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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.

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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

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This early 20th century brick house in Gravesend close to Bensonhurst has some pleasant prewar features and two modest family-sized apartments for under a million dollars. Both apartments are identical, with two bedrooms, one bath and a dining room in each.

There are some decorative wall moldings, parquet floors, French doors and a ’30s-style kitchen with original cupboards. There is also a garage. For $789,000, what do you think of it?

1648 Dahill Road [Corcoran] GMAP

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.

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Someone wise once said that you can judge a society by how they care for their children. One might also add to that statement by adding how a society cares for the crippled and disabled children and adults, as well. Long before there were government agencies, legal protection or safety nets for the most powerless people in our society, there were still those whose hearts and hands were opened to help. Late 19th century Brooklyn was much like today, with a great many upwardly mobile and wealthy people spread across most of the city. There was a respectable middle class, the working poor, and a large population of destitute and desperate people.

Among the wealthier sets, charity was tied up with faith and community. There were those who gave because they wanted to impress their peers and the rest of the world, and those who gave because it was an expected duty. And then there were those who truly believed that their wealth, position, and often their faith, mandated that they not only give generously, but be active as well, taking the time to be on committees, fund raise, visit the poor, and give magnanimously of their time and money. The Victorians set up a number of important charities during this period, and many of them are still with us today. One of these was the Children’s Aid Society.

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1. WILLIAMSBURG $1,210,190.13
22 North 6th Street, #19D + storage GMAP P*Shark
Not much info on this Edge sale, except that it came with a storage unit! Entered into contract on 9/9/11; closed on 10/14/11; deed recorded on 11/10/2011.

2. DUMBO $1,150,000
70 Washington Street, #5A GMAP P*Shark
This is a one bed plus home office. According to the listing, it comes in at “a sprawling 1342 SF.” Entered into contract on 5/13/11; closed on 5/13/11; deed recorded on 11/09/2011.

3. BENSONHURST $1,142,500
130 Bay 10th Street GMAP P*Shark
This is a one to two family home sold with an attached garage. Entered into contract on 7/13/11; closed on 9/19/11; deed recorded on 11/07/2011.

4. BAY RIDGE $1,010,000
132 98th Street GMAP P*Shark
A one-family home at 2,819 square feet. Entered into contract on 7/6/11; closed on 10/5/11; deed recorded on 11/10/2011.

5. COBBLE HILL $905,000
86 Congress Street, #208 + parking space GMAP P*Shark
This is the first time in a long time we can remember the biggest sales dropping below the $1M mark. This unit at 86 Congress Street came with a parking space. This is definitely not the highest closing price for the condo building, a double unit sold there for $1,400,000. Entered into contract on 7/15/11; closed on 9/6/11; deed recorded on 11/09/2011.

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The 18th Avenue Feast/Feast of Santa Rosalia has been canceled this year after a more than 30-year run, according to Bensonhurst Bean. Joe LaMotta, one of the festival’s organizers, says the permit for the event from the mayor’s office took a long time to come through, which means it wasn’t possible to get vendors in place. Other sources tell the blog that the mayor’s office isn’t necessarily to blame because the festival’s organizers took a long time to submit necessary paperwork to the city, while “a high-ranking political source” says some of the organizers were arrested as part of a big mafia bust in January. There’s a possibility the event won’t ever make a comeback since the city hasn’t been keen on issuing new permits for street festivals.
18th Avenue Feast Is Cancelled! [Bensonhurst Bean]
Photo by lina-chen.com.

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Forgotten NY had a fun post this weekend about the 46th Street Rock Palace in Bensonhurst, a one-time destination spot of touring bands. What particularly caught our attention, as one of those people who cares perhaps a little too much about this kind of thing, was mention of a string of dates back in late 1970 when, just months before their legendary run at the Fillmore East in April of ’71, the Grateful Dead took the stage to a less-than-capacity crowd. (According to this blog, Hot Tuna was also on the bill.) Here’s a first-person account that FNY dug up:

This was possibly one of the weirdest shows I ever saw (but enjoyable nevertheless). It took place on a Weds about 2:30 [PM] ..the theater was basically deserted. We sat in the third row…we were literally half of the audience until a few songs in when a whole group of senior citizens (at least 20) filed in and sat a few rows behind us (not your usual dead crowd!). The 10+ of us noticed them, but didn’t know what to make of their presence, so we just carried on as usual (if you know what I mean). Bur for years I wondered what drew them to see the Dead? A few years ago, still wondering, I told this story to a Deadhead who grew up in Brooklyn and he knew the answer. They were from a local senior citizen home and they were on an outing. They had no idea what they were walking into, but the theater had a package deal with the home to get them out and about, and that must have been one of the days they were scheduled to go to that theater to see a movie. They didn’t come to see the Dead, (but I wonder what they made of them). By the way, the show was pretty good. It must have been because the old folks stayed for the whole thing (or else, weird as it must have been to them, it was better than going back to the home).

For anyone who’s curious, you can listen to one of the shows here but be warned that the sound quality is pretty poor. Cinema Treasures also has a profile of the building here.