August 19, 2007

Pilgrimmage to 3rd Street.

This morning at about 8 a.m., I set out on a long walk where my goal was to see the place I lived in Park Slope for 2 years before I moved to Madison in 1984. I'd lived in 4 other places in New York City before that: East 91st Street, East 85 Street, Jane Street, and Washington Square Village. Every single one of those places was a 2 year lease, so that was 10 years in New York, with the last 2 years in Brooklyn, on 3rd Street.

I wanted to start out walking south on Smith Street, because readers keep writing in the comments that I will probably like Smith Street. And they were right. I did like Smith Street. (Smith Street was named after Samuel Smith, who had a big farm centered at what is now the intersection of Smith and Livingston and who was mayor of Brooklyn for a short time in 1850. Source: "Brooklyn By Name.")

I found a nice café, where I sat by a window, ate some eggs -- not cold eggs, scrambled eggs, with salmon -- and picked up some WiFi:

A café on Smith Street

Café LULUc. Where they serve delicious french fries with their eggs.

There were lots of other interesting looking places, like Stinky Brooklyn (a cheese store):

Tied-up dog

Now, Smith intersects with 3rd Street, so that looked simple enough, and I knew there was the issue of getting over the Gowanus Canal. You can't just walk down any street going east around there. You need a bridge over the canal. But 3rd Street, I knew, had a bridge, and I was just hoping the area wouldn't be too dicey. The fact is, it did scare me a little. There was that abandoned handbag near the "hazmat trained only personnel" sign:

Abandoned bag near the Gowanus canal

And then the canal itself:

The Gowanus Canal

It's creepy. The canal was once a creek, Gowanus Creek, named after what "Brooklyn by Name" calls the "Canarsee sachem Gowane," that is the leader of the Carnarsee Indians named Gowane. There were Indians here once, and that oily horror was a creek. The creek was widened into a canal, and industrial development followed.

I walked quickly, across numbered avenues, beginning with 3rd Avenue, toward my goal just east of 7th Avenue. There were only a couple blocks that made me nervous. That block between 4th and 5th Avenues brought back a strange memory. We were driving home one night and the instant we entered that block the police put up a barricade behind us. In front, there were police cars everywhere and cops -- did I see guns? -- squatting for protection behind opened car doors. What were we supposed to do? We kept driving. There's always another block to get to.

Crossing 7th Avenue felt like walking into the past. The trees were so heavily overgrown. Maples, making the street a dark tunnel. A dark tunnel into the past -- more unsettling than the Gowanus Canal.

Which building did we live in? It was one of the first few brownstones on the north side of the street, but which one? They look nearly alike. I looked at the gates, which have different designs, and thought that when I saw the right one the memory of it would light up my brain. We lived on the ground floor -- or I should say the below-ground floor, because the window sills were at ground level. That meant we looked out at that wrought iron gate constantly. Shouldn't I recognize the one that I gazed at for 2 years?

Brownstone Brownstone Brownstone Brownstone Brownstone Brownstone

No. No memory flashes. I kept walking up the street, toward Prospect Park. (Named after Mount Prospect, which is now the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway, but was a strategic outlook -- a prospect -- for our soldiers in the Revolutionary War.) A quarter century ago I walked these two blocks toward the park a hundred times, with two young boys and a husband. See that bench by the 3rd Street entrance to the park?

Park bench

A big family drama took place there. Where does ours rank on the list of thousands of human dramas that have taken place there?

I decided to walk down 2nd Street, back to 7th Avenue and then walk north on 7th Avenue, which was my long walk to the subway to go to work (at a Wall Street law firm). I wanted to see how it had changed in all these years. Had it become as posh as I've gotten the feeling it has when, living in Madison, Wisconsin, I read in the New York Times about life in Park Slope? (Answer: No!)

As I walked toward 7th Avenue, I saw this:

Two Boots

I know that little building! It wasn't blue 25 years ago. And it wasn't called Two Boots. Nor did it have an alligator out front for my kids to beg to ride. But I knew that stumpy building. It had a big noisy ventilation fan on the roof that undercut the pleasure of hanging out in our backyard (like this).

So let's count the paces from here to 7th Avenue, walk back to 3rd Street and count out the same number (35), and then, here it is:


This is it. Past arrived at. But it's closed up, shut off to me now. I can only weakly replay the mental pictures of the things that went on in those years, when we were all so young.


Trooper York said...

Ann you were to literal in your should have walked over the Carroll St Bridge which is the other bridge over the Canal...besides 3rd and 9th Streets which are both much more commercial...if you traipsed over the Carroll St Bridge you could have hit Montes a old school Italian joint that I stupidly forgot to mention...then you could have swung over on third or fourth or better yet fifth avenue...fifth avenue is the up and coming area with the new bars and restaurants...and sometimes a handbag on the floor is just litter.

Ann Althouse said...

I wanted to see 7th Avenue because it was my regular path back in the early 80s. I'll check out 5th Avenue (and the Carroll Street Bridge) as I do my various walks. Back in the 80s, 5th Avenue was working class. Anyway, I walked farther on Smith this way. It was a 7 mile walk as it was. I wasn't up for circling around.

Ann Althouse said...

I walked home on Atlantic Avenue, as you may be able to tell from the other posts today. That was quite fun for photography, and I have more pictures to post from that. The funkier streets are better for photography. And I found another café, finally one that had a "free WiFi" sign in the window.

Laura Reynolds said...

Glenn would have shown us the girl in the green top from the front.

Sydney said...

It isn't as pretty as Madison.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

A big family drama took place there.

And that's all we're gonna' get of it? More, please.

Maxine Weiss said...

Let's just hope you find a Chaperone for future walks.

JSE said...

Two Boots sells great pizza, by the way, with an unusual cornmeal-dusted crust. The equal of any pizza in Madison.

Trooper York said...

Ann, just know that 3rd St and 9th St are much more commercial than Carroll should have jumped on the Union St bus which have brought you back to Smith St..that was quite a hike you took can combine bus, train and foot to make your way around without exhausting yourself...just get ready for the Atlantic Antic which is a giant street fare in September which runs from Hicks St. all the way to 4th Ave...Both 5th Ave and Smith St were working Class back in the day....but they have become seem to make working class a perjoritve my neighborhood we don't call the yuppies- yuppies....we call them liberals...make of that what you will....lot's of guys that we had street fights with back in day, can meet and hug each other and buy drinks for one another, cause it dosen't matter if you are Irish or Italian or Black or Spanish...we have one thing in common...we really can't stand the liberals.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm deliberately trying to get the exercise. Do you really think 7 miles is too far to walk? I didn't get tired. If I did, I'd probably hail a cab.

Maxine Weiss said...

Oh, surely not!

This being New York, and you a blonde----I'm sure someone would be willing to carry you back!

I reckon they don't see too many blondes in Brooklyn.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Hi, Ann. This post makes me smile a lot.

Ron said...

RLC! It's good to see you here!

Trooper York said...

Seven miles is not bad at all...but it is always good to figure out an alternative route if you get a little tired or buy something you don't want to lug back...Atlantic Avenue has a bunch of cool antique stores....what you need to do is have the number of several different car services that you can call if you need a pick up because yellow cabs can be kind of scarce when you need one...Promenade car service or Court Express or Dynasty are pretty reliable...have the numbers in your cell just in case...Hey AJD bite me....the reason why we have no time for "liberals" is because of comments like those of Maxine..WTF...there are no blondes in should be afraid to walk and need a's just like yuppie scum to make comments like be afraid of the working class people who live in the neighborhood that they are moving into the real Brooklyn we know who we are and can accept you on your terms (or not )straight up because we are not afraid to say what we think....we don't dislike you because you are "liberal"...we hate you because you are pretentious scumbags who think that their s*t don't stink...(Brooklynese edited for family viewing)

KCFleming said...

But it's closed up, shut off to me now.

Memories are like that, too. It's still surprising to me that one can live somewhere for years, have important events occur there, and have the details dissolve and become a mere impression.

An iron gate stared at every morning cannot be recalled over time. Nor can conversations, both banal and emotional. We are left with images that become retouched over time, sometimes so much that they bear no relation to fact.

And one does find it a little sad, or at least I do, that I can stay somewhere for 3 years or maybe ten, but leave no mark at all. Recently while perusing old books in a thrift store, I came across the personally bound collection of medical articles from the 1970s by a man who was once a bit famous, at least in his circle. No one now speaks his name. Had he no family to keep these?

Marcus Aurelius offers good counsel:
"For all things soon pass away and become a mere tale, and complete oblivion soon buries them. And I say this of those who have shone in a wondrous way. For the rest, as soon as they have breathed out their breath, they are gone, and no man speaks of them. And, to conclude the matter, what is even an eternal remembrance? A mere nothing. What then is that about which we ought to employ our serious pains? This one thing, thoughts just, and acts social, and words which never lie, and a disposition which gladly accepts all that happens, as necessary, as usual, as flowing from a principle and source of the same kind."

Palladian said...

"For the rest, as soon as they have breathed out their breath, they are gone, and no man speaks of them."

And yet almost 2000 years after Marcus Aurelius breathed his last, he's quoted in a medium he could not begin to understand.

KCFleming said...


There are giants on whose shoulders we may stand, though few.

Ann Althouse said...

Richard: Thanks for coming by. I'm still not positive I found the right building. That restaurant was directly behind us, wasn't it? Or was it one lot to the west? I assumed I'd recognize the place... and have no idea what the street number was.

Zachary Sire said...

Such graceful and lovely writing.

You've inspired me to do some walking around of my own. I live on the edges of Prospect Park and Windsor Terrace and Kensington (so my roommates tell me), and I have rarely left my comfort zone (aside from my commute on the F to Manhattan) since moving here from California last month. Will do some exploring this weekend.

Brooklyn feels very safe to me...what's with the recurring comments about some element of danger and that Ann should be careful? I don't get it. All I see our families and kids cruising the streets. After a night of partying in the city, I took the train back at 4am and encountered nothing.

I know fear is the new black in a post 9-11 world, but all this talk of a middle-aged blonde woman having to be careful while walking around her neighborhood in broad daylight is ridiuclous.

Ann Althouse said...

ZPS: Thanks. I think people imagine me stumbling about, obsessed with looking into the camera, and therefore as an obvious mark for thieves and other attackers. This isn't so. There is no one more vigilant about thieves than I am. I lived in NYC for 10 years when it was more dangerous and I, of course, was younger (and sometimes pregnant). I was never victimized by any crime. I know how to walk down the street and have since I was in my 20s, and I am never harassed.

From Inwood said...

Prof A

Great walk, great pix.

Didn't realize you'd lived in NYC for 10 yrs in the not-so-distant past. You don't need advice about where to go, especially if you like to walk, as you do.

Our Law School study group met in a classmate's house on Warren St from '59 to'62. His family had owned the house since the mid 19th century. It was then called South Brooklyn, now the Cobble Hill Historic District. The neighborhood was, um, in decline, ready for the salvation by those wonderful folks who brought us Cadman Pl, ugh, & many of the one family houses were being converted to rentals. The family sold out some years ago after my classmate’s oldest sibling died, when the neighborhood had reached its nadir & the real estate values were at their lowest. A typical story in the Naked City.

Breaking my non-yenta rule stated above, however, I have two more site suggestions.

(1) For all compassionate people, see The un-PC entitled Workingmen's Cottages (Warren Pl., 'tween Hicks & Henry), built in the 1870s for laborers & their families, considered one of the earliest planned low-income housing. Today, it's where a workingman, um, person, would live if he or she were a Gen X "workingman" on Wall St. Sidebar. Richard Russo has a character in one of his novels who keeps correcting everyone’s prose by insisting on the addition of “or she” after “he” & is nicknamed, appropriately, “Orshe”)

(2) 197 Amity, birthplace of Winston Churchill's ma, née Jennie Jerome. Last time I was there it had still been, shall we say, updated, on the street front, in the period of ‘60s kitsch.

I also have two recommendations for your walking tours, of which I’m sure you’re aware: The AIA Guide to New York City & the NYT each weekend for tours of specific areas

My recommendation for safety, in both NYC & Mad Wisc., would fall somewhere between what seems like irrational exuberance on the part of Trooper York (on the ‘net, no one knows he’s a 6 foot weightlifter & karate expert) & the paranoia of Maxine. Especially at 8 AM. A friend & I, two Senior Citizens, did a walk thru Harlem on a Sat Aft. No fear on our part. But, like the old song says, don’t “go out walking after midnight along the lonely thoroughfare; it’s really not the proper thing to do….”

Daniel said...

Your post brings back memories. I grew up (ages 3 through 7) at 474 Third Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, leaving in 1942.
I remember odd things: stick ball games in the street (I was too young to play though), horse drawn wagons delivering ice, coal shutes and coal bins in the basements, and hiding in them when the police came to break up the stick ball games in the street. We knew everyone on our block, but kids on other blocks were like enemy aliens to us; the WPA paving the street; watching a man candleing eggs at a grocery on 6th Avenue.
Thanks for bringing these back.

Jeremy Rosenstein Kortes said...

i see all these places weekly, if not daily. thanks for adding a new perspective to our neighborhood

Unknown said...

As a person who lived the first 44 years of his life in NYC, who attended Brooklyn Tech (amongst various other fine NYC public schools)and had a g/f who lived in downtown Brooklyn, I like to think I have an idea about Brooklyn. I too have traipsed through Prospect Park (the designer of Prospect Park whose name I forget also designed Central Park. He preferred Prospect) and enjoyed its sights and the Botanical Gardens.

But for all you posters not familiar with Brooklyn, (including our newest member of Brooklyn) Brooklyn is like an ocean with islands in it. And those 'islandes' are literally measured in blocks or the middle of streets. Walk one block on the wrong side and you can be in deep, serious trouble.

Now I know the days of Dinkins are gone but the truth is parts of Brooklyn are very, very, very unsafe. I walked through those streets as a young man in my 20's, 6'2 over 200 lbs in good shape and felt a healthy dose of, wont say fear, but wariness. Take the advice of the home town NY'ers on this site: Know where you are and dont just go 'exploring' without some idea of the type of neighborhood you are going into.

With that said, NYC is the greatest city in the world and no matter where I go and how long I live, I will always be a NY'er.

Trooper York said...

From Inwood...I guess I am kinda busted...I am 6'3" and about 275...with an ugly Irish mug and donut crumbs on my shirt that makes the skells think I am a cop...when I get on the G train in the morning they whisper 5-0 and head into the next car...but it really isn't irrational exuberance...on Carroll St.near the canal there is an old folks home and if you go out now you will see a little old lady pushing her wagon to go to the the time the prof was walking the skells are still sleeping it off....of course you should watch out where you are going and know whats happening...but as the prof said she's a big girl and knows whats going on....and now there are so many bars and little bistros in the areas she is traversing...if she ever felt unsafe she could just pop into one and call a car service...I just hate it when ignorant people dis Brooklyn....and I don't want them to be like Maxine...hiding under the covers and rewatching her copy of Escape from New York

Trooper York said...

Ted I don't think you really have a feel for what the specific areas that the prof is walking around...what you say is generally correct....there are always pockets of danger and it can change from block to block...but the city is very, very different from just 10 years ago...Sunday my sister in law took her infant son swimming in Red Hook Pool right smack dab in what was one of the worst projects in America...New York is really a different place...a lot better place...and with the level of policing due to the terror threat...I don't think you have to overstate aware, but have fun and Brownstone Brooklyn is safer than most of the cities in America.

American Liberal Elite said...

"(the designer of Prospect Park whose name I forget also designed Central Park. He preferred Prospect)"

The (intelligent) designer was Frederick Law Olmstead, who also laid out Boston's Emerald Necklace.

Dodger said...

As a long time Brooklynite, brought up in Brighton Beach (before it was annexed to Russia) and a former resident of Park Slope (Berkeley Place) for almost two decades, I very much enjoyed walking with the good professor through the old neighborhood. A few have remarked about the necessity to be aware where you are while navigating the streets, and that is true. But it is not nearly as true as it was before the 90s, and the remarkable transformation that has taken place in New York City and Brooklyn in the years since, especially when compared with the bad old days during the Lindsay and Beame administrations. Still some things have remained the same: Park Slope, for all its good new restaurants still doesn't have a fine purveyor of Chinese cuisine. For that you have to go to Sunset Park, where the food challenges anything you can find in Manhattan's Chinatown. By the way, that Brownstone pictured on 3rd St. is probably selling today for about $!,500,000. In the 1960s, a friend bought a similar house on 1st. Street for $25,000. As this demonstrates, Brooklyn is coming back with a roar.

From Inwood said...


Point of order. In Bklyn it's the Botanic Garden; The Botanical Garden (New York) is in Da Bronx.


"hiding under the covers and rewatching her copy of Escape from New York"

I like that description. It applies to a lot of my friends in the 'burbs. They say that they like NYC but their concept is Manhattan south of W 120 & E 96.

We had dinner with some friends in Baltimore (hubby is an ex-Bronxite), in Little Italy, & the guy spent the whole dinner telling my wife that I was an old fool for having walked through Harlem without an armed guard. BTW, my wife & I walked from Fells Point to Little Italy in Baltimore not such a great idea. We also walked from the City Subway stop to the RC Cathederal in Newark (must see; facade appears at the begining of each Soprano's episode). We lived to tell both tales.

One of my male cousins went to clean out his Ma’s apt in Inwood after her funeral in Dinkins’ Time & was mugged. I had the same sad chore, up the block, also in Dinkins time. I dressed down, but one of my cousins came in her Mercedes in haute couture & emerged unscathed. Don’t think that that mugging would happen today, tho I wouldn’t go in off peak hours as the Man In The Brooks Brothers Suit, to plagiarize mary McCarthy’s title.

BTW, some of the self-styled finer minds on this site, a/k/a trolls, tend to be mindlessly intolerant of those whom they see as PC intolerant. You know, the kind of guy who’s upset when a diminutive woman cop appears in answer to his call. He wants a 6’3” cop & it’s not a minus for said cop to be de troup in the grammar & syntax dept. Go figure.


Brighton Beach annexed to Russia! Watch out for the PC Police! Who annexed Atlantic Ave?

Trooper York said...

From's always a bitch when you have to clean up after something like that....I said I look like a cop...but I am not one...however it is disconcerting to have every little old lady stand next to you on the subway platform and say "excuse me officer, how do I get to the Franklin Avenue Shuttle"....and you don't have to engage the trolls....sometimes you are just passing the time of day...and using a one is more intolerant than lefty college douche bags....just treat them with an attitude of genial contempt...move along buddy...nothing to see here.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

513 Third Street. I can't remember the name of the restaurant. It was two houses down from us -- I remember our neighbors on that side, they had a little girl John's age -- but we did hear the clatter of silverware from it, and sometimes louder noises.

And that police action we drove through -- yes, there were not only squad cars with cops taking positions behind open doors, but at least one SWAT van. Cops were waving traffic away but hadn't yet closed the street, and I didn't notice them waving me away so I figured the fast way out would be just to drive straight through. No shots had been fired and I don't know if any ever were.

Kev said...

Great pics and travelogue so far! I'm really enjoying this series. I haven't been to Brooklyn (unless it was when I was a really young kid; we lived in Hicksville for a very short time when I was about two years old), so I've been Mapquesting the routes you describe to get a feel for the layout.

Noah Boddie said...

Wow, this is kinda weird, seeing my own surroundings on your blog. These streets, buildings and restaurants are like the back of my hand.

The walk across "Lavendar Lake" (aka the Gowanus) is not as bad as it looks. It's a little creepy at night, but you're not likely to get mugged, since muggers like to go where there are people to mug, not deserted bridges. It's actually a residential area, and if I had some money on hand I would be buying up these properties now, before the imminent Gowanus cleanup turns the area into a tourist mecca.

Oh, and since you mentioned it, here's a Gowanus-related palindrome...

Paul Ciotti said...

I love the Brooklyn photos, but it is obvious that, unlike woody Wisconsin, a tree does not grow in Brookyn.

Ann Althouse said...

Richard, it was 513? Then I did photograph the wrong building! That's 509 in the picture. Ah, well, what the hell's the difference? They're all alike (almost).

Trooper York said...

Trees do most certainly grow in fact Park Slope and Carroll Gardens have tree lined streets that are almost bucolic...but if we are riffing on "Brooklyn" book titles.....there actually is a "Last Exit to Brooklyn"....and it is located a 136 Atlantic Avenue between Clinton and Henry...a mere four or five blocks from the prof's new digs....happy hour prices start at 4pm.

PeterP said...

Photo #1: the woman with great hair and a cute bum. Her phone number please at once.

I am not 11 as previously erroneously reported, I no longer need parental consent to engage in carnal congress with a willing adult and I've never been to Arkensaw.


From Inwood said...

Paul C


Wazzamatta wid you?

Look at the uppa right corner of photo #2 & wadda ya see?

Look at the last photo. You think leaves don't grow on treees?

Funny, but many years ago I took a guy from Bklyn around Inwood & he had the same comment: he didn't know that they had trees in Manhattan.

Prof Ann's pix are of the City & what makes the City the City. If you want pictures of Bklyn trees she could get them for you.

The reasons people come to NYC? # 486: the trees.

No smart ass replies that I'm a Robert Moses sycophant or quotes like "They paved Paradise & made it a parking lot!".

Or Odgen Nash's:

"I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
And if the billboard doesn't fall,
I think I'll never see a tree at all."

Trooper York said...

Dude, her name is Janie and she hangs out in the Zombie Hut on Degraw...just be carefull...cause Janie's got a gun....

MadisonMan said...

I'm amazed -- as someone who remembers numbers (my phone number 28 years ago? 814 238 94FM. My friend in the dorms in CA? 916 751 5572) -- that you don't remember your address. How do you fill out those security clearance forms that ask for all the addresses you've ever lived at?