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Once upon a time in Brooklyn

The history here lies in the air you breathe and the different ethnicities give to the entire city the cosmopolitan feel it is renowned for.

“Models, writers, actors, and artists have been flocking to New York’s Left Bank for its destination restaurants, bustling farmers’ markets, Parisian-style parks, and passionate dedication to l’art de vie. Welcome to the new bohemian chic.”

- Vogue Magazine

Last summer I spent one week in New York City. Among the main touristic attraction I managed to visit during my New Yorker vacation there was Brooklyn. One cannot say to have fully visited New York without a stop in districts such as Brooklyn, Coney Island or Harlem. The history here lies in the air you breathe and the different ethnicities give to the entire city the cosmopolitan feel it is renowned for. In other words, The Big Apple is not just Manhattan and the cultural diversity is an asset here that people are bright enough to understand it has to be preserved. It’s something that one meets everyday in the streets of boroughs, as people from all over the world live in a spirit of cooperation. History teaches us that it’s always been like that. It’s a matter of fact and it’s shared by its dwellers.

Its symbol, the quintessence itself of Brooklyn's city, The Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn is the greatest small city in the world. It comprises of 2.5 million people and if it were its own city, it would be the fourth most populous in the United States, only behind New York City, followed by Los Angeles, and Chicago. The borough covers almost a hundred square miles of terrain, from the beaches of Coney Island and Sea Gate it extends to the brownstones of Park Slope and the sidewalks of Williamsburg.

Brooklyn neighbourhoods are more than 30 and each of them is distinct and unique, with its own personality. They are as diverse as the people living in them, and all are rich in history. The district stands out for its magnificent brownstone homes one can admire in neighbourhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Clinton Hill, sand and surf in seaside communities like Sea Gate and Manhattan Beach.

Some of the districts I’ve loved the most when I visited Brooklyn are the followings:

Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo

Dumbo, acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This once was an industrial fertile ground. Now, it has evolved into a vibrant fusion of 19th-century warehouses, art galleries, and spacious and elegant condominiums featuring high ceilings, large rooms and terraces. The place is absolutely amazing, which has made it a choice location for young professionals and successful artists

Lovely brown-brick homes in Brooklyn Heights suburbia


Williamsburg, often called "the new Soho" as it is the hotspot to be for actors, artist and musicians.


Greenpoint, with its pop-up galleries, indie bookshops, dive bars and historic storefronts.

Park Slope

Park Slope, with its multi-million dollar row houses and brownstones and high-class bodegas. This is considered an ideal place to raise children because the neighborhood is safe and most of the public schools are excellent.

Coney Island

Coney Island, the weekend hideaway where to enjoy a barefooted walk on the promenade. Not just for Brooklynites.

Brooklyn is a vibrant ethnic mix of people, populated by longtime immigrants (who made up the cosmopolitan borough through generations) and young artists. Ethnicity diversity, creeds and religions are the key point here, as they have been coexisting since the end of XIX century, when various crowds of immigrants arrived in search of some relief from their home country’s poor life standards. For this reason, the first thing that comes into my mind when talking about Brooklyn is that this borough is steeped in history, constantly re-writing it through the ages and always evolving and keeping on writing its own future. I honestly think this is a rare feature to find in a neighbourhood, and this is the greatest treasure of Brooklyn: the ability to create an ever-evolving community.

And all the immigrants have contributed to make Brooklyn the Mecca of tolerance too. This is the place to be for free-thinking minds and creative communities.

“Brooklyn is the coolest city in America”

-GQ Magazine

This is a place full of art, eclectic music, amazing restaurant, beautiful parks and architecture and genuinely creative people. A lot of artists and hipsters already chose to live there: painters, singers, actors, models, writers etc… you can actually smell culture. Artists find their inspiration just having a walk through the neighbourhoods, where they can meet and confront with other creative minds like them. They feel part of an art-making community like nowhere else. Brooklyn has a great reputation as a supporter and incubator for the arts. You can find them in The Navy Yard (a former military complex) tucked behind thick industrial walls inaccessible to outsiders. These artists are aware of their building up of a Brooklyn culture, eventually becoming influencers.

However, this borough as we know it today wasn’t always such a trending hangout. Before Brooklyn became New Yorkers bohemian chic district, a foodie destination with original boutiques and seven-figure real estate prices, it was just a town. It was not the cool district that today attracts artists from all over the world. it was just the home town of the born and grown up there.

How did the borough look before hipsters took over?

Children waiting for their ice-cream, Brooklyn, 1949

Brooklyn, from small village to borough

Since 1892, when immigrants used to arrive from Ellis Island (the main entry point for immigrants landing in the United States), Brooklyn has always been one of the most popular immigrant destinations in the US. This time, the place was not attractive for its cultural and artistic beat but for the fact that people escaping from famine were able to quickly find a payed job in one of the many new industrial companies who settled there. This horde of immigrants contributed to transform this place from a modest village into a major city. This is the main reason for this dramatic urban and population growth.

It all started with Irish factory workers, escaping from their poor life condition, who moved to Brooklyn at the beginning of the 19th century. A no-stop flow of new workers such as merchants, mechanics and manufacturers rushed the borough trusting to ensure a better future to their offspring. They were just peasants escaping famine. However, Brooklyn’s first major wave of immigration from all over Europe took place between 1840 to 1845. During these years, the population doubled to nearly 80,000. Ten years later, nearly half of Brooklyn’s 205,000 residents had been born overseas and half of that foreign-born population were Irish and the rest mostly Germans and Britons.

Brooklyn Heights, 1890 ca.

The Brooklyn Bridge, 1800s

The Brooklyn Bridge, 1800s

Printed text includes the history and information about the construction of the bridge.

During the 1830s, Irish, German and Austrian capitalists established their businesses and homes in Brooklyn. Some of the largest industrial firms in the United States grew in Brooklyn: companies like Pfizer Pharmaceuticals (1849), Astral Oil (later Standard Oil), Brooklyn Flint Glass (later Corning Ware) and the Havemeyer and Elder sugar refinery (later Amstar and Domino), as well as D. Appleton & Company, U.S. publisher of Alice in Wonderland and Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. Breweries such as Schaefer, Rheingold and Schlitz, docks, shipyards, refineries, mills and foundries opened along the waterfront.

At the end of 1800s Brooklyn had a second important immigration flow, this time from all over Europe: from Russia, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. The Brooklyn Bridge, which works for his building took place between 1867 and 1883, finally opened to public, allowing easy access between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

In 1854, the city of Williamsburgh was annexed to the Brooklyn borough and rapidly also other neighbourhoods were annexed. When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883, the borough was connected to Manhattan even faster. In 1898, the population voted to join Manhattan, Bronx, Queens and Richmond to form the city of New York, with the Brooklyn Bridge as its symbol.

J. A. LeRoy. Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. ca. 1880.

The Brooklyn Bridge was finally completed in 1883. Here is a picture of that year.

Brooklyn Bridge, 1896

Brooklyn Bridge, 1890 ca.

Brooklyn’s Fulton Ferry House and Brooklyn Bridge circa 1885. This view captures the newly built Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn’s Fulton Ferry House, a beautiful Queen Ann style Victorian building with its ornate mansard roof. This picturesque scene showing street railways, horse carts, telegraph poles and light fixtures are all vestiges of the 19th century that vanished long ago. The photo was taken around 1885 from the corner of Ever

Brooklyn trolleys bound for Coney Island, 1897

Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, 1890 ca.

The labour force was rapidly expanding, thanks to the new immigrants. By 1880, Brooklyn was one of the leading producers of manufactured goods in the United States, with its largest industry being sugar refining. People searching for a new job did not have any problem to find one as the industry was flourishing.

In the early 1900s a vast expansion in the population and urbanisation of Brooklyn took place. That’s why innovations in transportation was needed. New bridges were built, trolley lines, elevated railroads, and the first subway line was thrust under the East River in 1908. These investments allowed to open new areas for settlement and development. Brooklyn was evolving, being a rural borough no more.

The Brooklyn Bridge Promenade looking toward Manhattan, 1903

Brooklyn Delancey Street, west from Essex Street, 1907

Brooklyn Bridge, 1907

Trolley cars on Brooklyn Bridge, 1913

In this Oct. 7, 1914, photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, painters are suspended from wires on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1900

Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1905

Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1905

Withrop Street, Flatbush, Brooklyn, 1904

Luna Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn, ca. 1917

Another important immigration flow took place between the Great War and the 1930s, when Black people moved from the south to northern cities during the "Great Migration". Also thousands of Puerto Rican immigrants settled in Brooklyn. The trip from Puerto Rico took five days by steamship, but offered an alternative to the poverty and limitations of the tiny island. Puerto Ricans settled in Red Hook, downtown Brooklyn, and Greenpoint, and many found jobs in the needle trades and cigar factories.

Children sledging on an icy road in Brooklyn, 1924

Brooklyn Bridge + Woolworth Building, 1921

Brooklyn Bridge, 1921

Brooklyn, Bushwick. 1925

Luna Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn, 1920s

A mother with her baby in the streets of Brooklyn, 1920s

Washington St. and Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn , 1928.

Brooklyn, 1920s

A small 1920s delivery truck, a horse and wagon and some bicyclists wait for the speeding train to pass. A large sign for Castoria painted on a building. Canarsie, Brooklyn. 1920

A lone policeman guards the end of the trolley line on Roebling Street at the Williamsburg Bridge plaza. A stack of cobblestones and a man rolling a new tire behind him. Brooklyn. 1921

Atlantic Ave looking west from the Sackman St bridge. Long Island Railroad emerging from a tunnel. New 1920s cars zoom along as kids play on the sidewalk. Brooklyn, 1923

Manhattan Ave at Meserole in Brooklyn. 1920s

Small town life with Roulston’s grocery store, another offering cigars, stationery and tootsie rolls. A 1920s truck makes a delivery. Wyckoff Street looking east at Nevins Street. Brooklyn, 1920

Lincoln Place toward Washington Ave in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. 1924

Brand new 4 floor brick apartments, car heaters for $10, unpaved muddy street, a lady with baby stroller. 1920s cars. Blake Ave from East 98th St toward Union St. Brooklyn, 1927

Socony gas station specializing in Dodge and Studebaker. Wolf’s Head Oil, cars greased, carbon removed for 50 cents, batteries repaired. Everything you need for your 1920s car! East New York Ave by Howard Ave. Brooklyn, 1928

The corner of Huron Street and Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 1928

Utica Ave (with virtually nothing built on its sides) looking south to Maple St from East New York Ave. A few 1920s cars zoom along. Brooklyn. 1929

North 7th Street & Union Ave Williamsburg Brooklyn 1929

Man in a cap with today’s newspaper, 1920s car parked, old wood frame house from the 1800s still there, Elevated railroad overhead. Pitkin Avenue looking west from Pennsylvania Avenue. Brooklyn. 1929

Fox Theatre, Brooklyn, 1929

When the Great Depression occurred after the 1929 stock market crash, unemployment and poverty increased destroying the new immigrant’s wish of a better life in Brooklyn. Many people lost their jobs and it became usual to see queues on the streets for getting a piece of bread at food stations. Brooklyn was no more attractive for workers, though in the 1930 large numbers of European Jews escaping Nazism fled to the suburb.

Brooklyn, 1936

Brooklyn, 1932

Brooklyn Gentlemen 1930s

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 1930s

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 1930s

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 1930s

The recession ended with the entry of the United States into World War II. By the end of the 2nd World War, the industry boom began the 1950s, with manufacturers re-opening their factories. This pushed middle class families to move to Brooklyn, making the borough to evolve in a new direction.

Brooklyn, 1940s

Bay Ridge Brooklyn 1945

Brooklyn Bridge, 1945

Brooklyn 1946

Brooklyn Bridge, 1948

Cars parked in front of four Navy uniform stores on Sand Street, Brooklyn, 1946

Father strolling with his child at Lower East Side by the Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn, 1947

Laundry out to dry, Brooklyn, 1946

Listening to a Dodgers-Giants ballgame on the radio, Brooklyn, 1946

View of the Manhattan Bridge, connecting Brooklyn with that island across the East River, 1946

Brooklyn , 1947 ca.

Brooklyn, 1949

Flatbush Ave. Brooklyn, 1940's

Brownsville trolley in Brooklyn, 1940s

Brooklyn, 1940s

Fulton Street, Brooklyn, 1940s

Brooklyn, 1949

Fulton Street, Brooklyn, circa 1950s

Since 1800, Brooklyn has been able to adapt itself to changes steadily evolving. This district has been capable of renewing itself over the years by re-writing its own future and taking inspiration from its residents who are then those who have written the history of Brooklyn, the descendants of those who populated and built the special borough as we know it today.


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