Mr. Borough President, welcome back to that same old place you laughed about!
The iconic “Welcome to Brooklyn” sign from the opening montage of “Welcome Back, Kotter” has been discovered by Borough President Markowitz, and will be presented on Thursday to the man who had the sign made, then-Beep Sebastian Leone.
Fans of the hit 1970s sitcom about a former troublemaker teaching a new generation of troublemakers will certainly remember the opening shot of a sign that hails Brooklyn as “the fourth largest city in America!”
But there are elements of a “Brooklyn history mystery,” as Markowitz put it, that add intrigue to this tale filled with nostalgia.
The sign obtained by the Beep bears a border of red and blue stars, leading some at Borough Hall to theorize that the original was modified for America’s bicentennial in 1976. Others believe that there are actually three “Welcome to Brooklyn” signs: the first was the one featured in the show, the second is the one Markowitz now has in his possession, and the third bears former Beep Howard Golden’s name (and was featured in the final season of “Welcome Back, Kotter”).
“We hope that someone will recall how exactly these different signs came to be,” said Mark Zustovich, a spokesman for Markowitz.
For now, the restored sign is being kept under wraps — literally — in the Joralemon Street lobby of Borough Hall to preserve the “voila” moment of Thursday’s event. But with our deadline looming, we had no compunction about giving our readers a preview by reaching out to Leone ourselves.
Reached via a regular telephone, the former Beep recalled the inspiration for the sign he commissioned during his six-year-stint as the borough’s supreme leader during the dark days of 1970 to 1976.
“In those days, you always had to be Brooklyn-positive,” said Leone. “I used to say, ‘One out of every 80 people that live in American live in Brooklyn! If you consider people that were born here, worked here, and have relatives here, then one out of 10 people have some affinity for Brooklyn!’
“Then I’d close with, ‘If Brooklyn were still a separate city, it would be the fourth-largest city in America!’ ”
From there, Leone got the idea to put “a nice welcome sign” on the Belt Parkway at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Markowitz has followed in his predecessor’s footsteps by commissioning his own signs at various entrances to the Borough of Kings, which bear slogans such as “Leaving Brooklyn — Fuhgeddaboudit!” and “Brooklyn: How sweet it is!” So, it’s no surprise that Markowitz was keen to obtain the original.
It wasn’t hard to locate — it had been in Gargiulo’s restaurant in Coney Island since a going-away party for Leone in 1976. Owner Nino Russo had promised to give the sign to Markowitz if he won a third term — a political inevitability as certain as the sunrise. Hence Thursday’s unveiling featuring Leone, who is in his 80s and retired, but still lives in Bay Ridge.
And who knows, some “Sweathogs” may even show up (but you didn’t hear it from us).
“Welcome to Brooklyn” sign unveiling at Borough Hall [209 Joralemon St. between Adams and Court streets in Downtown, (718) 802-3700], Thursday, Oct. 7 at 1 pm.
©2010 Community News Group
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