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I RETURNED to Brooklyn recently after a long absence, and took my wife to see the last Norwegian restaurant in Bay Ridge. I say "Bay Ridge" deliberately, aware that not everyone familiar with present-day Brooklyn will have in mind the same place. The piece of Brooklyn I am referring to -- which rises in a steep pile of tenements and high-stoop terrace houses behind the abandoned docks of the Bush Terminal, the Department of Sanitation pier and the old US Army embarkation port, and is more or less congruent with the 68th Precinct of the New York City Police Department -- is now usually called Sunset Park. It came to be called this by city planners and social workers, real estate agents and neighbourhood improvement societies. It was never called Sunset Park, however, when I grew up here in the '40s and '50s. Sunset Park meant the park itself, which stretches from Fifth Avenue to Seventh Avenue for a few blocks below 45th Street, commanding a magnificent view of the New York inner harbour from an eminence, with a promenade and lookout, at Sixth Avenue. A tiled swimming pool complex with art-deco brick bathhouse sprawled vastly toward the Seventh Avenue end, and the park was surrounded on all sides by a thick masonry retaining wall and avenues of plane trees, the whole built with funds from the Works Progress Administration of Franklin Roosevelt. The high glacial ridge overlooking the harbour from which Bay Ridge derived its name rises just south of Greenwood Cemetery, climbs steeply to its highest point at Sunset Park and declines gently toward Leif Erikson Square. It was the scene of a famous retreat of General Washington in the battle of Long Island in the Revolutionary War. We learned such recherche and perhaps not wholly reliable facts in P.S. 94, which itself sits on the spine of this ridge at 49th Street and Sixth Avenue. So high was this that from Miss Spellman's sixth grade class on the fourth floor, a day-dreaming boy could look out over the roofs below to the Statue of Liberty and pick out the Woolworth Building and watch the Whitehall ferry breasting whitecaps on its way to Staten Island. There is no such ridge in what is now called Bay Ridge, which we called Shore Road, or Fort Hamilton, and sometimes conceived of as a sort of outer, or suburban, part of Bay Ridge, a colony really, separated from us by the great gash made by the BMT and the Long Island Railroad cuttings, and by an interesting no-man's land of giant gas storage tanks, derelict stables in which winos dossed down, and the wind-blown desolation that served on Saturdays as the Gjoa soccer club's playing field. Anyway, the pseudo-Bay Ridge that lay beyond had no character and was where people moved when they got above themselves and needed driveways to wash their cars in.

Arts & Entertainment
June 22
Queen's Quarterly

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