I recently decided to take a walk around Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Bensonhurst is still the largest Italian Enclave in the United States. Although much has changed in the neighborhood due to the natural cyclicality of metropolises, there is still a lot that visually remains and quite a few Italian families still living there.
If you aren’t familiar with Bensonhurst, then you should know that it is massive in size. Bensonhurst-proper includes the area bounded by 86th Street, 14th Avenue, 60th Street, McDonald Avenue, Avenue P, and Bay Parkway.
Bensonhurst derives its name from Egbert Benson (1789–1866). His lands were sold by his children and grandchildren to James D. Lynch, a New York real estate developer. Lynch bought the old farmlands of the Benson family in the mid-1880s, and by 1888, began selling private lots in an area with the slogan : “Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea” which is really now the Bath Beach neighborhood that often gets referred to as Bensonhurst but is distinctly its own neighborhood.
Italians have been in Bensonhurst since the early 20th century. Prior to Italians, there were large Jewish and German communities living within the neighborhood. The newest waves of Italian immigrants into the United States generally occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s and many of those new arrivals wound up in Bensonhurst-mostly Sicilian.
Provided the massive amount of land to cover, traversing the streets of Bensonhurst to efficiently photo-document the neighborhood requires several days. I have thus broken my walks throughout the neighborhood into separate posts that I will be releasing over the next couple of months.
In this particular instance, I noticed a barbershop along 17th Avenue and New Utrecht that has actually been there for over 40 years. I must have driven by hundreds of times and never noticed it. On foot, the details of a neighborhood really stand out so much more. Salvatore, the proprietor and barber, told me that he wishes to retire and is selling his business. The photograph showing the window of his barbershop has the phone number if anyone is interested (everything in the shop is included).
The small portion of Bensonhurst that I am showcasing in this post also had a lot of wonderful visual indications of the vibrant Italian community that once claimed this part of Brooklyn as the largest concentration of Italians outside of Italy. Please share this post and let your friends and family know about our site (and social media pages: ItalianEnclaves on Facebook and Instagram).
By: Raymond Guarini