What Brooklyn looked like in summer 1820

I love these old paintings. If only I had a time machine, Brooklyn was quite a beautiful land way back then.

Ephemeral New York

Landscape artist Francis Guy painted “Summer View of Brooklyn” in 1820 from the vantage point of 11 Front Street in today’s DUMBO.

That means this collection of tidy barns and houses would be located under the Brooklyn Bridge. That even looks like a nascent Manhattan skyline, with steeples, in the distance.

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Things have changed a lot in 195 years. A summer view of today’s Brooklyn from Front Street would look more like this, with crowds sweltering on line at Grimaldi’s pizza.

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Guy painted the same scene from Front Street in winter 1820 as well. The winter scene is more detailed, with various residents working and going about their day.

Who were the hardy Brooklynites he depicted? This key from the Brooklyn Museum decodes their names and which house belonged to who.

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The gaudy elephant hotel of 1880s Coney Island

I love finding articles on old Coney Island, and it’s the perfect time of year for it. The over-a-century old Brooklyn hotspot is constantly being reinvented, despite catastrophic fire damages in the past, and the economy turning on a dime. And recent natural disasters like hurricane Sandy.
With the way the crowds are packing in this summer, it’s experiencing yet another Renaissance.

Ephemeral New York

When Coney Island went from remote sandbar resort to the city’s biggest beachfront playground in the 1880s, tawdry amusement attractions began to pop up on the West End: beer halls, roller coasters, and freak shows.

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But perhaps the gaudiest addition was the Elephantine Colossus, a nearly 200-foot tall hotel sheathed in blue tin and with a gilded howdah on top.

Encircled by the Shaw Channel Chute roller coaster, the hotel looked like a bizarro version of one of the live pachyderms on exhibit at Coney Island’s amusement parks at the turn of the century.

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Completed in 1885 at Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, the 12-story elephant was divided into 31 rooms. Visitors could also climb to the observatory and pay 10 cents to get an incredible aerial view of New York City by looking through the elephant’s eyes, which were actually telescopes.

Elephanthotelrollercoaster“The forelegs contained a cigar store…

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2 Brooklyn Songs from the 20th – 21st Century

I get very interested whenever I find new songs that relate to Brooklyn. Everyone’s experience is very unique and diverse. These songs of course represent the borough between the 20th and 21st century. The first, by singer/songwriter Woodkid (Who has a terrific song called “I love you” btw!) features a simple bus ride across town with the camera on the people passing by. A nice diorama of the Real Brooklyn of today.

 

The second song, by local singer/songwriter Richard Levoi has nostalgic bent with a slideshow of famous and cozy hotspots, particularly from neighborhoods in what’s known as Southern Brooklyn. It’s a mellow, retrospective song, and his breezy style is reminiscent of Billy Joel. Have a listen. He’s close to a major record deal, and is trying to make 1,00,000 views! Let’s give him some of that Brooklyn show of support!

Explaining Coney Island to the rest of the world

It’s that time of year to learn more about the history of one of America’s biggest playgrounds, Coney Island! Great post by Ephemeral New York.

Ephemeral New York

Much has been written about Coney Island, once just a thread of sandy beach supposedly named for its rabbit population (konij is Dutch for rabbit).

By the 1880s, of course, this little outpost had become Sodom by the Sea—a tawdry playground of hotels, pavilions, dime museums, freak shows, amusement parks, exotic animals, and more, all bathed in thousands of colored lights.

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The phenomenon that was Coney Island attracted hordes of working class New Yorkers as well as foreign journalists, who wrote articles attempting to explain Coney to curious readers outside New York City.

Lunapark1906These articles serve as an illuminating look at the spectacle that rose out of the sand in just a few short post-Civil War decades.

“Coney Island, one of the great resorts for the million, is reached from the foot of 23rd Street in about an hour,” wrote English novelist Mary Duffus Hardy in…

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Brooklyn: A State of mind – 125 original stories from America’s most colorful City.

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Brooklyn: A State of Mind is a terrific book. It features an eclectic smorgasbord of essays, articles, interviews, art and photographs about the most beloved and often misunderstood City in America. Maybe even the world? Unfortunately, most stories are not centered on 19th Century Brooklyn, but there are a smattering of facts, images, and points of interest in different chapters which point to that era.

The consensus of many baby boomers seems to be that Brooklyn had its “heyday” in the early to mid-Twentieth Century. For more on that, read this cool book: When Brooklyn was the world: 1920-1957. A book that cleverly argues that the ‘real’ Brooklyn kinda, sorta, ceased to exist once the suburbs of Jersey and Long Island started popping up.

Brooklyn, A state of mind…boasts stories from actors, novelists, journalists, politicians, photographers, and artists. Their witty, gritty, and fun memories can evoke homesickness and nostalgia in a non-native Brooklynite. Their stories touch on everything from food, big hair, Coney Island, music, gangsters, ethnic communities and culture, children’s games, summer days and nights, wise guys, tough guys, and everyone in between. Memories, whether they are fond or foul, are jammed into each story. I highly recommend it for any Brooklyn lover’s collection.

Oppulent Brooklyn Theater to be reborn in 2015!

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Oppulent Brooklyn Theater to be reborn in 2015!

Like the haunting restoration scene from 2004’s Phantom of the Opera, The Lowe’s Kings Theater will rise from the ruins to showcase Brooklyn talent at its finest. The Theater, which caused a splash in the roaring twenties, was shut down and abandoned after the 1977 blackouts. It became a City Landmark and was pretty much an untouched testament to the splendor that was once Flatbush Avenue. A venue like this smack in the middle of Flatbush Ave. today is sure to enhance the neighborhood in many ways and bring back the glamour and excitement of famous ‘Strip’ once again.

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More cute creative old Business postcards courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Ephemeral New York

The Brooklyn Public Library has a wonderful digitized collection of late 19th century business cards from hundreds of shops and companies located in the teeming city of Brooklyn.

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They’re whimsical and imaginative—and some honor the cold weather while advertising their goods, like J.V. Dubernell, tailor.

His shop was at 331 and 333 Fulton Avenue, and his suits sound kind of expensive for the era.

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That’s some sled illustrated in this card, for this clothing store, which comes off like the L.L. Bean of the time. Check out these prices for trendy wool cloaks!

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This sweet scene advertises the business of a paint dealer. Sumpter Street is in today’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, quite a bit away from the other businesses, which are located closer to downtown Brooklyn in what was the fashionable shopping area of the time.

Perhaps a paint store was not welcome on refined Fulton Street?

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