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Then and Now Thursday: Pete Hamill's Park Slope

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. 

Earlier today I set out to track down the houses Hamill grew up in, the schools he went to, and his old stomping grounds. 

Hamill spent the first six years of his life living in the top floor of the above house, at 471 14th Street, between Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West. "I remember sitting on the stoop, watching Japanese beetles gnaw the ivy that covered the face of the brownstone next door," he writes. 

He attended kindergarten at PS 107, "down on the corner" of Eighth Avenue and 14th Street.

"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."

Hamill would play in the street with his brother and friends, and
"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.

Seventh Avenue, north from Tenth Street, 1945.

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, 
"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." 
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." 

As street gangs like the Tigers and the South Brooklyn Boys took over the streets in the postwar years, Hamill found refuge here, 
"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." 
The library, on Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue, is currently undergoing an extensive renovation.  

Ninth Street, looking west from Seventh Avenue, 1949.

In 1949, Hamill and his friends started hanging out around Bartel-Pritchard Square, at the foot of Prospect Park West.
"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.
Pete Hamill's Park Slope is at once familiar and yet completely changed. The vast majority of the buildings he mentions (including many more not described here) still exist, but the storefronts have been transformed so many times over the years that it's next to impossible to record their entire history. Reading a book like A Drinking Life makes you realize that in a neighborhood as diverse and historic as Park Slope, every building and street corner has lots of stories to tell. 

Historic Photos from Brooklyn's Park Slope, Merlis and Rosenzweig, 1999.


Blueprint Cocktail Bar's Facade Revealed on Fifth

The old-fashioned-style facade of Blueprint Cocktail Bar, opening soon in the former Long Tan space on Fifth Avenue between Union and Berkeley, was revealed this morning after the plywood that had been concealing it for the past month was removed.

It's classic and simple, and will soon be joined by iron-inlaid glass supplied by The Stained Glass Store, further down Fifth. All the fixtures have been installed inside the space, and a small back yard is shaping up nicely. Next week will bring the installation of floors, wallpaper, and the ceiling (all vintage-inspired), and owner Rory Dwyer told me they've secured a liquor license and are planning on opening up May 20th ("No guaratees," he added).


Bare Burger Gets Some Glass and Yellow

I was able to take a peek behind the plywood this morning of Bare Burger, currently under construction in the old Artesana space on the corner of Seventh Avenue and First Street, and so far so yellow. 

It looks like they kept some of the old architectural details, like the old columns framing the doorway, in place, but stripped away everything else. The large windows will open out on to the street, and judging by the lack of lower windowsills some outdoor seating might be in order. 

Taking a glance inside, it looks like the bulk of the interior work is complete. Like the other locations, the dominant features will be brick walls and a dark wood ceiling. A construction worker started yelling at me before I could take any more photos, but I'll be back.


Bike Shop Coming to Fifth Between Tenth and Eleventh

A new bicycle store is coming into the sprawling space that was last home to Jeans Express, at 476 Fifth Avenue, between Tenth and Eleventh Streets, a worker inside the space confirmed. 

Along with Blockbuster, Tower Electronics, Hollywood Video, and the old OTB, this was one of the super-large spaces in the South Slope that recently became up-for-grabs. It looks like a well-designed space, and will be opening for business as soon as inventory arrives and bikes are hung up on the walls.


Open For Business: Butter Lane Cupcakes, 240 7th Avenue


A second branch of Butter Lane Cupcakes, based on Seventh Street in Manhattan, opened up in the former King of Cupcakes space (on Seventh between Fourth and Fifth Streets) yesterday, and while they're only open for a two week "trial run" as of right now, all signs point to them staying around for a lot longer. 

The new cupcake shop is sunny and comfortable, with marble countertops and a few tables. Employees are helpful and friendly, and all have logged time at the East Village flagship. Crystal, the staff baker, turns out light, crumbly cupcakes in vanilla, chocolate, and banana flavors, and all cupcakes are three bucks a pop. Icing is rich and buttery, and comes in flavors like salted caramel, key lime, honey cinnamon, espresso, and blueberry (not all flavors are available at all times, but there's always a wide selection). Stumptown Coffee is also for sale.
They sell what they call "cupcakes for grownups" and use all-natural ingredients. Buttercream icing comes in both American and French styles: American is made with confectioner's sugar and butter while French is made with egg whites, butter, and granulated sugar, and is more like meringue.
Whereas Ricky's micromanaged King, they're letting Butter Lane have free reign to run the shop as they please, and are only serving as landlords. As of right now, April 30th is slated to be their final day in business, but if it's a success Ricky's will allow them to rent the space for the foreseeable future. 
Drop by, try a cupcake, and if you like it, tell Ricky's to keep them around past April!

Butter Lane Cupcakes, 240 Seventh Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. 718-369-0466.