Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tearing down houses in Kensington

I remember waking up in the middle of the night in my bunk bed. My heart was racing, my hands were sweaty. I ran from the tiny bedroom that I shared with my brother and down the hall to my mother and father’s room. I was crying.

“Get them away from the house, get them away”.

“Get who away” said my mom.

“The Bulldozers, the Bulldozers”

I must have been no more than five years old when I saw them on East 4th and Beverly road. I remember standing about where the underground garage entrance is for 303 Beverly. At the time a row of wood frame houses stretched all the way from Church avenue to Beverly Road, Along with even bigger houses on the North side of Beverly Road. They pretty much mirrored the ones that are still there now on the South side of Beverly between E4th and E5th.

But sometimes in the mind of a 5 year old, things just don't make sense. These beautiful Victorians would soon fall to the ground. Just an X on a developers building plan, and a new nightmare for a child.

The massive yellow monsters were billowing black smoke from their pipes. They had large high silver steel blades that pushed everything in their path away. I remember holding my moms hand watching as it started crushing the side of the house. The wall of the house started to buckle as a stained glass window slowly began folding outward, suddenly shattering into tiny pieces. Like confetti the colors fell to the ground. The sound of cracking wood and glass breaking filled the air. The house groaned an awful sound, its heavy wood beams struggling not to crack against the power of the bulldozer, and then without warning, the front porch collapsed. The pillars that held the porch up slid sideways and hit the ground,dancing for a moment until they were still.

The house was just like the one I lived in . A massive three story wood frame with two large porches. I wondered if there were people living in it. Little children holding onto their moms, crying as the wood floors below their feet cracked and snapped. Windows that they must have looked out of suddenly shattering, walls falling. Holding on for dear life as the house twisted and contorted itself. Trying to stand as the monsters growl began to get louder and louder, both white and black smoke shooting through its nostrils. I cheered for the house to defeat the monster, hold on, please just hold on. But then my mom tugged on my arm and we started walking away, down east 4th street towards our house. I looked back towards Beverly Road, there was suddenly a loud crash followed by a cloud of dust that engulfed the entire corner, then only silence.

The next day on the way to the A&P (where Rite Aid is) we walked by the construction site. The house was gone, just a pile of broken wood, pipes, glass and dirt. The yellow bulldozer was working away, crushing the remains of the once beautiful house with it’s massive steel treads. There were other houses next to it which were still standing, soon to fall victim to the roaring machines.

The day of conception was coming soon for the building now known as 415 Beverly.

Sometimes as parent you try to shield you children from things that you believe may give them nightmares, I don’t blame my mom for letting me watch the bulldozers tear down those houses. I don’t think she really knew that I would ever have such nightmares about it. Not knowing if they were going to start tearing down our house next, moving down East 4th like house eating monsters, flattening everything in their path. No, I can’t blame her.

But one day a few weeks ago we were driving through Brooklyn, they were tearing down an old house on a block I cannot remember.

My son asked:
“Dad, can we stop and watch?”
I thought about it for a moment and then said,
"No, how about we just go to Greenwood Park instead".

Ron Lopez

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Anonymous said...

Hey Ron,
I know this story was a re-run from a while back but reading it again made me remember a deep buried memory. I can't remember how old I was, but maybe about 5 or 6 in the late 60's and there was a church on the northwest corner of Ave C and E. 4th St. Some sort of Protestant one I think. Do you remember that? I didn't even know what a Protestant was back then, I thought everyone was Catholic like me. Anyway, I remember the sight of the burned out building and the smell of the burnt wood that wafted over the whole neighborhood. And I was scared. The first time I ever saw something that was on fire. (The second time was when I saw flames shooting out of the windows of the super's apartment in the Alma Court across the street from my house on E 5th St. I remember actually shaking wondering if my house could ever go on fire.) And I remember when the big machines came to tear down the remains of the church and take them away, I was in awe. (I think that's when I developed my love of Tonka trucks.)
And then nothing, just an empty lot. Later on they built 2 three story houses with the porches in front where the owners would put out their succah tents in October.
signed, former E 5th St. guy
PS - in the 70's, too bad those damn block long apartments on Ave C betw E 4 & 5th didn't burn down. but they turned out ok in the end.

peggy said...

That church on e.4th and avenue c was called the prospect park baptist church. it was protestantand the day it burned down my lifelong dream burned with it. you see i grew up in that church and it was my dream to be married in that tiny, beautiful, welcoming church. i loved the organist with all my heart, her name was bea witlatch. i can still remember her long bright red nails clicking on the keyboard during choir rehersals on thursday night and on sunday morning in the choir stall. i have never found another church as comforting as that one.
i went to ps 230 montauk and fdr
peggy nechetzsky jones