As much as modern-day Fort Greene and Clinton Hill have their problems, boy, oh boy, would I take the nabe of the zeros over that of the ’40s any day. Especially after listening to two elderly ladies reminisce about the supposedly halcyon days of the mid-20th century.
The Vincent Sisters (also known as Margaret, 72, and Joan, 76) sat before a crowd of 40 packed into L.B. Brown’s small Clinton Hill Art Gallery two Sundays ago talking about the good ol’ days in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.
The ladies have lived in the same apartment at Willoughby and Clermont avenues since they were kids, and they “intend never to leave.” That’s good, because the two are village elders, keepers of the neighborhood’s history who can authoritatively say, no, this is not the first time the neighborhood has been rocked by change. (They are also living proof that a lady can be both 70 and stylish — what with their peasant shirts, oversized silver jewelry and artfully wavy hair).
But local treasures or not, their depiction of the idyllic days of yore made me gag. Idyllic, my ass!
First of all, the neighborhood was so woefully homogenous that Italians (Dio santo!) were unwelcome.
“The neighborhood was mostly white and Irish,” said Margaret Vincent, who has lived here since 1935 (when she was born on Washington Avenue). “When the Italians moved in, the Irish said, ‘Oh, there goes the neighborhood.’”
What they really should have said was, “Oh, here comes some good food.”
This probably goes without saying, given the whole prejudice thing, but Fort Greene and Clinton Hill were also astoundingly isolated.
“The church was very much a part of our lives then, and everyone you knew went to the parish school,” said Margaret.
“You lived in the neighborhood, went to school in the neighborhood, went home for lunch,” she said. “Who has lunch now? You take an energy bar.”
OK, fair point. Frankly, I’d trade in my “veggie meatballs” from Rice for a home-cooked meal (and then a siesta) any day. But who’s going to cook it? My mom? Shouldn’t she be out earning her keep?
But aside from the oppression of women, African-Americans, homosexuals, and countless other categories of people, there were a few good things about Brooklyn back in the day that we might want to consider resurrecting.
Proposal number one: resurrect the Myrtle Avenue el! Until Oct. 4, 1969, an elevated train ran along Myrtle Avenue, all the way into Queens. Bureaucrats, in their deep-seated wisdom, said the destruction of the el on Myrtle, and the els throughout the city, would increase property values on the streets along which they ran. But we all know what happened to Myrtle Avenue (see “Murder Avenue”). Now that Myrtle has made a bit of a comeback, it would be nice to have an alternative to the B54.
Speaking of lazy legs, proposal number two: resurrect the trolley along DeKalb Avenue!
“They were so wonderful,” said Margaret. “Now, the B38 — if it comes — you can take it, if you can get on it.”
Sorry, but that’s about all the appreciation-of-the-past I can muster.
Aside from the better transportation, and the occasional Police Athletic Association–sponsored prize fight held in the middle of the street on a warm summer night, I am deeply, deeply relieved that those good old days are gone for good.
Rather than suffering through racial segregation and sexual oppression, I, for one, would rather spend my time kvetching about entitled brownstoners and sidewalk-hogging stroller-pushers.
Who knew how good we had it?
Dana Rubinstein, a staff reporter at The Brooklyn Paper, lives in Crown Heights.
Our pal, Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, has done it again: On Oct. 2, he’ll hold his “Hookah in the Sukkah” party on the Pratt Institute campus. That Simcha. No one is better at employing tools like tobacco and comic books to summon up religious fervor in our youth. …
Oh, ain’t it sweet to be connected? Mike Pratt, a descendant of Pratt Institute founder Charles Pratt, has been named chair of the Institute’s Board of Trustees, replacing architect Robert Siegel. Pratt, a long-time Legal Aid attorney and philanthropist, had served as vice-chair of the Board. …
Speaking of Pratt, our pal Andrew Kimball, who runs the Navy Yard, was at the Institute this week lecturing the students on sustainable development. Kimball tells us that the next phase of building at the ever-expanding Navy Yard will be green as money. A coincidence? No way. …
Tired of hiking to a Fulton Mall Duane Reade for that particular brand of no-frizz, cruelty-free, guava-scented hair moisturizer? Then you’re in luck: Walgreen’s is coming to Clermont and Myrtle avenues, according to the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project. It will be the ground-floor retail component of the new, 53-unit, six-story Clermont Condominiums.