Some stunning photos from the 1930s allow a peek into parts of Brooklyn Heights and Vinegar Hill that have long since vanished. The push of urban renewal in the mid 20th century transformed many areas in Brooklyn, particularly the area bounded by the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Manhattan Bridge.
In 1936, photographer Berenice Abbott documented part of this area, which in the 19th century was known as both “Irish Town” and Vinegar Hill. By the time Abbott photographed the neighborhood, including houses on Talman Street, which no longer exists, it had become an African American community.
The WPA Guide to New York City, published in 1939, describes the area in racist and classist terms that fueled the push for urban renewal: “a shapeless, grotesque neighborhood, its grimy cobblestone thoroughfares filled with flophouses, crumbling tenements and greasy restaurants.” Scattered amidst the factories, warehouses and bars were pre-Civil war frame houses that were described as “ramshackle” and “notorious firetraps of squalid appearance.”
By the 1940s, the area was doomed with both the construction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and plans for a new public housing project. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in 1946 about 800 families lived in a 12-block area in Vinegar hill that is now the site of the Farragut Houses.
The old buildings were demolished and by 1951 the first families were moving into the new complex. Houses and streets now under the expressway were also razed, including 7 Middagh Street, the house Carson McCullers, Richard Wright, W.H. Auden, Gypsy Rose Lee, and others briefly shared.
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