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The site of the former bank.

On  August 22, 1972 the normally quiet strip on Avenue P between Ocean Parkway and McDonald Avenue took center stage in a hot summer drama that is still remembered today.

John Wojtowicz and Sal Naturile attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan Bank on the corner of East 3rd Street and Avenue P. The robbery led to a hostage situation, a 12-hour standoff with police, and a ride to the airport that ended in Naturile’s death.

This story has been made famous by the Sidney Lumet film Dog Day Afternoon starring Al Pacino. The original Time Magazine article about the robbery, “The Boys in the Bank,” was the basis for the screenplay and can be found here.

Former bank teller and Vietnam Veteran Wotjowicz, portrayed in the film by Pacino, was motivated to rob the bank because he needed money for Ernest Aron’s (his boyfriend) sex change operation. For the crime, he served 20 years in prison.

This may be the most dramatic incident to ever take place on this small stretch of the avenue.

The intersection on Avenue P and East 3rd Street is now a quiet hub in the Orthodox Jewish community. It is a predominantly Syrian Jewish neighborhood bordering Gravesend.  Today, the area feels calm and somewhat empty with most of the residents having gone to the shore during the summer months.

450 Avenue P was most recently a medical center but is currently vacant. The sides of the building are covered in graffiti and the parking lot is full of weeds. Neighboring the now vacant building is a kosher sushi restaurant, a florist that is closed for the summer and a Middle Eastern grocery.

One longtime resident of the area, Claire Lesser of 1500 Ocean Parkway, remembers returning from work 40 years ago and not being able to take her regular route home.

“I normally got off the train and walked down Avenue P,” recalled Lesser. “But they had closed off the streets because of the commotion so I had to go up East 2nd and walk down Avenue O.”

Directly across the street from the former bank is Edward’s Hair Salon located at 455 Avenue P. Edward’s now caters to immigrants of Russian and Israeli decent. One of the oldest barbers in Edward’s is Sal Cannarella.

Sal Cannarella

Cannarella started working at the barber shop three months after the attempted robbery. He heard many stories from his co-workers at what was then called Dino’s Barber Shop. The FBI used Dino’s to stage their negotiations until Dino’s was ready to close for the night, then the FBI had to move to a different barber shop on the corner.

Cannarella recalled when Wotjowicz was released from prison, “he came with a Canadian camera crew, and went in the bank and asked to be security there.”

“The gay was in the car too,” he added, referring to Elizabeth Eden, Aron’s post-op girlfriend’s name and the muse of the robbery.

The barbers at Dino’s also played a prank on the bank when after the incident they sent in their shoe shine wearing a ski mask. The bank staff pushed the panic button and police once again flooded the avenue.

Cannarella recalled that many of the businesses have changed since the robbery.

He said, “There used to be a luncheonette, a butcher shop, a bakery and a fish store on the block, but they are all gone.”

Cannarella also mentioned that Frank’s Pizza, further down the block at 424 Avenue P was the pizza place that served the robbers and the hostages during the standoff.

When asked about the events on the block 40 years ago, Vito Cusumano, the new owner of Frank’s Pizza, simply replied, “It was a long time ago.”

Source: @LevysUniqueNY

This photo comes by way of the Levy’s Unique NY, a tour guide group run by the Levy boys (dad and three sons).

The Levys grew up near Ditmas Park and now hold all types of quirky New York tours, with a special focus on Brooklyn. From their Edible Ethnic Eats tour to a 4-hour bike tour of Brooklyn’s former breweries, these guys are the authority on New York’s unique cultural history.

One of the Levys (was it Matt?) tweeted this photo of Bensonhurst row homes at dusk and titled it, “Bensonhurst Beauties.” I can’t help but agree, these are Bensonhurst beauties.

Thanks to the Levy family for noticing how cute our neighborhood is.

Source: Ariful Islam Mithu via Wikimedia Commons

For your daily, weekly or monthly dose of highbrow, check out a free Opera event happening tonight from 6:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Bensonhurst Park, located at Bay Parkway and Cropsey Avenue.

The NYC Parks Department with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Senator Martin Golden, Assemblyman Peter Abbate and The Italian Opera Company present: The International Artists of the Italian Opera Company in “A Better World” featuring Broadway musicals and opera excerpts.

Trust me, your nonno and nonna do not want to miss this.

Call Nina DiGregorio at 718-232-8162 or the Parks Dept at 718-965-8913 for more information.

Photo courtesy of Eugene Komissarov

A short while ago, reader and concerned citizen Eugene Komissarov sent in an odd note. It detailed an incident that occurred at 67th Street and 18th Avenue.

His note read:

I’m at the scene of a strange and unusual incident. On 67th Street and 18th Avenue, there are two police vehicles and a medical examiner. My close friend lives in the building where the incident occurred.

A dead body was found in the bath tub of a 3 family house. My friend lives in the 2nd floor of the house. A family of three live on the third floor where the smell of a decomposing body was in the air.

The neighbors called police and they immediately arrived at the scene, then entered the apartment to discover an 86 year-old’s body.

The family that lived in that home stated that they were trying to contact police for the past month but do not have a telephone. The body of the elderly woman was found in the bath tub. She passed away the 13th of July. Ever since, the body has been laying in their bathtub in their home.

The two residents of the apartment say that they did not know what to do when she passed away. Such a strange story.

After several phone calls, the medical examiner was able to confirm that a body had been found at the location. However, no one was willing to comment on or confirm any of the details surrounding the death.

Our thoughts are with the friends or family of the deceased. Strange indeed that a body remain decomposing for over a month and no one knows what to do about it.

Source: Nigel Cox via Wikimedia Commons

From the offices of Councilman David Greenfield:

Councilman David G. Greenfield is working closely with the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) to make sure that a number of street resurfacing projects underway across the district are completed in a timely manner with as few disruptions to the community as possible. This is part of Greenfield’s focus on ensuring that the 44th Council district, which includes Boro Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst, receives the government funding, services and resources its residents deserve.

Repaving work is being completed this week along 46th Street between 8th Avenue and 18th Avenue in Boro Park, where crews have been working to resurface this important stretch of road – one of the bumpiest in the entire neighborhood. In addition, work has been completed or is planned for along 43rd Street from 14th Avenue to McDonald Avenue, 56th Street from 16th Avenue to Dahill Road, 58th Street from 18th Avenue to the dead end abutting Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School and 59th Street from 16th Avenue to 23rd Avenue. The end result will be smooth, newly-resurfaced streets that are safer and easier to navigate for all residents, especially drivers, cyclists, and bus riders.  As work progresses, signs will be posted alerting residents of any temporary parking restrictions on their block. Anyone who does receive a ticket after their vehicle has been relocated by DOT crews to another block should contact Greenfield’s office for help fighting it.

“I am proud to have worked with the DOT to identify our worst streets and schedule them for summer repair in order to minimize the impact it has on residents and businesses. It is important that the city continues to invest in our infrastructure including local streets to protect our quality of life and make sure the neighborhood is well maintained,” said Greenfield.

The New York City budget includes $125.2 million for street repaving in Fiscal Year 2013, which began on June 30. In addition, the Brooklyn Borough President contributed $2.2 million for street repaving in Fiscal Year 2013, an increase of about $600,000 from the prior year. As co-chair of the Council’s Brooklyn Delegation, Greenfield worked closely with Borough President Marty Markowitz to make sure that street resurfacing was adequately funded in the budget, and that streets in poor condition in Boro Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst are included in the repaving schedule for the upcoming year.

The current projects come on the heels of the completion of two major local resurfacings: 50th Street, which was long known as the worst stretch of road in Boro Park, and Avenue P, which had been the source of many complaints from Midwood residents. These two important projects were included in the DOT’s spring resurfacing program earlier this year after Greenfield personally questioned DOT officials about the condition of streets in his district and urged them to be fixed immediately. While there is generally a backlog of streets around the city that are awaiting repairs, Greenfield encourages any resident with suggestions for road repairs to contact his office at (718) 853-2704, especially if the poor street conditions are creating a safety hazard.

“It is an ongoing battle to keep our streets smooth and safe, and I will continue to fight so that we receive our share of city resources. My thanks to the DOT for its hard work, both this summer and throughout the year. We are making real progress on our goal of improving the condition of our local streets,” added Greenfield.

Every summer, neighbors come together and plan block parties. It gives them a chance to hang out, form a camaraderie and celebrate the summer by truly owning the block.

Sunday, August 19, on West Street between Avenue U and Avenue V, the orange cones prevented any cars from going down the road. The kids danced and twirled their neon light necklaces and toys while the DJ played Michael Jackson. Their parents relaxed on folding chairs, knocking back cans of Coors Light.

From block to block, block party to block party, it doesn’t seem like there are many differences between the parties of now and 10 years ago. Well, that’s not exactly true.

“Don’t even get me started on the curfew,” said one of the moms in attendance. She is referring to the 9 p.m. mandatory shutdown time. In previous years, the curfew was later. No one recalled the exact time, but they all said it must have been around midnight.

The other issues that got people talking were the few cars that somehow managed to drive past the barricades and make it down the street filled with kids playing.

And finally, the biggest gripe was with neighbors who did not participate in the event. Whether it was because of financial concerns or otherwise, no one knew. However, most agreed that it dampened the efforts of the others.

“I just wish everyone acted like neighbors, not just people living near each other,” said another mom, before she dashed after her son.

Image courtesy of NYSenate.gov

State Senator Marty Golden’s most recent gun bill has received early support from Mayor Bloomberg, as the issue takes center stage in the campaign to keep his seat.

Golden plans to stiffen penalties against people who plant “community guns” – weapons hidden in locations for use by gang members and other criminals.

“Today you have a person or a gang that will have one gun that all its members use and know where it is,” said Golden. “Gun sharing is the latest tactic used to get illegal firearms in the hands of criminals and this necessary legislation will hold accountable not just those people who commit the crimes, but those make the illegal guns available.”

The bill would bring felony charges against anyone who shares a gun that is later used in a violent crime. Prosecutors have difficulty bringing charges in such cases because they must prove the person knew the shared gun was going to be used for a crime.

Senate Republicans plan to support the bill when the Legislature begins session in January.

Democrats have been pushing their own gun-control bills, while State Senate Candidate Andrew Gounardes recently issued a press release criticizing Golden’s “complete failure to pass common sense gun laws.”

Gounardes points out that a 2010 bill on microstamping failed to come to a vote after Golden left the Senate room to take a phone call. Microstamping is a process which imprints bullet casings with the make, model, and serial number of the gun from which they were fired.

Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg have been pushing politicians, including both presidential campaigns, to address the issue of gun violence.

In March, Senator Golden sponsored two bills that were passed by the Senate. One bill increased the penalties for criminals who display a gun during a crime and the other bill lengthened the jail sentence for criminal sale or possession of a weapon at a residence of a child or in the presence of a child.

Source: MTA

Underrated? Underrated by who? I don’t feel underrated and I’m sort of sick of these “poor little southern Brooklyn” routines.

Take this article in Brooklyn Exposed titled, “What To Do In 9 Underrated Brooklyn” (what does that title mean, anyway?).

It’s meant to be a mini-travel guide to exotic locales in Brooklyn and their special brand of charm.

Among other places I love, like Mill Basin, the author lists:

Gravesend – Pour on The Au Jus

You may not have too many reasons to visit this South Central Brooklyn neighborhood, but once you taste the kick-ass melt-in-your-mouth Roast Beef sandwich at Brennan & Carr you will feel justified to visit again and again, and again.  Still not convinced?  Then don’t just take our word for it – this tasty delight served with heavenly au jus gained national fame when Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food stopped by and Adam Richman deemed it one of his “favorite Brooklyn foods”.

This isn’t about hisptersdom. In fact, I banned myself from using the word the first time I ever heard it. I’m not a hater. This is about respect.

Neighborhoods where thousands of people live cannot be “underrated” because we don’t subscribe to a rating. We’re cool like that without even trying.

In fact, most places outside of Southern Brooklyn are overrated. And another thing, don’t call us underrated again or we’ll really get Brooklyn on you.

Source: house.gov

Ofer Biton, a top fundraiser for Congressman Michael Grimm has been arrested by the FBI. He stands accused of of lying on his immigration documents.

The New York Times reports:

According to the complaint, Mr. Biton deceived the government in June 2010 about the source of $500,000 that he claimed to have put into a new business that was to make him eligible for a permanent visa.

Immigrants who can document that they have invested significant amounts of capital in the United States and have created jobs for Americans are often eligible for a permanent visa for themselves and their families. But under the rules, the seed money for the business has to have been obtained honestly.

In his papers, Mr. Biton claimed much of the money for his business came from a loan from a family friend.

In challenging that account, the complaint strongly hints that the money was raised through more coercive means, like extortion.

In the past, Biton was entrenched in allegations of embezzlement stemming from his work with Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto. Biton had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Grimm from members of Pinto’s congregation.

Prosecutor Anthony Capozzolo filed the charges against Biton. He has also been leading a probe of allegations against Congressman Grimm. The allegations state that he accepted illegal campaign contributions.

Though the complaint against Biton makes no mention of Grimm’s involvement, the link between the two has Democrat Mark Murphy, who is running to replace Michael Grimm in Congress, talking.

Later today, Murphy will hold a press conference, calling on Grimm to return $500,000 in campaign donations raised by Biton.

In his release, Murphy writes that Biton’s arrest was, “the first major arrest to happen amid the widening federal probe of Grimm’s fundraising activities.”

Biton is being held without bail.

Photo courtesy of Rocco Deserto

Local comedian Rocco Deserto took the plunge with his ladylove, Melissa Fortunato, last month. Their wedding party was extensive, with 26 of their closest friends and relatives walking with them down the aisle.

One guest, however, was a total wedding crasher. A giant plume of smoke from  nearby three-alarm fire made its way into all of the couple’s photos near the Brooklyn Bridge (see above).

A massive fire broke out across the East River at the South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 at about 4 p.m., the same time the couple had stopped there for their wedding photos.

The comedian, who has been hard at work trying to make it in the business for years, became a TV sensation after the story broke.

“The day after my wedding I got a phone call from Inside Edition, that they wanted to pick up the story. I was leaving for my honeymoon the next day so I couldn’t go in to be interviewed. They asked me for my videographers information, and they actually picked him up the next day and took him to their studio to upload footage. Later that week they aired our story, and it even aired on another episode a few days later. Rumors from my family in Italy that it also ran on a TV show in Italy. The picture has made it to meme websites and a London newspaper. Long story short, I’ve been doing comedy for 2 years with no love from the media, but one wedding picture and I got the most media coverage I’ll probably ever get. I even got recognized when I went to do my insurance information at work, the lady told me “I recognize your name, you were in the NY Post right?” said Deserto of the surprising source of his new-found fame.

Poor Rocco, he gets no respect.

He does have an upcoming show at Caroline’s on Broadway on September 17 at 7:00pm.

“If you call to make your reservation tell them you’re coming to see Rocco Deserto, if you do this you get a $10 discount on the cover charge, so you will only pay $5!” Deserto says.

As for the smoke monster, Rocco will have to see if it makes an appearance at his stand-up show too.