Close-Up on Bedford-Stuyvesant


Speak the words Bedford-Stuyvesant and you’re bound to inspire more than a few visions of drug dealers and danger. Others, less aware of the area’s darker past, hear Mos Def and Biggie Smalls, both of whom once called the area home. Lately, however, a growing number of real estate brokers and home hunters are giving “Bed-Stuy” a new fame: that of a final frontier—the last clutch of affordable brownstones in Brooklyn. In reality, though, the neighborhood still scores a good bit lower than post-Clinton Harlem, with its Starbucks and H&M. Take a walk into the heart of Bed-Stuy, away from the congestion of Fulton Street and the picturesque Heights town houses, and you’ll find the neglected isolation that once defined the entire neighborhood.

Once woodlands and farmland occupied by Native Americans, Bedford- Stuyvesant is the marriage of two neighborhoods; the former named after the Dutchman, Lord Bedford, who acquired it from the Canarsee Indians in 1663, and the latter coined in 1677 for the powerful former governor, Peter Stuyvesant.

Dutch families and African slaves made homes here until European immigrants and Jews began arriving in the 1850s. Southern blacks flocked after the Emancipation Proclamation, and the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 lured Manhattanites. But a neighborhood divide grew between the 1880s and 1920s; as wealthy families built mansions in Stuyvesant Heights, the working class watched transportation lines and apartment buildings develop in Bedford. By 1936, when the A train was completed, the population was a diverse mix of Europeans, blacks and Jews.

In the 1940s, Federal Housing Authority and Veterans Affairs programs worked to encourage whites to buy suburban homes, while refusing blacks. Riots in 1964 and looting and arson surrounding the 1977 blackout exacerbated neighborhood decay. Landlords abandoned buildings or lost them to the government—but residents learned government officials could be worse than slumlords.

Local organizations like the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC) and the Pratt Area Community Council continued fundraising and lobbying despite budget cuts during the Reagan administration. In the mid-’90s, government agencies began divesting properties, selling to local developers and city organizations the buildings they’d seized years before.

Today, government programs such as HomeWorks and StoreWorks encourage homeownership and regulate competition by reserving 50 percent of available properties for current residents. Long-awaited government support, such as the recent $795,000 grant to the BSRC, contributes to substantial if bland commercial development projects. The next addition to Restoration Plaza, already home to a sparkling Duane Reade and Foodtown, is suburban mainstay Applebee’s.

In the historic district, an army of construction workers operates on brownstones, but a mix of old and new remains. Savor this distinction—while a young artsy kid prepares espresso and smoothies at Solomon’s Porch, down the street they serve fried chicken and burgers behind a protective plastic shield.

caption: Meanwhile, down the block from the espresso bar . . .
photo: Russ Heller

Neighborhood Boundaries: Flushing Avenue on the north, Broadway and Saratoga Avenues on the east, Atlantic Avenue on the south, and Classon Avenue on the west.

Transportation: Trains: A; C; G; J; M; Z; LIRR. Buses: B15; B25; B26; B38; B43; B44; B48; B54.

Main Drags: Fulton Street, Nostrand Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and Marcus Garvey Boulevard.

Landmarks: The Stuyvesant Heights Historic Landmark District runs along MacDonough Street between Tompkins and Stuyvesant, and on Stuyvesant between MacDonough and Bainbridge. Other buildings include the Akwaaba Mansion Bed & Breakfast, and the Nazarene Congregational Church.

Average Price to Rent and Buy: Studios: $675 to $950; one-bedrooms: $900 to $1250; two-bedrooms: $1000 to $1400. Most brownstones require TLC. Two-family, three-story homes range from $450,000 to $625,000, and four-story homes range from $500,000 to $900,000.

Cultural Institutions: The Billie Holiday Theatre and the Skylight Gallery opened in the ’70s after then-senator Robert Kennedy and Jacob Javits created the BSRC. D. Lammie Hanson co-founded South of the Navy Yard Artists association (SONYA) in 1999 to show central Brooklyn artists they could succeed without a Chelsea opening.

Restaurants and Stores: Fulton Street is almost indistinguishable from other Brooklyn thoroughfares laden with bodegas and no-name stores. But behind the hole-in-the-wall storefront of Exotic Roti Wraps (1450 Fulton Avenue), where clerks sell roti, Cod fish cakes and plantains, you’ll find a patio that offers refuge from the bustle. If spicy Caribbean dishes and soul food aren’t your thing, Marcus Garvey Boulevard’s Food 4 Thought offers tamer dishes and vegetarian fare. They also host occasional poetry readings and local bands. On Lewis Avenue, Bread Stuy, with its croissants, fancy coffee beans and free WiFi, caters to young professionals and new arrivals to the quaint Historic District. Brownstone Books opened in the historic district in July 2000, paving the way for other boutiques. Nubian Heritage, a local boutique chain, sells their own skin care products, books, and African artifacts including silkscreen wall hangings and wood statues (1331 Fulton Street, 718.398.4288)

Local Politicians: Congressman Edolphus Towns, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, State Senator Carl Andrews, Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, Assemblyman Roger L. Green, City Councilman Albert Vann, and City Councilwoman Tracy Boyland, all Democrats.

Crime: The neighborhood is divided between the 79th and 81st precincts. The 79th recorded six murders and 12 rapes during the first three months of the year. Robbery, assault and grand larceny auto all decreased, but burglary incidents increased 44 percent to 104, and grand larceny rose 24 percent to 97. The 81st, which includes Stuyvesant Heights, recorded only one murder and five rapes during the first three months of the year. Grand larceny, burglaries, and assaults dropped, while grand larceny auto and robberies increased.