Mr. Junkersfeld looks at the evolution of Columbia Heights in his latest video. Karl comments:
This film is primarily interested in showing the viewer the wonderful houses/buildings that line a street that some may say has the most expensive real estate properties in Brooklyn. Columbia Heights is unique due to its historic housing stock, mostly dated in the 1840’s, and its spectacular views of the island of Manhattan via a promenade whose genesis is part of the story depicted in this film. Robert Moses plays an integral role in the story of Columbia Heights and Brooklyn Heights in general. What could have been, absent community involvement, is explored in the film using, as an example, of our neighbors to the south.
I found this perfect quote from an article by Mr. Liff in Newsday that aptly reflects the times back then:
“Moses could have run it down Van Brunt Street by the water, But he didn’t, “ Camille Sacco said of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Instead, Moses shoved it through Hicks Street and bisected Sacco’s Red Hook neighborhood, in connecting the Brooklyn Bridge with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. The story was different in nearby Brooklyn Heights, whose more affluent residents were able to win design concessions from Moses that the poorer, mostly Italian immigrant Red Hook residents could not.”
Given the panoramic view from the Promenade, it seems like an obvious compromise. Having the highway on the waterfront in Southern Brooklyn also appears to be logical but was rejected based on, what Moses claimed, was National Security. The arterial system in NYC was considered our first line of defense in a world that, at the time, was probably panicked after just completing a World War that devastated the world community. Remember, at this time, the Brooklyn waterfront was integral to the homeland defense with the Brooklyn Navy Yard just north of Southern Brooklyn. What role this played is anyone’s guess. Are highways more vulnerable closer to the waters edge? Also remember Moses’s mission of clearing “urban blight” known to some as “slum clearance. We, in Brooklyn Heights, experienced that first hand with respect to Cadman Plaza.
“Brooklyn Heights remained intact, as the expressway was moved four blocks to the west and redesigned into a bluff-hugging, double-level roadway topped by the promenade and its magnificent Manhattan panorama. Red Hook got a below ground, open cut highway that still pours pollution into neighborhood streets.”
“They got the promenade and we got the shaft, “said Red Hook activist Celia Cacace.”
The story of Columbia Heights is a story of exquisitely preserved architecture, intrusive governmental action , citizen resistance, money and privilege, poverty and powerlessness, religion and Jehovah Witnesses, and finally interesting individual stories with respect to some of the parcels of land on this wonderful street called Columbia Heights.