What’s ‘hidden’ out in Sheepshead Bay
Documentarian works with residents to preserve heritage
SHEEPSHEAD BAY — Steve Zeitlin knows the city’s quirkiest spots like the Russian and Turkish Baths on 10th Street or the Lemon Ice King of Corona.
Out here, he’s collected stories from residents about the footbridge on Emmons Avenue — near Lundy’s, the famed seafood restaurant — where people used to fish for fluke and flounder and dive off it looking for coins. His goal, through City Lore, the nonprofit he founded 20 years ago, is to help local communities document and preserve their heritage.
He and Marci Reaven, City Lore’s managing director, are sharing the stories of their favorite spots and people in their book “Hidden New York: A Guide to Places that Matter,” released last month.
“We try to make the case in the book for people to use it to get to know places and spend time there,” Zeitlin said. “Ultimately, it’s people that keep places alive. It’s the characters that make places.”
One of those characters is Steve Barrison, a lawyer who heads the Bay Improvement Association.
“This is not the waterfront we once knew,” Barrison said. “There aren’t 45 fishing boats here any more and eight bait-and-tackle shops. We’re down to eight party boats and one and a half bait- and-tackle shops.”
Francis Gagliardi, 91, and her sister Angela Ciccarone, 87, remember when the area was farmland and a trolley car went down Ocean Avenue to Coney Island.
“The bay was beautiful and we used to have moonlight rides on yachts to watch the fireworks on Tuesday nights,” Gagliardi recalled. “Everybody used to own their own homes. It’s altogether different now. We’ve become a concrete city.”
Zeitlin is hoping to make it easier for people to keep neighborhood character alive by not only highlighting these places in the book, but also by developing a tool kit for community preservation, which includes advice on zoning laws, landmarking and cultural celebrations.
“People are always trying to recreate an imagined past, and in some ways, that past of these impressions is what keeps things going,” Zeitlin said. “The places themselves are archives of memory. When the places are gone, there are no touchstones for the memory.”
City of memory