Friday, March 30, 2012

Kickstart 'The Bushwick News' with the 'Boundaries of Change' Walking Tour

A 3-hour historic walking tour of Bushwick is being offered on Saturdays May 5 and May 12 by John Dereszewski, who was district manager of Bushwick's community board during the 1970s.

"Boundaries of Change" will include a history of the crooked boundary that separates Bushwick from Ridgewood (which apparently was a straight line until 1925 and cut right right through people's apartments). Stops on the tour will include an ancient ball park that hosted major league games in the 1880s, an old movie house, and the Onderdonk House, a Dutch farmhouse-turned-museum dating to around 1709.

The tour is being conducted as part of a Kickstarter campaign for a neighborhood news organization. Formerly known as the blog BushwickBk, the site is transforming itself into a legit news outlet to be known as The Bushwick News.

As they put it, "We're not just spewing snark from our dining room table anymore." They are hiring (as in actually paying) reporters and photographers to track down original, in-depth stories about Bushwick.

Through the kickstarter campaign they hope to raise $40,000. You can donate in various increments if you wish to support their noble pursuit, but a $40 donation will gain you admission to one of the walking tours in May.

They have until April 12 to reach their goal, so act now is you are interested. As of this posting, they have $14, 931 courtesy of 303 different donors.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Willie Sutton Documentary Screening on March 30

For those of you who enjoyed reading our post last month about Willie Sutton, the notorious Brooklyn-born bank robber who famously answered the question of why he robbed banks with the retort, "Because that's where the money is," you should know about a documentary screening next week.

"In the Footsteps of Willie Sutton," a 2011 documentary feature by Rich Gold, will be shown on Friday, March 30, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan (899 Tenth Ave., Room L2.84) at 11 a.m.

The screening is free and open to the public, but you must RSVP to

The screening will include a Q & A with Gold, and Donald Shea, the police officer who arrested Sutton in Brooklyn in 1952 (and who was recently featured in the New York Post for this accomplishment) may also be in attendance.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

BHS To Host Panel on Coney Island

On March 28, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host photographer Harvey Stein in a special discussion about his recent book, Coney Island: 40 Years, which documents the people, events and changing scene at Coney Island.

Stein will be joined by historian John Manbeck and Coney Island insider Lola Star, founder of the Save Coney Island Organization, to explore the role of Coney Island in shaping Brooklyn’s identity, using Stein’s photographs as the starting point for the conversation.

This event is part of BHS’s spring series, “Inventing Brooklyn,” which examines key people who have influenced Brooklyn and highlights cultural trends rooted in Brooklyn’s rich and diverse history. This event, at 7 p.m., is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On the Lecture Cicuit: The Battle of Brooklyn, 'Brooklyn Transformed', and the Eminent Irish of Green-Wood

The Brooklyn Historical Society's public historian Julie Golia will deliver a lecture titled "Farm, Suburb, City, Borough: Brooklyn Transformed" at the 92Y Tribeca Lecture Hall this Thursday, March 8, at noon. Learn how Brooklyn has invented and reinvented itself over the past 400 years and how Brooklyn’s story has shaped the history of New York City and the U.S. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased here.

The interdisciplinary gallery and reading room Proteus Gowanus has announced the first in a series of public installations, workshops and performances paying homage to the Battle of Brooklyn — the first and biggest battle of the Revolutionary War. "Battle Pass – Revolution I" will launch on Sunday, March 11, at 5:30 p.m. at Gridspace in Crown Heights (112 Rogers Ave.), which is right near Bedford Pass, where part of the Battle of Brooklyn took place. 

Green-Wood Cemetery is hosting an "Eminent Irish of Green-Wood" walking tour on Sunday, March 18, 1–3 p.m. Join Green-Wood Historic Fund guide Ruth Edebohls as she leads visitors to the resting places of notable Irish, including one-armed Civil War General Thomas Sweeney (who retired from the U.S. military but went on to lead the Fenian invasion of Canada); the widow and son of 18th century Irish Revolutionary Wolfe Tone; 19th century Irish Nationalist Patrick O’ Donohue; actress and mistress of the mighty Lola Montez (Eliza Gilbert); India Ink manufacturer and American patriot Charles Higgins; copper magnate Marcus Daly and many more. Tickets are $20, or $15 for members. See more at

Monday, March 5, 2012

Before it was the Capote House, It was the Van Sinderen House

70 Willow St.
It has been reported by the Brooklyn Eagle, the Daily News and other news outlets that the house at 70 Willow St. in Brooklyn Heights has sold for $12 million — the biggest price tag for a single-family home in Brooklyn history.

This house is often referred to as the Truman Capote house, because the author lived and worked there for a number of years. Capote even wrote about the house and his love for Brooklyn Heights in an essay called “A House on the Heights,” in which he  —  much to the gratification of all Brooklynites  — opened the essay by declaring "I live in Brooklyn. By choice."

As Capote is the author of revered works like In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's, its not surprising that his time in the house has defined the property somewhat. But Capote wasn't the owner of the house. He rented the basement apartment from owner Oliver Smith, who was himself a revered fellow in the art world.

Smith was touted as "one of the most prolific and imaginative designers in the history of American theater" by The New York Times. He designed the sets for such Broadway hits as "West Side Story," "Hello, Dolly!" and "My Fair Lady." He was also co-director of the American Ballet Theatre for decades.

Smith lovingly restored the circa-1839 mansion at 70 Willow, so maybe it should be called the Oliver Smith House.

But then, if you lived in the 19th century, you would have called it the Adrian Van Sinderen house, which is how it is still referred to in architectural guide books. Van Sinderen was one of the respectable Dutch folks that lived in early Brooklyn and had the grand house built. But the name Adrian Van Sinderen became associated with scandal later in the century, through no fault of the old man's.

Van Sinderen's son, also named Adrian Van Sinderen, was a lawyer practicing in Brooklyn and Manhattan. In 1867 he became executor of the estate of his late friend William Lawrence and for many years Lawrence's family received income from the estate as planned. In 1886, one of the heirs discovered some "irregularities" in Van Sinderen's accounting and applied to the court to have him removed as executor. It was soon discovered that the entire estate had been squandered and Van Sinderen was indicted for grand larceny. He promptly fled to Europe, leaving his family behind.

But the scandal doesn't end there! He had not been seen or heard from in a few years when in 1891 it was reported that he died — not in Europe, but in New Lots, here in Brooklyn, right under his victims' noses! BUT THEN, in 1893 the Eagle reported that Van Sinderen was indeed alive and living in disguise in Berlin. Alas there was no extradition treaty between Germany and the U.S., so not much could be done about it.

So much excitement, all tied in one way or another to the Adrian Van Sinderen-Oliver Smith-Truman Capote house.