By Geoff Cobb

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over twenty years and is the author of a history of the area Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past.

Mae West’s Gay Drama That Shocked 1920s America

Artwork by Michael DiMotta – sketched for the stage play “Courting Mae West,” written by LindaAnn LoSchiavo, DGA

Mae West was much more than a local-born movie star or even a sex symbol. She was a playwright, a woman decades ahead of her time in dramatizing questions of gender and sexuality. Her views almost a century ago were remarkably progressive when it came to homosexuality and those views were never better dramatized than in her shocking play entitled “The Drag.”

Even today, in a time when society has largely embraced gay marriage and become more accepting, West’s play would be so offensive to some that it still could not be staged in many places in America. In puritanical 1920s America, the play was considered outrageous and morally offensive.

West, who grew up locally and began her theatrical career on Brooklyn vaudeville stages at the age of five, said that the theater was her greatest education. She had little formal schooling, but the stage taught her all she needed to know. She soon became friendly with a number of gay theatrical professionals and West immediately empathized with gay people. She enjoyed spending time in gay clubs in the west village and one night she hit upon the idea of writing a play about gay men.

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Renowned Polish Artist Joanna Sarapata’s Greenpoint Show

Painting by Joanna Sarapata

Greenpointers will have the chance to see the work of the celebrated Polish artist Joanna Sarapata this Friday, Nov. 16, at 7:00 p.m. at Klub Amber (71 India St.). Sarapata’s creations have appeared in galleries, museums, private and public collections around the world.

The show, entitled “ Scent of A Woman,” features sensual and intimate portraits of women. Sarapata, a graduate of the highly prestigious L’ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, won the Paris Opera Grand Prize in its poster competition in 1996.

Painting by Joanna Sarapata

Although she was born and raised in Poland, Sarapata arrived in Paris at the age of 18 and the city, like many artists before her, had a lasting and dramatic effect on her worldview. She referred to Paris as a “ school for femininity” and her work captures something of the legendary Parisian sensuality. Her work is very erotic, but Sarapata adds: “Eroticism is not just sex, a narrow waist and long legs. It is also behavior, a way to sit and talk topics. I do not paint pure erotica, only femininity. I like women, I am their friend, I know them well. I know well what it is like to be a woman in a relationship, a beloved woman, but also a woman betrayed.” Continue reading

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The Local Roots of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” Celebrated

 

Arguably the best piece of literature ever written about North Brooklyn, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” Betty Smith’s classic tale of a girl coming of age in early 20th century Williamsburg, will be celebrated on Wednesday, Nov. 14, from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. at the Leonard Street Library (81 Devoe Street). The book’s 75th anniversary of publication celebration will include live music, a panel of New York authors and Greenpoint’s own Amy Marino, the talented artist whom publisher Harper Collins chose to design the book cover.

Betty Smith, author of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”

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Sto Lat: 100 Years of Polish Independence and the End of World War I

The Polish flag

“Sto lat” means 100 years in Polish and many Polish people will be celebrating the anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I this weekend.

Sunday (11/11) marks the 100th anniversary of WWI , and with a special resonance for Polish people. One of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, self-determination for small nations, meant Poland would re-emerge again as an independent nation after 123 years of being swallowed up by Prussia, Austro-Hungary and Russia.

100 years ago, Greenpoint had a huge Polish community, which sent many of its young men to fight in the Great War. Many of those local Polish lads did not come home. One of the fallen has always intrigued me. Frank Baliszewski, who lived in my house at 2 Clifford Place, died on October 4, 1918 from wounds he suffered in battle in France. I know little else about him, but I have often wondered about Baliszewski. His name still stands on a monument outside his parish church, St. Stanislaw Kostka (607 Humboldt St.).

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Amazon Eyes Long Island City For HQ2

LIC waterfront with new development (courtesy of Joe Mabel)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been intensely lobbying Amazon to locate its HQ2 in Long Island City. Gov. Cuomo jokingly offered to rename Newtown Creek ‘Amazon Creek’ on the condition that the corporate giant agreed to choose LIC. He even humorously offered to change his name to ‘Amazon Cuomo’ to entice the corporate giant to choose Long Island City.

It seems that Cuomo’s intense lobbying may have borne fruit, according to a Monday report in the New York Times. The Times reports that Amazon has decided not to create one mega headquarters, but to divide the new headquarters in two. One of those locations, according to the article is in LIC. The other location Amazon has chosen is Crystal City, Virginia, in the greater Washington D.C. Area. The Times, however, did strike a cautionary note, though, stating that the company has made no final decision. Continue reading

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Teddy’s: Williamsburg’s Historic Bar

The bar at Teddy’s (courtesy of Teddy’s)

Gazing through the luminous 100-year-old stained glass windows at Teddy’s Bar and Grill (96 Berry St.) in the Northside of Williamsburg, it’s possible to imagine that time has stood still. The bar is in fact so old that it predates the windows by about three decades. The 130-year-old mahogany bar and tiled floor are original, adding to Teddy’s 19th-century ambiance. Opened in 1887, the bar makes the claim to be Brooklyn’s oldest continually run bar. The Brooklyn Inn (148 Hoyt St.), which claims to have opened in 1885, might dispute Teddy’s claim, but there’s no disputing that Teddy’s retains a unique 19th-century feel. Continue reading

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Puerto Ricans’ Vibrant History in North Brooklyn

S. 3rd St in Williamsburg, a section of the neighborhood known as Los Sures. (Living Los Sures)

Like many other Greenpointers, I heard the news of the closing of the American Deli (97 Franklin St.) with great sadness. The bodega has been a neighborhood fixture for the twenty-five years I have lived here and its closure is just another sign of the disappearance of the once vibrant Puerto Rican community in North Brooklyn.

When my wife and I first arrived in the area in the early nineties the bodega was one of the few active businesses on Franklin Street. Many of the other storefronts on the street were boarded up and hadn’t done business for years, but the bodega was always one of the few places on Franklin Street to grab a bite to eat or pick up some beer.

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The New York Marathon Heads Through Greenpoint Sunday

New York City Marathon; runners take to Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. (courtesy of Kai Brinker)

It’s one of the greatest sports events on the planet, and this Sunday (11/4) the New York Marathon will wind its way through our area. 50,000 competitors will pass down Manhattan Avenue and it is one of the very few world-class sporting events you can see live and for free. For better or worse, the race will also close off Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint Avenue and part of McGuinness Boulevard for several hours; moving in, out and around our area will be tricky. Despite the minor inconvenience, the race is still a spectacle to behold and Greenpoint is one of the best places in the city to watch the drama of the marathon unfold. Continue reading

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North Brooklyn’s ‘Splendid Legacy’ in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection

Few people realize that many of the greatest pieces of art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s amazing collection were purchased with sugar money that was made right here in North Brooklyn. For decades, North Brooklyn was the largest sugar refining region on planet earth and hundreds of millions of dollars were made in its dozen or so refineries that once lined the banks of the East River. Simply put, local sugar production funded the purchase of many of the greatest works of art in the Met, and without Brooklyn sugar money the museum never would have become one of the greatest art collections in the world. Continue reading

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Will This Greenpoint Landmarked Church Become A Trophy Home?

 

St. Elias Church in Greenpoint is for sale

The Former St. Elias Church, the iconic 1870 landmark brick building at 145 Kent Street, is going to be a monster single-family home if developers have their way. The church has been sitting vacant for more than a decade. In 2007, Hirsch Enterprises, a company specializing in church conversions, purchased the property for $3.5 million, hoping to cash in on the red-hot local property market, but it has yet to see a return on its investment.

The former Russian-Catholic Rite church offers a huge interior covering 13, 800 square feet, but the property has proven difficult to develop and sell for a number of reasons. The church is landmarked and any development that alters the gorgeous façade must be approved by the landmarks commission. Did we also mention the $7.1 million price tag, which might inhibit all but wealthy buyers? Continue reading

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