Bensonhurst (and Bath Beach) Tour
A storied neighborhood known for a Jewish and Italian-American population now displays layers of history and great diversity, including a Brooklyn Chinatown.
Bensonhurst (once Bensonhurst-by-the-sea) was once part of New Utrecht, one of the original six towns within Kings County, later absorbed the the town--then city--of Brooklyn. A church founded in the 17th century and built in 1829 still stands.
Bensonhurst--and neighboring Bath Beach--grew significantly in the early part of the 20th century as the subway buildout extended to Coney Island. It was a relatively middle-class alternative to those--notably Jewish and Italian-American--leaving the Lower East Side, the densely-packed immigrant neighborhood.
So Bensonhurst and Bath Beach added houses and handsome apartment buildings, along with some very impressive houses of worship, movie theaters, and civic structures. It was the neighborhood of Sandy Koufax and Robert Merrill, Vincent D'Onofrio and Vic Damone, of The Honeymooners and Welcome Back Kotter.
Some of those buildings remain, some are repurposed, and many reflect the changing waves of population. One main shopping street, 18th Avenue, is known as Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard, and still retains Italian stores, cafes, and restaurants--but often right next to retail outlets serving the growing Chinese population, which has expanded from nearby Sunset Park and Dyker Heights.
Synagogues still remain, but serve a different Jewish population than the one that brought Larry King and Gabe Kaplan. There are now mosques for a growing Middle Eastern population, and churches serving Russian and Mexican residents.
So a walk through Bensonhurst, including major shopping streets, shows one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, including great places to snack or eat, and a sustaining springboard for today's middle-class.
Distance from Midtown Manhattan: 45 minutes by subway
Basic tour length: 2.5 hours (see fees)
Starting place: Varies, but typically near N at 18th Avenue
Ending place: Varies, but typically near bus on Bay Parkway, which goes to N/Q/F/D trains
Highlights: History, shopping, immigration, ethnic change
Before tour: Eat/snack nearby
After tour: Eat/snack nearby
Potential tour extensions with me: Sunset Park, Coney Island, Jewish Brooklyn
Why I like leading this tour: This is one of my least popular tours, because it's not on the tourist radar screen and it's harder to reach. I get it--Bensonhurst is less dramatic. But it plays a fascinating part in Brooklyn history.