Bushwick, Brooklyn facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
Neighborhood of Brooklyn
Knickerbocker Avenue, a main shopping street south of Maria Hernandez Park
|City||New York City|
|• Total||3.38 km2 (1.305 sq mi)|
|• Density||38,237/km2 (99,030/sq mi)|
|• Median income||$33,933|
11206, 11207, 11221, 11237
Bushwick is a working-class neighborhood in the northern part of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The neighborhood, historically a community of Germanic immigrants and their descendants, has been predominantly Hispanic in the late 20th century. The neighborhood, formerly Brooklyn's 18th Ward, is now part of Brooklyn Community Board 4. It is policed by the NYPD's 83rd Precinct and is represented in the New York City Council as part of Districts 34 and 37.
Bushwick shares a border with Ridgewood, Queens, to the northeast, and is bound by the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg to the northwest; East New York and the cemeteries of Highland Park to the southeast; Brownsville to the south; and Bedford-Stuyvesant to the southwest. It is served by ZIP codes 11206, 11207, 11221, and 11237. Bushwick was once an independent town and has undergone various territorial changes throughout its history.
Neighborhoods in New York do not have official boundaries; informal boundaries are often contested, and this has been the case with Bushwick. However, the boundaries of Bushwick are often given as those of Brooklyn Community Board 4, which is delineated by Flushing Avenue on the north, Broadway on the southwest, the border with Queens to the northeast, and the Cemetery of the Evergreens on the southeast.
The industrial area north of Flushing Avenue, east of Bushwick Avenue, and south of Grand Street is also commonly included in Bushwick, occasionally with the modifier "Industrial Bushwick".
The centroid, or geographic center, of New York City's five boroughs is in Bushwick "on Stockholm Street between Wyckoff Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue".
In 1638, the Dutch West India Company secured a deed from the local Lenape people for the Bushwick area, and Peter Stuyvesant chartered the area in 1661, naming it Boswijck, meaning "little town in the woods" or "heavy woods" in 17th-century Dutch. Its area included the modern-day communities of Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. Bushwick was the last of the original six Dutch towns of Brooklyn to be established within New Netherland.
The community was settled, though unchartered, on February 16, 1660, on a plot of land between the Bushwick and Newtown Creeks by fourteen French and Huguenot settlers, a Dutch translator named Peter Jan De Witt, and one of the original eleven slaves brought to New Netherland, Franciscus the Negro, who had worked his way to freedom. The group centered their settlement on a church located near today's Bushwick and Metropolitan Avenues. The major thoroughfare was Woodpoint Road, which allowed farmers to bring their goods to the town dock. This original settlement came to be known as Het Dorp by the Dutch, and, later, Bushwick Green by the British. The English would take over the six towns three years later and unite them under Kings County in 1683.
Many of Bushwick's Dutch records were lost after its annexation by Brooklyn in 1854. Contemporary reports differ on the reason: T. W. Field writes that "a nice functionary of the [Brooklyn] City Hall ... contemptuously thrust them into his waste-paper sacks", while Eugene Armbruster claims that the movable bookcase containing the records "was coveted by some municipal officer, who turned its contents upon the floor".
At the turn of the 19th century, Bushwick consisted of four villages: Green Point, Bushwick Shore (later known as Williamsburg), Bushwick Green, and Bushwick Crossroads (at the spot where today's Bushwick Avenue turns southeast at Flushing Avenue).
Bushwick's first major expansion occurred after it annexed the New Lots of Bushwick, a hilly upland originally claimed by Native Americans in the first treaties they signed with European colonists granting the settlers rights to the lowland on the water. After the second war between the natives and the settlers broke out, the natives fled, leaving the area to be divided among the six towns in Kings County. Bushwick had the prime location to absorb its new tract of land in a contiguous fashion. New Bushwick Lane (Evergreen Avenue), a former Native American trail, was a key thoroughfare for accessing this new tract, which was suitable mostly for potato and cabbage agriculture. This area is bounded roughly by Flushing Avenue to the north and Evergreen Cemetery to the south. In the 1850s, the New Lots of Bushwick area began to develop. References to the town of Bowronville, a new neighborhood contained within the area south of Lafayette Avenue and Stanhope Street, began to appear in the 1850s.
The area known as Bushwick Shore was so called for about 140 years. Bushwick residents called Bushwick Shore "the Strand", another term for "beach". Bushwick Creek, in the north, and Cripplebush, a region of thick, boggy shrubland extending from Wallabout Creek to Newtown Creek, in the south and east, cut Bushwick Shore off from the other villages in Bushwick. Farmers and gardeners from the other Bushwick villages sent their goods to Bushwick Shore to be ferried to New York City for sale at a market located at the present-day Grand Street. Bushwick Shore's favorable location close to New York City led to the creation of several farming developments. Originally a 13-acre (53,000 m2) development within Bushwick Shore, Williamsburgh rapidly expanded during the first half of the 19th century and eventually seceded from Bushwick to form its own independent city in 1852. Both Bushwick and Williamsburgh were annexed to the City of Brooklyn in 1854.
When Bushwick was founded, it was primarily an area for farming food and tobacco. As Brooklyn and New York City grew, factories that manufactured sugar, oil, and chemicals were built. The inventor Peter Cooper built a glue manufacturing plant, his first factory, in Bushwick. Immigrants from western Europe joined the original Dutch settlers. The Bushwick Chemical Works, at Metropolitan Avenue and Grand Street on the English Kills channel, was another early industry among the lime, plaster, and brick works, coal yards, and other factories that developed along English Kills, which was dredged and made an important commercial waterway. In October 1867, the American Institute awarded Bushwick Chemical Works the first premium for commercial acids of the greatest purity and strength. The Bushwick Glass Company, later known as Brookfield Glass Company, established itself in 1869, when a local brewer sold it to James Brookfield. It made a variety of bottles and jars.
In the 1840s and 1850s, a majority of the immigrants were German, which became the dominant population. Bushwick established a considerable brewery industry, including "Brewer's Row"—14 breweries operating in a 14-block area—by 1890. Thus, Bushwick was dubbed the "beer capital of the Northeast". The last Bushwick brewery closed its doors in 1976.
As late as 1883, Bushwick maintained open farming land east of Flushing Avenue. A synergy developed between the brewers and the farmers during this period, as the dairy farmers collected spent grain and hops for cow feed. The dairy farmers sold milk and other dairy products to consumers in Brooklyn. Both industries supported blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and feed stores along Flushing Avenue.
In 1868, the Long Island Rail Road built the Bushwick Branch from its hub in Jamaica via Maspeth to Bushwick Terminal, at the intersection of Montrose and Bushwick avenues, allowing easy movement of passengers, raw materials, and finished goods. Routes also radiated to Flushing, Queens.
The first elevated railway ("el") in Brooklyn, known as the Lexington Avenue Elevated, opened in 1885. Its eastern terminus was at the edge of Bushwick, at Gates Avenue and Broadway. This line was extended southeastward into East New York shortly thereafter. By the end of 1889, the Broadway Elevated and the Myrtle Avenue Elevated were completed, enabling easier access to Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan and the rapid residential development of Bushwick from farmland.
With the success of the brewing industry and the presence of the els, another wave of European immigrants settled in the neighborhood. Also, parts of Bushwick became affluent. Brewery owners and doctors commissioned mansions along Bushwick and Irving Avenues at the turn of the 20th century. New York mayor John Francis Hylan kept a townhouse on Bushwick Avenue during this period. Bushwick homes were designed in the Italianate, Neo Greco, Romanesque Revival, and Queen Anne styles by well-known architects. Bushwick was a center of culture, with several Vaudeville-era playhouses, including the Amphion Theatre, the nation's first theatre with electric lighting. The wealth of the neighborhood peaked between World War I and World War II, even when events such as Prohibition and the Great Depression were taking place. After World War I, the German enclave was steadily replaced by a significant proportion of Italian Americans. By 1950, Bushwick was one of New York City's largest Italian American neighborhoods, although some German Americans remained.
The Italian community was composed almost entirely of Sicilians, mostly from the Palermo, Trapani, and Agrigento provinces in Sicily. In particular, the Sicilian townsfolk of Menfi, Santa Margherita di Belice, Trapani, Castelvetrano, and many other paesi had their own clubs (clubbu) in the area. Il Circolo di Santa Margherita di Belice, founded in Bushwick, remains the oldest operating Sicilian organization in the United States. These clubs often started as mutual benevolence associations or funeral societies but transformed along with the needs of their communities from the late 1800s until the 1960s, when many began to fade away. St. Joseph Patron of the Universal Church Roman Catholic Parish was the hub of the Sicilian community, and held five feasts during the year, complete with processions of saints or Our Lady of Trapani. St. Joseph opened in 1923 because the Italian community had been rapidly growing in Bushwick since 1900. This Sicilian community first was centered in Our Lady of Pompeii parish on Siegel Street in Williamsburgh. But as industry expanded along Flushing Avenue, the Sicilian population expanded with the growing need for labor by factory operators. St. Leonard's parish was the large German Catholic parish in the area, but the Italian community was not welcome there and was thus compelled to open its own parish. St. Leonard's closed in 1973. St. Joseph's is now a large and vibrant Latino parish run by the Scalabrini Order of priests, an Italian missionary order that caters to migrants.
The demographic transition of Bushwick after World War II was similar to that of many Brooklyn neighborhoods. The U.S. Census records show that the neighborhood's population was almost 90% white in 1960, but dropped to less than 40% white by 1970. These newer residents tended to be poorer than their longstanding counterparts. As middle-class families fled Bushwick, working-class African American and Puerto Rican and other Caribbean American families moved into homes in the southeastern edge of the neighborhood, that closest to Eastern Parkway. By the mid-1950s, migrants began settling into central Bushwick. A strong proclivity among these new residents to homeownership and block associations helped the neighborhood survive the economic and social distress of the 1970s.
This change in demographics coincided with changes in the local economy. Rising energy costs, advances in transportation, and the invention of the steel can encouraged beer companies to move out of New York City. As breweries in Bushwick closed, the neighborhood's economic base eroded. Discussions of urban renewal took place in the 1960s, but never materialized, resulting in the demolition of many residential buildings with nothing new built in its place. Another contribution to the change in the socioeconomic profile of the neighborhood was the John Lindsay administration's policy of raising rent for welfare recipients. Since these tenants now brought higher rents than ordinary tenants would pay on the open market, Bushwick landlords actively began to fill vacant units with such tenants. By the mid-1970s, half of Bushwick's residents were on public assistance.
According to the New York Times, "In a five-year period in the late 1960's and early 70's, the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn was transformed from a neatly maintained community of wood houses into what often approached a no man's land of abandoned buildings, empty lots, drugs and arson."
Blackout: riots and looting
On the night of July 13, 1977, a major blackout occurred in New York City. Arson, looting, and vandalism occurred in low-income neighborhoods across the city. Bushwick saw some of the most devastating damage and losses. While local owners in the predominantly Puerto Rican Knickerbocker Avenue and Graham Avenue shopping districts were able to defend their stores with force, suburban owners with stores on the Broadway shopping district saw their shops looted and burned. Twenty-seven stores, some of which were of mixed use, along Broadway were burned (Goodman 104). Looters (and residents who bought from looters) saw the blackout as an opportunity to get what they otherwise could not afford. Fires spread to many residential buildings as well. After the riots were over and the fires were put out, residents saw "some streets that looked like Brooklyn Heights, and others that looked like Dresden in 1945" (Goodman 181): unsafe dwellings and empty lots among surviving buildings. The business vacancy rate on Broadway reached 43% in the wake of the riots.
Bushwick was now left without a commercial retail hub. After the blackout, more middle-class residents who could afford to leave did so, in some cases abandoning their homes. New immigrants continued to move to the area, many of whom were from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and, more recently, Central America. However, apartment renovation and new construction did not keep pace with the demolition of unsafe buildings, forcing overcrowded conditions at first. As buildings came down, the vacant lots made parts of the neighborhood look and feel desolate, and more residents left. With a lack of job opportunities, Bushwick became an epicenter for the illegal drug trade. Author Jonathan Mahler described the social and economic hardships of Bushwick after the blackout in his book "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning", explaining how the majority of neighborhood residents were living on less than $4,000 a year, relying on some form of public assistance. The neighborhood was a hotbed of poverty and crime by the 1980s. During this period, the Knickerbocker Avenue shopping district was nicknamed "The Well" for its seemingly unending supply of drugs. In the 1990s, it remained a poor and relatively dangerous area, with 77 murders and 2,242 robberies in 1990.
Starting in the mid-2000s, the City and State of New York began pouring resources into Bushwick, primarily through a program called the Bushwick Initiative. The Bushwick Initiative was a two-year pilot program spearheaded by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (Ridgewood Bushwick), and the Office of Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The program's goal was to improve the lives of Bushwick residents in the twenty-three square blocks surrounding Maria Hernandez Park through various housing and quality-of-life programs. The Bushwick Initiative's objectives included addressing deteriorated housing conditions, increasing economic development opportunities, reducing drug dealing activities, and enhancing the quality of life in the 23 square blocks surrounding Maria Hernandez Park. A dog park was completed in Maria Hernandez Park in October 2012.
- Crime reduction: One of the most critical pieces of the Bushwick Initiative is the strengthened relationship between HPD's Narcotics Control Unit and the New York City Police Department's 83rd Precinct and Narcotics Division, which joined together in the 2000s to reduce the extensive drug-dealing operations in the area.
- Housing improvement: In an effort to reduce lead hazards in buildings, HPD and DOHMH created a grant program focusing on residential buildings in the Bushwick Initiative target area. As a result of this outreach, 64 buildings received lead abatement work worth approximately $750,000. 150 buildings were referred to HPD's Housing Litigation Division (HLD) for action. HLD brought cases to compel the owners of those buildings to correct outstanding violations, to obtain civil penalties for the owners' failure to comply with the Housing Maintenance Code and the Multiple Dwelling Law where appropriate, and to compel those owners who had failed to register with HPD to do so. In addition, where owners had failed to correct emergency conditions, including lead paint hazards, and had denied HPD's inspectors and contractors access to scope and complete the necessary work to remediate the conditions, the HLD obtained access warrants ordering the owners to allow HPD's inspectors and contractors into the buildings to complete necessary emergency repairs.
- Commercial revitalization: Many of the Bushwick Initiative's economic development efforts are focused on revitalizing Knickerbocker Avenue, the primary commercial strip in the area. Ridgewood Bushwick spoke to business owners in the area about reviving the now-defunct Knickerbocker Avenue Merchants' Association. Through this organization, Ridgewood Bushwick hopes to utilize SBS's resources to increase economic opportunities for local business owners in the area.
- Sanitation improvement: In addition to DOHMH's lead prevention work, the Bushwick Initiative has benefited from a series of public health programs addressing pest control, infant health, and fitness. DOHMH spent $25,000 to purchase 1,000 rodent-resistant trash cans, which were distributed to buildings with a high number of rodent complaints. Educational information in both English and Spanish concerning rodent control was distributed at the same time, and cans were plastered with the flyers reading "CAN IT – Keep Rats Out of Your Community."
- Rents: The last half of the 20th century transformed Bushwick into a home for low-income renters in a primarily Hispanic, immigrant community. Ethnic groups common in the neighborhood are Puerto Ricans, Hondurans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Ecuadorians, African Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans, and Afro-Caribbeans. There are also smaller numbers of Chinese, Koreans, Indo-Caribbeans (Guyana and Trinidad), Filipinos, and Arabs in the area. Since 2000, the rise of real estate prices in nearby Manhattan has made the neighborhood more attractive to younger professionals. In the wake of reduced crime rates citywide and a shortage of cheap housing in nearby neighborhoods such as Park Slope and Williamsburg, a large number of young professionals and artists have moved into converted warehouse lofts, brownstones, limestone-brick townhouses, and other renovated buildings.
A flourishing artist community, which has existed in Bushwick for decades, now is a main demographic of Bushwick; dozens of art studios and galleries are scattered throughout the neighborhood. There are several open studios programs that help the public visit artist studios and galleries and a number of websites dedicated to promoting neighborhood art and events. Bushwick artists display their works in galleries and private spaces throughout the neighborhood. The borough's first and only trailer park, a 20-person art collective established by founder, Hayden Cummings and ZenoRadio's Baruch Herzfeld for creatives to reside and work was established within a former nut roasting factory.
Major subway services running through the area include the J and Z train on the BMT Jamaica Line, the M train on the BMT Myrtle Avenue Line, and the L train on the BMT Canarsie Line. The Myrtle–Wyckoff Avenues bus and subway hub was renovated into a state-of-the-art transportation center in 2007. Bus lines serving Bushwick include the B13, B26, B38, B52, B54, B60
During the 1960s, under the direction of Robert Moses, there were plans to build an extension of I-78 through Bushwick, to connect lower Manhattan with the southern shore of Long Island. The extension was to be called the Bushwick Expressway, but was never built, due to then Mayor John V. Lindsay's concerns that traffic leaving Manhattan should bypass it via the Verrazano Bridge.
Parks and recreation
All parks are operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
- Bushwick Park and Pool is located on Flushing Avenue between Beaver and Garden Streets, and encompasses 1.29 acres (5,200 m2). The park has a free public pool as well as a children's pool, basketball courts, a handball court, and a children's playground.
- Bushwick Playground is located on Knickerbocker Avenue between Woodbine Street and Putnam Avenue, and encompasses 2.78 acres (11,300 m2). The park features handball courts, spray showers, sitting areas, and a children's playground.
- Green Central Knoll Park is a 2.6 acres (11,000 m2) park located between Flushing and Central Avenues and Knoll and Evergreen Streets. The park is located on the former site of the Rheingold beer brewery. New York City took ownership of the property after the beer company closed due to failure to pay taxes, but it was not given to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation until 1997. The park includes a baseball field, sitting areas, and a children's playground.
- Heisser Triangle is located at the intersections of Knickerbocker and Myrtle Avenues and Bleecker Street. The triangle is named after Charles Heisser, a World War I sergeant with the 106th Infantry who was killed in action in France on September 27, 1918. The bronze war memorial at the center of the plot was sculpted by Pietro Montana in 1921.
- Hope Gardens Multi Service Center is a building located on Wilson Avenue and Linden Street that serves as an elderly bingo game building, an after-school program for children from kindergarten to fifth grade, a site for karate classes, and a summer day camp for local children.
- Irving Square Park is bound by Wilson and Knickerbocker Avenues and Halsey and Weirfield Streets. It encompasses 2.78 acres (11,300 m2) and is believed to be named after Washington Irving. The park features swings, a sandpit, a spray shower, a handball court, and a basketball court. Since being renovated in 2006 and 2008, the park also features a public plaza and gardening space.
- Maria Hernandez Park is a municipal park; formerly known as Bushwick Park, it is located between Knickerbocker and Irving Avenues and between Starr and Suydam Streets, near the Jefferson Street station on the L train. It has a newly renovated basketball court, a handball court, fitness equipment, spray showers, benches, and a newly built performance stage. The park encompasses 6.87 acres (27,800 m2).
- Ridgewood Bushwick Youth Center is a youth activity center located between Gates Avenue and Palmetto Street and run by the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (RBSCC).
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