Sunday, November 19, 2006

Forgotten-NY Goes to Bushwick

Our favorite New York City website,, has posted a fascinating item with tons of photos about the neighborhood around Myrtle and Knickerbocker Avenues in Brooklyn. Author Kevin Walsh relates that he had free time after his appearance on WNYC's Brian Lehrer, so he took the M Train to Bushwick. After correctly observing that the Chambers Street station under the Municipal Building appears to have last been cleaned "in the LaGuardia administration" (the grit and filth are astounding, even by New York standards), he offers superb photos and excellent insight into this part of Bushwick. A sample:
At 13 letters, "Knickerbocker" is the longest street name in Brooklyn (that consists of one word): sorry, Schermerhorn Street, you're a letter short. Though you don't see him around much anymore compared to, say, Uncle Sam, in previous decades the personification of New York City was "Father Knickerbocker," a representation of the city's original Dutch settlers, who wore a cotton wig, three-cornered hat, buckled shoes, and, of course, "knickered" pants. The pants rolled up just below the knee and remained in use as boyswear well into the 20th Century; on the golf course, they're known as "plus fours," with the late Payne Stewart one of the few latterday golfers maintaining the style. The New York Knicks' formal name is the Knickerbockers, with the name drawn from a hat soon after the club's founding in 1946.

But why does the street name turn up here? The answer may lie in the name of the next avenue to the northeast, Irving Avenue. A number of streets in the area evoke Washington Irving, the famed author of the early 19th Century, and a character in his 1809 spoof History of New York is named... Dietrich Knickerbocker. Bleecker Street, which also runs through Bushwick and Ridgewood, is likely named for an Irving crony, Anthony Bleecker, a wealthy merchant. The Dutch theme continues with sister avenues Wyckoff and St. Nicholas. Knickerbocker Avenue had attained its name, at least on maps, by 1855.
Don't forget Mr. Walsh's superb book, Forgotten New York: Views of a Lost Metropolis. The holidays are coming, after all.


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