Monday, June 21, 2010

Not Blogging but Walking

(Apologies to Stevie Smith.)

I am in sort of a quandary because I spend much of my free time, especially in the spring and summer, walking all over Brooklyn (as you might gather from the blog, if you are reading it). And I spend a lot of time on the walk taking pictures with my ever present point-and-shoot. I won't say I am obsessed by it but let's face it, how many people are out wandering around in the blistering sun, in the ninety-four degree heat, just to see Brooklyn and take pictures? I shot the temperature sign below on Saturday, June 5, as I was starting out on one of my weekend treks.

Union Avenue near Broadway.

My plan then has been to go back home and fashion some sort of blog entry about the walk. But since I wander very much at random and, almost equally at random, take pictures of things that interest me or catch my eye but that might not interest anyone else, I often can't frame any kind of narrative around the walk that would make a blog entry. It's all sort of Cagean, except that I'm far from being John Cage.

Broadway at Throop Ave. and Lorimer St.

To remedy it, I sometimes go out and deliberately try to take specific walks and shoot specific pictures to form a ready made blog entry, which in the end seems too forced to be worth anything.

Then I thought, what the hell; it's my blog and I'm not holding a gun to anyone's head to read the damn thing. And maybe no one is reading it anyway. But my walks are enjoyable and just to have my own record here is worth it.

Broadway at Lewis Ave.

So, on that ninety-four degree Saturday and on the Saturday after that, I walked Broadway from stem to stern; bottom to top; west to east. And it's a pretty good example of what I mean by a lot of odds and ends maybe coming together, maybe not. Broadway in Brooklyn is definitely not Broadway in the city; it's your basic low-end shopping street full of discount stores, 99-cent stores, fast food outlets, storefront churches, abandoned buildings, bodegas, and empty lots. And to top it off, like New Utrecht Avenue and the D train down in Borough Park, the elevated J & M tracks shadow it for almost its entire length.

Broadway at Havemayer Street; Marcy Ave. stop on J & M line

For maybe a third of its length Broadway is completely within Williamsburg, but at Flushing Avenue it becomes the border between Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant. As you walk up Broadway away from Williamsburg, when you are on the left hand side of the street you're in Bushwick; on the right hand side, you're in Bed-Stuy. If you're in a car, god only knows where you are.

Broadway near Rodney St.

That's the Pupa & Zehlem Matzoh Bakery almost across the street from . . .

Broadway near Rodney St.

The Broadway Masjid & Islamic Center (In the Name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful). We're very ecumenical and tolerant over here, or we try to be.

Looking up Keap St. from Broadway

That is Bnos Yaakov of Pupa, a congregation of Ultraorthodox Hasidim in Williamsburg. South Williamsburg, at the bottom, western, end of Broadway, is mainly either Latino or Hasidic and it's going to take a lot of gentrification, artistification, and trendification to change that.

Speaking of artistification . . . no, really, we hang bicycles from all our storefronts.

Broadway at Hooper St.

Broadway at Division Ave.

Returning from Sabbath services.

Broadway and Montrose Ave.

Looking down Montrose Ave. toward East Williamsburg. Those double steeples are another Williamsburg landmark that can be seen from most of the Northside. The
are two, very tall, steeples, you just can't tell from this angle.

Broadway at Montrose Ave.

An indication of why nearby Graham Ave. is also officially known as "Avenue of Puerto Rico."

Broadway at Union Ave.

So, no one claimed it was perfect. We all can't be Brooklyn Heights or Carroll Gardens (both being places I could shift to in a heartbeat if I ever won MegaMillions).

Broadway at Union Ave.

But we, too, have our gardens.

Broadway at Lorimer St. and Throop Ave.; Lindsay Triangle.

Poor late, lamented John V. Lindsay and his triangle.
PLEASE! Mr. Markowitz, Mr. Bloomberg: surely we can do better than this for a mayor who held this city together through far rougher times than either of you has ever come close to experiencing. As a memorial to John Lindsay this is truly pathetic and insulting. Tell me there is something else commemorating his tenure someplace else in our borough.

Broadway near Walton St.

Broadway near Leonard and Moore Sts.

Yes, people do live along Broadway too.

Broadway at Gerry St.

This has been abandoned so long, shrubbery is growing on the second floor.

Broadway at Manhattan Ave.

We are about a block and a half from the end of Williamsburg and coming up to the first section of Broadway since Marcy Ave. that will be very busy with people. Flushing Ave. is ahead with Woodhull Medical Center at the crossroads (on the Bedford-Stuyvesant side). Woodhull is probably the largest hospital in our end of Brooklyn. I don't actually know where all the hospitals are but I believe the next nearest on is on the southern edge of Fort Greene just off Flatbush Ave. A ways to go in an emergency.

Woodhull Medical Center, looking down Marcus Garvey Blvd. to Broadway

Actually, for this alone, John Lindsay deserves better than that depressing, windblown patch of pavement. It was he and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller who worked hard to get Woodhull Hospital Center established as the major hospital for North Brooklyn.

Looking down Graham Ave. from Broadway (Avenue of Puerto Rico)

Graham Ave. & Flushing Ave. at Broadway

Where Graham Ave. and Flushing Ave. meet Broadway is the dividing line between Williamsburg and Bushwick & Bed-Stuy. Looking at the picture just above, as you continue to walk up Broadway, Bushwick is on the left and Bed-Stuy on the right.

Broadway at Flushing Ave.

Broadway at Flushing Ave.

A reminder that the day after I took these photos was the Puerto Rican Day parade in the city.

This is a good place to stop, the blog I mean . . . for a day or so, really. It's 12.30 am and we are on the border of Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, and I have to get up and go to work tomorrow morning.

But I wanted to mention one other thing that put me off this blog for a while. I am very curious and easily distracted from the main task and tend to go off on tangents. I discovered Google Books, Google's attempt to put every book in existence on line as a PDF scan. As someone who has worked most of his adult life in publishing, I am very much aware of the value of copyright and the protection it affords authors, something the founders of Google apparently were unaware of when they thought up their scheme. But as someone who worked many years with reprints of books in the public domain, I'm also aware that when books exit from their copyright protection they are, if you will, fair game.

I decided to do a search of Google Books using various combinations of "Brooklyn" and some other terms to search. I got a lot of results that were merely okay but not great. But then I happened on the
Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac. I don't want to go too far into it right now but the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, THE newspaper of Brooklyn through the 19th and a good part of the 20th centuries (and very highlyl respected in the rest of the country among newspaper people), published an annual almanac that concentrated on all things Brooklyn.

From downloading the PDFs of the almanacs and browsing the pages, I came to realize that our now close-to-down-and-out Broadway was once the center of the Brooklyn theatrical world, or near to it. Well, of course, at a time before not only television but movies and even electricity, live theater was the prime entertainment, besides sitting and reading and talking. Still, I didn't realize that Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Bedford-Stuyvesant were rife with theaters at the turn of the last century.

That stopped me dead in my tracks blogwise because I wanted to investigate further. I haven't had an awful lot of luck on the theater front, as I'll talk about later. But one thing does fascinate me. The almanacs have picture ads for banks, schools, and other businesses, with addresses, and I found that on looking at the ads, I recognized some of the buildings from my walks. Now that's not unusual for a bank, for example, since banks seem to go on forever and bank buildings were constructed to outlast time itself. But other, lesser enterprises don't often fare as well. And yet some do . . .

South 8th St. near Driggs Ave.

The building above is one of the many Romanesque Revival buildings you'll find in Brooklyn. There was a fashion for this style of architecture bordering almost on mania at the end of the 19th century. And actually, I like it. But that's not the point.

I was browsing through the various almanacs and found an advertisement for a business college on South 8th Street that looked familiar . . .

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac, 1892, page 329.

Obviously the same building. No big deal, maybe, but it gave me a lot of satisfaction finding it and also knowing now something of the building's background.

But, more of this later.

By the way, there is a section of Broadway between the elevated tracks and the East River. I just didn't start right at the beginning of the thoroughfare for the blog entry. I'll get to it. It's so much different from the rest of Broadway that it probably deserves to be covered separately . . .

Looking up Broadway from Bedford Ave.