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When Brooklyn Was Briney

Apr 7, 2015 12:15 PM | 0 comments

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 18 April 1948. 

Remember when you were little and you'd put black olives on your fingers? Were you the type of kid who could only get one or two on before you'd snatch them off like a bird? Or were you like me, a ten-finger-all-or-nothing-go-big-or-go-home olive eater? I was the bane of all family dinners featuring tacos.

Or maybe you hate olives? If that is the case, you can stop reading now.

In 1890, Irving T. Bush built a warehouse on the banks of New York Harbor in today's Sunset Park. Within a decade what had started as a single warehouse was on the cusp of becoming the hub of a transnational shipping empire. In 1902, the Bush Company prepared for a massive expansion with plans to "construct a great terminal property and not a warehouse plant. There is not the same need for warehouses as there was thirty years ago. What are now needed and what we will build are piers large enough for the economical discharge of modern steamships and in immediate connection with a freight railway terminal connecting with all the truck lines entering New York City" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle Feb 14 1902). 

Rutter, E.E. Aerial View of Bush Terminal Piers. 1917. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library. 

Tenants began vying for spots within Bush Terminal, as it was then called. One of those tenants was the Mawer-Gulden-Annis olive packing company (you can read about some of the Terminal's other tenants herehere, and here).

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 25 May 1950.

Established in 1907, Mawer-Gulden-Annis originally specialized in green queen and Manzanilla olives from Seville, Spain. They later expanded, packing olives coming from California, Italy, and Morocco. The olives arrived at the plant, at its peak the largest olive packing plant in the world, in hogsheads (a big barrel, not a pig head) containing 160 to 180 gallons, as well as smaller 50 gallon casks. The brine in which the olives were delivered allegedly had a percentage of salt double that of the ocean. 

"Ready to Roll." Brooklyn Daily Eagle 8 Sept 1954. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library. 

(Side note: When I was little I had dreams of running through olive fields and eating the fruit straight from the vine. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that a) olives don't grow on vines and b) you can't eat raw olives. Raw olives are bitter and essentially inedible, hence the long brine soak which pulls out all the nastiness.)

The company grew steadily throughout the early twentieth century. In February of 1929, it was reported that the company doubled its capital stock from $250,000 to $500,000. By the mid-1940s the factory was a packing powerhouse running on female power.

"Up To Her Elbows in Olives." Brooklyn Daily Eagle 26 Sept 1954. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.

Featured prominently in a New York Times article about women in the wartime workforce, Mawer-Gulden-Annis employed 100 women just for packing olives (they also packed cherries and made olive oil). During WWII Bush Terminal was too busy making supplies for the war effort and serving as a deployment point for soldiers to pause for olive shipments. The olives were instead shipped to Hoboken, Philly, or Baltimore and then made the rest of their way by truck or train. 

The women handpicked the olives and used long tongs to place them into jars, filling two jars every three minutes and totaling sixty dozen a day per worker. 

"Girls at Work." Brooklyn Daily Eagle 18 April 1948. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.

And don't go thinking just anyone can pack a jar of olives. "Lest you have the idea it's a simple matter of dumping them in, it takes from six months to a year to train each [worker]. They sit at large steel tables, and, using long metal tongs with wooden handles, pick up the olives individually, examining them for perfection of appearance, and putting them in the bottle in symmetrical vertical rows" (New York Times, 5 Feb 1945). 

Stuffed olives were provided the biggest challenge because each olive had to be placed pepper side out. Now that's craftsmanship!

Olives that didn't make the grade were chopped up mixed with spices to form a special byproduct called Grandee olive butter. 

Once packed, the jars would be filled with new brine, sealed, and shipped nationally (in 1948 it was reported that 95% of the green olives eaten in the United States came from this Brooklyn factory) and worldwide. And I'm guessing quite a few of the olives never left the factory at all.

"Unofficial Tester." Brooklyn Daily Eagle 18 April 1948. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library. 

In the 1960s, Bush Terminal was renamed Industrial City and boasted 150 tenants with over 25,000 workers. In the 1970s, however, the active port was deemed unstable due to industrial contamination and tenants began to move out or go out of business entirely. Today, Industrial City has had a renaissance and now houses artist studios and small businesses but, sadly, no olives. The Mawer-Gulden-Annis company appears to have left Bush Terminal during the decline. 

...I'm hungry. 

The Toy That Kills

Apr 3, 2015 11:28 AM | 0 comments

Brooklyn in the early 1950s was a borough of rising crime, and the problem was steadily getting out of control. Cab drivers were held up, grocery stores robbed, and gangs fought for bragging rights in the streets. Stories of victimized residents and business owners were a regular feature in the newspaper. Something had to be done. Various community groups met to discuss strategies that would get weapons off the streets and out of the hands of the youth.

Enter the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which along with civic leaders, business leaders, and local precincts waged a three-year campaign, one that reached all the way to Governor Dewey in Albany, with a proposal for legislation that would ban the sale and possession of menacing switchblades.

Leading the campaign was Special Sessions Justice John E. Cone. Cone worked tirelessly, speaking in front of groups all over New York, about the need for comprehensive legislation. Justice Cone had previously been Chief of the Homicide Bureau in the District Attorney's Office and had seen first-hand the effect of switchblades on the psyche of young people. He claimed " was a badge of distinction among teen-age gang members to possess a switchblade or zip-gun." The allure of the switchblade was evident. They were the stuff of movie gangsters. With a quick temper and a flick of the mechanism, the blade would release, and advantage was quickly gained. These "toys" had become incredibly dangerous.

Huddle at City Council hearing at which Committee on State Legislation voted to ask Albany Legislature for a total ban of switchblade knives. Special Sessions Justice John E. Cone makes a point to group of Council committee members - December 17, 1953

Cone's fight would not be an easy one.  The switchblade had its supporters in knife makers and knife enthusiasts, many of whom lived in upstate districts. Governor Dewey was uninterested and ambivalent, choosing to side with New York state business lobby. But Cone fought on, enlisting the help of the 67th Precinct in Flatbush, which organized support of the ban as well, as the Flatbush Merchants Council and Americans for Democratic Action.

Among the many others who worked alongside Justice Cone were Senators Fred G. Moritt, Herbert I. Sorin, and Assemblyman Ben Werbel, whose son had been slashed with a switchblade. Werbel and Sorin drafted a bill in 1953 to ban the sale and possession of switchblades. By the time it got through the legislature, however, it was so watered down it was rendered worthless. Cone and his supporters took a half-a-loaf approach and vowed to fight on, agreeing only to a bill that limited the sale of switchblades to minors under 16.

Special Sessions Court Jusice John E. Cone, left, chairman of the Citizens Committee Against Switchblades, congratulates Mrs. Rita Develin, chairman of the 67th Precinct Co-Ordinating Council, for the council's part in the Flatbush crusade against switchblade knives. At right is City Councilmnan Jack Kranis, co-chairman of the co-ordinating council -February 15 1954.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle devoted considerable journalistic resources to the cause. In addition to op-ed pieces and letters to the editor, reporter Leslie Hascom wrote a series of in-depth articles about the violent impact switchblades had on the people and neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Keeping up the drumbeat, the Eagle maintained a box next to every article about switchblade violence that read,

Even after defeat of the 1953 bill Cone kept up the pressure. Sensing victory in the winter of '53, he did not let up, and exhorted Brooklynites to inundate Albany lawmakers with telegrams in support of the stricter comprehensive ban.

In the end, the governor could not ignore the onslaught from Brooklyn, and on March 28th, 1954, New York became the first state in the nation to ban the manufacture, sale, and possession of switchblades.

After the victory Cone declared, "It will take away the toy that kills from the adolescent and the favored murder weapon from the adult criminal. The ban could not have been secured without the support of the Brooklyn Eagle."

A period of amnesty followed right away, allowing knife owners to quietly turn in their blades, without fear of prosecution.

April 7, 1954 - Responding to warnings by Police Commissioner Francis W.H. Adams that owners of outlawed switchblade knives should turn them in, a citizen hands blade to Lt. Francis X. Grattano and Patrolman Joseph Graham, right, at Bergen St. stationhouse. Those who turn in knives immediately won't be prosecuted.

Since that battle was won exactly 61 years ago, times have indeed changed. Many states are reversing their switchblade laws, acknowledging that the weapons famously used by the "Sharks and the Jets" hearken back to another era. Furthermore, citizens with no evil intent have been arrested, and jailed for possessing knives used for maintenance jobs.

But for one moment, Brooklyn was front and center in a national struggle for saftey... a struggle that continues.

Artist Talk-Jesus in Brooklyn: Four Good Fridays with Larry Racioppo

Mar 17, 2015 4:20 PM | 0 comments

Larry Racioppo has been photographing Good Friday on the streets of Brooklyn for over 40 years.  Join us on March 25th at 7:00 p.m. as this celebrated street photographer talks about his work documenting the public processions, and celebrations of faith of four neighobrhood churches.   


                 Greater Zion Shiloh Baptist Church


                   St. John the Evangalist RC Church


                             St. Barbara RC Church


                St. Joseph Patron of Universal Church

The talk will be preceded by a wine and cheese reception at 6:30.


Feb 19, 2015 1:32 PM | 0 comments

We hope that you'll join us next Wednesday, February 25th to hear Peter Thomas Fornatale and Chris Wertz as they present their new book, "Brooklyn Spirits and Cocktails: Craft Distilling from the World's Hippest Borough".  They'll be discussing the history of distilled spirits in Brooklyn, and the new ways that restaurants, entrepreneurs, and bars are bringing back old recipes and methods, while adding their own twist to the enjoyment of cocktails.



The talk begins at 7:00 p.m, and there will be a cocktail receiption at 6:30 to kick things off.

What's Up With Parkville?

Feb 18, 2015 1:50 PM | 1 comment

I have a confession to make. Up until this past November I wasn't a Brooklynite. I've been teaching students to love Brooklyn but, for the past six years, I've been living in Astoria, Queens. Now, don't go thinking I'm ashamed - I have tons of Queens pride. But, in the spirit of having a shorter commute and fewer (read: zero) roommates, I've moved to South Brooklyn. 

I mentioned to a friend that I'd moved to Kensington and, upon telling him what my cross streets were, he retorted, "No, you live in Parkville." Naturally, I was offended. First of all, I teach kids about Brooklyn's history so you'd think I'd have my neighborhoods down by now. What's more, you would think I would know my own neighborhood, right? 

Apparently not.

Parkville is one of those wonky neighborhoods that isn't often referenced because a) it is tiny and b) it is old and has since been swallowed up by other neighborhoods. So, I embarked on a tiny quest to learn a few things about my tiny new neighborhood. Want to know what's up with Parkville? Here, here's what's up. 

The neighborhood of Parkville sits just below Kensington and is often lumped in with it. The border streets are 18th Avenue to Avenue H and from Coney Island Avenue to McDonald Avenue. You can see an odd little diagonal street grid that goes against the more dominant perpendicular grid. Notice the red circle in the below image. 

"Brooklyn." Google. 12 Jan. 2015. 

And a close up.

"Parkville." Google. 12 Jan. 2015.

Parkville's history begins with the construction of the Coney Island Plank Road (now Coney Island Avenue). Though a path had existed for many years, an official road opened in 1850 to improve access to Coney Island, which, with the 1824 creation of the Coney Island Hotel, had become a popular tourist destination for the rich. Originally a wooden plank road, it was graded and turnpiked by 1860. The communities of Windsor Terrace and Parkville popped up along this scenic route as havens from the bustle of Brooklyn and pit stops on the way south. 

Toll gate on Coney Island Plank Road. 1857. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Called Greenville until the 1870s, the land that would become Parkville was purchased by the Freeman's Association in 1852. They then bought the Ditmas farm to the north giving them about 114 acres of land to parcel and resell. 1853 brought graded tree-lined streets, wells, and a growing population. By 1860, Greenville boasted a population of 200.  

F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island, N.Y. New York: F.W. Beers and Co., 1873. Print. 

During the 1870s Parkville gained more folks and thus needed more services. PS 92 was constructed to serve the neighborhood's youth. The school was later renamed PS 134 and was replaced by this hulking beauty in 1906.

PS 134. 1906. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Around the turn of the century nearly 400 public schools were either designed or supervised by C.B.J Snyder. Snyder was the Superintendent of School Buildings from 1891-1923 and he introduced the very popular H-shape and designed some of NYC's most beautiful public school buildings. The inscription on the bottom right of the above photo reads "CBJ Snyder archt." 

St. Rose of Lima, one of the few Catholic Churches outside the then Town of Brooklyn, was also built in 1870. No longer did Parkville's Catholics need to travel into Brooklyn for mass. The current structure was finished in 1925 and today has services in both English and Spanish as well as both a Pakistani and Filipino apostolate.

St. Rose of Lima R.C. Church. 1932. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Oh, and Mary Tyler Moore went to Sunday school here. So, there's that. 

The late 1870s brought the picturesque Ocean Parkway through the neighborhood. Designed by Calvert Vaux and Fredric Law Olmsted (of Central and Prospect Parks as well as Eastern Parkway fame), Ocean Parkway is known for having the first municipal bike lane in the United States (1894). Brooklynites have always been really into bikes

Parkville was part of Flatbush until 1894, when the then City of Brooklyn annexed the area. (Maybe Brooklyn was jealous of Flatbush's new bike path?!) Consolidation in 1898 would make Brooklyn into one of New York City's five boroughs and continue to swell its population with large apartment buildings popping up on Ocean Parkway in the early twentieth century.

Desk Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn. New York: E. Beecher Hyde, Inc., 1921. Print. 

Out of curiosity I wanted to see when my building was built so went hunting for its Certificate of Occupancy. If you've never looked up your building you 100% should. Sometimes the NYC Department of Buildings shares amazing tidbits with you like this one:

Certificate of Occupancy. New York: New York City Department of Buildings, 1964. Print.

My building was built in the early 1960s and used to have an outdoor pool! It is most certainly gone now. Either that or I am completely oblivious to my surroundings at all times. 

While researching for this entry I stumbled across a few great stories about Parkville's residents. One stands out and that is the one I shall tell you now. Be forewarned, if you're squeamish perhaps you should just stop reading now. It's about to get a little sad and a lot bloody. 

One of Parkville's early prominent residents was named Mortimer Tunison. Mort for short. Mort became a fixture of the neighborhood when he opened a hotel on the corner of what is now Foster Avenue and Coney Island Avenue in 1860. You can see his establishment in bottom right of the below map: M.C. Tunison Hotel.


F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island N.Y. New York: F.W. Beers and Co., 1873. Print. 

Mort's name pops up in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle a few times in the 1860s: he was an inspector for the Democratic Committee (though I don't know what that means), a witness to a shooting, hosted political meetings at his hotel, and was an all around standup guy. In 1866 a law was passed in New York State closing saloons on Sundays. The Excise law, as it was called, impacted many hotels and saloons on the Coney Island Road as Sunday was the most popular day for tourists to take the road and, because of that, the most lucrative day for saloon owners. Mort's hotel was clearly not just a bar; it served as a community center and thus it survived the law's passage. The Eagle commented that "There are still, however, a few good hotels on the road that can stand the pressure, and first of all comes the well-known establishment kept by Mortimer Tunison, familiarly known as 'Mort.' This is the headquarters not only of the roadman, but of all classes that patronize the road, and has all the requisite accommodations, drawing rooms, handsome gardens and shrubbery on the one side, for the accommodation of ladies and children, and on the other, the extensive piazza and bar room, where Michael Rickards presides."

Michael Rickards was such a well-known bartender that he actually had his photo published in the Eagle.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 23 July 1905.

He appears in the New York State census record from 1865 along with all the other residents of Tunisons:

Mort (50), Mort's (much younger) Irish wife Mary Ann (30), his daughters Harriet (16), Mary (9), and Rachel (3), his brother Samuel, Michael the bartender, as well as four domestics (three of whom were also Irish). 

New York State Census Bureau. Flatbush, N.Y. 1865. Print. 

Mort was described by friends as a man with a "singularly joyous temperament" who was "an inveterate practical joker. Nothing pleased him better than to get his friends into jocular entanglements." He was also quite the pillar of morality and was "intolerant of anything unseemly, and nothing of the kind was ever attempted at his place." It was said that men's wives and daughters were just as safe at Tunison's as they were in their own parlors. Alas, not even Mort's impenetrable parlor could save Mort from himself.

As Ocean Parkway developed, the Coney Island Road felt the effect. Many hotels and stores picked up and moved their business to take advantage of the well-traveled Parkway. Mort refused, and tried to keep his place of business exactly as it had been for the previous twenty years. Sadly, his finances took a hit as his rooms and bar sat empty. There is a good chance that Mort's attention lay not on his finances (or lack theirof) in the late 1870s, rather on his ailing daughter, Mamie. In 1876 she took ill with consumption, dying in the Spring of 1878. Mamie "was a beautiful and accomplished young lady, the light and life of the family circle." After her death, Mort's health began to deteriorate. He "became affected with a crossing in his eyes which entierly altered his natural cast of countenance and his family and friend were reluctantly forced to realize the fact that his once vigorous mind was disturbed." 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Oct. 1879.

On the morning of October 30th, 1879, Mort's brother went to wake him. Upon entering his room "a shocking spectacle met his gaze. Reclining on the bed was the dead body of his brother, with a ghastly wound in the neck, from which the blood had poured in a thick stream over the bed and on the floor. An open razor, with which he had evidently cut his throat, was lying on the floor close to the side of the bed."


It is clear by the outpouring of kind words that Mort was to be missed. Sadly, his memory would become ever so slightly tarnished by an event that would happen a few years later in his old hotel. 

Nothing immoral ever happened in Tunison's Hotel, but the same cannot be said for the National Hotel, the name by which Tunison's would go when it was sold to one Christopher A. Plath in 1883. Plath also owned the Palace House at 283 Bowery in Manhattan. Just so we're all on the same page, the Bowery was known for its dance halls, drinking establishments, and brothels in the 1880s. The National Hotel was managed by a Mr. and Mrs. Cole, both of whom had records for violating the Sunday drinking law. 

On March 15th, 1884, a Mrs. Mabel Robinson met her tragic end in the parlor of the hotel. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 15 Mar. 1884.

Slumped in a chair. Naked. Burned. 

Double yikes. 

The Eagle followed the story. Mrs. Robinson was separated from her husband (not the first time) and had fled to a friend's in Brooklyn. The reason for the separation was said to be Mrs. Robinson's love of the drink, though later reports claim it was actually her husband's drinking that caused the drama. Regardless, an unnamed informant reported that Mrs. Robinson had been at the hotel visiting her close friend Mrs. Cole for about a week before her demise and, during that time, she had allegedly 'entertained' a few gentlemen. That fact was never substantiated. It was also said that Mrs. Robinson had been seen wandering the neighborhood intoxicated and with a strange man the evening before her death. 

Mrs. Cole was the last person to see Mabel alive. And the first to see her dead! (It's like an Agatha Christie novel!)

Mrs. Cole's testimony appeared in the Eagle on March 17th, 1884:

I reside at present at Parkerville* L.I., at a place commonly called Tunison: had been acquainted with deceased about one year... I had just got into bed when I heard a scream; I ran downstairs at once and saw deceased running through the "green room" enveloped in flames; I ran to the kitchen and, procuring a pail of water, threw it upon her; after throwing the water upon her she arose and ran into the parlor, where I tried to pull off her burning clothing, but it was unsuccessful; I then ran upstairs and told Mrs. Hogan** who came downstairs with me to the parlor, and we there found deceased sitting in a chair dead; her clothing which consisted of a flannel petticoat, chemise stockings and knit undershirt, were still burning.

* Parkerville? I don't know what that's about.

**A friend staying in the hotel 

Mrs. Cole goes on to say that she discovered a shattered lamp in the kitchen and that she had locked the doors with Mrs. Robinson inside before retiring. With the facts as presented, three theories arose: Mabel let a jealous lover in who struck her with a lit oil lamp, a forlorn Mabel struck herself with a lit oil lamp, or Mabel knocked into a lit oil lamp on accident and lit herself on fire. All three theories involved an intoxicated Mabel.

The most accepted theory seemed to be the latter: a terrible terrible terrible terrible accident. Terrible.

So, that's Parkville. I know, right?

It is amazing to stand on the corner of Foster and Coney Island Avenue today and know that Tunison's Hotel once stood there. And as a final hurrah here is an actual picture of Tunison's! The image accompanied a nostalgic article about old Brooklyn. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 23 July 1905.

Needless to say, I am now super stoked to know that I live in Parkville and have been telling all of my friends about the history of my tiny neighborhood ad nauseam. 

Parkville Pride! I'm making t-shirts.