Life in Brooklyn
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houses from the B Train Subway platform
settled by the Dutch in 1661 as part of the town of New Utrecht, today it is bordered by
61 Street, McDonald Avenue, Gravesend Bay and 14th Avenue and includes the areas known as
Mapleton and New Utrecht. It is an established community whose origins date back to the
late 1880s when the Benson farm was parceled into 20 x 100 foot lots and sold to newly
arrived immigrants, thus establishing the suburb of Bensonhurst.
station of the Brooklyn, Bath and West End RR Elevated in 1917 it has been called the West
End line ever since, the B train on the New York City subway system.
The 1890s saw a sizable population growth as wealthy
landowners built summer homes and marinas among the farm and woodlands. It was hoped that
the Bath Beach-Coney Island railroad, built along the shore, would further the community
of "Bensonhurst by the Sea", particularly in light of the success of the Coney
Island amusement area, but tourism efforts were unsuccessful. With the arrival of the
Fourth Avenue subway line in 1915, many immigrants fled the Lower East Side of Manhattan
to build homes in Bensonhurst, a place that would prove to be much more affordable.
Bensonhurst took shape in the early 1930s with the
construction of high-rise apartment buildings. Today, it is a community abundant with
single family detached and attached houses and multi-family dwellings. From its beginnings
to the present, Bensonhurst has always been a haven for middle class families with strong
roots. It is not unusual to find two or three generations of the same family living on the
same block or a few blocks away; nor is it unusual to find Bensonhurst residents who have
lived in the same house for more than 25 years. Attractive houses stand along tree-lined
streets, reminiscent of the Victorian era.
The rows of benches running along the Belt Parkway, facing
the ocean waters, offer an invitation for sun and relaxation to residents and visitors
alike. Many can be seen fishing from the waters, while others offer their kites to the
wind. Both young and old can be found, bicycling, roller blading or walking along the path
that runs along the Narrows.
Bensonhurst has contributed significantly to the American
- It was the setting for television's "The
Honeymooners", featuring actor/comedian, Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, a Brooklyn
- The television show, "Welcome Back Kotter" was
inspired by New Utrecht High School.
- Bensonhurst has generated some very funny people, among them
comedians Dom Deluise, Buddy Hackett and Jerry Stiller.
- Actors Danny Devito, Elliot Gould, Harvey Fierstein and Rhea
Perlman hail from Bensonhurst, as did famous playwrite, Abe Burrows, ("Guys and
Dolls", "Can-Can"), who was a graduate of New Utrecht High School.
- Gary Goldberg, television writer and producer, attended
Lafayette High School. In the late 1970s, he wrote for such shows as the "Bob Newhart
Show" and "The Tony Randall Show", achieving notoriety in 1978 as the
producer for the Emmy Award winning "Lou Grant". With his production of the
short lived "Brooklyn Bridge", he strove to keep memories of his beloved
- Opera star Robert Merrill, one of the great baritones, is
another product of Bensonhurst. He has given countless performances with the Metropolitan
Opera and may be best remembered for singing the national anthem at the opening of every
- Phil Silvers, actor and comedian, was America's favorite
"Top Banana". A native of Bensonhurst, by the age of ten he won talent shows all
over the borough. At 14, while working the crowd at Coney Island beach and
boardwalk, he was discovered and, as they say, the rest is history... Perhaps he is
best noted for his Emmy award winning television show, The Phil Silvers Show, where he
starred as Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko. He continued to appear in television until his
death in 1986.
- Larry King, contentious talk show host, lived in Bensonhurst,
graduating from Lafayette High School in 1951.
- Moses (Moe), Samuel (Shemp) & Jerome (Curly) Howard
biggest contributors to the entertainment industry from Bensonhurst. "Three
The neighborhood has traditionally been Italian and Jewish
with few other ethnic groups. In 1989, Yusef Hawkins, a African-American inquiring about a
used car, was killed by a group of 30 youths.
In the last 20 years, Chinese families have been attracted to the area and are now the
greatest source of incoming residents.
New Utrecht High School
- The area of 18th Avenue,
between 67 Street and Bay Ridge Parkway, adds an old world charm with its many cafes,
pastry shops, food shops and restaurants. The many outdoor fruit and vegetable markets
running along 86 Street, beneath the elevated "B" subway line are reminiscent of
the simplicity of years gone by.
- What was once the Walker Theater (6401 18 Avenue) built in
1927, and named for Mayor Jimmy Walker, is now a department store. Through the years the
theater was host to countless vaudeville acts, big band concerts, theatrical productions
and motion pictures.
Churches and Schools
- The New Utrecht Reformed Church, (1827 84 Street) is a
Georgian Gothic structure constructed in 1828 as the center of the original Dutch
settlement. During the time of the British occupation (1776-1783), Bensonhurst residents
erected flagpoles, called liberty poles, on which they raised the flag of independence, as
a sign of derision for the British. The liberty pole that stands on the lawn of The New
Utrecht Reformed Church marks the site of the first liberty pole.
- The Feast in honor of Santa Rosalia - each year thousands of
visitors flock to this summer street fair held on 18th Avenue, from Bay Ridge Parkway (75
Street) to 69 Street.