In the fifties, we didn't get to Manhattan as much as we did to "Downtown Brooklyn". The downtown section of Brooklyn for us was a major "date" destination. Filled with movie theaters, restaurants and shopping, it was the place to go. It's so hard to pick just a few images that represent this unique area. The ones I've chosen are some of my personal favorites such as the iconic Williamsburgh Savings Bank, at One Hanson Place, near Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. It is the tallest building in Brooklyn and its distinctive clock tower could be seen from miles around.
Of all the great movie theaters downtown, maybe the Paramount was best known. A local DJ, Alan Freed, staged rock and roll shows there, and kids lined up for hours to get tickets. Other great theaters in the area were the Fox and Albee, not like the cheesy multiplex venues of today, but extravagant structures with Gothic architecture and opulent, gilded interiors. After the show you could get a bite to eat, and depending on how much you were willing to spend, there were many places from which to choose.
If you thought this date might let you get to second base, you went to a classy place like Junior's. Rightly famous for its cheese cake, Junior's also had good food in pleasant surroundings. It still stands today at Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street, happily clogging the arteries of new cheesecake aficionados.
If your date fought you off like a tiger in the balcony of the Paramount, then you needed to cut your losses. Maybe doughnuts and coffee at Bickford's Cafeteria on Fulton Street and Fourth Avenue was the place for you. Open 24 hours a day, Bickford's was a popular chain with 48 restaurants, up until the sixties when it slipped into oblivion with the rest of downtown Brooklyn.
Downtown was also a big shopping destination with department stores like Abraham & Strauss, Martin's and Mays. The latter was a lower-end store, but A&S and Martin's were quality establishments. Sales help dressed beautifully, and (just imagine) were required to know the merchandise and actually provide customer service.
Today downtown Brooklyn is thriving. Big-name stores, new, expensive housing, and the soon-to-be-built Atlantic Yards project, new home of the New York Nets basketball team . I'm glad its back.
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