When Angelo Bonsignore was a kid in Dyker Heights, he was always curious about the neighborhood. For one, what were those strange pillars he passed every day on the way to school at P.S. 201, seemly randomly placed on two corners of 11th Avenue near 79th Street?
Now a filmmaker and producer, Bonsignore began to research the pillars and other structures in the area and last year stumbled across the Dyker Heights Civic Association’s website. There he found Christian Zaino, also a Dyker Heights native, who founded the Dyker Heights Historical Society after writing his undergraduate thesis on the architecturally rich neighborhood in 2006. Bonsignore proposed pooling his video editing skills and Zaino’s historical resources to create a visual history of the neighborhood.
“I felt there was a lot more to the history of Dyker Heights than Christmas lights. Once I learned all about the Italian-Americans who contributed to Dyker Heights, I wanted to learn more about the people who brought the Italians to Dyker Heights,” Bonsignore, now 36, told me.
Zaino, 30, who coincidentally had grown up very close to Bonsignore, was also curious about Dyker Heights growing up.
“You can have a lot of large homes, and in between you can have some smaller, less-ornate, homes that are close to the street,” he noted. “What did they replace?”
As an undergraduate at NYU, he decided to explore the history of the homes for his final thesis, getting in touch with historian Joseph Ditta, who pointed him towards old maps and Daily Eagle archives. Having amassed an impressive collection of video, photos, maps, and stories since 2006, Zaino, now an orthopedic resident, was intrigued by the idea of putting it together in a documentary.
So with a budget of $0 and a Panasonic camera, the pair got to work on a “labor of love,” determined to tell the lost stories of the historic neighborhood. What started as 15-minute short quickly ballooned into an unscripted, hour-long tour of Dyker Heights, circa 1900.
Check it out: