Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Borders of Sunset Park Part 2

Over at I seem to have opened up a hornet's nest by my publishing the map of Sunset Park. The blog having been picked up by NY Magazine for the same reason. It seems that some posters were umbraged at the mere notion that they might be in Sunset park instead of the fancier sounding Greenwood Heights or South Slope. Of course there are two sides to this. Some posters were obviously from the Slope proper and insist that it ends at 9th street, obviously these folks are newcomers who probably moved into their nabe two weeks ago. Then there is also another group that claims Sunset Park begins at 39th street. They also probably moved here two weeks ago. Both victims of some unscrupulous real estate agent who knew he could con the guys of an extra 30 or 5o grand if he could claim that their property were not were they were. Part of it also has to do with snobbishness and probably outright bigotry. It is really a shame.

Let us go back in time to circa 1960. Those were different times then. You could buy a decent one family for 20k in Bay Ridge and around 15k in what is now Sunset Park. Of course in those days, money was real money. Robert F. Wagner, Jr. was the mayor of New York. The are we now know as Sunset Park was by that time becoming heavily Hispanic from the area South of the Prospect Expressway to around 65th street. In those days it was mostly Puerto Ricans and Dominicans moving into the nabe. It became so saturated that by that time around 70% of the hood was Hispanic. Well, this did not sit well with the folks in the rest of Bay Ridge and Park Slope. Bay Ridge at that time ran North to approximately 45th street and Park Slope ran South to approximately 25th street. The area in between was generally know as South Brooklyn. Sunset Park? Well, it was just a park then. It was also a time were people were pushing for a charter revision to reapportion powers in the city and redraw the borders of neighborhoods. The people in Bay Ridge at that time south of 65th street, mostly white, Scandinavian, Italian, Irish etc. did not want to be associated with "those People" north of 65th street. Part of the reason was bigotry, mixed in with the fact that crime was going up north of 65th street and it was also reflecting on real estate values south of 65th street. After all people in other areas did not distinguish North Ridge from South. The same was true in Park Slope were people wanted a divorce south of 9th street. In any case, the powers that be, mostly local politicians who had pull redrew the borders and created Sunset Park as part of the charter revision of 1964. The new nabe was to be called Sunset Park after the park and would comprise the area south of Prospect Expressway till 65th street and east to 9th avenue south of the cemetery and east to 7th avenue in the north. This pissed off a lot of non Hispanics in the new nabe as they felt betrayed and some never got over it. Things deteriorated after that with many old residents beginning to move out of the nabe in droves. This also created opportunities as housing got ever so cheaper in the nabe. Things were not doing well until about the early 1980's. Sunset Park had a severe crime problem, gangs were everywhere. The DEA was always on 4th avenue making arrests and raiding places. And people south of the Expressway knew they were in Sunset Park.

The first Chinese families started to move into the neighborhood in around 1980. Nobody really took notice then. Hong Kong was soon to be turned over to back to Mainland China and our relations with the People's Republic were increasingly getting better. Although emmigration was just a trickle by the mid 90's it became a flood. The demographics were also changing. Second generation Puerto Ricans were moving out of the hood. Replaced by Mexicans, Dominicans and Salvadorians and others. A different type of Hispanic with an entrepreneurial spirit and outlook. Crime began to plummet as policing in the nabe got serious in the 68th, 66th and 72 precincts beginning with the Giulianni years in office.
One could write a dissertation on this subject. But fast forward to the present and the change is startling. To this day some of the negative history and reputation of Sunset Park still lingers on in the subconscious of many. To many newcomers who moved into the neighborhood from either Manhattan or the Midwest the horrid stories they had heard embellished by shady real estate agents looking to make a buck led to an old marketing technique. They began renaming areas on the fringe something else so they could spike up prices.
Having been here for almost 40 years I have seen things come and go and was around to hear people's stories of what the nabe was before I got here. I kind of resent the snobbishness and in some cases the outright bigotry expressed by some people who refer to others as "those people" whether they be Hispanics or Chinese and somehow don't want to be associated with the nabe. I have a solution for those folks. You van always move out, don't rename the nabe and pretend it's somewhere else. Wishing it were so, does not make it so. And for those apprehensive about the future, I can tell you that having neighbors who are Hispanic, Chinese, Italian and Scandinavian will teach you that people come in all varieties. You will find nice people in all shades as well as pricks. So I think it's time to get over yourselves if you want to live in Beverly Hills. Otherwise, pull up a chair and enjoy the show. Sunset Park at this point has nowhere else to go but up and it will be interesting to watch.

[where: 11232]
[where: 11220]


Escape from Sunset Park said...

I didn't want to add further to this thread, but I need to correct a couple of important facts. I lived in Sunset Park in the 1960's so I am speaking from experience not hearsay. Although there was a Latino presence in Sunset Park - it was extremely limited - it was really the fringe ethnicity. And it was nearly 100% Puerto Rican. Dominicans didn't discover the neighborhood for at least another decade or two.
1964 was the important date. The Verrazano Bridge opened and the "whole" world changed. Staten Island - where I went to college went in a year or two, from a total country setting - very, very rural to urban. Irish, Scandinavian and Italian left Sunset Park in huge numbers suddently and the least desirable housing - the woodframe and properties below the Gowanus Expressway - especially those shared by industry - began renting to Puerto Ricans. By 1966, it was a flood - some, actually purchased homes, but overwhelmingly "whites" rented deplorable housing to Puerto Ricans.

The first bodegas arrived in the mid-60s. At the time, I actually did a survey and found that although 4th Avenue was known as the avenue of churches - with well over a dozen, and several dozen more through Sunset Park, there were 3 liquor stores/bars for every church! One winter evening I walked from 48th Street to 65th Street to a garage where my pal kept his motorcyle and we stopped in a bar per block and had one beer in each (and kept a coaster from each so that we could recall in the morning). Every single block of 5th Avenue had a minimum of 3 bars - usually each corner and somewhere along the block. With the law that required bars to close at 3am, it was very common to step over bodies in the gutter, using the curb as a pillow after 3am - all white's, no Spanish.

Asians began coming to Sunset Park at the start of 1980 - but mostly India & Pakistan. Chinese began in huge numbers in 1985.

In the late 1960's, realtors vigorously went about doing "block busting". They would go to the all white blocks of Sunset Park and ring a doorbell and tell the owner "A house a few doors from yours, I can't tell you which, has been sold to Puerto Ricans. I can give you a good price on your house if you sign today. But once the word gets out, you won't be able to give your house away." Again, I am speaking from fact - I witnessed this happening.

One other important detail. Giuliani did not cause the crime drop - it began (according to FBI figures) to drop 3 years before he became mayor. Also, it dropped all over the U.S. And it was not that our cops suddenly started doing a better job. I was the president of the 72nd Precinct Council and before that the president of the 68th Precinct Council. Also, a study I did on policing in Sunset Park in 1990 was used at Harvard, covered in the NY Times & on all NYC tv stations - so I know a bit about policing - no one, no one - knows why crime has dropped. And please don't credit Giuliani - he was too busy carrying on an illicit affair with Christie - his press secretary (while his wife would run downstairs in City Hall and scream to the City Hall press corps about his behavior).

Frank, you and I should sit down one day and collaborate - you obviously have a great interest in Sunset Park and have lived here for years, so we should work together. tony

Frank said...


Send me an email to I will then send you my number.