Georgetown, Brooklyn: a tranquil slice of suburbia

A few things stand out immediately upon your entrance to Georgetown. It’s quiet; all of the buildings are fairly new; the architecture on the same side of any street is consistent. But what’s most striking is that the place is tailor-made for a car-centric lifestyle.

Detail of the MTA’s bus map. © 2012 Metropolitan Transit Authority.

And why wouldn’t it be? Only four buses serve the area, which came into being during the 1960s and 1970s, when the Robert Moses-led worship of the private automobile was still in full swing. In my part of town, owning a car is a nuisance at best, so I was jarred by the prevalence of private parking. It seemed like every home had space for at least two cars.

I bet these guys could host a mean four-square tournament.

Once that culture-shock was out of the way, I enjoyed the neighborhood’s peaceful atmosphere as I walked its streets. The only sounds I recall were the occasional barking of a dog and the voices of children playing at P.S. 312 (E 71 St and Avenue T). The traffic was almost non-existent. It must be nice living here, I thought.

(This was when I realized one of the possible flaws of my timing: I purposely plan my trips for weekday afternoons in order to avoid tourists. For Fulton Ferry, this worked wonderfully, but Georgetown is not a tourist destination. Maybe I’d get a better sense of what life is like there were I to visit on a weekend or in the evening.)

There’s very little notable about Georgetown’s houses. Each block has a single style, although it appears owners are given some latitude for individual touches: a bay window here, a different type of lattice-work there. Some styles made me feel like I was in Florida; others, in Ocean City, New Jersey.

Of course, with the suburban luxury of private parking comes the suburban eyesore of the strip-mall. In fact, the B41 terminus (left below) is in front of one. The major strip-mall is Georgetown Shopping Mall (right); it is on Ralph Av between Avenues K & L, and has over 20 stores, including Waldbaum’s, GNC, RadioShack, and Party City. A freestanding IHOP is nearby.

The talk of the neighborhood was the evening’s $640 million MegaMillions drawing. Strategies varied: One gentleman had also bought tickets in Queens and Staten Island. Another did a 50/50 mix of manual selections and QuickPlay. A third spent $2 at each place in Georgetown he saw. (Ok, that last one was mine. I spent $4 in all. But I won $3 back!)

Getting ready for an evening onslaught.

Advertising for this jackpot enticed me to enter Sand Dollar Liquors, where I engaged the owner’s wife, Amy. Amy is a very friendly woman who has lived in the area all her life – she insisted I take a picture of her from when she was 40 – except for a few nomadic years in her twenties. She told me the area now has a good mix: Italians for sure, with growing Carib and Hasidic communities in the north and south.

Our discussion turned unexpectedly to the Trayvon Martin tragedy, and her passionate opinion on the matter had the two black women at the register nodding in agreement. It wasn’t until then that the scope of this incident hit me – I mean, I knew that people across the country and the world were angry about this, but my conversations had been limited to my friends. Here was a stranger, in a completely different part of town, saying the very same things I or any of my friends might have said. It was a very eye-opening moment.

Across Avenue L from the Georgetown Shopping Mall is the Georgetowne Greens development – what was built of it, anyway. Here’s a good example of a prototype:

Notice how there are no trees on this street – a strange sight for Brooklyn.

I didn’t see many “local” places at which I could grab lunch; although the China Star Buffet in the strip-mall was certainly tempting, I ended up at Original Pizza a few blocks south. The guy behind the counter recommended without hesitation the Supreme slice (tomatoes, mozzarella, parmesan, basil) and the white slice (mozzarella, ricotta). The Supreme slice was pretty good, but the white slice was divine. This might sound weird, but do you remember the first time you bit into a Krispy Kreme donut? My instant reaction was exactly the same: same delicious taste, same satisfying texture. (The mozzarella kicked in after a second or two to remind me that I was eating pizza, not pastry.) The crust was also perfectly done – not as burnt as Grimaldi’s.

I’m getting dangerously close to “food-blog” territory.

I had yet to find out anything on Harborville [ETA: it’s actually called Harbour Village], that ill-fated project proposed by Mayor Lindsay in the late 1960s. A 2003 New York Post article suggested the name of the development might be Harbor Village; this was confirmed by a subsequent search of the Times archives, which yielded a 1972 article on the defeat of the previously approved plan. This was still not very much to go on, but as chance would have it, I walked by the office of Councilman Lew Fidler, who represents Georgetown, among other neighborhoods.

Councilman Fidler’s counsel, Brad, was kind enough to entertain my questions on the area. He told me that the Harbor Village name had been recycled for a ten-year-old gated community at Avenue T and Bergen Av. The spot had previously been used as a dumping-ground, so several environmental concessions had to be secured from the developers, such as the replacement of all of the existing, polluted soil with new soil. (Fun fact: One of the letters we read, from 2002, was addressed to Congressman Anthony Weiner and State Senator Carl Kruger. Both former representatives of the area, they’re both now personae non gratae in the political world.) [ETA, July 2013: ha!]

Brad confirmed Amy’s assessment of the area’s complexion, explaining that the Carib-rich area of Canarsie to the east (on the other side of Paerdegat Basin) has in the last few years expanded around the Basin to the north end of Georgetown. He was unsurprised that I had seen Cyrillic characters on a display-board in the southern end, as the eastern-European population of Sheepshead Bay has also been growing.

These signs aren’t just for Halal carts and gourmet delis.

Brad also explained the construction I had seen between Bergen Av and Paerdegat Basin north of Avenue T: it will be an environmental park with hiking trails. They’re also installing a combined sewer overflow (CSO) facility at the northwest end of the Basin to deal with sewage run-off that occurs during heavy rains. This problem has led to the waterway’s pollution – not a good thing for a “forever wild” spot.

The vessel is likely affiliated with the Bergen Beach Yacht Club, based in Paerdegat Basin. I guess the water isn’t off-limits after all.

With my work done, I hopped on the B41 for the hour-long ride home. An excited crowd of middle-schoolers from Roy H Mann Junior High hopped on a few stops after I did. Most of them got off at Brooklyn College, ostensibly to catch the 2 or 5 trains, which have their terminus there. I amused myself by watching the dollar-vans jockeying for position along Flatbush Avenue.

I recommend riding the full length of the B41 for a taste of the variety of Brooklyn. Riding north along the Veterans Avenue branch (the other ends at Kings Plaza), you start in the suburban landscape of Bergen Beach, through the pawn shop-heavy Flatlands, past the beauty of Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, along the gentrified Park Slope/Prospect Heights and Atlantic Yards, finishing in historic, bustling Downtown Brooklyn.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll take a dollar-van to one of my destinations …

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4 Responses to Georgetown, Brooklyn: a tranquil slice of suburbia

  1. chickenunderwear says:

    Original Pizza is on the same block as my brother in law and my mother used to work at Roy Mann.

    Letme know when you are ready to go to Sheepshead Bay I will keep you safe. I still know some people.

  2. len says:

    a few decades ago, the georgetown mall was very different. there was a jewish population in this area and one of the best kosher delis and restaurants was located in this mall. It was called George and Sid(or sid and george) It was the best kosher deli in brooklyn,for many years,though that is debatable. sandwiches were humongous and prices were affordable. you didn’t need a bank loan for a tongue sandwich. It was a large place,with many tables and many happy customers. families flocked here. you could see 2-3 generations at one long table.
    this was brooklyn at its best- families were together, the children(adult) and the grandchildren were treated to a wonderful hot dinner by the eldest generation. this was the custom. the patriarch picked up the check. occasions and holidays were celebrated here.people were looking,listening,talking to EACH OTHER. there were no cell phones and nobody was rude,impolite or insulting to anyone.

    there was a Loews movie theatre near the kosher deli. and a terrific chinese restaurant across Ralph ave,near the mall. Coffee shops were common and an IHOP would have been ignored. Brooklyn lived by family run italian restaurants, kosher delis, coffee shops and diners(glorified coffee shops). all this has vanished and now its pizza.starbucks,dunkin donuts(gross) and junk food. the seniors are gone or left behind,and the young families have moved away.

    New populations have come.but they are not fully integrated into american culture. many cling to their own traditions and don’t want to be assimilateed.
    Only Waldbaums remains as a mostly jewish and italian supermarket.maybe the georgetown Waldbaums can unite newer groups to the ways of brooklyn.

  3. I moved to Georgetown in 1969. The shopping center wasn’t finished yet. The streets of private homes were being built up. The I Hop was well attended as there was very little yet in the way of restaurants. Gil Hodges Bowling on Ralph and East 66th Street was a popular hangout. Slowly the area expanded. In those days there was a large Jewish population. We had not one but two Kosher butchers, one in the shopping center and one across the street. The synagogue was on the corner there, as well. Two Kosher delis. Sid and George and another two blocks down. I worked at Pergament, a popular home improvement store across from my house. In the midst of a crazy city, Georgetown had a countrified feel. Then in the 1970′s when Kings Plaza Mall opened on Flatbush Avenue, the area exploded. Our reasonably quiet neighborhood became upscale desirable real estate, and everything changed. Within a few years Ralph and Flatlands Avenue traffic started to become overbearing and dangerous. Too many strangers started coming into the area. Crime increased. The ethnic make up was evolving. By the 1980′s Georgetown and nearby Canarsie bore little resemblance to the neighborhood I loved. I moved to Starrett City, a gigantic almost self contained highrise community a few miles away on Pennsylvania Avenue, at the end of Canarsie. By 1988, I’d had enough. I moved to Florida.

    • JBaron says:

      My parents bought a house on E. 72 nd/ Ave. L. It was 1967, and yes, the Georgetown shopping center was so new, you could smell the freshness in the air, as you passed the not yet open stores. I was only 5 at the time, but I remember the IHOP looking like a Swiss ski chalet inside. It had vaulted ceilings with long brass lamps extending down from them. It was an event to go inside, and eat the most delicious pancakes ever. I’m still a fan of their strawberry syrup…
      That WAS a glorious time, before things changed.
      Sid and George, Jade Wah Chinese food…Yum..Too bad,you can’t freeze time….
      My mother even took us to the Seaview pool and yacht club which was such a glorious time, that I feel bad that some will never know what they missed.
      The early Kings Plaza was great, and Shatzkins knishes were so delicious, that we went to the mall just to buy them without any other shopping involved. The mall now, sadly is a haven for thugs who don’t enjoy the privilege of having a mall.
      Brooklyn has become very bad, all due to people with no respect for their neighbor, let alone themselves.
      I remember too how peaceful, and beautiful it was. I was fortunate enough to attend P.S. 312 when it first opened, and to this day, I can remember how wonderful it was inside and out. I wish I could experience it one more time, and take that walk home to my house on 72nd Street, to watch 70′s game shows with my Mom, while we were doing chores, or cooking. Thank you Mom and Dad, it was a delight to experience such a wonderful era, free of cell phones, and social networks. The neighborhoods are not was they once were, and that breaks my heart. I would pay any amount of money to go to Gil Hodges, Joy Teang, Poppy’s bakery, and my beloved Woolworth’s. I Love and miss you, old Brooklyn, and if I ever get the keys to that time machine, I’m coming back, at least for one more road trip upstate, to South Fallsburg, and the ever lovable Red Apple Rest…and then all the home to Brooklyn, “The garden spot of the world”, I heard Art Carney say that on the “Honeymooners”… God bless you Norton.

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