Crime was a good business to be in during the mid-1960s Brooklyn, when it seemed no one could stop its record growth. Remember the decaying main streets, I do.
First came the burglary devices on each storefront. Stage two introduced loud night-sirens, that stabbed the quite with piercing decibels (ah! My ears still ring!). Next was the clarion of screeching auto alarms where the owners, who more often than not, were not even aware the alarms went off, because their car was parked so many blocks away from home.
It didn’t matter who was mayor or police commissioner — all over this sad city autos were stacked atop milk cartons, or sat tilted with missing wheels.
And the hub caps — oh! the hub caps — were not immune to the thievery, and many times I had to buy second-hand from the very thieves that walked away with them during the night.
Once fine stores had fractured display windows, emptied by midnight raids and left singing the song of our city — The Blues of our Fight.
Here in Brooklyn, business districts were organized by aggressive store owners struggling to survive the barricaded display windows, rusting, impenetrable iron gates (that weren’t impenetrable), and residents calling precincts demanding that those car-owners get summons for their loud anti-theft alarms.
Lunacy reigned, it did. And the laws reversed as perpetrators went scot-free, while victims paid quadruple to buy back their own tires or hub-caps.
The city’s answer to the problem? Make store owners pay a “victims tax” — charged to them whenever their alarms sounded after someone broke into their business.
On Bay Parkway, a group of fledgling small business leaders invited Con Edison to attend a meeting hoping the power company could light the way to fight the dastardly crimes.
The Joint Council of Kings County Board of Trade held its monthly dinner at Yin Ting. The guest that night in 1966 was Gar Searle, who was armed with a slide show full of ideas. First he showed us interior alarms and all types of electronic devices. Next he presented a new and improved street lamp that only two American cities were using — the Lucalox Lamppost. The installation of which proved to be the best and safest choices for illumination. Immediate questions were asked, “How can we get them here?” “Brooklyn first,” the rank and file did cry.
The rep informed us that each silver lamppost and bulb would cost $125 — a hefty sum in those days, it was.
But we went store to store, bank to office, and raised the cash. We then contacted the city with money in hand, but it refused us, claiming that residents above the stores might object to over-illumination of their apartments.
Howard Golden was commandeered to go from home-to-home, beseeching signatures for our petition which read, “Do you prefer more light or more crime?”
Light won over in the end, and crime suffered a resounding defeat — and the young political leader, Howard Golden? On he went to the coveted post of Borough President, which he held for 25 years, did he.
Look out at every corner of our borough and take your hat off to Golden, who helped illuminate our Empire City.
This is Lou Powsner.
America's columnist, Lou Powsner has been writing for the Brooklyn Graphic since the 1970s. His column appears twice a month on BrooklynDaily.com.