07/01/14 4:00pm

brownsville mural 1

Groundswell Mural Project has just unveiled two murals painted by young adults on probation along Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville. The works are part of “Transform/Restore: Brownsville,” a two-year public art project that aims to transform vandalized walls into colorful canvases that highlight the neighborhood’s hidden strengths.

The wall pictured above, Moving Forward, depicts important community figures like Rosetta “Mother” Gaston, a Brownsville organizer who lived to be 96 and founded the Heritage House cultural center on the second floor of the Stone Avenue library. The second mural, pictured after the jump, is called “Hidden Treasures of Brownsville” and celebrates the neighborhood’s youth. You can find the murals at 1788 and 1747 Pitkin Avenue.

Groundswell Unveils New Mural on Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville [Brownstoner]
Photos by Groundswell Mural Project


05/08/14 9:30am

A hotel development is coming to the corner of Rockaway Avenue and Sutter Avenue in Brownsville. Is this evidence that development is rolling eastward across Brooklyn or business as usual?

The hotel at 524 Rockaway Avenue will have four stories and 74 units, according to a new building application filed last week. The 13,000-square-foot building will also have an exercise room, breakfast room and laundry. The architect of record is the Sunset Park-based Shining Tam. An LLC bought the property for $385,000 in April, according to public records.

Image via Google Maps

04/21/14 9:30am

Brownsville’s Stone Avenue Library is commemorating its 100th anniversary and its recent reopening after five months of renovations and improvements at a press conference this morning. When it first opened in September 1914 as a children’s library, hundreds of children lined up to explore the Gothic-style building at 581 Mother Gaston Boulevard, which was designed to look like a fairy tale castle by William B. Tubby, said a story in The New York Times.

Financed by Andrew Carnegie, it was one of the country’s first libraries devoted entirely to children. If you want to see what the library looked like when it first opened, the Times has a great slideshow with photos from its early years.

The branch has received several improvements, including a gigantic chess board and a “Word Wall” displaying 600 words children should know by 5th grade. During construction, the library was closed as briefly as possible — from November 30 to January 16 and from March 8 to 17. Check out the new interior after the jump!

A Brownsville Sanctuary, 100 Years and Counting [NY Times]
Photo via Historic Districts Council


03/24/14 3:00pm

1768 St Johns Pl, Parkway theater, smallbones for Wiki 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Built as the Rolland Theater, then Parkway Theater, now Holy House of Prayer for All People
Address: 1768 St. Johns Place
Cross Streets: Corner Eastern Parkway
Neighborhood: Brownsville
Year Built: 1929-33
Architectural Style: Neo-Moorish
Architect: Harrison Wiseman
Other work by architect: Theaters around New York City, including Yiddish Art Theater, 2nd Ave, Manhattan. In Brooklyn, Kameo, on Eastern Parkway and Nostrand, the Pavilion, on Prospect Park West, the Loew’s Oriental, on 86th Street, and the Alpine, on 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge, the Albemarle, on Flatbush Avenue at Albemarle Road
Landmarked: No, but on National Register of Historic Places (2010)

The story: I feature a lot of former theaters in my BOTDs, as I am fascinated by their architecture, history, and place in the cultural life of our city. Before we spent our lives staring down into handheld devices or at a screen on the wall, we used to get out and watch and participate in the special wonder of live theater, or a grand cinematic spectacle. Even if we do get out to theaters and movie houses today, they are almost always now in districts far from residential neighborhoods or homes.

For most of us, gone are the days when we could get that magic in our own community, within walking distance for most people, or a short bus ride for some. Every neighborhood in Brooklyn had several theaters, with a variety of entertainment offerings. Almost all of the theaters or former theaters I’ve featured were built for live theater, but then converted to movies. This one is one of the few which was never a movie theater. Until it closed forever, the Rolland Theater was always live theater, and what a history it had. (more…)

02/13/14 3:00pm

1521 ENY Ave, Googlemaps 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former National Surgical Stores, now boarded up
Address: 1521 East New York Avenue
Cross Streets: Rockaway Avenue and Prospect Place
Neighborhood: Brownsville
Year Built: Around 1925
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: To me, there is not much sadder than unrealized potential. That goes not only for people, but for neighborhoods and the buildings in them. When the enthusiastic and forward thinking people who settled in the part of Brownsville, near the Crown Heights border, at the turn of the 20th century, they thought their homes and businesses would last the ages. The city built handsome civic buildings, like the 65th Precinct, just up the block from here, and East New York Avenue was developed as a fine commercial and residential thoroughfare, worthy of its proximity to the famous Eastern Parkway, only a block away.

One of the growing companies to build a factory and headquarters here was the New York Truss and Instrument Company. They manufactured and sold orthopedic medical aids such as elastic hosiery, braces, trusses and arch supports. They first worked out of a wood-framed building with a large wagon shed angled on the Prospect Place side of the building. That building would be replaced by this rather impressive structure, which still has the angled shipping entrance on Prospect. (more…)

01/31/14 9:00am


At the Brownsville Recreation Center in Brownsville yesterday, Mayor de Blasio announced the city would drop its appeal of lawsuits over stop and frisk. The location of the announcement was significant because an eight-block area of Brownsville had the highest concentration of stop and frisks in the city, according to a 2010 New York Times report. Above, Brownsville’s main thoroughfare, Pitkin Avenue, in September 2012.

Police Commissioner Bratton was on hand and said in a prepared statement: “We will not break the law to enforce the law. That’s my solemn promise to every New Yorker, regardless of where they were born, where they live, or what they look like. Those values aren’t at odds with keeping New Yorkers safe — they are essential to long-term public safety.”

In a separate but related development, Bratton said the department will no longer send rookies out to blanket high crime areas such as Brownsville, Ocean Hill and Bushwick as part of Operation Impact, where they are liable to make mistakes. Instead, they will send more experienced officers.

In Brownsville, Mayor Announces Settlement of Stop and Frisk [NY Times]
Bratton Tells Chiefs He’ll Stop Sending Rookies to High-Crime Areas [NY Times]

The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development recently finished an affordable housing development on the site of a former Catholic church in Brownsville called the Monsignor Anthony J. Barretta apartments. The $18,000,000 development on Atlantic between Eastern Parkway and Sackman Street consists of eight four-story buildings that house 64 units. The apartments, mostly one- and two-bedrooms, were rented through a lottery process run by the city. Rents range from $597 to $860 a month for a family making a maximum of $49,800, according to a chart from the city’s Housing Preservation and Development Department. Also, eight units were set aside as Section 8 housing for very low-income tenants. RTKB Architects designed the buildings, and Community Preservation Corporation Resources (CPCR) was the developer.

Before construction began last year, the site had been home to the 100-year-old Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Church and school, an architectural gem that preservationists struggled to protect. The church closed its doors in 2009 due to low attendance. Within two years, the Brooklyn diocese sold the land to the city, which preserved the original church building and built the development next to it.

Fight to Preserve Ocean Hill Church [Brownstoner]
Brownsville Church Saved from Wrecking Ball [Brownstoner]

Photo by Briarwood Organization

08/30/13 12:00pm

Community arts organization Groundswell Mural Project unveiled a new mural yesterday called “Intersections Humanized” in Brownsville. Fifteen young people, some with a history of court involvement, collaborated with artists Chris Soria and Don Christian Jones to design and paint a 35-foot-high and 55-foot-wide mural on the side of a Lane Bryant store at 1550 Pitkin Avenue. The piece depicts a “central constellation of individual portraits” that “highlight the strength and diversity present in Brownsville, while creating a positive shared identity for the neighborhood’s 116,000 residents,” according to Groundswell.

The city is also awarding a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to Groundswell for a larger mural project in Brownsville called “Transform/Restore: Brownsville,” which will involve high-risk young adults, local businesses, and community members. As many as forty young people on probation will interview community members and then paint five murals inspired by Brownsville’s strengths along vandalized parts of Pitkin Avenue. GMAP

Photo by Groundswell

06/18/13 4:00pm

The Pitkin Avenue BID is hosting its 5th Annual Summer Plaza weekends again this year. The first event was held last Sunday and the next two are scheduled for Sunday, June 23rd and Saturday, June 29th. All the events, which are free of charge, go from 11am to 5pm. They include face painting, games for children, educational activities, health screenings, music and live entertainment. According to the BID, “The events are an opportunity for Brownsville’s retail businesses to celebrate their customers.” Check out photos from last Sunday’s event at the Pitkin BID Facebook page.
Photo via Facebook

06/03/13 10:00am

When the 625-unit, low-income housing complex Marcus Garvey Village opened in Brownsville in the mid-’70s, hopes were high that the low-density housing with separate entrances for each family would give its occupants a sense of ownership and pride and help to reduce poverty and crime. That has not happened, alas, as The New York Times noted, and the idea that architecture can create social change has been largely abandoned. After all, bigger forces than architecture affect the poverty rate, which has risen from 29 percent to nearly 40 percent in the area since the complex opened. However, the article notes, courtyard areas in the Village became an important link in the drug trade of the ’80s and ’90s because they were shielded from public view. So it seems as though architecture and design, as Jane Jacobs so clearly saw, has an effect after all.
A Housing Solution Gone Awry [NY Times]
Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

05/24/13 9:30am

The use of controversial police tactic stop and frisk has decreased in the City after coming under increased scrutiny and a lawsuit, but spiked in select areas of Brooklyn, The New York Daily News reported. Specifically, stop and frisk was up 66 percent in Brownsville and 45 percent in East New York from 2011 to 2012. Its use in Bed Stuy increased 6 percent, 3 percent in Greenpoint and 2 percent in Bensonhurst, while it dropped precipitously in Williamsburg — by 44 percent. As has been the case for years, very few of those stops found actual law breaking: 89 percent of stops did not result in an arrest or summons, the Daily News reported. Those that did were mostly for marijuana; 12.6 percent of those stopped were carrying a gun or other weapon. Interpretations of the change in policing varied widely. “We are seeing the next chapter,” said John Jay College professor and former officer Eugene O’Donnell. “Good stop-and-frisk should be targeted. They’ve identified a pattern, a spike in crime, and they are throwing resources at it.” And, on the other side: “The Police Department continues, against any possible rational analysis of the data, to insist that the stop and frisk program is both necessary and effective, and to target young black and Latino New Yorkers, who are so innocent of any wrongdoing that they walk away without a summons,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. What do you think? Is stop and frisk effective and constitutional, or are the police just harassing law abiding citizens who happen to live in the poorest parts of Brooklyn?
Stop and Frisk Is up in Brooklyn [NY Daily News]
Photo by jag9889

05/15/13 9:30am

Have any hipsters been sighted on Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville? No. But it won’t be long, according to the New York Observer. The evidence: “East Bushwick” is “again heating up,” and during the last boom, developers made it out as far as the Halsey Street L train stop. Plus, there was that DNAinfo story Friday about renters searching for more space and lower rents along the Crown Heights-Brownsville border. (That’s Pitkin Avenue above, which in the 1950s was one of Brooklyn’s biggest shopping districts, and the recently revamped Pitkin Theater, now Brownsville Ascend Charter School.) FWIW, our two cents: We live one stop away from Brownsville’s Broadway Junction, and plenty of “hipsters” or whatever you want to call them have moved here in the last year or so. So, yeah.
Closing in on Brownsville: Brooklyn Gentrification Nears the Final Frontier [Observer]