Once upon a time, long ago and worlds apart, there was a great city teeming with vibrancy. People from all walks of life lived alongside one another, despite the age-old chasm between supreme wealth and profound poverty. All sorts chose to make this city their home—artists, intellectuals, writers, poets, actors, singers, musicians, seamstresses, tailors, dockworkers, factory workers, fishmongers, small business owners, department store salespeople, politicians, police, fire fighters, doctors, nurses, junkmen, clergy, teachers, grocers, florists, butchers, architects, millionaires.
They lived in structures ranging from tiny rooms to grand mansions, all contributing something to the life of this great city. Each neighborhood and district was like a miniature city unto itself. Despite the many wealthy residents, there were equal bourgeoisie and proletariat. A humble junkman or garment factory employee could live and raise a family there as well as a teacher, baker, or millionaire.
This city had a renowned public school system, and its free colleges were known as proletarian versions of Harvard, schools where one could get a top-flight education equal to that of any Ivy. While home ownership was out of reach for many, generations of lower- and middle-income people happily, comfortably raised families in fairly spacious apartments and took advantage of many public parks to compensate for the lack of backyards.
Then the ruling classes came together and hatched a plan to gradually take back the city for themselves. Though their plans were temporarily thwarted by the Stock Market crash, complicated forces came together in the wake of WWII which ultimately led the city from its most glorious pinnacle to a sharp downward spiral. It ultimately recovered, but it’s never been the same since.
As always, the very rich and very poor still live there, but it’s no longer the hospitable environment it once was for bourgeoisie and proletariat making a living and raising families, nor for bright-eyed intellectuals, artists, writers, musicians, actors, and political activists hoping to find like-minded communities.
But there once was a great city, long ago and worlds apart.
My theme this year is the New York City which now largely lives in memory. Though many of these places still exist, they’re not the same as they were prior to the city’s tragic slide into near-bankruptcy and high levels of crime, followed by most of Manhattan and large parts of Brooklyn in particular being gentrified by hipsters and turned into a playground for millionaires.
As was the case for most of my prior themes, this one too is related to my writing. The majority of topics have featured in my books set in New York, in particular The Ballad of Lyuba and Ivan, my family saga which will eventually span 1889–2000ish. New York becomes one of the major settings in May 1921.
I was inspired to make this theme because I’m so excited about the Konevs moving back to New York in June 1952, after living in rural Minnesota since 1929 and belatedly coming to realize that’s not who they are at all. They’re intellectuals and artists craving a like-minded environment, and they miss the convenience of living in the same city as their extended family.
Copyright Beyond My Ken
You’ll learn about places including:
Walden School, a renowned, innovative, popular progressive school on the historic Central Park West. The arts were emphasized, there were no entrance exams, and students had great leeway in choosing their own course of study.
Victorian Flatbush, the western part of Flatbush, Brooklyn, boasting the largest concentration of Victorian houses in the U.S. It includes many protected historic districts, including Ditmas Park, Prospect Park South, Fiske Terrace, Midwood Park, and the Beverley Squares. These are no urban houses either, but large estates with ample yards.
Marble Hill, Manhattan’s northernmost neighborhood, sometimes claimed as the Bronx because it’s on the North American mainland. To date, it’s one of the only affordable Manhattan neighborhoods left for normal people, and there are many detached houses on bucolic streets.
Rockaways’ Playland, a popular Queens amusement park which remained very successful after Coney Island’s depressing slide into decay and irrelevance. Sadly, large portions were destroyed by the evil Robert Moses to build yet another stupid road no one wanted. The owners resisted his attempts to shut down the park completely.
Garden School, an independent school in Jackson Heights, Queens which fosters a strong sense of community and academic excellence in a relaxed environment full of enrichment activities.
Tottenville, Staten Island, the city’s southernmost settlement, with a lot of Victorian houses and low population density.
As much as possible, I’ll focus on lesser-known places instead of ones everyone already knows about.
My names blog will feature (mostly) Estonian names, with wildcards for the letters not found in the Estonian alphabet or any recorded loan names.