"Turn your pager to 1992..."

I came home the other night in a cab, late, driven by an eastern European guy who, in retrospect, sounded a lot like Roman Bellic from GTA IV. Or maybe my memory has just cast him that way. Anyway, a block or two from my house my cabbie said, "This place, it used to be a jungle, my friend. I would not have driven you here a few years ago."

The refrain is nothing new and I've listened to Ready to Die enough times to know that, in Bedford-Stuyvesant of old, "****as is gettin' smoked G, believe me." But I wanted some specifics, so I trolled the internet for news stories about my street from back in the day. I woulda liked to have seen you, just for a minute, old New York.

Drug Ring Is Accused After Years Of Luxury
Published: October 6, 1994

"After running one of the biggest heroin operations in New York for more than two decades, Charles Galletti tried slipping away to Puerto Rico three years ago to live a kind of early retirement, Federal law-enforcement officials said yesterday.... "I'd say if he was not running the major distribution group here, it was No. 2, and it was probably No. 1," said Carlo A. Boccia, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York.

Mr. Galletti started selling heroin on the Lower East Side in the late 60's, Federal authorities said. During his peak years, from 1985 to 1991, they estimated, Mr. Galletti was taking $800,000 in profits every month and living as lavishly as the Colombian drug lords who dominate the world traffic in cocaine....

Mr. Galletti spent another $50,000, she said, to build a private playground, complete with artificial turf, special high-intensity lighting and brightly painted fiberglass and metal swings, merry-go-round and jungle gym next to the Bedford-Stuyvesant house, at 69-71 Skillman Street. The only one who played there, unless especially invited, was his 8-year-old daughter, Christine."

Dealer Is Guilty In Gun Slaying Of Drug Battler
Published: January 30, 1991

"A man with a criminal record as a drug dealer was found guilty yesterday of the murder of a Brooklyn woman who had become a symbol of citizen courage in fighting drug traffic.

The victim, Maria Hernandez, was killed when she was struck in the head by one of five bullets fired from a car through a window of her first-floor apartment at 105 Starr Avenue in the Bushwick section early on Aug. 8, 1989.

The authorities described the shooting as retaliation by drug dealers for persistent efforts by Mrs. Hernandez and her husband, Carlos, to rid their neighborhood of drug dealing. At the end of a three-week trial in State Supreme Court, the jury convicted 28-year-old William Figueroa of murder in the case. The Brooklyn man, whose address was given as 253 Skillman Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section, faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison when sentenced Feb. 19 by Justice Francis X. Egitto, who conducted the trial."

Here's a bit of way back Skillman history:

From: "Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani"
By, Wayne Barrett and Adam Fifield

"Rudy Giuliani's maternal grandmother Adelina Stanchi came to America with her family from Naples in 1884 when she was two years old. Her mother died young, when she was thirteen, leaving her with the responsibility of raising her younger brother and sister, Andrew and Louise. Her father, Vincenzo Stanchi, who would eventually remarry, was a cigar manufacturer in Brooklyn. A tall, husky man, who favored pipes over cigars, Vincenzo owned the building at 206 Skillman Street where his family lived. He also owned a bar in the basement, as well as a stable in the backyard that housed ten horses, which he rented out to coach drivers."

From: "A History of the City of Brooklyn" - By, Henry Reed Stiles
Published 1869 - University of Michigan Press

"In East Brooklyn, were the whisky distilleries of Charles Wilson, Messrs. Wood & Co., and the Messrs. Bache. The first named was the oldest establishment of the kind in the city, having been in operation during a period of about seventeen years, and was located on the corner of Franklin avenue and Skillman Street. It contained accomodations for 800 cows, and consumed 120,000 bushels of grain a year, valued at $72,000 and 700 tons of coal, worth $3,800. Its products were 480,000 gallons of whisky per annum, valued at $120,000; and 165,000 barrels of swill were annually disposed of, for $9,150. The establishment had a capital of $50,000, and employed 18 hand, at an annual expense of $6,000, its works being operated by a 20-horse power engine."

More recently, this is the kind of press Skillman Street receives:

Taking the Two-Family Path
March 9, 2008

"As natives of Seattle, where they paid $1,100 for a one-bedroom rental in a downtown neighborhood called Belltown, Brandon and Jette Starniri faced culture shock when they moved to New York three years ago and settled into a Brooklyn Heights walk-up.... After visiting open houses, they realized they needed help, so they made contact with Nahid Mollah, an associate broker at ReMax Today in Astoria, Queens, who had helped good friends of theirs find a house in Woodside....

Discouraged, Mrs. Starniri declared, “I am not looking at another house to fall in love with!” But Mr. Mollah insisted. He took them to a two-family house on Skillman Street in Clinton Hill [ed. note: it's Bed-Stuy, motherfucker], listed for $839,000. “Jette was so mad at me,” Mr. Mollah said. “I said, ‘Listen, this is everything you want,’ ” with original details and a big backyard. Mr. Starniri was still hung up on the neighborhood. “I am Google mapping it and saying: ‘No way. This is Bed-Stuy, five blocks away from the Monroe place,’ ” he said.

But, once there, they could see the beauty: plank floors, marble fireplaces, crown moldings. And this neighborhood was different. Construction was everywhere, even across the street. Though one house in their little row appeared abandoned, the rest were well kept. The day after closing, they noticed the back door was ajar. Inside, stray cats wandered. The place was empty, so there was nothing to steal. “I thought, this is good,” Mrs. Starniri said. “We are getting the break-in out of the way.”

A week later, it happened again. This time, the front door was open. “My heart just sank,” she said. The burglars had apparently entered through the roof hatch, a piece of wood with a hook. The kitchen counter and cabinets, which they had been planning to move upstairs, were gone. So was her toolbox and even her snacks: Diet Coke, Sun Chips and oatmeal cookies."

Finally, and most depressingly, we have this bit of brand-new news. This information comes from the folks at Brownstoner.com:

"Bed-Stuy Church Sold To Developer"

"The Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church recently sold off its big church on Skillman Street and Bedford Avenue, in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The property fetched $4,100,000, according to public records. A representative for the church said the only section of the property that it will retain control of is the parsonage, and that it hopes to continue to provide housing for priests there. One of the investors who purchased the property is Michael Lichtenstein, who is also currently involved with a planned development at 681 Driggs in Williamsburg, a building that may not happen as originally conceived because of the recent rezoning of Grand Street. The DOB hasn't issued any permits for work on the property. Let's hope that whatever's planned doesn't involve a wrecking ball."


It is difficult for me to live on Skillman Street. As much as I love my neighborhood - from the stray cats, to the dead pigeons in our backyard, to the arabic spoken at our bodega, and the "Fuck College" tag on a nearby house - I know that I am not a positive force for Skillman Street. There's not much besides a wedding ring and a slightly higher salary separating me from those renovators who got busted into twice.

I want to be a part of this neighborhood and its culture, but I don't think it's possible to do so without actively destroying it as well. My mere presence, a white college grad who leaves every morning in khaki pants and a blue dress shirt, makes the street palatable to douchebags looking to buy black churches and flip them as condos. I abet the Daniel Rat"fuck"ners of New York City. Short of planting IED's designed to target McLaren strollers and tossing molotov cocktails into the renovation projects around us, I don't see how I can have an impact on Skillman Street that doesn't assist its transformation to "Clinton Hill Extension Part 1" or, as I mentioned in an earlier post, "Southwest Williamsburg."

The best I can do, I think, is know what I'm a part of, what I contribute to and detract from; the history and the people around me. The burden is on me to be a part of the neighborhood, not on everyone else to accept me. Which is why I kind of don't think that those suckers who had their house broke into get to complain. They are the others, they're the invading force, and they're not welcome. Nor am I. But you made the decision to live there so if you get yoked for cab fare, you got robbed... tough shit. You chose where to rest your head. No one needs to feel sorry for the white couple making $75 grand or the college kid commuting daily to the richest acre of real estate in the world. Like Chris Rock said, "White boy, you gonna be alright."

It wasn't Rudy Giuliani who cleaned up NYC. It was two things: abortions, and the shipping off of a hundred thousand black youths to human holding pens in Podunk Buttfuck, Upstate New York. People addressed this city's disenfranchised, unmotivated youth indeed; stripped them of their rights, and sent them away for 15 years for smoking a blunt while listening to Biggie on their stoop. You don't get to benefit from that silently, without understanding your context. "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."

1 comment:

Laura in NYC said...

I used to live on Skillman street, until a few months ago...actually at the same address as Rudy Guiliani's grandfather. Freaky! Maybe we knew eachother, maybe you're the guy upstairs. I didn't have such a great ending, though. Nor were my experiences on that street very positive. That incident where the woman was raped in "an empty lot" ...I wonder which one. That could have been me, as I walked home alone every night. Also, that happened right after I moved into that place and was told by the woman living there that it was safe. I did, however, take care of many cats on that street, and one of them now lives with me. I found this when I was researching past incidents there.