Thanks to the wonders of the World Wide Web, we now have a better idea of what life was like in North Brooklyn seventy years ago. Hint: there were fewer hipsters. A website called 1940s New York has popped up which features scans from the recently unearthed New York City Market Analysis. And by recently unearthed we mean bought at a bookstore in 1997, or so the website states. Four major news publications – including The New York Times – commissioned the report in 1943. Almost seven decades later, someone at CUNY thought to put it online.
Greenpoint: In 1943, Brooklyn’s most northern neighborhood had a population of 53,994. 53,955 of those people were white. 4 black people lived in the neighborhood. Yes, you read those numbers correctly. Here’s another crazy number: rent for most families was under $30/month. Here’s how the Analysis described the neighborhood, which doesn’t sound far off from what it is today:
“Greenpoint is largely industrial. It contains a wide variety of plants, including foundries, machine works and chemical plants, along the waterfront and adjacent streets. Several warehouses and wholesale establishments are also to be found here. A densely crowded, low rent residential rea houses 53,994 people in old one and two-fmaily frame houses and in tenements. Manhattan and Greenpoint Avenues are the two principal retail business streets. There is a scattering of small neighborhood stores.”
On to Williamsburg, which had a much larger population of 179,764 people. 176,086 of these people were white (including Italian, Russian, and Jewish immigrants), 3,298 were black, and 380 were other races. As in Greenpoint, most families rented for under $30/month.
“Williamsburg is one of Brooklyn’s oldest sections and one of the most populous. For the most part it is filled with tenements, particularly in the northern area. Below the Plaza there is a somewhat better residential section. Broadway is the principal general business thoroughfare but fairly larage neighborhood trading centers have developed on Grand Street and Division, Bedford, Union, and Driggs Avenues. In the eastern section of Scholes Street, there is a tremendous Federal Housing project which has substituted clean modern apartment buildings for several blocks of bad tenements. The waterfront and the northern boundary are industrial.”
In case you’re wondering, the housing project mentioned there is the Williamsburg Houses, only seven years old at the time of the writing.
Finally, Bushwick had a population of 140,282 people, consisting of 136,843 whites (immigrants were Italian and German), 2,367 black people, and 72 of other races. Again, rent was under $30/month for most families.
“The Bushwick district is densely populated and, as a whole, is fairly uniform in appearance with three-story frame houses and many brownstone fronts. There are industrial plants all along the railroad in the north. The southeast portion has large trolley car and train yards. There are many retail stores throughout the district. Broadway is the main thoroughfare and is lined with retail outlets. Fulton Street, Wilson, and Knickerbocker Avenues also have retail stores. The entrance to the Interboro Parkway is located in Bushwick.”
There you have it. So would you set your DeLorean for 1943 and get it going to 88 miles per hour, or do you prefer the diverse, but expensive North Brooklyn of today? Either way, you can always take a swim in the McCarren Park Pool.