A Drinking Life, the memoir written by legendary journalist and author Pete Hamill about coming of age in Park Slope and establishing himself as a newspaperman, is by far the best book I've read all year. In it, he paints a picture of the Park Slope of his childhood, choked with trolleys, blue-collar workers, street fights, pails of beer, and stickball. Hamill was born in 1935 in what's today called the South Slope, and lived here until the late 1950s. For anyone who's curious about what this neighborhood was like during this time, I would strongly recommend picking up a copy.
"In the fall of 1941, I entered First Grade at Holy Name of Jesus elementary school.... A white brick school building rose like a fortress before me, three severe stories off the ground." The school is located at 245 Prospect Park West.
In 1941 the Hamill family moved to the ground floor of this building, 435 13th Street, between Seventh and Eighth.
"The colors of the world instantly changed. The new house was only one block away but it butted up against the dirty redbrick bulk of the old Ansonia Clock Factory... The dark blue shadow of the Factory (as everyone called it) fell upon the stoop and across the backyard... The rooms were larger and wider... and the rent was twenty-six dollars a month, including steam heat."
"would wander down the street to look at the Alley, a wide noisy cobblestoned warren of ancient trucks and escaping steam and iron-barred windows. The Alley ran from Thirteenth Street to Twelfth Street, splitting The Factory into two unequal sections, and in the years of the war, it always seemed jammed with men at work."Today it's a part of the Ansonia Court apartment complex.
At age 8 Hamill and family moved into a railroad flat at the top floor of the above building, at 378 7th Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets,
At around this time Hamill started his first paper route, which took him down to Fourth and Fifth streets, "tree-lined streets of brownstones and white sandstone apartment houses... There were no fire escapes on these blocks, no stores or bars, and every house had a back yard.""a tenement rising four ominous stories above the street. It was in the middle of the block,... with a butcher's shop on one side of the doorway and a fruit and vegetable store called Teddy's to the right... Poles and lines and the steel tracks gave the avenue the look of an artists' exercise in perspective, with diminishing lines flowing away into infinity, or its equal: Flatbush Avenue at one end of the avenue, Greenwood Cemetery at the other."
The library, on Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue, is currently undergoing an extensive renovation."in the glorious palace of books called the Prospect Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, known to us simply as the Library. I went there every Saturday morning... following the familiar route along Seventh Avenue, my blood quickening as I crossed the trolley tracks on Ninth Street and passed the stately brownstones and the small synagogue and saw up ahead the wild gloomy garden of the Library.... The majestic mock Corinthian columns of the main entrance always made me feel puny but inside, behind walls as thick as any fortress, I always felt safe."
"Off the square on one side there were two tall Corinthian columns that marked the entrance to Prospect Park; we called them the Totem Poles, or the Totes. They rose from cleanly carved granite bases, and in the evenings... I would walk up from Seventh Avenue and see the others, and we'd gather around the bases, sitting on them, looking at girls, cursing, smoking, making jokes, and drinking beer."
|Bartel-Pritchard Square, 1950.|
|Looking south towards Bartel-Pritchard Square, past the Sanders Theater, 1950.|
Historic Photos from Brooklyn's Park Slope, Merlis and Rosenzweig, 1999.