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School History: Brownsville, 1913

Nov 28, 2008 12:12 PM | 1 comment

My students at PS 165 might  be sorry to hear that this headline appeared in the Eagle back in 1913, and their teachers will not be going anywhere.   They might also be surprised to read of a time when their school was ruled by students, not teachers.  In 1913, the principal of PS 165 in Brownsville reportedly tried "an interesting experiment."  He decided to place disciplinary responsiblity in the hands of the students.  Teachers were renamed Directors, and each class became a club with elected officers.  The directors provided academic instruction, but it was the officers who were responsible for the behavior and academic performance of the club members. 

The Eagle reports that the system was a success.  One director recalled that the club as a whole tended to favor his instruction over an individual student's disruptions.  Outside of the classroom, however, the club was free to exercise their full power: "If a fellow misbehaves himself, [the club members] wait until they catch him outside.  I witnessed such a case.  The boy was better afterward."  It does not take much imagination to understand the cause of the improved behavior. The "director" personally felt that this approach was a  more "democratic way" of dealing with students.  It seems that not everyone agreed, because the restructuring appears to have been shortlived.  Later articles about PS 165 do not mention this "experiment," and I am guesing that mob rule was not exactly what the principal had in mind.

Axel Hedman, Architect

Nov 28, 2008 10:37 AM | 1 comment

The streetscapes of Brooklyn are shaped by the work of countless builders and architects, some famous, some obscure.  Some deserve their obscurity. But there are many too who may not have achieved fame, but whose fine work continues to anchor neighborhoods and arouse interest in passers-by.

Axel Hedman. Photo courtesy Barbara Hedman-Kettell

Axel Hedman is a name known to people who like to read guides to architecture and Landmark Designation Reports. Hedman's buildings are dotted through several Brooklyn neighborhoods. Born in Norrkoping, Sweden, in 1861, Hedman immigrated to the U.S.  in 1880. He was naturalized in 1901 and lived in Brooklyn until his death in 1943. Barbara Hedman-Kettell, Hedman's great-granddaughter, has been researching her ancestor's buildings in preparation for a celebratory family tour, and is creating a list of his work gathered from various sources including the Brooklyn Collection. Domestic architecture predominates, but the list also includes some familiar public buildings in Brooklyn and other parts of the city.

Hedman is responsible for a fine group of houses on Maple Street, as well as dwellings on Third Street in Park Slope, Dean Street in Crown Heights, Greene Ave in Clinton Hill, and Decatur Street in Bedford Stuyvesant, and many others.  He built the old Swedish hospital, a public bath house at Hicks and Degraw that must have given way to the BQE, and the Parkville Congregational Church that stood at the corner of 18th Ave and East 5th Street. Hedman also carried out extensive renovations to Brooklyn's Borough Hall. Another Hedman building of note is the Congregation B'nai Jacob on 9th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.

Built in 1913 for Congregation Beth Shalom, this building was sold to an American Legion post in the 1950s. In recent years Congregation B'nai Jacob has restored it to its original purpose, carrying out extensive renovations and adding stained glass windows.

Hedman lived at various times on Livingston Street, East 4th St not far from the site of the Congregational Church he designed, and later, on Avenue L.  With offices in the old Arbuckle Building in Downtown Brooklyn and  the bulk of his work in his adopted borough, Hedman had a lasting and positive impact on Brooklyn's urban fabric.

Photos: Axel Hedman, courtesy of Barbara Hedman-Kettell

Houses on Maple Street. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Houses on Maple Street   

Brooklyn By the Bay: Bensonhurst and Canarsie--upcoming event with Brian Merlis and Lee Rosenzweig

Nov 27, 2008 12:56 PM | 2 comments

Brian Merlis, author of several illustrated books on Brooklyn neighborhoods, and co-author Lee Rosenzweig will discuss their latest two books on Bensonhurst and Canarsie, comparing and contrasting these two communities.

Date and time: Saturday, December 6 at 2 p.m.  Place: Brooklyn Collection, Central Library, Grand Army Plaza

Recipes from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Thanksgiving Menu

Nov 20, 2008 2:25 PM | 0 comments

"Whether your Thanksgiving holidays mean a gathering of the relatives, the arrival of the college set or just the usual family circle, it's wise social strategy to be prepared for informal entertaining."  Margaret Pettigrew, Eagle Staff Writer

Most people groan when they have to conduct research on microfilm machines.  I love it.  Sure, it makes you a bit queasy and it is hard to walk in a straight line once you've finished, but it is well worth it in my opinion.  I am fascinated by recipes from the early twentieth century.  And the Brooklyn Daily Eagle does not disappoint when it comes to recipes that grandmothers in Brooklyn once clipped and followed. 

The Brooklyn Public Library has the full run of Brooklyn's newspaper, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, on microfilm from 1841 -1955 (1841-1902 can also be found online).  Imagine having a tin of recipes from the early 1900s through 1955 sitting on your kitchen counter top!  By searching the microfilm for recipes, you can!  (There are also entire recipe books in the Eagle Libraries series--but that's another post...) The Brooklyn Daily Eagle included recipes and food commentary in many issues.  You can also research the price of food: in Brooklyn in 1941, for example, turkey cost 37¢ per pound.  Today, I pay $2.90 per pound for a grass fed, humanely raised and killed bird.  The royal bird, as Pettigrew calls it, is worth every cent.  Brooklyn Eagle Photo, November 17, 1941

For Thanksgiving 1941, Ms. Pettigrew suggests the following menu:  Roast turkey with oyster stuffing, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, baked onions and potatoes, mashed turnips, baked sweets, green salad, relishes, pecan pumpkin pie, nuts, raisins, cider, and coffee. 

If you don't already have a menu planned for this year's Thanksgiving, this looks like a tasty suggestion.  Here is the recipe that Ms. Pettigrew used from the kitchen of Mrs. Florence Phillipson for turkey and stuffing:

Recipe: Roast Turkey with Oyster Stuffing

Season turkey with one eighth teaspoon of salt per pound of bird. "Stuff, truss, and grease thoroughly with melted or softened unsalted fat.  Salted fat tends to blister and break the skin.  Place turkey, breast down, in open roasting pan. Cover with fat-moistened cloth and roast at a constant low temperature of 300 to 325 degrees.  Turn bird, breast side up, when about half done.  Keep cloth moist by sprinkling it with melted fat." Oyster Stuffing "2 cups bread crumbs, 3/4 cup chopped celery leaves, 1 onion minced, 3 tablespoons diced bacon, 1 quart oysters, cut in pieces, 1/4 pound mushroom caps, halved, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce. Mix ingredients by tossing together lightly; pack loosely in cavity.  This recipe yields enough stuffing for an 8 to 10 pound bird."

The image shows the turkey garnished with a lovely assortment of poached pear halves and I'm assuming, cranberry jelly molded into festive stars.  Just a touch of parsley for added green and voilá! an eye catching presentation for your Thanksgiving feast. 

Same Old Purpose, Young New Faces

Nov 13, 2008 12:59 PM | 0 comments

During a Brooklyn Connections class visit, students from Teachers Prep asked to look at historic images from their neighborhood, Brownsville.  Pulling out this 1953 photograph from the Brooklyn Eagle, I hoped that a picture of young people would help students draw connections to their own lives.  I had no idea how close those connections would be: "Hey! I know this place."  "Look! It's the Rec Center!"  "Isn't that the BRC??"  "We hang out there all the time!"

The Brownsville Boys Club was founded by a group of teenageers in 1940.  At the time, Brownsville was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood that lacked a community center.  The club originally coordinated activities at libraries and school gymnasiums.  By 1953, they had their own clubhouse - the opening of which is shown in this photograph.  But within a year the community was changing.  A new wave of African Americans and Caribbean immigrants was moving in.  The organizers relazied their Jewish-based center was becoming obsolete, so they handed over hte clubhouse to the City Parks Department. 

Although it continued to serve the needs of the community, a lack of city funding allowed the renamed Brownsville Recreation Center to fall into disrepair.  After receiveing an $8.7 million renovation, the Center began a new life in 1991.  The refurbished building included an indoor pool, gymnasium, fitness room, dance studio, performance space, computer center, and outdoor playground.  Today, the Center's employees, like the original Boys Club organizers, are residents of Brownsville who believe young people in the neighborhood deserve a safe place to play.

Over the years, the ethnic makeup of Brownsville has changes, butthe need for a recreational haven has stayed the same.  Children and teenagers rely on the Center's presence - drawing a connection between the youth of the past and the youth of today.  For more information o the Brownsville Recreation Center, check out the New York City Parks Department or the Brooklyn Collection's clipping files.