In the spirit of Brooklyn and Queens Day (that’s right, our hometown has its own holiday recognized by the city, so get over it!) I recommend my readers to delve into Elliot Willsensky’s “When Brooklyn Was the World 1920-1957.” I won’t spoil it all for you, but Willsnesky takes you to a magical place to discover what made Brooklyn so special. I challenge you to find one person in this country that does not have some connection to Brooklyn, be it one of their relatives (even from a generation or two ago), a friend, or an acquaintance.
At times he describes Brooklyn as though it were only a temporary phase that is no more; he is right to an extent since many of the sites and smells described in the book are long gone, including Dodger Stadium and The Navy Yard (once New York’s largest industrial center, which was dismantled). Brooklyn’s downtown area was rebuilt and renamed the Civic Center. The knishes from the man in the pushcart, the Seltzer man, and the pickle barrel in the local drug-store are a rare find. Most importantly, economic growth allowed many Brooklynites of European descent to drive down the Long Island Expressway and move out to the suburbs, making room for the new waves of immigrants trying to make a new start.
But not all is lost. If you ever visit, you’ll find that Brooklyn may have never left. Summer nights biting into a square at L&B Spumoni Gardens where the cops don’t give you a ticket for your triple-parked car because they understand your addiction. Brooklyn baseball is back thanks to the minor-league Brooklyn Cyclones, which along with the new Astroland and revamped Boardwalk is reviving the once crime-ridden and underdeveloped Coney Island. The Cyclones, and now the Brooklyn Nets, are beginning to correct the great mistake of 1957, when the Dodgers left for L.A. And aside from my personal distaste for hipsters, they appreciate the artisan, hand crafted trades and culinary experiences that made Brooklyn so alluring; and those businesses are making a comeback.
So if Brooklyn was the world, what does Brooklyn mean today? The name is so alluring that it’s become a brand name, a global phenomenon: Brooklyn Industries, heck even Swedes love things with Brooklyn on it. Brooklyn was and is everything that Manhattan is not: the working class, the creative class, the localness of everything. After reading Willsensky’s book, you may find that perhaps Brooklyn is still the world. In fact, maybe it’s because Brooklyn is a way of thinking, a state of mind…and if you ever were to leave Brooklyn, Brooklyn will never leave you.
***NOTE*** The whole Dodger fiasco started over a disagreement about where to build the new ballpark. Walter O’Malley (boo…hiss..) wanted to build the stadium at Atlantic Yards (where the Barclay’s Center stands today) but Robert Moses (boo…hiss…), NYC’s building czar, refused, wanting to build a parking garage at Atlantic and move the ballpark to Flushing Meadows. No one budged and O’Malley moved his team to Los Angeles, also convincing the NY Giants to move to San Francisco to keep them company. You’d hardly recognize the ballpark anymore, because “Ebbets Field” is now an apartment complex. The move was considered “one of the most notorious abandonments in the history of sports.”