Close-Up On: Sunset Park


Straddling southwest Brooklyn’s Gowanus Expressway, Sunset Park serves as a working-class bridge between old-school Bay Ridge and white-collar Park Slope. Home to a bustling Chinatown, a booming Mexican community, and a growing number of out-priced brownstone-seekers, this quintessential melting pot was originally settled by Irish immigrants escaping famine. Poles and Scandinavians followed, and were succeeded by Chinese and Puerto Ricans, with lesser numbers from Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Jordan, and Vietnam. Thus, you’ll catch glimpses of the odd kielbasa purveyor or halal butcher between omnipresent Spanish signage. In the summer, when many residents live out in the open, block parties, mariachi music, shaved ice, and pastel-hued cotton candy color the neighborhood.

Boundaries: Prospect Expressway to the north, 65th Street to the south, Upper New York Bay to the west, Eighth Avenue to the east

Main Drags: Fifth Avenue is the main business street. Eighth Avenue is home to the city’s “third Chinatown.”

Mass Transit: A 30-minute ride on the W or N train to 36th Street from Union Square; transfer to the R train one stop to 45th Street. Stay on the N until Eighth Avenue for Chinatown. A free 15-minute ferry runs Monday through Friday during rush hours between Whitehall terminal and the 58th Street Pier.

Average Rents: Prices vary wildly, with renovated spaces commanding higher rents. Studio $750, one-bedroom $850 to $1400, two-bedroom $1200 to $2000.

Average Price to Buy: Two-family homes start at around $300,000 and can reach $550,000 for pristine brownstones near Sunset Park.

Cultural Institutions: Housed in a former police station and stable, the Sunset Park School of Music, 4520 Fourth Avenue, offers instrument, vocal, and music-theory lessons for all ages and skill levels.

Landmarks: Built as a utopian resting place in 1838, 478-acre Green-Wood Cemetery, with its main entrance at 500 25th Street, is still a heavenly sight. Permanent residents include artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, composer Leonard Bernstein, birth-control crusader Margaret Sanger, dancer Lola Montez, and actress Mae West. The park from which the neighborhood takes its name—bounded by Fifth and Seventh avenues and 44th and 41st streets—is located on Brooklyn’s highest point, affording memorable Manhattan views. The Metropolitan Detention Center, 80 29th Street, housed a hunger-striking Reverend Al Sharpton last year, and recently has been the site of post-September protests against immigrant detainment. While modest row houses are typical, Sunset Park contains what is arguably the largest registered historic district in the state, between 17th and 64th streets, showcasing prime brownstones and limestones.

Community Organizations: The United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park provides educational programs, counseling, and involvement with community initiatives such as fighting proposed power plants.

Famous Residents: Closest thing to a neighborhood celebrity was Honeymooner Ralph Kramden, who was supposed to have lived in nearby Bensonhurst, but worked in Sunset Park. The MTA’s Fifth Avenue garage was renamed the Jackie Gleason Bus Depot in 1988.

Sietsema’s Picks: Ocean Palace, 5423 Eighth Avenue, is a dim sum flagship. Ba Xuyen, 6011 Seventh Avenue, boasts banh mi sandwiches and counters crammed with colorful pastries. Other Restaurants: An Dong, 5424 Eighth Avenue, battles Ba Xuyen for Vietnamese sandwich supremacy. Taquerías abound, with Ricos Tacos, 505 51st Street, and Tacos Matamoros, 4503 Fifth Avenue, just two key spots. Along Fifth Avenue, look for sidewalk vendors hawking grilled corn on the cob coated with mayonnaise, cheese, and cayenne pepper (it’s better than it sounds).

Bars: Traditional nightspots are nearly nonexistent. Perhaps the best-known club is the now notorious Wild Wild West at 3901 Second Avenue amid the smattering of “adult” businesses between the waterfront and the Gowanus Expressway.

Local Politicians: Councilman Angel Rodriguez, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, State Senator Martin Connor, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, all Democrats

Crime Stats: As of June 2, the 72nd Precinct, which also includes Windsor Terrace, reported three homicides, up from two last year; eight rapes, down from 13; 126 robberies, down from 173; 105 felony assaults, up from 96; and 181 burglaries, down from 214.