BY ALAN J. STEINBERG
Ask people what their favorite place is in America, and you will get many and varied answers. For some, the answer will be sites of natural beauty, such as the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. For others, the answer will be places of historic interest in Washington, D.C., such as the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the Washington Monument. For those who live for life’s excitement, the answer will be the dazzling skylines of Manhattan or Chicago.
You will get your most unusual answer from me: My favorite place in the United States of America is Brooklyn, New York, for its present, past, and future!
I lived in the Borough of Brooklyn for two years of my adult life, and I absolutely love and adore the place. As an Orthodox Jew, I can spend blissful hours on the streets of Boro Park, Crown Heights, and Midwood, stopping in kosher fast food eateries for a snack (in my case, usually a large one), or shopping in Judaica stores for the latest cantorial music album or Jewish history book.
Yet it is not only the Jewish neighborhoods that I love. Brooklyn has the best ethnic neighborhoods in America. While the suburbia in which I live has a sterile, assimilated American atmosphere, in Brooklyn you can still experience the joy of ethnically proud neighborhoods, including such diversified cultures as Caribbean, African-American, Italian, Polish, Russian, and many more. From Red Hook to Brighton Beach, a day trip through Brooklyn is an exhilarating magical experience that brings happiness to one’s heart.
And then, there are the aesthetic delights of Brooklyn: Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch at Grand Army Plaza, the Arch de Triomphe of Brooklyn. Then there are Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway, either of which qualifies as the Champs Elysees of Brooklyn.
It is impossible to fully appreciate Brooklyn, however, without knowing something about the ghost that exists in the borough at the corner of Bedford Avenue and Sullivan Place, the site of the late, lamented Ebbets Field. This was the fabled home ballpark of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the baseball team with the greatest fans in the history of professional sports.
In the 1950s, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the most profitable ball club in the National League. Every single home game was televised on the then WOR-TV Channel 9, pursuant to a most lucrative contract with the team. Still, the Dodgers drew over a million fans each year during that decade, even during their last season in the Borough of Kings, 1957. An attendance of over one million fans in a season was considered to be the yardstick of baseball prosperity in the 1950s.
It wasn’t just the number of fans the Dodgers drew that gave the Flatbush Faithful their well-deserved reputation as baseball’s best. It was their enthusiasm and absolute love of the team that was unforgettable. There were the special characters who went to Ebbets Field – Hilda Chester, the Dodgers Sym-Phony, and even comedian Phil Foster. The Dodgers gave Brooklyn its identity as a city of its own, as it once actually was in the 19th century.
Baseball is a business, however – often, a cruel one. Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Dodgers was concerned about the spectacular attendance of the then Milwaukee Braves who had moved from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953. The Braves were then drawing attendances of over 2,000,000 a year, although the Dodgers remained more profitable, due to their television contract.
O’Malley was worried, however, that the Braves would eventually earn more profits, maintain a better farm system, and sign better players. He believed that the Dodgers needed a new stadium. So he sought to have the land at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues condemned and turned over to him as the site for a new domed ballpark. He would build it himself, with his own funds. Irony: After the 1965 season, the Braves moved to Atlanta, after numerous years of declining attendance.
The Atlantic-Flatbush site was ideal for a new sports facility. It was the location of a subway station served by virtually every major New York City subway line and the Long Island Railroad as well. Dodger fans who had moved to Long Island could easily take the train to the game and not worry about parking problems, which they faced at Ebbets Field.
In order to condemn properties under eminent domain law, a public purpose was required. At that time, eminent domain power in New York City was held almost exclusively by Robert Moses, due to his position as chair of various authorities.
Moses did not believe that the need for a new major league ballpark constituted such a public purpose. Instead, he offered O’Malley city-owned land in Flushing Meadows, Queens in the same general location where later Shea Stadium and then Citi Field were built for the New York Mets. O’Malley refused, and he took his Dodgers across the nation to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
Los Angeles, California. What a contrast to Brooklyn. They don’t call Los Angeles and its most famous district, Hollywood, Tinseltown for nothing. The City of Angels is not really a city at all, but rather an amalgamation of suburban style areas into a municipality without character or vibrancy.