Carroll Gardens came into being in the 1960’s, another neighborhood cut off from Red Hook by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Charles Carroll, a Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence, commanded the Maryland regiment that defended the Old Stone House at Gowanus saving the American army in the Battle of Brooklyn. Carroll, who never lived in Brooklyn, is honored with Carroll Street, Carroll Park, and finally, Carroll Gardens. In 1846, city surveyor Richard Butts created the spacious front yards (or Gardens as the residents claim) which still exist on First to Fourth Places.
According to the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Dutch originally settled the Carroll Gardens-area in the 17th century. In the early 1800’s, many upper-middle-class and wealthy New Yorkers built summer homes on its heights overlooking the harbor. After the Civil War, the row houses and brownstones were converted into tenements for Irish immigrants.
During the areas heyday as a shipping neighborhood, Italian immigrants sought out the tree lined, quiet streets and the influence is still strong. The sound of conversations in Italian still ring out from groups of residents who gather on their stoops most nights during warm weather.
The area gained notoriety with the release of “Moonstruck,” set in Cammareri Brothers Bakery on Henry Street. Starring Nicholas Cage as one of the brothers, and Cher, the movie captured the Italian feel of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, Cammareri’s is gone and the area is becoming less Italian. But, the businesses are unique and wonderful.
Carroll Park features sports fields (albeit paved), a beautiful water spray area for kids with posts that mark a compass and the streets of the area, and the famous Carroll Gardens Rock, (a glacier boulder) uncovered on Clinton Street during the replacement of the sewer lines and transported to the park as a neighborhood landmark.
The park originated in the late 1840s as a private community garden. The land was acquired for use as a public park by the City of Brooklyn in 1853. It was first improved around 1870 when a drainage system was installed, a children’s playground was built, and new walks were laid. Subsequent renovations in the 1890s, 1930s, and 1960s introduced new design features and playgrounds, which increased opportunities for active recreation.
In 1994, Carroll Park underwent a $1.3 million capital reconstruction and redesign, funded by Borough President Howard Golden. The historic character of the park was also restored with decorative cast iron gates and fencing that echo the fences of neighborhood brownstones and motifs on the bronze and granite Soldier and Sailors World War I Monument (1920) by sculptor Eugene H. Morahan, also located in the park.
During Christmas, Easter and Halloween, First Place in Carroll Gardens has become one of the city’s destinations, as residents decorate their yards with a myriad of elaborate displays.
Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Church began in the year 1882 under the name of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and, according to their published history, were “the first Roman Catholic parish community established specifically for Italian immigrants in the Diocese of Brooklyn, which comprised the whole of Long Island, including the counties of Kings, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk.”
The original church building was located on President Street near Van Brunt Street. On Dec. 7, 1941, the same day the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II, the parish moved to their new church, St. Stephen’s. The parish is now called Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Church at Hicks and Summit streets.
The parish is known for its life-size effigy of the crowned Virgin Mary dressed in all black with a single dagger penetrating her heart to symbolize the mourning of her son Jesus’ death.
Each year since 1953, the parishioners gather to honor the feast of Maria S.S. Addolorata, the patron saint of Mola Di Bari, Italy, under the title of “Our Lady of Sorrows,” through a traditional old-world procession and mass on the second Sunday in September. On Good Friday, a procession of pallbearers carry the same Virgin Mary effigy, this time wearing a black veil, behind a full-scale statue of Jesus, adorned with a crown of thorns, encased inside a glass coffin. The entire neighborhood turns out to watch the old world spectacle and guidebooks list the event as “not to be missed.”
St. Mary Star of the Sea was established to serve the Catholic community of Carroll Gardens. The cornerstone was laid on July 17, 1853 before a crowd of over 10,000 people. The new church was dedicated on April 29, 1855. St. Mary’s soon grew to meet the need of the community. The parish at one time included a school, a convent and a nursery.
Renowned architect Patrick C. Keely, who during his career designed over 600 churches and 16 cathedrals, designed St. Mary’s. The Carpenter, Thomas Houghton of 57 Nelson St. was Keely’s son-in-law. When constructed, the church sat on a lot with a clear view of New York Harbor, hence the name “Star of the Sea”.
Local legends abound on Mafia involvement in the neighborhood.
In 1918, Al Capone’s marriage ceremony to Mary (“Mae”) Coughlin took place at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church on Court Street.
Legendary gangster Joey Gallo’s funeral was held at Guido’s Funeral Home on Clinton Street. Gallo was gunned down at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy on April 7, 1972, after a night out with actor Jerry Orbach and his wife.
Bartholomew “Bobby” Boriello, who served as John Gotti’s chauffeur and bodyguard, owned a social club in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood. Murdered in a mob hit in 1992, his funeral at Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen’s Church. Just about every member of the Gambino family attended, except for John and Gene Gotti who were in prison.
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