Bensonhurst, my hometown, Bensonhurst is Brooklyn!, and Brooklyn is Bensonhurst!
I moved from Bay Ridge to Bensonhurst in 1957 at the age of 10 years old. At that time my street had no sidewalks and the street wasn’t paved. my neighbors had chickens and pigeons and grew all types of vegetables and fruits. There was a bocci court up near 20th Ave and a big block wide empty lot from 57 Street to 58 Street. FDR H.S. was not built yet, that whole block was also a very big empty lot with a high clay dirt mountain on it. We would climb to the top and become king of that mountain… As a young teenager I went to PS 226 from 1957 through 1958, I worked at two different grocery stores on 18th Ave between 59th and 60 street followed by Redegeld Stationary supplies on 20th Ave & 63 street, and finally Segals Baby Furniture on 86th street. At the age of 14 years old I was already a very good bowler and made most of my income bowling heads up action matches for money, gambling on myself to win, which I did most of the time. I bowled in Maple Lanes, Cropsey Lanes, Thunderbay and Frankie & Johnny’s, but mostly at Ave M Bowl on McDonald Ave. I went to Wm E. Grady H.S. but hardly ever attended, I was to busy living the Brooklyn Street Life…
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Bensonhurst (also known as “Brooklyn’s Little Italy”) is a neighborhood located in the south-central part of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Bensonhurst runs from about 14th Avenue to 25th Avenue and from Gravesend Bay to 53rd Street, encompassing Bath Beach, New Utrecht, and part of Dyker Heights and bordered by the Bath Beach, Bay Ridge, Gravesend, and Borough Park sections. For many generations of Jew and Italian residents, Bensonhurst’s geographic boundaries have been defined by the streets where the ethnic mix of Bensonhurst begins to fray. Interestingly, since about 1993, the rapid expansion of the population of Orthodox Jews in neighboring Borough Park, has encroached deeply into Bensonhurst, such that the ethnic geographic boundaries now begin from about 18th Avenue to 25th Avenue and from Gravesend Bay to 60th Street. This 1.4 square mile change represents an expansion of Borough Park and a shrinkage of Bensonhurst, as defined by traditional ethnic boundaries. It represents a historical parallel to the shrinkage of Manhattan’s Little Italy as a result of the expansion and encroachment of neighboring Chinatown. Brooklyn’s “Little Italy” Bensonhurst was stereotyped as a haven for Mafia members (Gus Farace, a reputed mob associate suspected of murdering a federal drug-enforcement agent, was found shot to death in a parked car there on November 17, 1989, and two years later the neighborhood provided the setting for the mob-themed film Out for Justice starring Steven Seagal), many of whom are believed to maintain residences in Dyker Heights, a neighborhood adjacent to Bensonhurst. Despite this old stereotype, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of Bensonhurst residents (like the overwhelming majority of all Italian-Americans) have nothing to do with crime, organized or otherwise. Currently the neighborhood is undergoing a transformation; many of the original houses dating back over 90 years ago are being torn down and replaced by three-story brick apartment buildings and multi-family condominiums. Visitors from throughout the New York City metropolitan area flock to the neighborhood each year in late August or early September to take part in the colorful Santa Rosalia Festival (commonly known simply as The Feast to locals), held on 18th Avenue from Bay Ridge Parkway (75th Street) to 69th Street. St. Rosalia is the patron saint of the city of Palermo and is sometimes venerated as the patron for the entire island of Sicily (a sizable portion of Bensonhurst’s Italian American residents are of Sicilian heritage). The annual end-of-summer celebration attracts thousands. Immediately after Italy’s victory at the 2006 FIFA World Cup a large portion of Bensonhurst’s Italian American community, as well as several thousand participants from all over the tri-state area, participated in a large victory celebration. Several local cafés and businesses paid for a city permit to close 18th Avenue from commercial traffic. It was held on the same route as the St. Rosalia Feast, but stretched from 65th street to nearly 80th Street. The celebration began as soon as the Italian team won, until about 7:00 p.m., when the permit ran out.
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