Brownstoner takes on Brooklyn history in Nabe Names, a series of briefs on the origins and surprising stories of neighborhood nomenclature.

The New Utrecht Reformed Church at 16th Avenue and 84th Street in 1925. Photo via the Brooklyn Historical Society

Nestled among a conglomeration of southwestern Brooklyn neighborhoods — Dyker Heights, Flatbush, Midwood, Gravesend, Borough Park and Bath Beach — Bensonhurst houses both a dwindling number of Italian-American residents and a growing Chinese population.

Editors note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Congregation Sons of Israel
Address: 2115 Benson Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner 21st Avenue
Neighborhood: Bensonhurst
Year Built: 1918
Architectural Style: Neo-Classical
Architect: Emery Roth
Other Buildings by Architect: In Manhattan-El Dorado, Beresford, San Remo, Ardsley and Normandy Apartment buildings, among many others. In Brooklyn-1930s tower wing of St. George Hotel
Landmarked: No

The story: Bath Beach’s Congregation Sons of Israel was founded in 1896, by 60 Orthodox Jewish families who had settled in southern Brooklyn to build a community and family. They first met in rented spaces for services, and sometimes at members’ homes. Funds were immediately raised for their own worship space, and a year later, the cornerstone of a new synagogue was laid. The first Congregation Sons of Israel was located at Bay 22nd Street, near 86th and Benson Avenues. Even though the building was not totally completed, they had a roof over their head and enough done to welcome in the Jewish New Year with Rosh Hashanah services in 1898.


Bensonhurst, a middle class Italian enclave for generations, is booming with Chinese immigrants. A similar transformation occurred in Manhattan’s Little Italy decades earlier. Bensonhurst is now officially 36 percent Asian, although informal estimates put it even higher, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Signs for businesses along 73rd and 74th streets reflect the changing demographics. “At the Sciacca Social Club, a large poster celebrates Italy’s 2006 World Cup win, while a few doors down, signs for both the Brooklyn Center for Musical Arts and C&K Art Center are written in both English and Chinese characters,” said the story.

Chinese are increasingly drawn to the area as they are priced out of Sunset Park. Real estate prices in the area are rising, driven “in part” by demand from Chinese buyers, according to brokers interviewed by the Journal. About 13 percent of the locals are Hispanic and 49 percent are white, according to Census data. Interestingly, the Asian influx is fairly recent, with the population “growing 57 percent between 2000 and 2010,” said the Journal.

The median sale price for homes is $699,000, which is 17 percent higher than the median for all of Brooklyn. The commute to midtown is about an hour on the subway.

The quality of life in the neighborhood is good, the streets are clean, and politicians listen to the locals, said the story. A BJ’s Wholesale Club plans to open in mid-September in a new shopping center on Shore Parkway and 24th Avenue.

One development residents are not so happy about, though, is a garbage-processing facility on Shore Parkway. Construction is supposed to start before the fall, and end in mid-2017. Locals say they are concerned about increased pollution from the plant.

Although not mentioned in the story, the area does have some older housing stock, including turn-of-the-last-century brick row houses and early 20th century apartment buildings. Would you consider living in Bensonhurst?

Signs Denote Changing Times in Bensonhurst [WSJ]
Photo by David Tan

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Cars were pretty cool looking in 1933. Think Chicago mobster cars, Bonnie and Clyde, sedans with serious running boards, headlamps that were really lamps, tires with spokes and the spare attached to the side of the car; those kinds of cars, some of which were Chevrolets. They remain some of American’s best loved and most classic cars.

Chevrolet was founded way back in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet and William C. Durant as direct competition to General Motors. Durant had founded and run General Motors in 1908, but had been kicked off the board of his own corporation two years later. He used his new Chevrolet Motor Car Company to get back on the board, something he accomplished by making the Chevrolet so popular that he was able to buy enough GM stock to put himself back in charge in 1916. He brought Chevrolet with him, and it was soon GM’s most profitable car line.

Everyone liked Chevrolet, it was one of the “people’s cars” along with Ford and later, the Chrysler spin-off, Plymouth. They were called the “low price three.” In 1933, Chevrolet introduced the Standard Six, which was the cheapest six-cylinder car on the market. That same year, Benson Chevrolet opened up for business on 86th Street in Bensonhurst.

Editor’s note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Engine Company 253, FDNY
Address: 2425-2427 86th Street
Cross Streets: 24th and 25th avenues
Neighborhood: Bensonhurst
Year Built: 1895-1896
Architectural Style: Dutch Renaissance Revival
Architect: Parfitt Brothers
Other works by architect: Berkeley, Grosvenor and Montague apartments in Brooklyn Heights, Truslow mansion in Crown Heights North, St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church, Grace Methodist Church in Park Slope
Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark (1998)

The story: In 1887, developer James D. Lynch approached the Benson family in New Utrecht with offers to buy their farms, which had been in the family for over 200 years. They initially were not interested, but Lynch upped the pot, and also promised to preserve the Benson family homestead, and to name his new development “Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea.” That sealed the deal, and Lynch proceeded to build a new upscale suburb along the lines of Tennis Court and the other planned suburban enclaves of Flatbush. Unfortunately, the Panic of 1893 put a severe crimp in his plans, as did resistance to investing in New Utrecht, which at the time was outside of the border of the City of Brooklyn. It was annexed in 1894, but never was as successful as had been planned. It wasn’t until 1914, when the 4th Avenue subway arrived, that the area began to pick up. Full development occurred after World War I.

Brooklyn’s fire department began as a volunteer organization, with independent fire houses in the towns and villages that made up Kings County. In 1869, with pressure from the public, as well as insurance companies, a professional firefighting department was established in Brooklyn. The effect of this bill closed many volunteer companies, but also caused new firehouses to be built or old ones repaired, and for more modern equipment to be bought. It also reduced the number of firemen to a force of only 235 men by 1880.

But Brooklyn was growing fast, and the more far-flung towns in the county, like Flatlands, New Utrecht, Flatbush and Gravesend were becoming interesting to developers, men like James Lynch. At that time, even though there was now a professional city Fire Department, the outlying agrarian areas were not well represented, if at all, and depended still on local volunteers for fire protection. In the 1890s, the city started remedying this, hiring first class architects to design firehouses for an expanding city, and allocating funds to expand the fire department, to buy modern equipment and hire more men. In 1895 alone, four new companies were organized and 18 new firehouses were built or under construction.