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A Brief History of Sunset Park

Sunset Park like the rest on New York is a never ending story of change and more change.

 

Sunset Park

History

Sunset Park lies between Bay Ridge and Gowanus, stretching from 15th Street to 65th Street from 9th Avenue to New York Harbor, Sunset Park is a demographically diverse neighborhood of approximately 150,000 people. Once known as South Brooklyn, and later considered part of Bay Ridge , Sunset Park was named in 1965 for the 25 acre park built in the 1890's which overlooks the neighborhood.  This beautiful park, located on the slope of Dead Man's Hill in Brooklyn gives this neighborhood its name. Along with playgrounds, a pool, basketball and handball courts, the western end of the park boasts a gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline.

Largely rural until the mid - 19th century, the area began to grow rapidly in the late 19th century with the establishment of the Brooklyn waterfront as a major port for maritime trade. Fueled by successive waves of immigration and a steady demand for labor to work in its factories, warehouses, and piers, Sunset Park quickly became a Mecca for all who sought work.

From the turn of the century through the 1960s ships from all countries sailed into New York
Harbor and lined up for berthing space at one of the many handsome finger piers that dotted Sunset Park's shoreline. To meet the cargo handling demands of these ships, thousands of longshoremen worked on the docks loading and unloading goods. Several more thousand men and women worked around the clock within the millions of square feet of manufacturing space in the area churning out the goods demanded by a growing U.S. population. On any given day each shift change was marked by hundreds of workers walking through the streets to and from their upland homes.

The development of the neighborhood was been closely linked with Bush Terminal, a complex of piers, warehouses and factory lofts, built by Irving Bush in 1890 and the Brooklyn Army Terminal built in 1919. In 1941 the Gowanus Expressway was built, connecting Sunset Park with surrounding parts of  New York City. The Gowanus effectively bisected the residential and industrial communities and separated the neighborhood from its waterfront. As a consequence, 3rd Avenue quickly lost its commercial appeal and 5th Avenue soon became the street of choice for shopping. Nowadays the Gowanus Expressway is a busy thoroughfare moving in excess of 75,000 trucks and cars through Sunset Park per day.

Brooklyn Army Terminal Designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1919 as a military ocean supply facility. During WWII as much as sixty three million tons of supplies and 80 % of the troops  sent overseas passed through it. Since 1984, the Terminal has been converted as space for small businesses. 

The Sunset Park neighborhood has gone through many ethnic changes and is a microcosm of many of the immigration waves that transformed the city of New York. Following the Irish in the mid 1800s, a Scandinavian community (mostly from Finland and Norway) was among the first ethnic groups to establish itself in Sunset Park starting in the late 1800s leaving an imprint which still persists today both in residents and institutions like the Lutheran Medical Center. The apartment house at 816 Forty-third Street, established by a finnish co-operative and opened in 1916, is supposedly the first co-operative dwelling established in New York City.

Around 1880, a Polish community took root near Third Avenue and 20th street. The Ansonia Clock factory employed many Polish men and many found work in the nearby Greenwood cemetery at fourth and 25th street. By 1890, a largely Catholic Polish community was established along Third Avenue in Sunset Park. Our Lady of Czestochowa was a center of worship in the community. Around the turn of the century, Italians moved into the neighborhood followed by Puerto Ricans after World War II and today Chinese and other Asians.

The history behind the development of the waterfront is inseparable from the human history of the waves of Dutch, Irish, Polish, Scandinavian, Italian, Latino, and Asian immigrants who have, at various times, made Sunset Park their home in order to benefit from and to advance the area's economic opportunities. Their energy and creativity have been one of the major driving forces behind Sunset Park's long and significant history of economic success leading to the development of its infrastructure, its transportation linkages, its historical role in maritime trade, and the incredible density and diversity of its industry. Nowadays, as in the. past, the area continues to hold much promise for individuals and entrepreneurs looking to create their future.

Brooklyn's Chinatown 

Since the 1980s the neighborhood has become home to a large Chinese population, as well as Latin American and Indian.

Some Notable Sites in the area;

Southwest Brooklyn Development Corporation and the development of two industrial centers at Bush Terminal (32nd to 41st Streets), formerly the site of visiting circuses and Wild West Shows, and the Brooklyn Army Terminal (58th to 63rd streets), which during World War II was the departure point for more than 80 percent of American supplies and troops.

Greenwood Cemetery Built by David Bates Douglass in 1838 as a rural retreat where visitors could contemplate death as a part of nature. Among those buried at Greenwood are William M. "Boss" Tweed, Samuel F. B. Morse, Margaret Sanger, Leonard Bernstein and Horace Greeley.

Notable Churches; Our Lady of Perpetual Help (5th Avenue and 59th Street) Brooklyn's largest Roman Catholic Church. St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church Notable for its egg-shaped domes atop a 200-foot tower.

Sources including.

Snyder-Grenier, Ellen M. Brooklyn! An Illustrated History

Philadelphia:Temple University Press, 1996.

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