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Wednesday
Feb112009

O'Connor's Bar, 39 Fifth Avenue

Not many businesses in Park Slope have been around for 78 years.
That’s why when I noticed that O’Connor’s Bar on Fifth and Bergen has been there since 1931, I had to go take a look. It didn’t take very long to see why this place has been in business for decades. It’s dark, it’s old, the bartenders are great, drinks are cheap: it’s the perfect dive bar.
When Dominick O’Connor bought the space nearly eighty years ago, it was a stable. He got rid of the horses and added a bar with 12 stools, five booths, a bathroom, and a phone booth. He put a few pictures on the wall, and he left it alone. 
A visit today will introduce you to Chris, the daytime bartender, who’ll greet you with a smile and a handshake and will most likely remember your name and drink of choice if you’ve ever been there before. The crowd is an even mix of local professionals, older (and younger) regulars, and curious passers-by and couples. Conversation is easy to come by, and there’s always a stack of the day’s newspapers to read and a sports pool to get in on. Because there’s no basement, there’s no place for the kegs, so it’s bottles-only, but the beer is cheap and ice-cold and the mixed drinks are strong.
A few years ago the bar was bought by Mike McMahon, a big burly Irishman, and he added a new sign, a few lighting fixtures, and a couple TV sets. Construction is currently underway on a basement, so there are taps in the future, as well as a kitchen and private party room, possibly.
I hope the new additions don’t change the character of the bar, but I have a feeling they won’t. 
  

One of the few remaining real NYC phone booths. 

And be sure to look for O’Connor’s in the April ‘09 issue of Details, in the article about the country’s best dive bars. The only other NYC bar mentioned is Jimmy’s Corner, on 45th St.

Monday
Feb092009

The Park Slope Plane Crash of 1960

When we think of devastating aviation disasters, Park Slope isn’t necessarily one of the first places that comes to mind. But it should be. In 1960 a corner of the neighborhood became a Hell on Earth, and today this nightmare has been all but forgotten.

December sixteenth was a cold and dreary morning, with light rain and fog following an overnight snowstorm.  On the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place, two men hawked Christmas trees that they’d set up in front of a small grocery. Across the street was a funeral home with a Chinese laundry in the basement and a deli next door. Further up Sterling was a butcher shop, an Evangelical Church, and parking garages.

At 10:33 AM, over Miller Field in Staten Island, two planes blinded by the fog collided at 5,000 feet. United Airlines Flight 126, 12 miles off course, slammed into the side of TWA Flight 266, splitting it half. The Trans World wreckage crashed to the field below, killing all 84 on board. The United flight, missing an engine and losing altitude, continued on course in an attempt to land at La Guardia.

The Douglas DC-8 only made it as far as the northern end of Park Slope. First to hit was the right wing, which sheared the roof off of the building housing the grocery, raining debris down onto the Christmas trees below. The bulk of the fuselage crashed directly into the ironically named Pillar of Fire Evangelical Church, completely destroying it. Debris and jet fuel set fire to the funeral home and brownstones further up Seventh Avenue. The tail section landed directly in the middle of the intersection, which was littered with debris and bodies. All 44 on board were killed, as well as six on the ground: the men selling Christmas trees, an employee at the butcher shop, a sanitation worker shoveling snow, a man walking his dog, and Wallace Lewis, the church’s 90-year old caretaker. All told, the death toll was 136.

Seventh Ave and Sterling Pl, NW Corner. McCaddin Funeral Home is at center. 

 The view up Sterling Place, towards Sixth Avenue.

NE Corner, Sterling and Seventh. Flatbush Avenue is in the distance. 

A visit to the corner today betrays little of what was, at the time, the worst aviation disaster in history. New apartment houses stand in place of the church and corner buildings, which for many years after the crash remained vacant lots.


   NW Corner, Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place

NE Corner, Sterling and Seventh 


Nothing here commemorates the crash, not even a small plaque. A memorial on this site to those who lost their lives is not only necessary, it’s important. People should know what happened here, and I have a feeling that real estate developers desperate to sell off these empty apartments play no small role in keeping the disaster quiet.


So let’s get a memorial here. The 50-year mark is less than two years away.

For some great video of the disaster’s aftermath, take a look at this newsreel from Smoking Gun (at 0:56 is an amazing image of the demolished Pillar of Fire Church).

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