Helmreich noticed that every house, exactly 73 of them, had American flags flying in front of them. A woman he met while admiring the homes explains the reason why:

“The flags have been here since after 9/11, honoring those who fell there, especially Catherine Fagan, who lived here. We keep them up until they get dirty and then we replace them. Most of the owners have lived here for many years and they just decided to do it.”

William B. Helmreich is an award-winning author who has written many books including The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City (Princeton), where he wrote an analysis of all five of New York City’s boroughs. The book won him the inaugural 2014–15 Guides Association of New York Award for Outstanding Achievement in Book Writing. He is the professor of sociology at City  College of New York’s Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership and at CUNY Graduate Center. The Brooklyn Nobody Knows is the first of five planned walking guides, one for each borough of New York City.

An 816 mile walk in Brooklyn, an interview with William Helmreich

HelmreichIn The Brooklyn Nobody Knows: An Urban Walking Guide, William B. Helmreich draws on the hundreds of conversations he had with residents during his block-by-block journey through all 816 miles of Brooklyn. From gentrified neighborhoods to neighborhoods lost in time, the book is filled with fascinating facts and stories, creating an unforgettable chronicle of one of New York’s hottest boroughs. Helmreich recently took some time to answer questions about the various neighborhoods, how they’ve changed, and what he found interesting on his journey.

You’ve walked so many miles, 6,000 for the first book and now another 800 for the Brooklyn volume. How did this idea come about? 

WH: When I was a kid growing up in New York, my father invented a game called “Last Stop.” to keep me occupied. Every weekend we’d take a subway to the last stop. And then we’d walk around whatever neighborhood it was in. When we went to Canarsie, I looked at what was then just marshland and remember how my teacher told me he’d send me to Canarsie if I didn’t behave. And when I saw how desolate the area was in those days I became a more obedient student. In Throgs Neck I saw people pulling fish out of the water. So that’s where they came from. I said to myself. I had assumed they just came from the tank in the fish store. I was a city kid. I went on these trips from the age of 7 until 12. And that’s how I came to love NYC.

Brooklyn has so many varied neighborhoods. DUMBO and Boerum Hill are gentrified and they’re nothing like Gravesend or Flatlands. What unites them? 

WH: One thing that unites them is change. Boerum Hill is gentrifying, with many young people moving in. Flatlands is becoming home to larger numbers of Orthodox Jews and Gravesend has a growing Russian populations. DUMBO has more professionals moving in as opposed to the earlier generation of artists. 
 
Were you afraid when you walked in unsafe areas like East New York or Brownsville?
 
 
WH: Not really. First of all, even areas thought of as dangerous are relatively safe by day. We have 300 murders a year as opposed to the 90s when over 2,000 people were being killed. Also, 80 percent of these murders are at the hands of people who knew each other. Another important reason was my approach. Most people think they have to put on a tough-guy face when they’re in these areas. That’s wrong. You’re not going to scare people. They can see through you. When ever I saw bad-looking types and in general, with anybody, as soon as I made eye contact, I smiled and greeted them with a big hello. “How ya doin?” I’d say. And this was such a counter-intuitive approach that they melted. 
 
How has Brooklyn changed demographically over time?
 
 
WH: In the old days Italians, Jews, and Irish were the major groups. Today, the main groups taking over Brooklyn are Asians, mostly Chinese; Blacks, especially West Indians and Africans; Orthodox Jews, especially Hasidim; Hispanics, most notably Puerto Ricans and Mexicans; and, finally, gentrifiers. 
 
What were some of the most interesting things you saw in Brooklyn? 
 
WH: There were so many things. The man in Bergen Beach who put 1,140 stuffed animals on his tree; the Greenpoint park devoted to plants and trees that produced materials used in industry; the man in Gowanus who kept the grocery store sign in large gold letters in the first floor window of his brownstone out of respect for his Italian grandfather’s struggle to earn a living in America. 
 
Is gentrification good for Brooklyn? 
 
WH: That depends how you look at it and who you are. Let’s say, you’re a black homeowner and you want to make a killing. A white gentrifier offers you 15 times what you paid for it. Suddenly you’re rich and you can buy that farm in North Carolina and retire. But what if you’re a black homeowner living in Bed-Stuy and you want the neighborhood to preserve its history as a center for black history and culture? Then you might feel uncomfortable selling to a white buyer. Gentrification often prices working class-people and the poor out of a neighborhood. But it also results in improved services with respect to sanitation, police patrols, etc. because the gentrifiers have clout. What if new developments have affordable housing units? Is that bad or good and for who? One thing we know nothing about is where those displaced by gentrification went? Did they go to other parts of the same neighborhood? Did they go South or West? Are they in Long Island? We need to know these outcomes if we’re to understand what’s happening here.   

William B. Helmreich  is professor of sociology at the City College of New York’s Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership and at CUNY Graduate Center. He has written numerous books and is an award winning author. He is the author of The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City, which won the the inaugural 2014–15 Guides Association of New York Award for Outstanding Achievement in Book Writing. The Brooklyn Nobody Knows is the first of five planned walking guides, one for each borough of New York City.

William B. Helmreich on The Brooklyn Nobody Knows

HelmreichThis September, Princeton University Press is thrilled to release The Brooklyn Nobody Knows by William B. Helmreich. You may remember that Helmreich, a professor of sociology, walked every block of New York City to write the award-winning The New York Nobody Knows. Now he’s back, and has re-walked Brooklyn—all 816 miles—to write this one-of-a-kind walking guide to the borough that’s hot with hipsters and rich in history. Drawing on hundreds of conversations he had with the residents of this diverse, booming, ever-evolving borough, The Brooklyn Nobody Knows captures the heart and soul of the unique city blocks that define cool around the world. In the coming weeks, PUP will be featuring blog posts that highlight a number of the neighborhoods in the book. Don’t miss Helmreich at the upcoming Brooklyn Book Festival, where you can tell him your street, and he’ll tell you something you didn’t know. But first, an introduction to our Brooklyn blog series from William Helmreich himself:

Brooklyn is one of the world’s greatest outdoor museums with something to interest everyone. I took an 800 mile walk through the city’s hottest borough and found that even though neighborhoods differed from each other there were certain things they had in common.

The first is self-image, a belief that Brooklyn is a place on the move, one that has become a world destination. This idea has captured the imagination of Brooklynites wherever they live—not only in the trendy neighborhoods of Williamsburg, DUMBO, or Cobble Hill—but the quieter and less well-known communities like Marine Park, Sheepshead Bay, and Gravesend.

Second, Brooklyn is a borough that is constantly changing. Puerto Ricans experience it in South Williamsburg and in Bushwick, when they see gentrifiers moving in. Poles in Greenpoint feel the same when they see gentrifiers arriving on their block. Hasidim and Chinese immigrants get a taste of it as they compete fiercely for homes on the Sunset Park-Borough Park border. Long time residents living in modest ranch homes look on in wonderment as wealthy Russians build McMansions in Mill Basin.

 Third, these changes have resulted in a need for engagement. Groups living near each other are exposed to other peoples’ cultures. Whites become part of the West Indian Parade; Hispanics and whites line up in front of trucks in Red Hook to eat pupusas and quesadillas. Blacks in Crown Heights look on with curiosity as Lubavitcher Hasidim celebrate the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah by dancing in the streets. An African American pokes his head into a Cambodian temple in Flatbush, while an Albanian immigrant in Bensonhurst tries her best to decipher a front lawn filled with statues of American icons—Batman, Al Capone, Iwo Jima, Betty Boop, Elvis Presley, and a photo of Ebbets Field. Of equal importance, Brooklynites meet in the elevators of their buildings, in block associations, churches, in parks, and on beaches. In a crowded city, no man can be an island.

This engagement leads to a fourth aspect of Brooklyn—the incredible diversity of its people. Those who live here come from more than one hundred nations, speaking many different languages. They represent the most of the world’s religions. New Yorkers don’t really have to travel to other countries to experience what’s happening there. Want to know about Russians? Come to Brighton Beach, or as it’s also known, Odessa by the Sea. Want to experience how devout Haitians express themselves religiously? Step into an East Flatbush Church. And if visiting a seaside community is your thing, walk through Gerritsen Beach.

The book I wrote is intended to be a guidebook for those who want to experience Brooklyn in real time. It’s different from other guidebooks in a very important way. It doesn’t focus on the well-known aspects of the borough—famous restaurants or nightclubs, festivals, hotels, bridges, and the like. Rather, its goal is to find the hidden things that people don’t know about.

For example, there’s a man in Bergen Beach who has a tree outside his home from which hang 1,140 stuffed toy animals. In Lefferts Gardens, a man from the Caribbean quietly creates boats, birds, bracelets, and other items from animal horns. He’s a hornsmith, possibly the only one in the country and if you want he’ll tell you about his craft and why it’s special. Stand atop Sunset Park and you’ll see an amazing sunset.

Step into World Class Aquarium on Flatbush Avenue in Marine park and listen as the owner tells you why he loves what he does even if it’s a hard way to earn a living.Travel to East New York and enjoy the delectable cakes and cookies that have been prepared there since 1927.  The place is Mrs. Maxwell’s Bakery and they claim the famous recipe for Junior’s cheesecake was stolen from them. Maybe, maybe not, but their version is pretty good. Watch some of the best handball games in the country on Surf Avenue in Coney Island.

These are only a few of the many discoveries awaiting those wishing to explore Brooklyn from the ground up. The coming blog posts highlighting neighborhoods featured in The Brooklyn Nobody Knows will give you a real taste of what’s out there.

—William B. Helmreich

Presenting our new trailer for The Notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Brooklyn born Jean-Michel Basquiat (Dec. 22, 1960–Aug. 12, 1988) was one of the most important and fascinating figures in the 1980s New York art scene. Even today, pop culture references to the artist abound: Basquiat is referenced in Jay Z’s and Frank Ocean’s song “Oceans,” and in Jay Z’s and Kayne West’s 2011 collaborative album, “Watch the Throne,” to name two. He was known early on for his involvement with 1970s New York street art, including the SAMO tag created with Al Diaz, before he developed a successful studio practice indebted to a range of influences, from Neo-Expressionism to African art to jazz. Basquiat’s work explored the interplay between words and images, often touching on culture, race, and class. Of his extraordinary gifts, The New York Times Magazine, which profiled him in a 1985 cover story, wrote, “Not only does he possess a bold sense of color and composition, but, in his best paintings, unlike many of his contemporaries, he maintains a fine balance between seemingly contradictory forces: control and spontaneity, menace and wit, urban imagery and primitivism.”

From 1980 to 1987, Basquiat filled numerous working notebooks with drawings and pictograms of crowns, teepees, and hatch-marked hearts alongside notes, observations, and fragments of poems that reflect his deep interests in comics, street and pop art, and politics. Many of these images and words found their way into his drawings and paintings. We are proud to publish The Notebooks, a facsimile edition that reproduces the pages of eight of Basquiat’s rarely seen working notebooks for the first time. For a look at the pages, check out the new trailer for the book:

Unusual Destinations for a New York Stay-cation (#NYNobodyKnows)

New Yorkers might think they have to leave the city for a great vacation, but here are some suggestions for new and delightful places to visit on a New York City stay-cation from Bill Helmreich, the author of The New York Nobody Knows. For visitors from out of town, these destinations offer a side of the city separate from the usual tourist fare. Because of the distances between these places travel by auto is advisable, except for Manhattan, where travel by cab and public transportation is another option.

Photo 4

Where in Manhattan is this delightful spot?

Manhattan:

Besides the popular destinations, there’s much else to see. Starting from the North, Fort Tryon Park is a must at this time of the year. Nearby, walk down Pinehurst and Cabrini Avenues in Washington Heights, and don’t miss Chittenden Avenue at 187th St., with a fabulous view of the Hudson, the Jersey cliffs, and the George Washington Bridge, and the famous (look it up) Halloween House. On E. 162nd Street, you’ll find Jumel Terrace, one of a kind wooden homes built in the nineteenth Century on a cobbled street, now selling for up to one million dollars. For authentic (not tourist) gospel, stop in at a small church on 114th Street, just east of 1st Avenue. and for arguably the most beautiful brownstone street in Manhattan, go down 78th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue. And, of course, there’s the gentrified Lower East Side, the East Village area (especially 9th Street east all the way to Tompkins Square Park) and much more.

Bronx:

Photo 18

This spot offers a “taste of Puerto Rico in the Bronx,” according to Helmreich

The quite safe Harding Park section in the Bronx feels like you’ve stepped back into history. It’s basically a Puerto Rican village, with small, neatly tended cottages fronted by charming gardens. Chickens scampering across the narrow roads and the beating rhythms of Spanish music give it an air of authenticity. And the drop-dead views of the Manhattan skyline across the East River make it the quintessentially paradoxical Gotham experience — one of the many communities with a small-town feel, under the umbrella of the most sophisticated twenty-first-century city in the world.

And while you’re there, visit Arthur Avenue and its many first-rate Italian restaurants and cafés. For sheer natural beauty, visit Pelham Bay Park. Over three times the size of Central Park, its sweeping views of rolling hills and the nearby bay are worth the effort. You’ll need a cart for this excursion, but you won’t be sorry.

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Steve’s Place in Brooklyn

Queens:

Go to Linden Boulevard near 180th Street in St. Albans and see the mural of all the jazz greats who once lived in the area — Fats Waller, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and more. Visit nearby Addisleigh Park. For Afghani, Tibetan, Filipino, Hispanic, Thai, and Indian eateries of all types, walk between 82nd and 72nd Streets along Roosevelt Avenue. For beautiful homes and mansions with spectacular views of the water and bridges, stroll through Douglaston or Forest Hills Gardens. For an old-fashioned candy store and ice cream parlor, visit Eddie’s Sweet Shop at 105-29 Metropolitan Ave, near 72nd Road.

Brooklyn:

If you’re looking for nostalgia, take a trip to 2056 85th Street in Bensonhurst. Outside, you’ll see a most remarkable collection of Brooklyn’s history and that of the country — Betty Boop, Superman’s phone booth, the Fonz, Ebbets Field, Godfather types, Wildroot hair cream, vintage autos behind garage door, and much more. Look at the incredible gingerbread house at 8200 Narrows Ave, built in 1917. There’s the incredible graffiti at Troutman and St. Nicholas or Waterbury and Meserole, both in Bushwick. And check out beautiful Marine Park, with a nearby fishing village area called Gerritsen Beach.

Photo 31

Serenity now… at the Chinese Scholars Garden in Snug Harbor

Staten Island:

Enjoy a boardwalk stroll on South Beach where people sunbathe, play volleyball, and just relax. It’s 150 years old and was the locale for at least 100 films shot in the 1890s. Many silent films stars, like actress Lillian Gish and director W. D. Griffith, got their start there. Next to Snug Harbor is beautiful Von Briesen Park, adjacent to the bridge. Don’t miss the $5 million Chinese Scholar’s Garden with its stunning flowers, tiny waterfalls, and bridges, nestled within the Staten Island Botanical Gardens, a great outdoor wedding venue.

 

#WhereInNYC Photo Quiz 5 — solution

Yesterday we challenged you to put your NYC knowledge to the test and tell us where this picture was taken:

quiz

 

Here’s the uncropped version of the picture:

solution

 

This beautiful spot is El Flamboyan Garden located at Tinton Avenue at 150th Street. It is a terrific example of the “greening of the city” that Bill Helmreich describes in The New York Nobody Knows.

#WhereInNYC Photo Quiz 4 — solution

We challenged you to identify this building (well really a corner of a building!), hinting that it was near a NYC landmark. There was a very subtle clue in the categories for which the post was tagged. Did you catch it?

quiz

How many of you figured out it was The Sutton?

solution

Gentrification comes to Harlem, writes Bill Helmreich in the caption for this photograph from The New York Nobody Knows. The building is the Sutton, hard by the Polo Grounds projects (hence the “Sports” category in the quiz post). Bradhurst Avenue, 145th to 155th Streets.

 

As featured in:

bookjacket The New York Nobody Knows
Walking 6,000 Miles in the City
William B. Helmreich
Read chapter 1: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10060.pdf

 

#WhereInNYC Photo Quiz 4

Who can pinpoint this building near a New York landmark?

quiz

 

As featured in:

bookjacket

The New York Nobody Knows
Walking 6,000 Miles in the City
William B. Helmreich

Read chapter 1: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10060.pdf

 

#WhereInNYC Photo Quiz 2 – Solution

We asked you where in NYC you can find Superman:

 

quiz

 

How many of you got this one right?

You can find Superman flying out of a house in Brooklyn surrounded by other icons of history in Brooklyn at Steve’s Place. 2056 Eighty-fifth Street.

solution

 

As featured in:

bookjacket

The New York Nobody Knows
Walking 6,000 Miles in the City
William B. Helmreich

Read chapter 1: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10060.pdf

 

The New York Nobody Knows
Walking 6,000 Miles in the City
William B. Helmreich

Read chapter 1: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10060.pdf