I recently moved to Brooklyn, a borough of New York City, approximately fifty miles almost directly west of Islip, where I was living on Long Island. Although a relatively short distance, some distinct differences in the areas are immediately apparent. I do still live near the water; however, instead of living on the South Bay between Long Island and Fire Island, I now live on the Lower Bay, the gateway from the Atlantic Ocean into the New York Harbor. Also, instead of the Long Island Railroad whistles, I now hear the cargo ships' horns blowing as they traverse under the Verrazano Bridge.
The Bay Ridge neighborhood initially developed in the early 1900s when wealthy Manhattanites wanted to distance themselves a little from the hustling bustling City. They built some beautiful mansions along a street called Shore Avenue, and a few remain today. Shore Avenue runs parallel and somewhat elevated from a beautiful greenspace of parks and recreation areas. Along the actual shoreline another long bicycle and pedestrian path offers vehicle-free stunning views. Conveniently located a block from my apartment, the pathway either leads to Coney Island [see picture on left] or toward downtown Brooklyn, with some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline and Lady Liberty guarding the harbor [see picture below].
Over the years, many working class families of Irish and Italian descent further developed the neighborhood. This heritage can be seen in much of the intricate masonry in many of the buildings and homes. Little details--whether a garden, a granite or brick driveway, a fountain, or ornate wrought-iron gate--distinguish each residence. Given the Italian heritage, the Virgin Mary has a little alcove at a few homes, too.
One unique home, described as extreme Arts and Crafts architecture is not far from my apartment building. This private residence, known locally as the "Gingerbread House" and formally as the Howard E. and Jessie Jones House, was built in in 1916-1917.
Although Bay Ridge does have a few more ethnic groups represented, I did see my fair share of white tank tops on the way to the Farmer's Market this morning. Needless to say, Italian markets and restaurants abound, so eating well will not be a problem in this neighborhood. On a final Italian-themed note: the 1977 movie, Saturday Night Fever, was filmed and based in Bay Ridge. Who can forget John Travolta a/k/a Tony Manero strutting his stuff at the Odyssey 2001 disco. Need I say more?
My building also has a little history. According to the superintendent, Briarleigh Hall was designed by a woman architect about 90 years ago. In an August 1929 classified newspaper section I found, this building advertised some fancy amenities: an elevator [1929!!]; Frigidaires; a roof garden; a gymnasium; and a ballroom. No rent prices were listed for this place, but other apartments advertised at $50 a month. Much has changed since then. The elevator remains, but none of the other amenities. The rent is not $50 a month, either!
On a final note, an interesting story coincides with my living in Bay Ridge. On May 1 of this year, on a final stretch of the Five Borough bike ride, I cycled through a cute little neighborhood shadowed by the Verrazano bridge. [See http://alchemyoftravel.blogspot.com/2011/05/take-five-boroughs-bridges.html] I asked my friend the name of the neighborhood but really did not think any more about it. Little did I know then that exactly three months later, the twinkling blue lights of that Verrazano bridge would be the last thing I saw as I drifted off to sleep! Life is funny that way, and for those types of synchronicity, I am most grateful!