Mysteries of Brooklyn: The Hidden Grotto

October 13, 2006

Dere’s no guy livin’ dat knows Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo, because it’d take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun’ duh f_____ town.
— Thomas Wolfe, Only the Dead Know Brooklyn, 1935

At the mouth of the alley near the corner of 43rd Street and 8th Avenue, between the bar and the plumbing supply store, stands a tall iron gate. Affixed to the front are two signs: the white one says that a garage is available for rent; the yellow sign proclaims in English and Chinese that behind this gate is a private driveway; violaters will be tow and ticket [sic].

Peeking past the iron bars of gate, beyond the partially-disassembled cars and the tools strewn about the ground, a passer-by can glimpse something that seems out of place — a flash of color out of keeping with this dirty, gray, shadowed space.

If the workmen are in a good mood they’ll allow you to pick your way through the mazes of tires, wrenches and hoses until you reach the back wall. There you will find a grotto roughly hewn from wood, plaster and pieces of broken stone. The person who built this wasn’t a skilled craftsman, didn’t know how to use a lathe or a level, didn’t know how to move the electrical outlets that were already laid onto the surface.

But at some point, an unknown person, for unknown reasons, felt compelled to build this grotto in this very spot. Driven by passion or madness, he or she carefully built a series of niches, firmly fixed statues of saints inside them and painted the entire creation.

Today, the men who labor here know nothing of the hidden grotto, its creator or its meaning. The plaster is crumbling. The paint flakes from the wood. St. Gabriel’s wing is broken; St. Joseph’s robe is chipped; Mary’s blue mantle is marked with patches of gray. But still they stand here, long forgotten, silently keeping watch over the workers and cars. Just another of Brooklyn’s many mysteries.

The hidden grotto Posted by Picasa

Madonna with electrical outlet Posted by Picasa

They call it “Blooklyn”

October 13, 2006

You say you’ve been to Chinatown in New York? Which Chinatown?

The fact is, New York City now has three separate Chinatowns. The oldest is in Manhattan. The largest is in Queens. And the smallest and newest is right here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Brooklyn’s Chinatown is centered on 8th Avenue between 50th and 60th Streets. It is commonly believed that the Chinese moved here because they consider the number eight fortuitous for business and “8th Avenue” can be interpreted as “the road to wealth.”


But a more plausible explanation is that those seeking to escape from Chinatown Manhattan’s crowded, twisting alleys, noisy factories and overflowing tenements appreciated Sunset Park’s clean, grassy recreation areas, the relatively wide streets, an abundance of retail space and a direct subway connection to friends and jobs in the old Chinatown.

As with the other Chinatowns, many of the most visible businesses here are focused on food – preparing it, serving it, selling it. The curbs are lined with baskets of skittering crabs, tubs of fat, bobbing bullfrogs and Styrofoam coolers of flopping, freshly-caught fish. Vendors stand in tiny pushcarts, transforming thick, eggy batter into hot, puffy cakes ($1 a bagfull) and transforming skewers of marinated meat into hot, sizzling satay ($1 each). Bakeries fill the air with the scents of fresh-browned chestnut bread, lotus cakes, cinnamon crisps and pork buns.

In terms of charm and quaintness, Chinatown Brooklyn comes in dead last, which means that it is almost completely free of hulking tour buses, pushy sightseers and cheap, tacky souvenirs. If you go, instead of t-shirt shops and Starbucks, you’ll see hundreds of businesses that cater to the residents’ daily needs: insurance agencies, banks, bakeries, pharmacies, acupuncture clinics, hairdressers, tutoring services, cell phone centers, internet cafes, restaurant uniform and supply stores and florists.

Want to know which shops have just opened? Look near the doorway for an array of green plants festooned with red ribbons, traditionally thought to bring luck to a new enterprise.

Church notice board Posted by Picasa

Egg cake cart Posted by Picasa

Fa Da Mall Posted by Picasa

Moms doing errands Posted by Picasa

Price list in beauty salon Posted by Picasa

Funny dry cleaning shop Posted by Picasa

Optician’s shop Posted by Picasa

Sign in deli window Posted by Picasa

Dried fruit displayed outside shop Posted by Picasa

Banks at the corner of 55th & 8th Posted by Picasa

Fresh caught and for sale curbside Posted by Picasa

New Dawang Seafood Market Posted by Picasa

Hong Kong Supermarket Posted by Picasa

  • Village Voice: The Other, Other Chinatown
  • Asia’zine: Brooklyn’s Chinatown
  • Chinatown NYC: Brooklyn
  • Prosper with 8 88 888 88888

  • A Place to Watch the Sun Set

    October 13, 2006

    Sunset Park, one of the highest points in Brooklyn, stands at the corner of 43rd St. and 5th Ave. An essential resource for this crowded, working-class community, the hilly, tree-filled park boasts an art deco recreation center for indoor activities, an outdoor swimming pool (now closed for the season), handball and basketball courts, a baseball diamond and rows of game tables that are usually occupied by older people playing chess, mah-johng, checkers and go. A section known as the Rainbow Playground includes swings, slides, jungle gyms, fountains and other play equipment.

    Climb to the top of the bluff and you’ll see the park’s most notable feature – its sweeping views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, the East River, New York Bay, Staten Island and New Jersey. The vista once included a magnificent view the World Trade Center; when the towers were destroyed, residents gathered here to honor and remember the dead. Now this scenic area is the site of the city’s first Living Memorial Grove, a few dozen young trees protected with wire cages and surrounded by thousands of daffodils planted by local schoolchildren.

    There wasn’t time to do it today, but this is the perfect place to settle comfortably on a wooden bench, kick off your shoes and watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon.

    Boy on a swing Posted by Picasa

    Girl hanging from monkey bars Posted by Picasa

    Boy in yellow on a swing Posted by Picasa

    Boys on the playground Posted by Picasa

    Ceiling in Recreation Center Posted by Picasa

    Terra cotta tiles on Recreation Center floor Posted by Picasa

    Fountain in Rainbow Playground Posted by Picasa

    Rear of fountain in Rainbow Playground Posted by Picasa

    View from the top of the hill Posted by Picasa

    Men photographing the Memorial Grove Posted by Picasa

    Looking towards New York Bay Posted by Picasa

    Benches facing west Posted by Picasa

  • NYC Dept Parks & Recreation: Sunset Park
  • NYC Dept Parks & Recreation: Rainbow Playground
  • NYC Dept Parks & Recreation: Sept 11th Living Memorial
  • NYC Dept Parks & Recreation: City’s 1st Memorial Grove

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