Skip to main content

The departed "Brooklyn South": views of Prospect Heights a decade ago

The Steven Bochco TV drama Brooklyn South, which lasted for just one year (1997-98), is appreciated by loyal fans for its multiple plot lines and large cast and denounced by then-Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden for its graphic portrait of crime.

For those interested in Atlantic Yards, the show is fascinating because the mythical 74th Precinct uses as a stand-in precinct house the 78th, at 6th Avenue and Bergen Street in Prospect Heights, a block from the AY footprint, and there are other shots of footprint blocks. (The interiors were filmed in Los Angeles.)

Even though the vision of Brooklyn as crime-ridden can seem a cartoon, it's still notable how renovations and lowered crime have reduced "blight" both in Brooklyn and specifically Prospect Heights--even as the Empire State Development Corporation persists in its dubious claim that, absent Atlantic Yards, the project footprint would remain blighted.

Unwinding at Freddy's

One constant in each episodes is an exterior shot of the precinct house.

Another constant is the place where cops unwind, Freddy’s Bar & Grill, at the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, now Freddy’s Bar & Backroom, slated to be demolished for the Atlantic Yards project.

The sign in the second room was for the “dining room,” not the backroom. Yes, Freddy's was a cop bar before it catered to a more eclectic crowd.

Scenes on Flatbush and Dean

In the opening episode, which contained graphic violence shocking for its time, a crazed convict starts a shooting spree on Flatbush Avenue near the precinct house.

The story line explores issues of police brutality and racial conflict, issues that had real-life counterparts in New York. (It was actually filmed just before the Abner Louima incident.) The setting captures a stretch of Flatbush that has since changed significantly.

As the gunman runs northwest toward the intersection with Dean Street, a Flatbush Avenue scene shows Bergen Tile, which remains, and behind it, the sign for the Mobil station, now demolished, and the Flatbush-fronting buildings behind it.

He’s then chased to Dean Street between Flatbush and Sixth avenues--and we see buildings on the north side of Dean slated to be demolished for Atlantic Yards.

The convict, named Hopkins, even goes into Freddy’s to take a hostage.

As the camera sweeps, we even see an awning on the mixed-use commercial and residential building across the street, on the north side of Dean just east of Sixth Avenue, another building slated for demolition.

That building was the subject of an eviction dispute, settled last winter, regarding a tenant who wanted to open a child care center.

On Pacific Street

At another point, the cops hold a meeting on dark, bleak Pacific Street, bordering the empty (at night) Vanderbilt Yard, centerpiece of the Atlantic Yards footprint.

There’s a clear view of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower in the background; the Atlantic Terminal mall, with the Bank of New York tower, didn’t open until 2004.

The now-demolished Underberg Building, long empty and immortalized in Jonathan Lethem's novel The Fortress of Solitude, is visible in the center of the shot.

Precursor to a renovation

The camera briefly touches on a street-level view of the unrenovated and closed warehouse later to be renovated into the Atlantic Arts condo building, home to Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and plaintiff in the pending eminent domain litigation.

(Forest City Ratner likes pre-renovation photos, too.)

Pacific Street looks pretty bleak.

Complaints at the time

Was the show realistic? Not exactly. The show portrayed Brooklyn as a place where there was some shocking random and endemic crime. (A bank robbery with hostages downtown?)

At one point, during the precinct lineup, the cops are told, “Be advised events are upcoming at Brooklyn Academy of Music this week. Special attention to muggers looking to prey on lovers of dance-type things before they can get back to Manhattan.”

“Where they’ll be safe,” follows up a beat cop.

Of course, there were events at BAM pretty much regularly.

During another lineup, the cops are told, "Transit authority has appealed to us to clamp down on jitneys picking up on Flatbush Avenue. Particular attention to the area around the Williamsburgh Savings Bank."

That might have been realistic--but an armed robbery and a victim DOA at a gay bar at 7th Avenue on Union Street?

Stretching boundaries

In order to shoehorn in as much as possible, the precinct boundaries stretch implausibly, including Eastern Parkway and the Lubavitcher Hasids of Kingston Avenue. The cops talk about conducting motorist checkpoints at “Vanderbilt and Atlantic, Flatbush and Church;” the latter is pretty far from Prospect Heights.

A street guy the cops roughly question at the Dean Street playground (right; now under renovation) offers, as an excuse, that he was picking up his methadone at 8 a.m. on Livonia Avenue--which is way to the east. There are clinics for addicts far closer to Dean Street.

The three houses partly visible in the far left of the screenshot are all slated to be demolished for Atlantic Yards.

The precinct extends to include the Gowanus Houses, and that’s where the cops wind up searching for an Asian-American gangster. Needless to say, the Gowanus Houses have not been the locus of Asian-American gangs.

And, in a cringeworthy piece of locational error, a copy testifies at one point about a location known as “Flatbush Avenue and Dean Avenue.” (Didn’t anybody know Dean Street?)

BP’s criticism

Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden complained to Bochco: "Brooklyn South depicts my borough as a place where gunmen wander the streets shooting motorists, snippers lurk on rooftops, and every citizen is a potential perpetrator. The Brooklyn you choose to present to the nation could not be further from the truth...Crime in Brooklyn has dropped dramatically and our neighborhoods. are being rebuilt...We have worked hard to effect positive change in Brooklyn and I am greatly concerned that your new series perpetuates a myth which works against all of our efforts."

(Above right is the shootout on Dean Street, with Freddy's at the far end of the street. Was that a sign of blight in 1997?)

Golden told the Los Angeles Times, "'Brooklyn South' names specific neighborhoods and depicts them as crime-ridden. In fact, Brooklyn today is economically resurgent and crime is down."

Bochco offered a nonresponse, "Most people are smart enough to realize that there are bad people everywhere, and good and heroic people, your hysteria abates, you'll see that the heroism and goodness of the Brooklyn cops and citizens we portray far outweigh their malevolence."

Golden had a point, since the subtleties escaped a lot of reviewers. Wrote a columnist in the 11/5/98 Illawarra Mercury of Australia:
The action focuses on the boys and girls in blue who walk the beat in Brooklyn, New York's most notorious borough. This is an area dominated by murderers, drug traffickers and the poor and homeless, a hive of criminal activity.

Interestingly, crime was already going down. Still, the show describes prostitution activity along Pacific Street, a reminder that, during the era of the Daily News printing plant, as I've written, Pacific Street was much more rough. (Now it's been converted to Newswalk.)

These days, crime has since declined significantly, according to NYPD statistics.

Signs of change

How Flatbush Avenue has changed. Where once there were Nkiru Books and a stationary place on St. Mark’s Place just east of Sixth Avenue in Park Slope, now there’s Flatbush Farm.

On Sixth Avenue, just below Flatbush, we see a Dominican restaurant (below), now Helio's, and a bodega, the awning of which remains, but which is now closed.

Detectives go for a drink at Snooky's, on 7th Avenue (which closed last year).

The reduction of crime has been part of gentrification--a mixed-bag regarding the diversity of retail and the affordability of housing, but, as of now, seemingly inevitable. The question is how to manage it.

Even then, Brooklyn South depicted an eviction case, in which a bespectacled long-haired, graduate student tenant contends that the landlord wants to turn the building into "co-ops for lawyers and Wall Street bond traders.... The people who've lived their lives here will not roll over and play dead so he can make a profit... This is a community."

But it's more complicated: the landlord says he has 30 days to get a loan to bring the building up to code, and the only way to do it is to turn it into a co-op. Let's assume that someone filming a 2008 version of Brooklyn South would have a lot more to say about real estate.

Echoes from the past

One plot point apparently takes off on the plot by Palestinians to blow up the Atlantic Avenue subway station, which was foiled on July 31, 1997.

On Brooklyn South, the culprits, implausibly enough, are white supremacists inspired by the shootings in Waco, living at the mythical 1305 Underhill Avenue; they tell the cops they want passage to JFK and then to Australia. (Maybe that Muslim extremist angle was worth pursuing.)

But there is one constant, as the screenshot shows: lots of traffic along Flatbush Avenue near the intersection with Atlantic Avenue.

(Look at the very top right of the screenshot to spot an advertisement for the new Atlantic Center mall, Forest City Ratner's first project near that crucial intersection.)


Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…