PhotoBike Tour 5: Deeper Inside Brooklyn



The Sunset Park Neighborhood-- 43rd. Street, 400 Block

The borough of Brooklyn opens up like a lotus flower when you rent a bike. When I arrived, I contacted a bicycle store in Bay Ridge that featured hourly and daily rentals, though there was no indication about longer-term rentals; I was interested in at least a week, with the possibility of extensions.       

My Florida-honed sense of decorum and politeness evaporated as I marched the three avenues and one street to the bike shop, and soon I was negotiating a weekly rate with the owner. Times are hard, I know, and so we both decided they were very appreciative of my business– and I was proud to have negotiated the final rate with my Florida-honed sense of decorum and politeness; I should be running BP.       

The first journey I made on my bicycle was to see my friends Carol and Matt on Carroll Street. I was always charmed that Carol lived on Carroll Street; she is an accomplished artist and very humoresque blogger (see at right) and the woman I bonded with in art class back in Brooklyn College circa 1976.  (I was taken with the fact that her art supplies locker in Boylan Hall was boldly labeled CAROL’S LOCKER!!!!!!! ) She also had braids and an attitude. Soon we were disco-ing in Manhattan with abandon, and then I moved to Florida; she still hasn’t forgiven me.       

When I was a kid living on 72nd. Street in Bay Ridge, anything below about 39th. Street was considered off-limits. There were myriad reasons why, some legit, some not so much; the fact that there were really ancient neighborhoods out there always intrigued me, and I would bike right to the edge of the perceived danger in those days, with my little Instamatic, and i’m glad I did because I still have all those shots of 1960s-1970s Brooklyn.       

Early on a Saturday morning I biked to Carol and Matt’s in time for their stoop sale, which is a garage sale for people who don’t have a garage. Carol’s sister Alice arrived with her son Jimmy and THEIR wares, and can I tell you that Alice got a parking space right in front of their building?  This is virtually impossible; later on, the neighborhood association presented her with a plaque. I assisted with the sale under Carol’s orders, depending as she did on my years in retail merchandising. I enjoyed the cajoling and kibbitzing with the locals– what’s so cool about Brooklyn is that everyone on the block knows just about everyone else– and talks to them !    


Brooklyn is riddled with architecture, unique among American cities. I myself am a frustrated architect– I wanted desperately to attend Cooper Union after high school, but my marks weren’t good enough. So I live vicariously through the designs of the men and women who preceded me. Here are some of their creations:       

The Parachute Jump at Coney Island

 The Parachute Jump terrorized a couple of generations of daring beachgoers when it was installed here after its tenure at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. You’d sit in a canvas seat, rise a few hundred feet into the air, be brought to the outer  edge, and then you’d plummet to the bottom; presumably, the chute would open, preventing you from spending the rest of your life looking like a pizza. I never went on it– I was too young– but plenty of people did, and lived to tell about it. But we always watched the greasers and their screaming, beehived girlfriends from the safety of the hot sand when we visited the beach.       

 Here is Regina Pacis Catholic Church, also affiliated with St. Rosalia Parish. It’s on 65th. Street, a major thoroughfare, and so it’s riddled and crossed with wires. The church features a statue of the Virgin Mary whose double crown was stolen in the 1960s; the neighborhood Italians held prayer vigils around the clock for its safe return, but it was only until an anonymous, veiled threat was posted in the newspaper that they were returned. It’s a beautiful church; if you are over fifty and your first name is Bernadette or Filomena, chances are good that you were either confirmed or married or waked in Regina Pacis:  


Regina Pacis-- Queen of Peace

Here’s another Catholic church– the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is the centerpiece of what was originally a heavily Irish parish. My friend Donald was sent to his final rest from here, and the organist played overwrought and sentimental hymns during the funeral Mass; all I could think of was that dear Donald would have preferred Donna Summer and the Hughes Corporation, or even Giorgio Moroder (“From Here to Eternity”) but I didn’t have anything to do with the musical arrangements.       


 Bay Ridge, once home to a huge Norwegian population, has like one shop dedicated to the presence, and of course I went inside. Nordic Delicacies carries all sorts of things Norwegian, and I bought Nordic Kirk a teacup, some powdered soups, and napkins festooned with the colorful flag. There was a magazine on display, whose headline I voluntarily translated for the lady behind the counter– a large-font bevy of twenty-somethings bleating “WE LIKE OLDER MEN!”  And the elderly lady responded “yah, especially ven dey have money!”       

Nordic Delicacies

I spent a couple of days in Staten Island with my sister, and Mom came with me one day to use the pool. Here are Gina and Mom:       


And here’s a shot of Gina being VERY gorgeous and happy:       


 Gina indulged me one day when I asked her to drive with me to Rossville, an area of Staten Island that features a ships’ graveyard as well as an ancient cemetery. While I was clambering among the weeds, she called Mom: “Now he’s rummaging through a cemetery!” And Mom told her, very seriously, “that’s what he likes to do.”      

The Dead Boats of Rossville

And here’s the Blazing Star Cemetery at Rossville, with this grave marker dated 1789:     

The Dead People of Rossville

 One day I biked to Gravesend, an area of southern Brooklyn that was settled by the Dutch in the 1600s. A house owned by Lady Moody, who established the colony, still survives, though the elevated subway runs directly through the center of the ancient Gravesend grid:     

Lady Moody's House (circa 1643)

And here is something rather fabulous, nearby:     


 Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway now features a bike path, though you have to cross many heavily-trafficked streets while biking. Here is one of the more monumental synagogues built along this major boulevard:     


Ocean Parkway goes all the way south to the Coney Island area, though I diverged and took Ocean Avenue which led me east of Coney, into the neighborhoods of Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach. Here’s a view across Sheepshead Bay looking out towards the Island. I went with Mom one day to Jordan’s restaurant and seafood store; we had lunch and then brought home lobster tails for supper. That’s what we do: while having a meal, we discuss the meals-to-come.  


 Back in Bay Ridge, here are a couple of very old houses typical of the neighborhood:     


 Nearby Stewart Avenue features another vista of old Bay Ridge:     


  An ancient (1892) warehouse along the old Bay Ridge waterfront, actually considered Sunset Park these days; I wonder what they did here? I love neighborhoods like this; I was the only one around, just me on my bike, but felt strangely secure.     

At the right you can click on earlier posts regarding my Brooklyn visit, with lots more pictures.      

  Next… Manhattan with Carol !     




12 responses

  1. I loved this post. I remember that locker in Boylan Hall and what you said to me when you met me and realized I was the Carol of Carol’s locker!

    I agree that Donald would have preferred Donna Summer to see him off to his final rest.

    xoxox Carol

  2. Nice blog, enjoyed it, I agree, Brooklyn is full of exciting architecture, there is almost no end to it; I live in Manhattan, but come to Brooklyn often. Continue the good work.

    • Thanks! I was only there three weeks: the longest I’ve ever visited in one year. But I cut a REALLY good deal for TWO weeks’ worth actually : ) But I’m thinking of buying a bike to have up there for when I next go …

    • Thanks! I’m going to post next about a day we spent in Manhattan… !
      I miss Brooklyn a lot; I sorta rue the fact that so many neighborhoods were off limits when I was a kid on my bike… not so now !

  3. A bike rental, garage sale, a swim and a stroll through a cemetary. Beautiful photos of a ride along the seaside? Well, that sounds like the “life”. I, for one, am enjoying your photography as I read about your travels in reverse.

    • Thank you ! I had such a great time on that drive– it was JUST what I needed. And it reinforced what I love about Brooklyn: biking through neighborhoods and recording life : )

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