Gravesend’s ’70s Toyland

I’d been picking my brain to think of an appropriate Christmas post when I suddenly remembered I had this flyer for Taverna’s toy offerings from around 1979. You remember Taverna’s, I’m sure, with their two stores at 222 Avenue U (south side, between West 5th Street and Van Sicklen Street, where Tre Fontane Restaurant is today) and 229 Avenue U (at the northeast corner of West 4th Street, in the building that originally housed the post office and, most recently, Rite Aid). You could buy anything at Taverna’s, from lawn chairs to socks, but for those of us who were kids in the 1970s, their store at 229 Avenue U was the go-to place for toys. I hope these images will inspire as much nostalgia in you as the do for me. I’d love to hear if you had any of these toys. I still have my “Strolling Bowling,” in its original box! Happy holidays, my friends, and all the best for 2017.  — Joseph Ditta

(Click on each image, then scroll down to the lower right and click “view full size.”)

Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (


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Willy Wonka at the Avalon

The sad news of the death of the uniquely funny Gene Wilder reminded me I had this flier for the 1971 opening of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” at the Avalon Theatre, 1720 Kings Highway. Despite the invitation to “Meet the Wonkaplayers,” I doubt any of the stars appeared at the opening. The S.S. Wonkatania awaits!


Flier for the opening of “Williy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” June 30, 1971, Avalon Theatre, 1720 Kings Highway, Brooklyn. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

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Kings Highway in its heyday, looking east from the Brighton Line. Note the Avalon Theatre, at right. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

A postcard view of Kings Highway in its heyday, looking east from the Brighton Line. Note the Avalon Theatre at right. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (


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Coney Island Palimpsest

Looking west through the temporary arch over Surf Avenue at West 8th Street, Coney Island, August 1893 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Looking west through the temporary arch over Surf Avenue at West 8th Street, Coney Island, August 1893. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Twenty-seven thousand firemen descended on Coney Island in August 1893. No, the place wasn’t burning, for once! They came for the 21st annual convention of the New York State Firemen’s Association and a week of dinners, speeches, boxing matches and parades. As the New-York Tribune described the setting on Monday 14 August 1893 (p. 10, col. 1), Coney Island “was one mass of flags and bunting. It looked as if . . .


. . . every one tried to outdo his next-door neighbor, and the result was the most lavish display of decorative material ever seen at the Island. The preparations for the firemen’s convention ended with these decorations, and yesterday was given over to welcoming the delegates. The line of march for the big parade next Friday is covered with flags, and across Surf ave., near Eighth-st., a big arch has been erected, decorated with pictures of engines, hose carts and hook and ladder wagons. Across the top, in big letters, are the words ‘Welcome to Coney Island’.”

It’s easy to imagine this fanciful arch stood where the pedestrian bridge would later span Surf Avenue connecting the West 8th Street subway station to the New York Aquarium. The arch is long gone, of course; it probably came down right after the convention. The bridge went up in the mid-1960s and served for half a century. Safety concerns prompted its overnight demolition in August 2013.

The New York Aquarium's pedestrian bridge spanning Surf Avenue as it looked in June 2011 {Courtesy of Google Street View}.

The New York Aquarium’s pedestrian bridge spanning Surf Avenue as it looked in June 2011. {Courtesy of Google Street View}

Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (

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Summering in Sheepshead Bay


Jones’ Cottages, circa 1910. The four houses to the left in the main image (nos. 2631-2639 East 19th Street) and the bungalow (no. 1908 Jerome Avenue) survive as private houses. Another house (not shown) stood next to the bungalow, near the southwest corner of Jerome and Ocean Avenues.

Not sure where to beat the summer heat? A century ago you could have taken rooms at Jones’ Cottages, a compound of seven boarding houses in Sheepshead Bay clustered around the southeast corner of Jerome Avenue and East 19th Street. The houses — furnished by proprietress Mrs. J. C. Jones-Moneuse in mahogany and Circassian walnut furniture — enclosed a communal “rustic garden” of “peaceful delights for those seeking a cool, quiet evening.” Covered walks connected each cottage to a dining hall, where guests devoured home-cooked Southern fare — fried chicken, sweet potatoes, corn bread, and sour milk biscuits — before sinking into hammocks to the strains of nightly music. Every room had hot and cold running water, with valet, manicurist, and Lady’s maid services available at all hours. All this for $2.00 a day and up. Five of the Jones’ Cottages stand today as private houses.

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Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (


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Father’s Day on Gravesend Bay

“Gravesend Bay, near New York, Sep. 5, 1884,” signed “R. O’B.” {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

I like to imagine the figures in this little watercolor of Gravesend Bay are father and son, wading on the rocky shore, watching the small moored ships and seagulls wheeling by while the scrubby hook of Coney Island dips into the sea at Norton’s Point. My father had no real interest in history, but to humor me he’d drive us around the neighborhood exploring. We “found” Coney Island Creek this way. I never tired of gazing across it with him.

Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (

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