I was recently contacted by a former resident of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn who was visiting town and wanted a custom walking tour of his old neighborhood. I love planning these custom tours, and it's always great to see parts of the city that are oft-missed by visitors. The tour was a great success.
Bensonhurst dates back to 1652, when it was originally part of the independent Dutch settlement of New Utrecht (the name "Bensonhurst" didn't come to the area until the late 1800s). There remains a very old reformed church in the neighborhood, and a Dutch cemetery dating back to 1654.
Before Brooklyn consolidated (and then became part of New York City in 1898), it consisted of 6 independent towns... Bushwick, Brooklyn, Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend, and New Utrecht. Since many early colonial buildings in downtown Manhattan were (regrettably) destroyed, most of NYC's oldest buildings are Dutch structures from this era... including the city's oldest home (the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, in East Flatbush), and its oldest cemetery (Gravesend Cemetery).
In recent history, the neighborhood has been one of the most quintessentially "Brooklyn" neighborhoods in the borough. In the early 20th century, after the subway system developed, connecting the city more easily, it became home to Italian and Jewish immigrants fleeing the overcrowded Lower East Side tenements. Many of the Jewish families left after WWII, leaving the neighborhood for some time as the 'Little Italy' of Brooklyn. More recently, an influx of Chinese residents has turned parts of the area into the city's largest Chinatown. More and more diverse groups of people are moving in every year.
The unique character of the neighborhood was cemented in popular culture. Famous TV shows like "The Honeymooners" and "Welcome Back Kotter" were set here. Movies like "The French Connection" and "Saturday Night Fever" filmed iconic sequences along the main 86th Street drag.
But one of my favorite things to show off in any neighborhood is the more hidden, eclectic treasures. Every neighborhood has them. The best such sight in Bensonhurst is on an otherwise unassuming residential street (85th St)... Steve Campanella's "statue house". This homeowner has filled his property with more kitsch than your eye can handle. If you find yourself in Bensonhurst, definitely find your way to snap some pictures.
(And definitely find your way up 18th Ave for some of the best Italian baked goods in New York.)
If you are interesting in seeing Bensonhurst for yourself (or any of the surrounding areas... Coney Island, Dyker Heights, Gravesend) or are just curious about my custom tour options, please contact me! I would love to help you discover some hidden NYC treasures of your own.