17 October 2007

20 Years Ago: Bay Ridge circa 1987

July 26, 1987
By BRENDA FOWLER, The New York Times

THE breeze off New York Bay blows gently over scenes of the new and the old in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. In Dyker Beach Park, a group of elderly Italian men play boccie on a Sunday afternoon. Blocks away, Asian immigrants, newcomers to Bay Ridge, window-shop along 86th Street.

On the bluff overlooking the bay, a developer demolished Hamilton House, a popular neighborhood restaurant, to build an apartment complex. But there is a new restaurant in the Hamilton House complex, and it has kept the old name, just as the community has retained many of its old traditions.

This neighborhood on the southwestern bulge of Brooklyn has been known for its stability and small-town atmosphere since Norwegian ship carpenters settled there in the late 1800's. The Dutch, another seafaring people who arrived in 1653, were the first to arrive.

In the last decade, new ethnic groups have joined a community once dominated by the Irish, Scandinavians and Italians. Longtime residents say all newcomers are welcome.

The ethnic diversity of the community is reflected in the proliferation of restaurants that have sprouted along Third Avenue.

Steaks and other American specialties are popular at Embers, a new restaurant run by two Italian families, the Malafronts and the Rocanellis, who have operated Vinnie's Meat Market nearby for 30 years. There is Indian cuisine at India Passage, tempura at Fujisan and stuffed artichoke and fettuccine Alfredo at Canedo's.

Third Avenue, Fifth Avenue and 86th Street are the liveliest shopping lanes. New boutiques and bars alternate with established food shops and dusty hardware stores. On Third Avenue near 76th Street, Pat Conaghan manages Classy Coffees, a sweet-smelling cafe that opened last year, selling coffees, coffee beans and desserts.

''Third Avenue was going down and now it's picked up,'' said Mrs. Conaghan. On Saturday nights, many of Bay Ridge's residents dine on Third Avenue and then go to one of the cafes for dessert, she said.

The community's homes are as diverse as the people who live there. Detached brick homes with well-groomed lawns are common as are semidetached structures with a small front yard or a porch above the garage.

There are stone or stucco homes in the oldest sections of the neighborhood and it is not unusual to discover a Victorian with a wraparound porch tucked between a group of rowhouses.

Some of the most exclusive housing is found along Shore Road, a serpentine street with a view of New York Bay and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In the last century, when this section of Brooklyn was primarily rural, Shore Road was dotted with large country homes. By the end of World War II, all but one of these mansions - Fontbonne Hall, now a Roman Catholic girls' school for grades 7 through 12 - had been torn down. In their place rose the many apartment buildings that provide most of the housing along Shore Road.

A two-bedroom cooperative in one of these renovated buildings sells for more than $200,000, said Frances Gaudio, who owns a real-estate company in Bay Ridge. A single-family house starts at $500,000 and can cost more than $1 million, said Georgia Costalas, who heads Shore Road Real Estate.

Shore Road has been the site of two of the largest housing construction projects in Bay Ridge in recent years. Four months ago the Seaside Development Corporation completed Hamilton House, on the site of the old restaurant of the same name.

Occupancy in the two-building project of 106 co-op apartments, with an equal number of parking spaces, is about 85 percent, said Michael Gherardi, a vice president at Seaside. Prices for the remaining studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments range from $70,000 to $212,000, Mr. Gherardi said.

Seaside also built the other project, the 210-unit Water's View at Verrazano, which was completed in 1982. All have been sold.

Another development with a view of the bridge was completed in June. The Harbour at Bay Ridge Condominium, with 52 one- and two-bedroom condominium apartments, has six two-bedroom condominiums left for sale, with prices ranging from $220,000 to $236,000, according to Henry Camuso, one of the developers.

Because vacant lots are almost nonexistent in Bay Ridge, most of the new housing comes from renovated apartment buildings. Scattered throughout Bay Ridge, however, are pockets of new development, usually three-story, three-family town houses, according to Wilbur Woods, director of the Brooklyn Planning Office.

Getting to midtown Manhattan can be exhausting. But there may soon be another option besides the express bus and subway. Councilman Sal F. Albanese, Democrat of Brooklyn, said that if ongoing negotiations prove successful, a pilot ferry service will begin this fall between the 69th Street pier and lower Manhattan. Mr. Albanese said a trip on one of the boats, which can carry 200 people, will take cut travel time to the Wall Street area in half and cost about as much as the $3.50 fare for one-way express bus service.

Bay Ridge has half a dozen elementary schools and two junior high schools. Its two high schools are the neighborhood-zoned Fort Hamilton, with a strong science department and a summer marine-biology program under the tutelage of the National Science Foundation, and the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, a boroughwide school that offers such courses as computer studies, word-processing, satellite communications and media skills such as radio and television production and journalism.

THIS fall, for the first time, some elementary and junior high students from Bay Ridge will be able to attend special art, music and computer schools outside Bay Ridge, but within their district, according to Ralph Fabrizio, District 20 superintendent. Bilingual education is available in two elementary schools in Bay Ridge. They are Public School 185, where instruction is offered in Chinese, and P.S. 170, where classes are offered in Greek.

Bay Ridge also has nine Roman Catholic schools - two high schools and seven K-12; two Lutheran K-12 schools, one Greek Orthodox K-12 school and the private Polytechnic Prep Country Day School.

The pride of Bay Ridge residents is reflected in the quantity and upkeep of their parks, with the second largest acreage of any community in Brooklyn, according to Mary Sempepos, district manager of Community Board 10, which serves Bay Ridge.

''The fiscal crunch nearly devastated them,'' she said. ''But now they're coming back with capital improvement grants.''

More than $1.4 million has been spent at Dyker Beach Park, at 86th Street and 14th Avenue, for a comfort station, playground, basketball and boccie courts and softball fields, Mrs. Sempepos said. Dyker Beach Park Golf Course is a popular public resource.

Community feeling will make itself felt in late October at the Third Avenue Festival, when artists display and sell their works and area restaurateurs and merchants offer their foods and wares outdoors.

''Every ethnic group that ever came across from Europe had to come through the Narrows,'' said Al Nahas, owner of the Nightfalls restaurant and unofficial ''Mayor of Bay Ridge.'' ''The first thing they see on the right is Bay Ridge. It's green. It's beautiful. And one would say to the other, 'You know, when we get off this ship, we've got fo find that place and settle there.' '' GAZETTEER Population: 117,646 (1980 census). Median family income: $20,172 (1980 census). Distance from midtown Manhattan: 10 miles. Rush-hour commutation: RR subway trains, to midtown Manhattan, about 45 minutes.

Express bus service, about 40 minutes to midtown, by Metro Apple Express, $3.50 one way. Councilman: Sal F. Albanese, Democrat-Liberal. Median house price: $175,000. Median co-op price: $90,000. Median rent: studio, $300; one-bedroom, $500; two-bedroom, $750. Norwegian Day Parade: Norwegians from all around the metropolitan area, wearing traditional brightly colored clothing and hauling picnic baskets, converge on Bay Ridge in mid-May for a Sunday parade to celebrate the anniversary of Norway's constitution, which was signed on May 17, 1814.

Last May, 3,500 marched in the parade as 40,000 spectators lined its route.

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