The printed version of this story is in the new issue of Kiosk Paper, available to pick up for free at Kiosk, 95 Spring Street at Broadway in SoHo.
About a ten-minute walk from my apartment in Crown Heights, past Ebenezer Haitian Church and the Bedford-Union Armory, just across the street from Medgar Evers College, is Ebbets Field Apartments, a seven-tower housing development so much taller than everything around it that it can be seen for miles in every direction. It is named for the historic Ebbets Field baseball stadium that once stood here, home to the much-beloved Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 to 1957, where Jackie Robinson, the first African-American baseball player signed to the major leagues, hit the home run that helped win the team the 1955 World Series.
When the Dodgers’ lovesick fanbase outgrew Ebbets Field in the mid-’50s, Walter O’Malley, the team’s owner, hoped to move the stadium to Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush, where the controversial Barclays Center is currently going up. But his plans were thwarted by all-powerful city planner Robert Moses, leading O’Malley to sell the Dodgers to Los Angeles where they remain to this day. So tragic was this turn of events in Brooklyn history that it is said that when the wrecking ball came to the site, a crowd gathered to mourn as a brass band played “Auld Lang Syne.”
But the man I meet in in front of the rundown tower at 1700 Bedford Avenue on this sunny day hasn’t heard that story, and he has lived here for 33 years. “And I’m 36, wait, no, I’m 38,” he says laughing. “But people were sad, sure. They’re saying now with the Barclays Center, ‘Oh, we finally got our Ebbets Field back.’” He wears all black, including a black baseball cap. We are sitting on a bench in the building’s bereft concrete courtyard, amid faded signs that prohibit bicycle riding, dogs and, ironically, ball playing, next to some high green bushes. Kids play in front of a door scrawled with RIPs.
“Home plate used to be right there,” he points to the corner. “But they got all the history down at the McDonald’s—pictures of Jackie Robinson and the teams and the crowds.” He takes a drag of his cigarette. “What are you doing, sightseeing?”
“I walked by this place a few weeks ago and it sort of took my breath away. It’s got an eerie quality.”
“Yup, it’s windier up here. Do you feel that?”
“Where do you live?”
“Down by the Brooklyn Museum.”
“There’s been a lot of change over there. All down Franklin Ave and Vanderbilt, they’ve got lounges on every corner now.” He pauses. “That’s nice for y’all.”
I say goodbye and walk over to the McDonald’s on McKeever Place, named for former Brooklyn Dodgers president Steve McKeever, but I can’t find any photos of the old ballpark. It’s 3 o’clock and the restaurant is full of teenagers eating and hanging out, and the manager doesn’t have time to go down memory lane with me. Or help me understand how the destruction of Ebbets Field in 1957, and the construction of the Barclays Center 50 years later, could both signify the end of an era.