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Crown Heights: A cultural nabe that's come a long way

crown heights

crown heights Credit: Eastern Parkway near Franklin Avenue. Check out more photos of the nabe below. (Linda Rosier)

The north-central Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, once associated with high crime and racial tension, has recently been transforming into a hot spot for investors, developers, young artists and entrepreneurs.

Known for its large Caribbean community, which thrives alongside another large population of Hasidic Jews, Crown Heights is mainly a melting pot of the two cultures with a few others sprinkled in.

On the main streets restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops reflect its diversity and changing demographics as younger people move in, many of whom, according to real estate broker Joanne Newbold of Heights Realty Advisors on Union Street, are either professionals, students, or newly married couples looking to start a family.

“It’s changed a lot but the new families moving in now are not leaving within one or two years,” she said. “They want to remain; they’re stable.”

Long-time features of the neighborhood such as its proximity to subways, parks and cultural institutions like the Brooklyn Museum, also play a vital role in attracting new residents to Crown Heights.

Nick Jurazich who runs the community blog, “I Love Franklin Ave.,” calls it a vibrant place.

“It’s not surprising that it’s now a hot commodity; it has a lot to offer,” he said of the area. “The folks who lived here a long time have done a great job preserving its look. And the range of perspectives and cuisines makes it an interesting place to live.”

He moved to Crown Heights with his wife in 2008, just as the neighborhood began to undergo its changes.  “It was affordable then but that’s changing rapidly, of course,” he said.

The wave of new residents and businesses has caused rents to increase significantly over the years.

“What prices used to be five or six years ago are now triple,” Newbold said. “You used to be able to rent a three-bedroom for $1,100; now it’s $2,500 and up.”

But she noted that the market offers more than other neighborhoods.

“When you get a three-bedroom here, you get real bedrooms, closeted space, dining rooms and massive square footage of 1,200 to 1,300,” she said.

Crown Heights was a Dutch settlement in the 1600s. During the 19th century, mansions and row houses were constructed, many of which still stand.

According to the book, “A Crown Heights History, Told by a Crown Heights Resident,”  by Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly, its original name was Crow Hill which evolved into Crown Heights.

The neighborhood suffered strife during the 90s as tensions between the Caribbean and Hasidic community flared up and erupted into three days of riots in 1991, known as the Crown Heights Riots. But today most of that tension has dissolved.

The area is famous for its annual West Indian Day Parade, held on Eastern Parkway on Labor Day. But lately other events are popping up and taking hold including the Crown Heights Film Festival, now in its fourth year and the Franklin Avenue Reading Series, held every month at the Franklin Park bar.

As Crown Heights continues to change it still retains its neighborhood feel.

“Here, I find the community raises your kids,” Newbold said.

Penina Roth, creator of the Franklin Avenue Reading Series who has lived in the area for 19 years notes the friendliness of neighbors is what keeps her.

“People of different backgrounds are interested in getting to know each other and appreciate cultural differences,” she said.

But despite the changes, Roth and Jurazich harbor concerns.

“There has not been a great job of preserving affordable housing or spaces for newcomers and long-time residents to live together,” said Jurazich.

Roth noted that rising rents is another huge concern.

“Tenants and storeowners are getting pushed out and it’s happening so rapidly,” she said. “It has accelerated at an insane rate.”

Find it:

Crown Heights is bordered to the north by Atlantic Avenue and to the south by Empire Boulevard and East New York Avenue. Howard Avenue is its eastern Border, with Washington Avenue to the west.

Transportation:

Buses

B12, B14, B17, B43, B44, B45 B46, B47, B48, B49, B65

Trains

3 to Nostrand Avenue, Kingston Avenue, Crown Heights/Utica Avenue, Sutter Avenue/Rutland Road

4 to Crown Heights/Utica Avenue

2,5 to President Street, Sterling Street

2, 3, 4, 5 to Franlin Avenue

A to Nostrand Avenue/Utica Avenue

C to Nostrand Avenue, Utica Avenue, Kingston/Throops avenues, Ralph Avenue

Library

Crown Heights, 560 New York Ave.

Eastern Parkway, 1044 Eastern Pkwy.

Brower Park, 725 St. Mark's Ave.

Post office

United States Post Office

315 Empire Blvd.

1234 St. John's Place

Crime

Crown Heights is covered by the 77th Precinct at 127 Utica Ave. and the 71st Precinct at 421 Empire Blvd. The neighborhood is still working on lowering its crime numbers, though robberies at the 71st Precinct decreased from 1,708 in 1990 to 322 in 2012. For the week of Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 2013, there were nine robberies reported, compared to eight in the same week in 2012. There were nine grand larcenies that week in 2013, up from five in 2012. In the 77th Precinct, there were 2,412 robberies and 2,130 burglaries in 1990, which fell to 358 robberies and 309 burglaries in 2012. In the week of Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 2013, there were six robberies and 13 burglaries, compared to eight robberies and four burglaries in 2012.

Celebs born in Crown Heights:

Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn borough president

Nas, rapper

Clive Davis, record producer

To eat:

Gloria’s Caribbean Cuisine, 764 Nostrand Ave.

Gloria’s is well-known for its authentic Caribbean dishes ranging from curry chicken with roti to stew oxtails and traditional drinks like ginger beer and sorrel. 718-773-3476

Basil Pizza and Wine Bar, 270 Kingston Ave.

This Italian bistro serves up pizza from a wood burning oven alongside a selection of wine and beer. It also offers kosher-certified dishes. 718-285-8777

The Breukelen Coffee House, 764 Franklin Ave.

Part of the growing café scene in Crown Heights, Breukelen boasts a laid-back atmosphere perfect for sipping on java and participating in some good people-watching. 718-789-7070

To party:

Eve’s Lounge, 769 Washington Ave.

This neighborhood spot is a prime place to visit with friends and participate in Karaoke Wednesdays. 347-442-5959

Catfish, 1433 Bedford Ave.

This spacious Cajun/Creole bar serves up authentic Cajun food, 16 craft brews on tap and a good selection of whiskey, bourbon and scotch. 347-305-3233

The Crown Inn, 724 Franklin Ave.

An array of affordable drinks and a friendly atmosphere makes this another neighborhood hot spot to mingle on the weekend. 347-915-1131

To shop:

Cool Pony Boutique, 733 Franklin Ave.

This boutique offers vintage clothing and records. It also doubles as a performance space for folk music and open mic sessions. 347-927-4718

Bicycle Roots, 609 Nostrand Ave.

Opened just last year, this bike shop caters to expert cyclists and newbies alike. They sell bikes, parts and accessories and also do repairs. 718-668-5224

Bob & Betty's Food Market, 805 Franklin Ave.

This family-run business that has survived the neighborhood's transition carries many specialty items, fresh pasta sauces and a variety of gourmet ice creams, beer and cheese. 718-778-4542

To do:

FiveMyles Gallery, 558 St. Johns Pl.

This exhibition and performance space features many emerging artists from the Caribbean to East Africa. 718-783-4438

Brooklyn Children’s Museum, 145 Brooklyn Ave.

Reportedly the first museum in the world created for children in 1899, it features interactive exhibits and events such as Try It Tuesdays! when kids can explore science, art and language. 718-735-4400

Franklin Park Reading Series, 618 St. Johns Pl.

This monthly reading series brings the Crown Heights community together at the Franklin Park Bar every month to indulge in the stories and poems of emerging and established writers. 718-975-0196

The buzz

In September the New York City Council approved the rezoning of Crown Heights West. According to the Crown Heights North Association, Community Board 8 requested the rezoning in 2012.

The 55-block, soon-to-be rezoned area stretches from Atlantic Avenue, Pacific, Dean and Bergen streets to the north and Nostrand Avenue to the east to Eastern Parkway to the south and Washington and Grand Avenues to the west.

It aims to maintain the existing scale of buildings and character of the neighborhood by establishing height limits for new development, and to incentivize affordable housing.

A new development at 1000 Dean St. is taking hold in Crown Heights. The 140,000 square-foot commercial space is a joint venture between Brownstoner, the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and BFC Partners.

The newly renovated building will house creative office spaces, anchored by an 8,000 square-foot food and beer hall from the Brooklyn Flea. According to Browntstoner.com, six tenants have leased space so far and will begin to move in this winter.

Real estate:

To rent

1178 Dean St. Three-bedroom, two-bathroom house; 1,500 square feet: $3,994 per month.

1610 Bedford Ave. Four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with huge open kitchen; 2,000 square feet: $3,600 per month.

To buy

935 Pacific St. #402 Three-bedroom, three- bathroom condo with two terraces; 1,155 square feet: $939,500.

1307 Union St. #2 Six-bedroom, three-bathroom house; 2,328 square feet: $1,100,000.

Looking for a home in Crown Heights?

B. Belinda Realty, brealtyllc.com

B.H. Tal Real Estate, bhtalrealestate.com

Q&A with Edwin James: Owner of Super Wings

Edwin James owns and operates the award-winning Super Wings NY, at 1218 Union St., along with his wife, Colette Burnett. The shop specializes in making chicken wings with distinct Caribbean-influenced flavors such as the Trini tamarind to represent Trinidad or the Pineapple Jerk for Jamaica. Every year the shop gives back to the community by providing hundreds of school kids with backpacks at their anniversary block party celebration held in August.

Why did you want to open a business here?

We studied the dynamics of the neighborhood, how it’s changing and it was because of the variety of cultures in that area we decided to go there. And we knew that people would be familiar with what we had to offer as well.

What do you think of the neighborhood?

It’s a very powerful neighborhood; there has been a lot of improvements lately. The residents are very friendly and they look out for you. They say ‘hi’ in the mornings when they pass by; they stick together and they’re very family-oriented.

What do you do for fun in Crown Heights?

Franklin Avenue is the new east side. That’s a strip you can go to and have variety of food like Mexican and Indian. There’s a lot of bagel shops and muffin shops that we didn’t see before. We normally head over there to sit down and try the different foods.

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