Park Slope

When my first baby girl was born we were living the life on West 76th Street just off Central Park. Alas, the apartment was too small, and we moved to the suburbs of New Jersey. But, with three hours of commuting every work day, that was not a sustainable situation.

We loved city living and chose to move back to the historic Park Slope section in Brooklyn, New York. It was an easy subway ride to my midtown Manhattan office, the rental rates were affordable, and it was a beautiful historic Victorian neighborhood, just beginning a large scale revival when we arrived in the early 1970s. Lots of trees, cooler than Manhattan in the summer, and a nice relaxed quiet neighborhood vibe.

I vividly remember getting very specific instructions from the renter on what subway to take and the exact route to follow to find myself at his row house to view the apartment. After moving in we discovered that just a half block in the other direction from the route I took when I first came to the neighborhood was a street that had I landed there first I would never have leased the unit. More on that in a moment.

The one place that has been there since day one on that infamous avenue is Cafe El Viejo Yayo, "Casa De La Famosa Bistek." Back in the day the proprietor Don Yayo, a dignified man, presided proudly and watchfully over his wonderful restaurant. Mondongo to die for. Tall glasses of Agua de piña, made with fresh pinapple. Cafe con leche, keep them coming. Today it has been expanded considerably, but the tasty menu with excellent quality and friendly service is still worth a trip to Brooklyn.

Park Slope in the early 1970s was a revival neighborhood with many beautiful historic row houses and brownstones, a large percentage neglected and in disrepair.

It was a time when many homes had been converted to boarding houses. I remember getting a call from an excited real estate agent on a Sunday morning to come a see a "great find". In each room there was a single occupant. We opened one door to be greeted by an old gent who kept a mason jar at bedside for a overnight toilet. The doors to each room had several lock cylinders drilled in. A jewel to be unearthed, or just a dump. "But look at those marble fireplaces!" exclaimed the salesman. I explained emphatically that we weren't looking for historical details at the price of countless weeks and a kings ransom to renovate.

After a few years as renters we found a lovely brownstone at a good price. At the time of our purchase it had been lived in by one family for 45 years. The marks charting the children's year to year growth progress were still there in pencil on the kitchen doorway. Unlike so many other homes, the elaborate and extensive interior woodwork was never painted over. All the Victorian woodwork still had its original varnish, of course with a deep patina over its 90-some year history. The infrastructure was also mostly of similar vintage and there was a lot of plumbing, electrical, and furnace work needed to make it liveable.

In researching for this piece I see the home was sold for around $3.1 million large. That's over 50 times the price we originally paid! Here are some images of the current state of things at the former casa-Wronski.

So, you might guess that Park Slope has become a very swell neighborhood. That street I mentioned previously that looked bombed out and all boarded up now has every store in full mechandizing mode; cafes, Cappucinos on every block, and boutique childrens clothes shops. People everywhere; as in, crowded.

Recently I've heard that the Food Coop has grown from the time when we participated and got a sometimes surprise grab bag of fruits and vegetables every week in a cardboard box. Times have changed. The Coop recently voted down an attempt to boycott Israeli imports in protest over that government's Palestine policies.

Here's what the recent real estate listing on the old homestead showed. Still intact architecturally with some serious remodelling in the kitchen and garden. By the way, the gardens on that side of the street were double size, meaning a full 80 deep from the back of the house. Back there with all the other backyards it was like a forest. 

I'm happy that my daughters had such a beautiful home and vibrant neighborhood for growing up. In high school they told me that kids from Park Slope were nicknamed "Slopies".

Must have been a mentality that developed there.

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