Past and Present: Talman Street

54 Talman Street, Brooklyn, 1936. Photo by Berenice Abbott, From: NYPL

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

One of the famous Berenice Abbot photos of Brooklyn in 1936 depicts this scene on Talman Street, a short street near the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges that no longer exists. Back in the 1930’s, Talman ran between Jay and Bridge Street, tracing an old cow path, a de-mapped street that is now part of the Farragut Houses, and more specifically, the BQE. It was part of what was called “Irish Town”, a slum consisting of rickety wood framed houses from the 19th century that had no cellars, no running water, no toilets, and no heat. The Irish immigrants who gave the neighborhood its name, as well as adjoining Vinegar Hill, had come here in the early 1850’s, escaping the Potato Famine and English oppression. They were poor before they came here, and were at the bottom of the social order after settling in, with many working in the Navy Yard and the small factories that grew up around it.

By the 1930’s, the area was even more of a wreck, and according to New York Changing: Revisiting Berenice Abbot’s New York, it was “a slum of pre-Civil War houses renting for $15 per month”. By the late 1930’s, the area began to be settled by African-Americans, who shared in the misery of the area with their neighbors. The area was so bad that it was ripe for the wholesale scorched-earth policy of urban renewal in the aftermath of World War II, which resulted in the Farragut Houses, and Robert Moses’ ramps and overhead roadways that make the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The Farragut Houses were completed in 1952. Talman Street would have totally faded into history had it not been for Ms. Abbott’s haunting photographs, chronicling a forgotten part of Brooklyn, necessarily now long gone.

54 Talman Street, Brooklyn, 1936. Photo by Berenice Abbott, From: NYPL

Approximation of site, on BQE. Photo: Google Maps

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