I grew up in a neighborhood in Brooklyn they call Park Slope. Back then, linked to other neighborhoods, we called it South Brooklyn. Today it is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in New York City and was recently rated number one by New York magazine. The area is noted for fine restaurants, fashionable bars, trendy taverns and even a food coop. It's a great place to raise kids and young mothers are often seen pushing babies in strollers past stately brownstones that sell for at least two million dollars. Rents in Park Slope are exceedingly high even by New York standards.
Today, the area has been gentrified, pristine and proper, but when I was a scruffy kid growing up on Sixth Avenue things were different. Back then youth gangs were numerous, and it seemed that every block had its own. I remember swallowing hard when i had to walk past some of the menacing characters on those streets.
Union Street was our fun street. At least every Sunday in the summer, my friends and I played stickball against the older guys. We usually lost. On Union Street sometimes we would jump on the backs of trolley cars and hang on as they clanged up and down the street, never once thinking about how easily we might have been killed.
click to enlarge map
In those days, I saw second-rate movies and cartoons at the Garfield Theater three blocks from Union, on 5th and Garfield. I had no idea the area had an infamous history. For example, the notorious Alphonse "Al" Capone lived with his parents at 38 Garfield Place. They moved to two other places on the street, too, numbers 21 and 46. The young Al used to hang out at the pool room at 20 Garfield Place.
Three blocks from the Capones, another mobster named Johnny Torrio held court at the social club on the second floor of a restaurant on Union and Fourth. He later became Al Capone's boss in Chicago.
Garfield Place was also host to other criminals. Of lesser fame, but equally dangerous, were the Persico brothers--Alphonse "Alley Boy" Persico, and Carmine "Junior" Persico--who ran the notorious street gang, The Garfield Boys. Their father Carmine was at the time a made man in the Luciano/Genovese crime family.
During his early years, Alley Boy confessed to murder and was sentenced to twenty years in the New York State Department of Corrections, where he died in 1989. His brother Junior rose to prominence in his early twenties and became a made man in the Profaci crime family. He became known to his enemies as Carmine (the Snake, behind his back) Persico, and headed the Columbo family, one of the five major New York crime families.
Next to Union Street is President Street, where I worked as a soda jerk in my teens in a drug store at President and Fifth. I probably served egg cremes to the Persico brothers when they were kids.
President Street was the home base for the Gallo brothers, Crazy Joe, Larry and Albert "Kid Blast." They took refuge on this street and went to the mattresses during the Gallo-Profaci War. Later, in 1972, on orders from Carmine Persico, Crazy Joe was murdered in Umbertos' Clam Bar in Manhattan.
Deep in the bosom of the old Italian neighborhood is Carroll Street, between President Street and Garfield Place. It too is famous for old time wiseguys. Monte's Restaurant on Carroll was the favored eating place of Joe Profaci's boys. This Brooklyn crime family later evolved into the Columbo family. This is also the street where my grandfather owned a bakery and where, as a kid, I ate hot bread slathered with olive oil straight from the oven.
Back in the Thirties, Joe Adonis, who was affiliated with Little Augie Pisano and Brooklyn's top crime boss, Frankie Yale, became a major player himself. With Albert Anastasia, he directed criminal activity along the Brooklyn docks and ran a neighborhood restaurant called Joe's Italian Kitchen, on Carroll and Fourth. Joe Adonis would occasionally seen walking along Union Street.
There's a lot about the old neighborhood I don't know, especially all the nefarious goings-on behind closed doors. Back then a lot of whispering took place among adults but information was hard to come by.
Today, Park Slope has been thoroughly gentrified and is considered a most preferred place to live, but I doubt the local boomers and yuppies that can afford to live here have any clue about the area's infamous history. They would probably be horrified if they knew.
Modern day Park Slope, courtesy of Tracy Wuischpard