Heights History: Wild in the Streets

New York Times

Inspired by the prospect of a return to 1970s economics last week,  we wrote about the Bad Old Days at 55 Pierrepont Street.  This week we get in the BHB Time Machine and look back to February 1, 1971 when “outsiders” were causing the crime rate in Brooklyn Heights to skyrocket.

Martin Gansberg wrote in the New York Times about a Town Meeting at the Hotel St. George presented by the Better Brooklyn Committee  for residents concerned about the increase in purse snatchings, muggings and drug addicts in the neighborhood.

The 84th Precinct’s Captain Robert Geary tried to explain the NYPD’s predicament by saying there was “no cure” for the crime wave. “It’s something like the problem a physician has,” he said. “He recognizes the symptoms and he can write a prescription that will help ease the pain, but a complete cure does not seem possible.”

The event drew such a large crowd of “artists, writers, lawyers and teachers” as well as “dowagers wearing fur coats and hats” that the meeting needed to be moved from a smaller second floor space to the hotel ballroom.  A 25-man American Legion band was on hand and played a march as attendees slowly shifted to the larger hall giving the event an old-time feel.

But it was far from the good old days for some. The Times quoted a “man on crutches” as saying, “There has been change in Brooklyn Heights.  Some of the brownstones are boarded up.  The hotels don’t do the business that they used to.  In fact, some of the hotels [The St. George, the Frankin Arms and the Margaret Hotel] are used to house welfare families.  Many of their children roam the streets at night.  Things are not what they used to be.”

Despite that statement most residents at the meeting pointed the finger of blame for the spike in crime at “outsiders” and not the welfare hotel residents.

Dr. Benjamin A. Rosenberg of the Better Brooklyn Committee urged residents to band together. “You can’t fight a problem by running away from it, ” he said. “You have to face up to it.”

The meeting ended with residents agreeing to meet further with law enforcement and to work on ways to curb crime.

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  • AEB

    Hard to imagine that BH–now so gentrified-circumspect, so leafy, hushed and decorous–has a scarlet past.

    But most of its past was, post the arrival of the ferry and subway, and thus of upper-class flight, at least partially louche and raucous, when not actually dangerous.

    Though a surprising amount of crime still occurs here, “squeaky clean” would, I think, accurately describe the nabe today.

  • http://www.myspace.com/billyreno Billy Reno

    We could still use the Guardian Angels back on the streets.

  • my2cents

    I’ll say it again. And you people are worried about an NYU dorm on Montague street?

  • http://deleted paul

    where on montague street is there going to be an nyu dorm?

  • http://deleted paul

    i was around since the late 60’s in the heights. the entire city was a lot more rangy. the heights was then a great neighborhood as it is now. it didn’t feel particularly unsafte to me then.
    one big difference between now and then is that it was a lot more heterogeneous then. there were lots of blue collar people, lots of civil servants, professors, writers, artists, and lots of wall street types. montague street had mostly mom and pop stores. i think armando’s is about the only establishment from that period still in business at the same location. personally, i really loved it back then. i still love it, but i’m saddened by the air of exclusivity now; a bit too homogenized.
    i guess that’s why g-d made (or re-made) fort greene, clinton hill, greenpoint, etc.

  • Teddy

    History tells us the past is often the future.

  • my2cents

    Paul, there was a big uproar on the blog a few months back when there was cause to think that the Bossert hotel would be rented to NYU or sold to them for use as a dorm. But that deal seems to have fallen through.
    Also, I am sorry to tell you that Armandos is gone now. It went out of business earlier this year. I wish the heights was more heterogeneous as you describe it. Oh well, we can’t have everything I guess.

  • matt

    to them, I’m sure outsiders == ‘black people’

  • Tim N.

    Wasn’t there a topless joint in the St George as well? Where Palmira’s was for a while?

    I always get to the party ten minutes too late. :>)

  • Andrew Porter

    How soon they forget. Tim, you’re remembering the Club Wylde Fyre, where you could get a venereal disease (or worse) with your drink.

    I remember when the Franklin Arms on Orange Street (now a respectable co-op) housed welfare recipients and was an SRO (Single Room Occupancy) hotel. One guy robbed a store, stole a bag of money, and police followed a trail of loose change down the Henry Street sidewalk, around the corner onto Orange, and then into the hotel. Nowadays, they’d follow a trail of Lehman Bros. stock certificates —worth less than the change.