Walking Tours: Bushwick
Bushwick -- Beer Capital of the Northeast! Not too long ago, that was an appropriate moniker for one of Brooklyn's oldest neighborhoods. With its large German population, the working-class neighborhood of Bushwick was home to several breweries that provided jobs and a strong economy for the community. But Bushwick's storied history began before the beer Barons settled there.
Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, along with Ridgewood in Queens were all part of land owned by the Canarsie Native Americans in the early 1600s. Dutch settlers purchased the tract of land from the Native Americans in 1638 and chartered the area as a town in 1660. Under the charter, the area was named "Boswijck," which means "Town in the Woods." Boswijck merged with four other towns in 1834 to form the City of Brooklyn. Sixty years later, Brooklyn became part of Greater New York.
Before breweries came to Bushwick, it was a farming community where Dutch settlers grew tobacco for the local market. Later, farmers of Scandinavian, French and English descent moved to the area. Bushwick remained a farming community through the 18th century. Hessian mercenaries settled in Bushwick following the 1776 Battle of Long Island, and began a long tradition of German influence in the neighborhood.
By the mid 19th century, the community of Bushwick began making the transition from a farming community to a commercial and industrial community. The implementation of a new gravity-fed water system in 1859 provided Brooklyn with drinking water from Long Island lakes. With its low mineral content, the water was ideal for brewing. Within 30 years, 14 breweries had opened in a 14-block area in Bushwick. The community was becoming a center for American brewing. The success of the breweries also led to the construction of several mansions along Bushwick Avenue, which served as homes for the neighborhood's industrial magnates.
In addition to its stately mansions, Bushwick was home to many architecturally magnificent churches, including St. Mark's Lutheran Church (built in 1892), the South Bushwick Reformed Church (constructed in 1853) and Saint Barbara's Roman Catholic Church (erected in 1910) -- each a testament to the large German population, and the influx of immigrants form Russia, Italy, Ireland and Poland.
At the turn of the 19th century, Bushwick continued to grow as elevated trains and electric streetcars connected it to other parts of the City. A number of playhouses popped up in the area, including the Amphion Theatre, which seated 2,000 patrons. The Amphion was the first theatre in the nation with electric lights. The arrival of Prohibition in 1920 threatened to devastate Bushwick's economy, which was heavily dependent upon the brewing industry. The community survived, though, because the breweries switched to producing "cereal beer," which was legal during Prohibition because of its lower alcohol content. When Prohibition ended in 1933, 12 breweries remained in Bushwick.
The community continued to change as the end of World War I approached. Italian immigrants began to move into the area, unseating the Germans as the largest immigrant group. By 1950, Bushwick was one of Brooklyn's largest Italian-American neighborhoods. Later, large groups of Puerto Ricans and African-Americans moved into the area as Italian-Americans left the community for other parts of the area. Following World War II, large brewing companies began to consolidate plants, closing regional breweries and opening larger "superbreweries." That led to the closing of several Bushwick breweries. By 1965, the area was beginning to decline, spurred on by the closing of other manufacturing businesses. The housing stock in Bushwick began to show signs of deterioration, and by the end of 1976, the last remaining breweries closed. Beer making in Bushwick was no more.
In the years that followed, Bushwick was devastated by a blackout that forced one third of the businesses to close, fires and property abandonment that resulted in a loss of 20 percent of the housing stock and a population decline as residents moved to other communities. By 1980, Bushwick was a shell of the model community it once was. Today, due in large part to the efforts of the city, state and federal government, as well as private and non-profit organizations, Bushwick is rebuilding.
Take a look around Bushwick and see all the change that is happening. The first stop on our neighborhood tour is the Buena Vida Nursing Home, located at 48 Cedar Street on the corner of Evergreen Avenue, and built on city-owned land (A ). Like many New York City neighborhoods, Bushwick has a growing population of senior citizens. To meet the community's health and housing needs, the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council worked with the city, state and federal government to bring an eight-story, 240-bed facility to the community. The newly-constructed Buena Vida (Spanish for "good life") Nursing Home opened in March 2001. Walk east on Cedar Street to see eight two-family homes -- 55-67 Cedar Street -- built as part of the Partnership New Homes program (B ), an initiative of the NewYork City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the New YorkCity Housing Partnership. The brick homes, affordable to families whose annual income is between $32,000 and $75,000, feature a three-bedroom owner's unit with a full basement and fenced backyard, and a one-bedroom rental unit. A total of 149 two-family homes built as part of that program are scattered along the tour route. Continue walking east along Cedar Street until it runs into Central Avenue,which is dotted with additional Partnership homes. Turn south onto Himrod Street, where you will see low-income housing for seniors at 143 Himrod Street. The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council obtained funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Section 202 program (C ) to construct the 60-unit building. The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council owns and manages the building. Adjacent to the senior housing is 140 Himrod Street, a part of the New York City Housing Authority's (NYCHA) Hope Gardens development which is located on a number of blocks throughout Bushwick. Most of Hope Gardens is comprised on three-story townhouse-like structures. More than 1,000 units of NYCHA housing were built in several phases in the early 1980s as part of an Urban Renewal plan designed to redevelop the most devastated areas of Bushwick. Continue walking east along Himrod Street. Turn south onto Wilson Avenue and west onto Harman Street, where you will see two multi-family buildings that front both sides of Harman Street. These 42-unit low-income rental developments at 160 and 173 Harman Street were completed in March 1995 under the Permanent Housing for Homeless Families Program, also known as the City/State "85/85" Program (D ). The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council sponsored the project. Walk west on Harman Street and turn north onto Central Avenue. Head west on Himrod Street to multi-family buildings at 87, 89, and 91 Himrod Street rehabilitated through the Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program (NEP) (E ). The program enables neighborhood-based property managers to own and manage clusters of occupied and vacant City-owned buildings. Entrepreneurs apply to participate in the program through a Request for Qualifications (RFQ). Entrepreneurs are partnered with local not-for-profit groups that assist with building stabilization and provide tenant support and training. HPD capital funds, federal HOME funds,and bank financing provide for the renovation of the building, while proceeds from the sale of Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits provide for the operating and social service needs of the buildings and keep rents affordable for existing tenants.