Brownsville is a residential neighborhood located in Eastern Brooklyn. It is bordered by East New York Avenue to the north, Remsen Avenue to the west, and the Bay Ridge branch of the Long Island Railroad to the south (adjacent to Canarsie). It is dominated by public housing developments along with multi-unit row houses and is currently being redeveloped in different areas by these row houses.
Though the Dutch established some homes and farms in Brownsville and East New York in the 1700’s, the area did not come together as a strong community until the early to mid 1800’s. It was subdivided by Charles S. Brown (for whom it was named) in 1865. In 1883 there were just 250 frame houses in the village. A group of East Side realtors in 1887 purchased land and erected many dwellings. They encouraged immigrants, chiefly Jews of East European origin, to move here from Manhattan’s congested East Side. The extension of the Fulton Street el in 1889 and the IRT subway in 1920-22 made the district completely accessible from Manhattan, where many of the inhabitants work.
Brownsville was politically radical from the 1880’s to the 1950’s. The neighborhood has always been hospitable to new social movements. From 1915 to 1921 the district elected Socialists to the New York State Assembly. In 1936 an American Labor Party candidate was elected to the Assembly, only to lose his seat in 1938. In 1916 Margaret Sanger established on Amboy Street the first birth control clinic in America.
Brownsville was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood until the 1960s, when its population became largely Black. Its current population is made up of mostly African Americans, with Hispanic/Latino, Caucasian and other groups making up much smaller parts of the demographic. Notable people from Brownsville include TV and Radio host Larry King, boxer Mike Tyson (who grew up on Amboy Street mentioned above), comedian Andrew Dice Clay, artist Terry Winters and the Reverend Al Sharpton.
In Brownsville, visit Slavin’s Fish Market, which has been on Belmont Avenue for about 80 years. Also pass by the triangle of Pitkin and East New York Avenues and Legion Street where Zion Park has been since at least 1911. The Zion Park War Memorial, also known as the Brownsville War Memorial, was created by sculptor Charles Cary Rumsey (1879–1922) and was dedicated in 1925. It lists local war heroes who died in World War I. The space was renamed Loew Square in honor of the massive Loew’s Pitkin Theatre in 1930, but by 1997 the theatre was long shuttered and the name was changed back to Zion Triangle. Loew’s Pitkin Theater, taking up an entire block on the avenue between Legion Street and Saratoga Avenue, was built in 1929 by Thomas Lamb and seated 2,827 patrons. Unfortunately, like so many of the grand theatres of the 1920’s-30’s, it went out of business in the 1960’s and has unfortunately been left to deteriorate. It was also a church and a department store for a while.