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Bushwick 77: Burning out the Heart of Bushwick

- CartLegger - Sunday, July 18th, 2010 : goo

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It was 33 years ago today, that All Hands Fire ripped through Bushwick. It was such a big event, that it deserves another post!

These are new photos released by FDNY archives. Thanks to Randy Barron and FDNY Photo Archives, and Noah Detweiler for his work sifting through thousands of negatives to find these gems! If you'd like to see the originals, just ask! They are public property, after all!

Finally, as I wrote about it three years ago, I thought I'd let my former students tell you about this time!

##On July 18 1977, a giant fire burned out the heart of Bushwick. It was one of the biggest fires that FDNY ever fought. It started at the corner of Knickerbocker Avenue and Bleecker Street in an old abandoned knitting factory. It was set by three teenagers, who were later charged with reckless endangerment, third degree assault and arson, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

It was like many other fires that occurred during the firestorm years of Bushwick, except for the old tank of Kerosene in the basement. When it exploded, a fireball exploded out of the building. It took about 3 to 5 hours for 55 units of firefighters from Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn to put out the fire. The fire hydrants were no use to the firefighters because they were low on water.
It turned out that the citizens throughout the summer kept on using the hydrants to fight off the heat. The firefighters also were low on equipment because of the low budget the department received. Many citizens were affected by the fire. 65 families lost their homes and about 23 buildings were destroyed, as well as 50 people injured, including firefighters.

This fire was important to Bushwick because many homes were lost and it showed how dangerous leaving abandoned buildings could be. It was also important to the rebuilding of Bushwick. The empty space left by the fire is now the location of the 83rd precinct, which help

Lourdelis Garcia and Lita Lynne
The Academy of Urban Planning##

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The old Schwaben Hall on Bleeker

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This article has been viewed 36320 times in the last 6 years

Bb2ru: 19th Jul 2010 - 16:25 GMT

This was a crazy day in Bushwick, I remember clearly that entire incident watching fire trucks roll up and down Knickerboker Ave. the knitting factoria burned for days, still after a week smoke kept coming out from the basement area.

anon ( 26th Mar 2011 - 15:30 GMT

I moved out of Hancock St. in Brooklyn in June 63.The house I lived in is still standing, it started out as a cold water flat. (railroad rooms). Steam heatwas added. I (and my two sisters) went to St. Martin of Tours. Had great times there. crsbutler

Bb2ru: 26th Mar 2011 - 22:53 GMT

Anon where on Hancock did you live, I lived on Hancock between Knickerboker and Irving moved out in 1975

basic t.p.a / t.m.5 crew: 20th Aug 2011 - 04:26 GMT

i lived on hancock between knickerbocker and wilson ave with my aunt!!! & i remeber this day like it was

Jerry Tusa: Nov. 27th, 2011: 29th Nov 2011 - 03:23 GMT

i had a coca cola route in bushwick. i was there that day watching it burn. i was in citibank across the street and felt the heat in the bank

anon ( 21st Feb 2012 - 01:08 GMT

the memories of my early childhood in this area, shall live on in my heart eternally...

Ben: 2nd Mar 2012 - 22:05 GMT

wow and just to think that the 77 black outs happened that same year. man Bushwick has been through a lot.

Mary Jean Brocia Foss: 19th Mar 2012 - 01:03 GMT

I remember this fire, if I am not mistaken (5 alarm) in Bushwick--went down in the history books!

Bb2ru: 10th Apr 2012 - 03:00 GMT

Knickerbocker Ave has a total different look now, just went back to visit after almost 20 years and couldn't believe the change, new housing projects, stores,83 Police Pct., schools, Bushwick High School now extendend to Putnam Ave. incredible!!!!!

mike: 25th Apr 2012 - 08:26 GMT

I lived at 248 Bleecker St.My family and I lost everything.It was hot as hell no water because of open hydrants and that knitting mill (Berg & Berg )should have been torn down long before that.The fire was set by glue sniffers who hung out there.The firefighters did the best they could the odds were stacked against them.Our lives have moved on but my memories of that day will never go away.

L.horvath: 19th May 2012 - 22:13 GMT

Brought back wonderful memories...met my wife at a Baker Ball at the Schwaben Hall.

anon ( 19th Jun 2012 - 18:59 GMT

I lived[1949 till 19630 first at 37 Covert Street[off Bushwick Ave] , then 1347 Bushwick Ave[next to DR. Corona] between Schaeffer and decatur] around the corner from the Gay Bar with the piano player] moved to Cypress Hills , July of 63

anon ( 19th Jun 2012 - 19:00 GMT

I can be contacted at

rosemaryinsc: 19th Jun 2012 - 19:53 GMT

I married a guy from Hancock, between Knickerbocker and Irving. I lived 739 Knickerbocker, until a fire in '61. Moved to Cornelia and Knickerbocker

Josephine Russo: 20th Jun 2012 - 12:26 GMT

Bushwick was one of the best area to live in when we were kids I loved growing up in Williamburg but I also remember how beautiful the Bushwick area was..I had alot of friends who lived in Ridgewood and I would take the Wilson ave bus to visit them I went to Bushwick High School until 1959 when I grad.I had inlaws who lived on Starr street between Kick and Wilson and I would walk on Kick.ave with my daughters and shop..They might have burn down Bushwick but we have our memories......

Bb2ru: 25th Jun 2012 - 12:38 GMT

Rosemary who in Hancock did you marry?, I used to live at 1329 Hancock first floor.

Roland Sanchez : 7th Nov 2012 - 02:38 GMT

I was 5yrs old when this happen my house is the one on the left next to the yellow house with the guy wearing the bright yellow shirt its actually the last picture b4 get to this point of the page n the second to the last pic that shows the hollow shell of the factory with all of the debris in the street yhr car

Roland Sanchez : 7th Nov 2012 - 02:52 GMT

The car with the trunk open which was parked in front of my house is my step dad car l cant believe l found these pictures it takes me back l remember looking out my window n seeing huge flames shooting out 3rd floor 3windows the fire was so intense u can feel it from across the street l started yelling to my sister look look look she ran towards the window to see what was going on thats when she seen n felt the heat thats when she grabbed me n we ran out to safety my moms n my stepdad said they can see the fire from the J train crossing the Williamsburg bridge little did they know it was our house n the our neighborhood in flames

Bb2ru: 20th Dec 2012 - 19:40 GMT

I'm trying to locate a girl who used to go by the name of "Candy" her real name is Christina Payne, used to hang around Broadway and Myrtle Aves in the 70's, had a baby girl who she never met. Her duaghter is trying to locate her mom.Thanks

Harold Hock: 18th Apr 2013 - 17:23 GMT

I was not living in ridgewood at the time of the fire. My grandmother lived at 209 Menahen St. My aunt worked in that factory and my cusion lived on bleecher st. next to the hall. But I have nothing but good memories of ridgewood. I lived at 312 Wilson Ave. and went to St. Barbara's graduated in 1960.

patti: 22nd Apr 2013 - 03:48 GMT

I lived at 246 Bleecker Street, Mike you must be the caratola family. You remember the carneys we were neighbors. The worst day we all lost everything. Yes that day I will never forget. I left work fire was on news. Took train home from downtown had to get off at Central Ave station and walk to Knickerbocker station, the smoke was so thick hard to see anything. I remember frantically trying to find my family. Worst memory of my life. But thanked God we were all safe.

Andrea Meredith: 17th Dec 2014 - 16:01 GMT

My dad grew up in Bushwick on Palmetto St. The house is no longer standing but I think it had to do with a bomb.That is what I heard anyway.

Peter & Janet Milazzo: 17th Dec 2014 - 16:30 GMT

Lived at 263 Wilson Ave, between, Harmon & Greene Ave.
Met my Wife of 50 years now on Bleecker, between Wilson and Knickerbocker.
Married in St. Barbara's...
Had some of The Happiest times of My Life in Bushwick.

dorothy delmage : 17th Dec 2014 - 16:49 GMT

I lost my home that day 487 knickerbocker avenue

Angela DiFazio (LaRosa): 17th Dec 2014 - 20:13 GMT

We owned LaRosa bakery at 280 Wilson Avenue. I lived upstairs... I have the actual pictures from that day!!! I'll never forget it!!! Had many friends who had to move!

Frank Widmayer: 17th Dec 2014 - 20:20 GMT

I lived at 142 George Street as a kid in Ridgewood, I'm pretty sure. I remember my grandfather used to talk about Knickerbocker Ave so I think it was close. He (Gus Catanese) was a firefighter for many years but retired in 1965. His son (my Uncle) Frank was a Lieutenant at NYFD as well and is now retired. He posted this link on FB where I saw it. I moved out when I was nine years old but still remember my time there fondly. It was a fun place to grow up. An Uncle, Frederick Widmayer, on my father's side was a Battalion Chief at NYFD and he retired in 1950.

Jimmy b: 21st Mar 2015 - 02:05 GMT

What I remember about that fire was that you felt the intense heat on the other side of the myrtle ave El a block away- also the fire trucks were abandoned under the El from the heat - the fire trucks literally melted. Capt FDNY

Nelson Colon: 1st May 2015 - 23:52 GMT

I lived 2 blocks from that fire, on Bleecker & Central...The whole neighborhood was going up in smoke, because of all the slum lords that rather pay some thugs to burn their building down than fix it. They would then collect the insurance money, and the people in the building would end up being the victims practically homeless until they'd find another place to move into. That area in Bushwick became as bad as the South Bronx resembling a War Zone. That neighborhood has come a long way.

Elizabeth Colon_Ortiz: 2nd May 2015 - 01:08 GMT

I lived right over what's DD today 1443 Myrtle Ave. It was a Greek diner back then. I so remember the fire everything was crazy then. We remained there for a couple of years until the diner also had a fire. Love my Bushwick always in my heart very fond memories of my childhood!!

Hilda Sanchex: 2nd May 2015 - 22:38 GMT

I lived there then on Madison Street.I rmember very well all the tragedy.It was a very sad time in Bishwick.

anon ( 3rd May 2015 - 15:03 GMT

Ah, Bushwick Avenue the king of thoroughfares for many many blocks. The avenue of Lawyers,Doctors,Judges,Politicians,Dentists and other business people.I lived at 1035 Bushwick avenue between Gates Avenue and Linden street. We had 4 movie theatres in the few blocks. RKO Bushwick,the Lowes Gates[these were first run movis houses],then The Empire and the lower level one which all the kids loved was the Monroe on Howard. For a dime you could be there all day from around 8 in the morning to 4. Two movies. 21 cartoons , a 3 stooges,a serial or two and coming attractions and pandimoniam as the kids were wild and almost hanging off the rafters.,although there were no rafters. Mayor Hylan lived on Bushwick avenue in the 20's. There was a Dr. Caltigirone a very famous plastic surgeon who invented a special scalpel which the government used in World War Two.Dr. Pellicane who made house calls as did others and if you didn't have money he would say when you do or say ok and leave it at that. Nice man.We had a very high end restaurant near Broadway called the Claridge. It was white tablecloths and waiters in cutoff jackets. All the bankers and business men went here very often.It was Manhattan in Bushwick. We had Tells Department store a 4 story building,like a little Macy's on broadway and linde. This neighborhood was unique to New York as if a world unto itself. It was a golden time. There is so much more to this area,but you get the point. It was a great place to grow up and in the middle 60's we left.It was scare tactics that drove out people. The speculators ruined not only Bushwick,but many areas of Brooklyn as well that were stable communities. Gone,but not forgotten.

vincent Vanasco: 3rd May 2015 - 15:06 GMT

Oops,forgot to put my name in the long Bushwick comment.

Anthony hilliard: 5th May 2015 - 03:25 GMT

I lived on weirfield st boardway and bushwick the warehouse on that block was crazy. Boxes all day and night . Will never forget. Bushwick 4ever.

Libby Morro: 21st Sep 2015 - 13:09 GMT

I remember that factory very well. I lived at 254 Wilson Ave but, my whole family lived at 208 Bleecker Street. My best memories growing up were in Bushwick.

MILDRED ACEVEDO: 21st Sep 2015 - 16:43 GMT


Frank (Clemenza/scalavino ): 21st Sep 2015 - 17:43 GMT

Generations of our Clemenza family lived at corner of Wilson and Grove. St Barbara's was our school and church. My grandfather had 2 store fronts 335 and 337 Wilson I lived 229 linden street and we always had the best memories.
It was a real downer for us as we drove up in sept 2015 after moving in 1965 and being our first time back. Visiting St Barbara's in sept 2015 was very fulfilling
Thanks to all for filling in the blanks.

Frank (Clemenza/scalavino ): 21st Sep 2015 - 17:43 GMT

Generations of our Clemenza family lived at corner of Wilson and Grove. St Barbara's was our school and church. My grandfather had 2 store fronts 335 and 337 Wilson I lived 229 linden street and we always had the best memories.
It was a real downer for us as we drove up in sept 2015 after moving in 1965 and being our first time back. Visiting St Barbara's in sept 2015 was very fulfilling
Thanks to all for filling in the blanks.

Alida Castorano: 21st Sep 2015 - 20:35 GMT

On was on the elevated train that day, going past the fire. I couldn't believe that just one wall was standing.

anon ( 21st Sep 2015 - 23:11 GMT

I recall the day that the fire started My father used to buy me comic books On the corner The fire was started Buy a Michael Wellington Who was huffing glueIn the basementOf the abandoned factory

Judy P.: 22nd Sep 2015 - 03:55 GMT

True Bushwick do have a big great history, all different culture, we move to Wilson Ave it was like in the 70's cause we where we use to live a lady had burn her apartment we need temporary place, I grew up in Bushwick Ave and Putnam until 5 yrs ago coming from Chicago to Brooklyn. When we move to Wilson Ave it was the late 1970's it was nice but at night oh no, gangs come out but they knew who to mess around with. Yes their was slum landlord who was burning down bldg to get the rent control people out their old railroad apts and sell the land to the new real estate people want to sell to the city to make these new projects, then you had the drug dealers sniff glue and try to sale drugs in these burning down houses yes it looked like the South BX. I always remember a old italian guy name Santos, who will always let us work for him as kids and make some money and always a sweetheart to all. This was in Wilson Ave between Linden and Gates. Great memories made a few friends until we move back to Bushwick Ave.. Met a great family they was call the Olsen Family and the James, after the neighborhood got worse everybody move out especially since the landlord was no good they was burning down bldg and the drug addict was stealing n robbing people. Knickerbocker was the best back then when the stores carry good quality clothes and people try to help you out. hey life is a cycle of things look at it now Knickbocker, Wilson, and Bushwick and Williamsburg are the area of the new comers new richness of the hipsters, artists and many who could afford these high rise rent..

Judy P.: 22nd Sep 2015 - 04:21 GMT

I grew up in Bushwick Ave/Putnam at the age of 5 yrs old coming from Chicago in 1965 until 1977 then again move back to Bushwick until 1982. Yes Bushwick was the neighborhood where all great doctors lived and top of it all yes they will come to your home. my mom once got a big cut on her arm and send me to get the doctor who had a office on Woodbine and Bushwick, He came and took care of my mom arm and sew it up nicely. Those were the good old days. Now days no one will come to your home SMDH.. I LOVE MY BUSHWICK AVE NEIGHBORHOOD. ALSO SOME OF MY TEACHERS LIVED IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD TOO.

Augie L: 26th Oct 2015 - 14:50 GMT

I was born in Bushwick in 1951 My entire Family both sides ( Italian & Irish) lived there too. I started on Putnam Ave where we shared a three family with my Paternal Grandparents and uncle. Later when i entered 2nd grade, dad bought a two family on Harman St. My Maternal Grandparents and 10 uncles and aunts lived in a railroad flat on 1082 Broadway and Dekalb.
I could ride my bike in either direction and be safe. As my older uncles got married and provided cousins they too started their married lives in Bushwick on Green St, Palmetto, Bleeker, Himrod, Hart. One of my uncles a NYFD lieutenant was for a time working at Engine 218. I went to Church at St. Barbara's but was a public school student.
After attending Jr. High School At Halsey, my father moved us to CT when the Navy closed the Brooklyn Shipyard.
Dad rented the Harman St house to one of my mothers Brothers for a year or two, but it caught fire as a result of a careless neighbor so dad sold it for salvage, Number 64, it still stands today and last listed for $389,000. UNBELIEVEABLE! Dad paid $5,600 for it in 1957. Bushwick was Nirvana in the 50's and most of the 60's as was most of Brooklyn's neighborhoods. We knew everyone on our block between Evergreen and Central. We played in the streets till well after dark in the summertime. Spent Saturdays in the winter months at one of the local Movie Theaters, after making a buck or two shoveling snow, there was at least 6 within walking distance and a few more by bus downtown. In the fall a few of us would head for Knickerbocker or sometimes Highland Park to play in the leaves and Tackle football, (not recommended on the asphalt). For about $0.60 cents train fare you could get to Coney Island and back! The convenience of being able to buy just about any necessity within walking distance on Knickerbocker Ave or Broadway was great. My mother never needed a drivers license till we moved to Connecticut and her father lived all his life without ever owning a car! Wonderful memories, write me if you lived there.

Shirley B: 15th Jan 2016 - 14:53 GMT

My mother use to go there to dance & enjoy herself with my Aunt Rose & Uncle, The people that went there were mostly German decent. Everyone had a good time. I went there with her a couple of times. The owner of that place was old he use to come in the bank with his granddaughter. I waited on them when I worked in Hamburg Savings bank. Nice people.

John P.: 26th Feb 2016 - 02:06 GMT

Sorry to join this discussion late. We lived at 236 Linden St; went to PS116. Moved to Los Angeles July 1951 when I was eight years old. Haven't been back in a looong time.

Jannette Hernandez: 24th Mar 2016 - 05:28 GMT

I remembered that day clearly. I was living at 735 Knickerbocker Ave. and Hancock St. My friends and I walked down to see the fire up close, but as We got closer and closer the heat was to intense and the smoke was choking us. So we turned around and ran back home out of breath. It was horrifying.

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