During the last half of the twentieth century Bushwick became a home for the Hispanic immigrant community. In the early 2000′s the Bushwick Initiative began with the city and state pouring resources into revitalizing the area. From sanitation, commercial revitalization, and housing improvements, Bushwick began to experience rapid growth. As a result, naive to the history, and in search of a more affordable lifestyle in comparison to Williamsburg, I moved into a small apartment on Stanhope street in 2013. The resulting series is a collection of my observations of the great people I met during my time there. Stanhope is an on-going series. This page will see revisions and updates.
There is a stark contrast between the residents of Stanhope in Brooklyn: half being affluent or middle-class students and professionals that commute to the city, myself included, who typically live no more than two years in the neighborhood, resulting in a assembly line of people always moving in and moving out; the other half are a dwindling number of local residents, whose story began to unfold the more time I spent enjoying cognac on the sidewalk with them.
By getting to know them over the past three years and listening to their stories, I discovered that the families have been living and caring for the neighborhood together for generations. Some locals were soldiers that served their country; some are homeless and struggling with addiction; some left Brooklyn for decades and then returned. Their presence keeps the neighborhood safe as no one comes in or out without their knowledge—yet the newer residents walk by them visibly wary.
This is Eli. When I first photographed him, he said with a big grin,”Now you can show all your friends and say:”That’s my Puerto Rican homie”. As time passed, I started to bring my camera around the neighborhood so I was always ready to photograph him. Later on, I began having a hard time leaving Stanhope street at all and eventually would just sit on my stoop and hang out all day, shunning most of my daily responsibilities. When I discovered Eli had been sleeping outside on Stanhope street for the last four years, I could only admire his personality and humbleness towards strangers and his incredible ability to endure the harsh elements day in and out. Eli is a survivor. He threw no pity parties and always interacted positively with others, no matter how grim the weather or his situation was.
It was the death of Eli’s father and the tumultuous years that followed that led Eli into a heavy drug addiction. Sadly, as a result, he eventually lost his apartment on Stanhope, where he had lived in for decades. Eli can be best described as living on two different planets: on one he is happy and just out of rehab, working on some random upkeep project in the neighborhood;on the other he is struggling with addiction, wandering the street in a daze.
On his worst nights Eli will sleep on the sidewalk; sometimes the locals will open their basement for him, or he will live in a shack on one of the roofs. Regardless, there is rarely a moment you won’t see him on the street. His nickname is “Sketchy”; he has seven daughters and is a grandfather. (*Update November 2016: Eli has supposedly checked into rehab and has not been seen on Stanhope for two months.)
Alex, also known as “40”, moved to Stanhope when he was three and has lived there since for over thirty-three years. At twenty years old he was already partying heavily, and one night, after a serious spell of drinking, decided to join the Marines without telling anyone. Unaware of the escalating situation in the Middle East at the time–and to his surprise– he was shortly thereafter shipped off to the Iraq War. The experience was without a doubt an eye-opening one, changing his perspective on the fragility of life while teaching him to appreciate it. For the rest of his military career he was stationed in California, Hawaii, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor, U.A.E., Kuwait, Dubai, and Egypt. After eight long years serving, he finally returned to Stanhope, where he can enjoy himself a 40-oz of Old English.
Alex recalls Stanhope street in the past as a family-oriented block where kids played on the street. Today families are slowly disappearing from the neighborhood, as rents are now climbing at astronomical rates due to the high demand. Alex fits into the category of a dwindling number of local residents who are being pushed out by landlords capitalizing on the higher rents collected from newcomers. He was recently told by his landlord that he and his mother “either pay a 30% rent increase or vacate within the month.” Fortunately, unlike many others who accept small cash bribes to move out and enable bullying from their landlords, Alex and his family took the matter to court and won. However, this small victory will only last the next year until the lease is up, and they’ll face the possibility of leaving a neighborhood they’ve called home for the last thirty-three years.
Birdie(nickname) is one of the more mysterious characters of Stanhope. He is covered in box-cutter scars and is usually riding around Stanhope on his bike. At some point many years ago he married a Russian woman in a cash deal for marriage that would result in a U.S. citizenship for her and her two children. They had to spend time together and learn every intimate detail about one another. She had to memorize all of his tattoos, and they had to take photographs of themselves together in bed as if they were a happy, intimate couple. Although I can’t verify how true any of it is, the last update he gave me three years ago was that they had not seen each other in over a decade and they were still married.
Skateboarding down Stanhope and seeing flattened dead rats was common. For a while I wondered why so many met their demise in that manner. Then one day, while sitting on my stoop, I saw Birdie and Eli, obviously high, chase a rat into a corner, stomp it to death, and then throw it in the street for the cars to run over it.
Andy grew up across the street from the Wyckoff hospital in Bushwick. He was originally drawn to Stanhope because all his peers congregated there after school. Although he moved away from the neighborhood when he was eighteen, he continues to go back to Stanhope where he has forged his strongest friendships. In 2004, he had to take a break from hanging on the block when he became a father to twins. He now lives in Ridgewood, Queens, about seven blocks from Stanhope, where he works as a custodian at a public school and raises his children. Now that his children are a little older, he has found some time again to return and hang out with his old friends.
NYC traffic code is a complete mess. ATVs are not considered motorized vehicles, so the usual laws do not apply to them the same as to cars. I Bushwick you’ll see a lot of ATVs, dirt bikes, and street bikes flying by, especially on Flushing Avenue.
Blake takes a rip off of his blunt on a rainy night on Stanhope. Blake moved to Stanhope in 1984, but when his parents split in 1992 he was moved to the Bronx. He describes his youth in Bushwick and the Bronx during the 80’s and 90’s as a more turbulent and violent time. Nowadays, he is living a relaxed lifestyle, usually sitting in a lawn chair on Stanhope while enjoying some Hennessey.