A Century After Completion Of the Bridge Comes Origins Of Brooklyn Bridge Park

A neighbor who has called the Heights home since 1971 sends along the following observations.

Let us now praise unsung heroes for their superior intelligence, pure hearts and prescient persistence.

Two examples are Otis Pearsall and Scott Hand, who have written an account called “The origins of Brooklyn Bridge Park, 1986-1988.” Requiring intelligence and persistence of the casual reader, the report documents with painstaking detail and attribution the events leading to the construction of one of the city’s most transformative projects.

The two authors are no strangers to transformative action on behalf of the neighborhood they love and call home. Pearsall is considered the father and driving force of landmarks designation of Brooklyn Heights; indeed, during the 1960s he was the ‘author’ of landmarking and subsequent zoning regulations that makes the Heights so completely unique today.  Later in the ’60s Pearsall led the fight to prevent   construction of a major meat market on the waterfront between Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. The meat market was an initiative of the Lindsay administration and presented, in its defeat, a major legal victory for the Brooklyn Heights Association.

In the mid-1970s, when Scott Hand was president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, he put the icing on the cake by getting Landmark Designation for Fulton Ferry Landing and Empire Stores warehouses between the Bridges, and persuaded New York State to buy the waterfront land to make Empire State Park (the site where Jane’s Carousel now sits). The protection of waterfront land in what is now taken for granted as  another unique neighborhood—DUMBO and the Fulton Landing under Brooklyn Bridge—can be traced directly back to the battles led by Pearsall and Hand.

“The Origins” should be read carefully as an insight into how tenuous the best ideas can be in their infancies. Looking back more than two decades, the report captures a very dramatic conflict between determined waterfront developers and powerful quasi-public agencies versus some of the sharpest legal minds in our great city—who just happened to love their home turf. And they gave so much of their time and talent, unheralded.

But not completely unheralded are they. Otis Pearsall is a Lion of preservation, and when he decides to roar there is usually something  wrong in the forest. Naturalists might counter that he is simply marking his turf. However explained, Brooklyn is a more bountiful and livable place because of him. Much of what he continues to do is unknown by the average citizen who benefits from it.

Today, the use and development of Brooklyn Bridge Park can be seen daily from the protected view plane of the beloved Promenade along the Heights, as new phases are completed. And more will come for years.

But such an immense and, yes, transformative, project did have a traceable birth. Many who followed the project passively, and perhaps later supported it actively, might remain unenlightened as to the origins.

Thus, an informed resident who is so fortunate to live near Brooklyn Bridge Park  should feel the  impetus and necessity of reading the account by Pearsall and Hand. Even a casual visitor who has been struck by the magnitude of the project and wonders, “How?” should read it.

Thanks to the Brooklyn Historical Society website, it  is  now available online: brooklynhistory.org/docs/originsbrooklynbridgepark.pdf

A 1907 Brooklyn March: Other Music Time Forgot: Featured to Raise Funds for Promenade Gardens

Matthew Morrow. Photo by Koren Volk

Matthew Morrow. Photo by Koren Volk

Finally, after all these years, the 1907 Brooklyn Daily Eagle BridgeCrush March is heard live by a 21st Century audience in Brooklyn Heights.

Written at the turn of the last century by William E. Slafer, bandmaster of Slafer’s Brooklyn Marine Band, the ominously-titled march could have been simply paying homage to the daily ‘crush’ of commuters who took the trolley over Brooklyn Bridge in the early 1900s.

Or, it could have been written to recall the memories of the fateful opening day panic on the Brooklyn Bridge. When that happened, on May 23, 1883, no structures except church spires were more than five stories tall.  Those first pedestrians to risk the Opening Day walk must have been apprehensive, even scared.

BDE Bridge Crush March

Popular mythology, expressed in newspaper articles, had even questioned whether the bridge would stand, as nothing of that scale had been attempted.  For a dramatic account of that panic, readers should go at once to David McCullough’s brilliant book, “BROOKLYN BRIDGE.”  Suffice it to say here that lives were lost and people were “crushed” in the panic.

Back to music: Slafer’s 1907 March was one of numerous pieces of music researched by NEIL CALET to produce a fanciful program for the annual fundraiser to benefit the Promenade Garden Conservancy. The program took place earlier this month, hosted by DR. JANNA COLLINS, and featured the voices of TOM STEWART, the well-known station announcer for Thirteen, and his wife, noted cabaret artist MAUREEN KELLEY STEWART.  A number of songs from the 1900s  had been researched, unearthed and copied for the duo to perform.

Neil Calet. Photo by Koren Volk

Neil Calet. Photo by Koren Volk

There were such memorable tunes as “The Rise of Rosie O’Reilly”, subtitled ‘Born and Bred in Brooklyn’. There was the “Brooklyn belle Barn Dance”, and a few others that Stewart had described in an earlier Eagle article as “fetching, catchy and delightfully-hokey Brooklyn-centric songs, dating from 1883 to 1948.”

But then, the day before the performance, Tom Stewart and Maureen Kelley experienced their own special panic: their accompanist called in the wee hours to report sadly a death in his family.  Stewart and Kelly were placed in a crush of their own—a time crush.

They called upon their neighbor and friend, a glorious accompanist who, as it happened, was none other than PAUL RICHARD OLSON, Organist and Choirmaster in his third decade of service to Grace Church. A superb sight-reader and quick study, OLSON came to the rescue and saved the Promenade Garden Conservancy fundraiser.

Maureen Kelly

Maureen Kelly

But many observers also felt that STEWART and KELLEY, both seasoned performers, could have survived a cappella. Their delivery was so delightful that the crowd would have enjoyed simple recitation of lyrics and Stewart’s skillful delivery of “back story” on the songs.

But no one present was more delighted to see Paul Olson than the publisher of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. DOZIER HASTY smiled as his friends Stewart and Kelley stepped aside to let the accompanist play the wordless, strident  Brooklyn Daily Eagle Bridge Crush March.  Afterwards Hasty seemed relieved that no one walked out during the march. “When it was clear the singing was over,” said Hasty, “I feared the march rhythm would send our audience out into the streets, row by row…but everyone stayed and celebrated.”

Indeed, funds were raised for another year of new plantings and garden maintenance in one

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart

of the city’s largest public attractions.  People forget that Promenade Gardens continue for one third of a mile along the famous Esplanade  with views of New York Harbor.  Among those honored and acknowledged were Brooklyn Parks Commissioner KEVIN JEFFREY  and  the hired professional gardener who leads the Promenade Conservancy, MATTHEW MORROW.

A Modest Proposal for LICH

Here’s a riddle that has, for some of us,  a simple answer.

A full-service hospital that loses money—and loses money big-time if run inefficiently—happens to sit on some prime real estate in Brooklyn.  What should be done?

The hospital site also borders two of the healthiest, wealthiest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. There is a prime opportunity to engage those communities for support, the kind of support that could be garnered for a sports ‘home team’.  The absence of LICH has created desire and belief that the neighboring historic brownstone communities SHOULD have their own ‘home team’ hospital.   Do they deserve it? Would they support it?  A former operator of LICH ignored and even severed those traditional venues of support, which had pre-existed at LICH in years past. (If there had NOT been a history of community devotion to LICH,  it is doubtful that the 100-plus million dollar Othmer bequest would have included LICH.)

What many observers do not realize is that the original Brooklyn Hospital (now the expanded Brooklyn Hospital Center) also enjoyed historic and significant support from the Heights-Hill community. Like the old LICH, it attracted board members, large contributors and volunteers from the same community.  LICH’s recent former operator killed the structure for such support and discouraged high-level, Heights-based Wall Street execs  from being involved. Recent history shows that the operator had plans for LICH other than revival; community representation was an advisory role on soft matters.

Brooklyn Hospital Center, on the other hand, has continued to draw board support from the Heights-Hill community. Given the chance to create a new “hometown hospital” in the middle of the Heights and Cobble Hill,  a merged LICH-BHC might create the historic and medical institution that could, in essence, rekindle the fires of broad-based community support — a support that would include some of the wealthiest families in Brooklyn. Under the reorganization skills of Dr. Richard Becker, the man who brought BHC out of bankruptcy,  the merged institution would have two physical plants, each with appropriate specialties, and a broader base of access to and support for both sites.

If BHC can provide the communities around LICH with more than simply an ER clinic, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill might imagine and fulfill what we all need: a home team medical facility that can make us proud enough to contribute and volunteer.

Sonorous tones, hokey songs all to Help Promenade Gardens

By Sam Howe, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

From left to right: Ellie Levinson, Koren Volk, Neil Calet, Morley Bland, Matthew Morrow (gardner), Susi Rawson, Karen Schlesinger, Pearl Hochstadt, Deborah Hallen, Rivoleye Alex, Lucille Gruber, Phyllis Starkman, Herb Cohen, Joanna Dean, Stephen Sacks, Maureen Healy, Tom Cahalan, Bruce Gregory, Cathy Quinlan, Richard Dean. Photo courtesy of Koren Volk

From left to right: Ellie Levinson, Koren Volk, Neil Calet, Morley Bland, Matthew Morrow (gardner), Susi Rawson, Karen Schlesinger, Pearl Hochstadt, Deborah Hallen, Rivoleye Alex, Lucille Gruber, Phyllis Starkman, Herb Cohen, Joanna Dean, Stephen Sacks, Maureen Healy, Tom Cahalan, Bruce Gregory, Cathy Quinlan, Richard Dean. Photo courtesy of Koren Volk

All of New York knows the comforting, sonorous voice ofTom Stewart, the station announcer for Thirteen. But he is also a beloved fixture at home in Brooklyn Heights, where he lives a couple of octaves down from his wifeMaureen Kelley Stewart, an acclaimed cabaret singer. And, yes, as trained singers, the two of them often collaborate on musical programs. But in a few weeks they will be doing (as the Monty Python Troupe often proclaimed) “something entirely different”.

To benefit the Promenade Garden Conservancy, the Stewarts put together a program of antiquated Brooklyn-centric sheet music, long forgotten by time and talent, for a program of what they call “fetching, catchy and delightfully-hokey Brooklyn songs dating from 1883 to 1948…” Found in the Brooklyn Public Library archives, these gems include ‘Brooklyn Belle Barn Dance’, the somewhat ominous ‘Brooklyn Daily Eagle Bridge Crush March’, and  sub-titled ‘Born and Bred in Brooklyn’, a song that tells of “The Rise of Rosie O’Reilly”.

To support the internationally-loved Promenade Gardens by attending this musicale, one may email immediately promgarden@aol.com to get an invitation. To do so helps support  the rare, lengthy garden that is a visual treat for the tens of thousands of visitors who come from far afield, and those Brooklynites who live or work within a stone’s-toss of the Promenade…..Hey, if you’re in the latter group, please step forward. You should join this convivial Conservancy.

When written word turns to music: A night at BAM

By Sam Howe, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Alice McDermott. Photo by Jamie Schoenberger

Alice McDermott. Photo by Jamie Schoenberger

A friend who recently divorced now has evenings free and has been hoping to try an experiment. That is, to pay tribute to Brooklyn’s extraordinary BAM by dropping by every night, believing that SOMETHING interesting or inspiring will be offered. Said friend sent the following notes on BAM’s popular “Eat, Drink & Be Literary” series.

Wednesday night, BAMcafé was packed with hundreds of gentle, intelligent patrons, seated at tables to enjoy their buffet dinners and the massive supply of red and white wine from Pine Ridge Vineyards, donated by Diane and Joe Steinberg. Conversation flowed at each table, quietly enough not to block out the background music by Josh Rutnerand Red Wierenga.

Anticipation was high for the main speaker, novelist Alice McDermott, a National Book Award winner, New Yorker contributor and three-time Pulitzer finalist.

McDermott was introduced and made a few comments before reading from her latest novel, “Someone.”

Here it should be said that BAM’s literary series, now in its tenth year, is such a brilliant catalyst: the food (more on that later), the high-ceiling setting, almost a cathedral, to honor the artists and patrons, and the dramatic lighting with great sound.  All of this so we can enjoy the greatest treat of all: hearing a writer of note read their own words.

In the case of Alice McDermott, the word flow IS musical, literally evoking thoughts and images that go far beyond the simple notes or single words telling the story. She epitomizes the adage that there are no dull subjects if placed in the hands of a great writer.  (And, here let us add that ‘great writer’ is not a phrase to be tossed casually. McDermott was charming and funny when speaking extemporaneously. But when reading from her crafted work, it turned to music.)

Brooklyn Eagle readers need not suffer through my description of McDermott’s novel; just go get it and turn off your electronic devices when you jump in.

A couple of final endearing notes about the writer, from her extemporaneous talk: She grew up in a paternalistic household where, she remembers, the last thing she would have been encouraged to do was become a writer. To pursue her literary dreams, she was told to learn short-hand, work for a publishing house and maybe write on the weekends. “At the dinner table, I was not allowed to finish sentences,” she said, “but I kept a notebook, and I would finish my sentences there.”

She also confessed that she sometimes works on two novels at once. “I love being able to indulge in procrastination,” she said, “so I can procrastinate on one project and get something done on the other.”  To this observer it seemed fitting that such a talent as McDermott would find a way to create a little venue for self-indulgence as a healthy outlet….but not too much.  She cannot reject the work ethic of her female, Irish Catholic heritage, where dealing with the other gender can be a marathon of forbearance.

In closing, let me again say how much I love BAM.  ‘Great Performances’, BAM’s caterers for “Eat, Drink & Be Literary”, turned me into a food critic (just for one night). I want to sing praises for the vegetarian bean stew. It was meant to go with pieces of pita bread. Instead, I doused my salad with it and made one of the healthiest courses I’ve had in a while. GO BAM!

83 Year Old Civic Group In Dyker Hts. Honors Rare Leader

When a civic association celebrates “83 years of democracy in action”, it’s a testament to the strength of the association that many of its leaders have been around for that long. Well, not quite that long. Last Thursday the Dyker Heights Civic Association honored James F. Clark at its annual Testimonial Dinner at Sirico’s on 13th Avenue. When the welcome speech was given by Mafaldo DiMango, let’s just say the she and Jim Clark, combined, could have boasted more than 100 years of community service as adults in Dyker and Bay Ridge. While the legendary Mafaldo chaired the dinner and served as 1st Vice President of the Dyker Civic Association, it was Jim Clark’s night , and the spotlight shone brightly.

More than 120 people attended to support the association and honor Jim Clark, and official proclamations came from numerous elected officials, including Congressman Grimm, Assemblyman Abbate, State Senator Golden, Councilman Gentile and Borough President Marty Markowitz, with a special message delivered by Carlo Scissura (sp?) . As one observer said later, “The evening was peppered with praise for salt of the earth,” referring to Jim Clark’s quiet and steady devotion to whatever the job at hand might be.

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Legendary Show Biz Star Comes Back to Life Via Finkels

Fyvush Finkel

Native sons and daughters of Brooklyn who have moved up and out to fame and fortune in the entertainment industry are legendary. Think Barbara Streisand, Danny Kaye and Mary Tyler Moore, the Neils ( Diamond and Sedaka) just to name a few who did not return to live here. But one show biz family, though residing in Manhattan as a base for their globe-trotting careers, often refer with pride to their Brooklyn roots. Fyvush Finkel , the patriarch star of stage, screen and television, was born the son of a tailor in Brownsville and ‘made his bones’ in show biz by performing in Yiddish theatre on the lower east side, as well as variety stand-up in the Catskills.

Praised for his role in Sidney Lumet’s movie Q&A, Fyvush was casting Picket Fences television series, for which he won an Emmy. Still the most beloved Jewish character actor ever (“…the face that launched a thousand schticks”), Fyvush (nee Philip) recently appeared in the Coen brothers movie, ‘A Simple Man’. On Broadway he played several characters in Fiddler on the Roof, then lead in the national tour company. Continue reading

Street Scenes in Heatwave

Notify NYC, the city’s official hotline, sent email warnings early today (Thursday) about temperatures between 100 and 110 F. Outdoor events all over the borough and beyond were being cancelled via email. Bay Ridge-based Narrows Botanical Garden cancelled their outdoor film program tonight. A group in influential lawyers who hoped to sneak away to a Nassau County golf course this afternoon decided to call off the outing. And Starbucks, brilliant purveyor of hot drinks with fancy names, still had long lines because of one simple marketing tool:’ just add ice.’
One of our contributors spotted this promobile for Jekyll & Hyde restaurant at a Manhattan gas station….

Montague Improvement, Circa 1975

Only four blocks long, with a civic center at one end and a tourist attraction at the other, Montague Street is completely unique in New York City…but sometimes it’s gritty.Commercial establishments require deliveries, commercial streets require traffic to survive. In the face of these facts of life, the Montague Street Business Improvement District, run by Brigit Pinnell, works overtime to enhance and , yes, improve the historic commercial strip. (see their website at www.montaguebid.com).  Continue reading