A Community Through Images: Then and Now

subtle claims about life in America-Snyder

The first artifact is a piece of media from Hamilton Avenue before the 1940s when the BQE, the joining tunnels and bridges did not begin to affect the area. One can note a collection of neatly organized low-rises. Hamilton Avenue was especially know for its traffic and being the main street of the area. Looking closely, one can note various specialty shops beside multi family homes. This reflects a time when Italians remained close connection with their family. Often several generations lived in one multi-family home. As I wrote in other posts, familial relationships were at the core of this community. This old world loyalty to family manifested itself not only in home life, but commerce as well and was seen as a threat to government officials.

This next image jumps into the modern era. One can note that the edifice is an unsightly disturbance to the community. The structure appears to be unkempt, with portions under construction and various construction buildings under the bridge itself. In contrast with the older photo, it is clear that the area has lost its old time charm. The area once guided by neat and orderly buildings, not contains this swooping infrastructure.

Another huge threat to the area was the introduction of the Red Hook Houses. They are the second-largest public-housing project in New York City. Finished in 1938, they were built for dockworkers, and even received a visit from Eleanor Roosevelt in 1940. They were separated from the main hub of the community after the BQE.

Henry Stiles wrote in 1870, “[Red Hook] has almost entirely lost its identity, in consequence of the Atlantic Docks, and the other extensive and important improvements in that part of the modern city of Brooklyn.” The area has continually been a site, which supports the policies of the big city. Early on in New York City’s history, the area was the used for production of goods that were needed in the city center but people didn’t want produced within the city limits. Dutch farms and mills called this area their home. As commerce, both nationally and internationally grew, and the ports of New York became a major hub, the docks became an incredibly important area in northeast trade. The dock was built by the Atlantic Dock Company in the 1840s on the north side of modern Red Hook. The building was inspired by projects like that of the Erie Canal and real estate boom of the mid 19th century. When completed, the area contained over 20 acres of warehouses, 800 were in Red Hook alone. Stiles and his contemporaries would have wanted to look at this new infrastructure as a problem associated with the growth of the modern city and the associated conventions.

This photo is the one that began my exploration of the site of interest. First, the building itself has graffiti on the bricks. The markings do not appear to be an obstruction of the building, rather an addition to the form. Moreover, the store window itself serves as a lens into a world of the past. The drapes scrunched atop the window, must have been to protect the glass should there be and danger at night when the store was closed. The building itself has elaborate molding. This shows that even though the immigrants in the area may have been living in a lower income area, there was not an underprivileged mentality. Rather, there was a certain old world feel and nostalgia. The goods in the window depict how much of a port the area was. This photo, which was taken in 1927, shows a close family living together. The two older people are the grandparents of these children who they watched during the day and helped to raise. This speaks to both the young age of marriage, as well as the importance of the nucleus of the family. Finally, The rocking chair shows the overall importance of community at the time, clearly not an offensive area with children playing and their Italian grandmother watching them play. These first generation Italian children would be the ones who were most severely affected and displaced by the gentrification brought on by ignorant government officials and the BQE. This time and this group reflect the community nature of the area before this destruction.

This photo was taken fairly recently. I really like looking at it in comparison to the family photo above. These two elderly women are sitting outside an old farmacy and soda fountain. No longer is the storefront marketed by its brand names like coca-cola and salada, rather it is trying to sell nostalgia. Juxtaposing these two storefronts shows how the modern culture is very focused on a nostalgia that is based in a mystical understanding of the past. Similarly, these two women are separated from their family. No longer is it a unit sitting outside their local store, rather two ladies alone catching up.




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