Brighton Beach Bungalows

March 24, 2010 -

Brighton Beach is a bustling oceanside neighborhood on the southern edge of Brooklyn. Most visitors to Little Odessa - as the neighborhood is known - come for its Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian stores and restaurants. Few realize that in the last decade, Brighton Beach has been transformed by New York's real estate boom and bust. For many years, according to Gowanus Lounge, it was "a neighborhood where overdevelopment has been ignored by virtually everyone."

Today, Brighton Beach has come to resemble Far Rockaway, another beachfront community scarred by developers. Both neighborhoods are pockmarked with abandoned construction sites, huge empty lots, and boarded up buildings. Arsonists, squatters and drug dealers have moved in to these unclaimed spaces. And in both neighborhoods, a few remaining summer bungalows have born the brunt of the damage.

Brighton Beach's development boom began in 2001, according to City Limits, as "developers raced to buy up properties in the district in order to build lucrative condos and medical offices. Construction sites appeared on every block throughout the district. The booming neighborhood was on the fast track to becoming a 'condo paradise.'" However, like neighborhoods throughout the city, "the market did not evolve as expected, and demand for the expensive condos never materialized in the numbers that developers were counting on... leaving the district strewn with empty lots and aborted buildings."


Aborted Building


For Sale: Fire Damaged Homes

In the midst of this blighted landscape lies a hidden pocket of bungalows. They are located just one block away from Brighton Beach Avenue, the area's main commercial strip. These cottages are all that remains from a once thriving summer community that dates back to the 1880's, when Brighton Beach was "a popular resort... for sun seekers from faraway Manhattan and the Bronx," according to the NY Times. The bungalows were "developed in the 1920s... on the former site of the Brighton Beach racetrack," according to the NYC Department of City Planning, and "in the 1920's, trolleys and subways brought vacationers to the summer bungalows," according to the NY Times.

Clustered into a 7-block-long area and surrounded by several major avenues, most of these bungalows are only accessible via a grid of narrow footpaths. Some of these walkways are barely wide enough to walk through. Along these passages can be found well-kept homes with private gardens, picket fences, and children's toys in the front yard.


White Picket Fence


Bungalow Garden

Brighton Beach's development boom was partially the result of loose zoning restrictions that placed no cap on building heights. In 2009, the NY Daily News reported that "in the last eight years, scores of bungalows have been torn down to make way for soaring luxury condo towers - some up to 15 stories high." As one bungalow resident bluntly told this photographer, "thats a f---ing skyscraper for Brighton Beach."

The affect on the bungalow area was "construction that is both out of scale with the existing built context, and has the effect of isolating properties located along pedestrian lanes on the interiors of the blocks," according to the NYC Department of City Planning. Today, many bungalows are hemmed in by condo towers. Some face blank walls that rise 100 feet, blocking out the sun. Others have abandoned, half-built towers in their backyards, which one resident said was like "living next to a haunted house for four years."

A 2009 article on Your Nabe reported that "Brighton Beach residents have pleaded for downzoning for the past six years... During that time, modest one-family homes were replaced with multistory residential towers that residents say are out of character with the neighborhood."

Bungalow, Wall and Condo


Bungalow and Abandoned Tower

By 2009, dispirited bungalow residents had given up hope for preserving their neighborhood. In a surprising reversal, many fought against a city plan to finally downzone their neighborhood. The plan, according to the NYC Department of City Planning, sought to "protect the character of the neighborhood" and to "prevent future out-of-scale development" by putting a cap on building heights in the bungalow area. Residents believed it was too little, too late.

"After a long fight to save the historic bungalows of Brighton Beach, local leaders now say they don't want to preserve the old-time vacation cottages." reported the NY Daily News, quoting the head of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District as saying "when you talk about downzoning, it's to preserve the area... There's nothing to preserve." As one bungalow owner told Your Nabe, "they’re about 10 years too late because the whole neighborhood has been ripped apart already.”

Many of the remaining Brighton Beach bungalows are now for sale. Some have been abandoned, sealed with flimsy plywood or left open to the elements. Neighbors report that drug dealers have taken over empty homes, while signs of arson are common. This problem dates back to at least 2007, when the NY Times reported on a wave of arson terrorizing the community. "At least 13 fires have been reported in eight vacant buildings... Brighton Beach has an unusually high number of vacant buildings, as a consequence of its changing real estate fortunes... The vacant houses still standing are prime targets for vandals and squatters."

Burned Bungalow


Charred Interior


Fire-Scarred Kitchen

New York City's rezoning plan for Brighton Beach was formally withdrawn in June of 2009. There is currently no protection in place to ensure that overdevelopment does not return to the area. These photos document what the NY Daily News has called "the last days of the bungalow."

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For more photo essays from New York City's endangered bungalow communities, please visit New Dorp Bungalows (2010), Hammels Wye (2010), The North Edgemere Shore (2010) and Far Rockaway: Abandoned Bungalows (2009).



Pedestrian Footpath



Guard Dog



Abandoned Construction Site



Bungalow Foundation



2943: Abandoned with Mattress



Abandoned Bungalow Bathroom



Chandelier and Ruins



Abandoned Bungalow Kitchen



32: Frozen Bungalow



Brick and Plywood



31: Ivy and Fence

18 comments:

  1. Where are these bungalows?

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  2. Nathan,

    I wasn't aware of the Brighton Beach bungalows at all. I lived out at Far Rockaway a couple of years ago, in a bungalow right behind a huge condo going up on the beach. I've since heard that construction stopped dead, and now sits empty. I haven't been back, but will have to go and check it out . . .the area was already pretty desolate, I wonder how it is now . . .

    In my corner of Bed-Stuy there must be at least a dozen condos that have gone up in the past couple of years. Some have been abandoned, half-finished, with almost nothing to keep intruders out. I wonder how long it will be before these too are inhabited by squatters, vandals, etc . . .

    T.

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  3. The 7th picture is awesome. It looks like the tree is growing out of the house, and takes some inspection to see the perspective.

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  4. Nathan,

    Excellent photos and article. How sad to lose this quirky little neighborhood.

    Sarah

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  5. Good shots Nathan. I was very familiar with the bungalow area in the late 1970s. Back then it was a fascinating place, very lush, with the narrow paths. However, it was also pretty dangerous. There was definitely gang activity and drug dealing going on. A place to be avoided, but I was young and curious to explore.

    I started going back around 3 years ago, and was disgusted by what I saw, how many of the bungalows had been razed for 8 story condos.

    I have a couple of sets of photos of the bungalows in 2 of my flickr accounts.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amg2000/sets/72157601111627055/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/aonghais/sets/72157623690623682/

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  6. I first visited this neighborhood about 10 years ago. I loved it! I imagined I would love to live in one of those bungalows someday. I moved out of town for a little while, and when I came back about three years ago, I was shocked, disappointed, and yeah - kinda upset - that this had happened.

    I wrote about it last August (bit.ly/9Fh6l5) - I said it was like a love-at-first-sight crush that had gained about 100 pounds since the last time you saw them.

    And I certainly don't blame the neighborhood for fighting against a downzoning at this stage of the game. If I owned one of those houses, I'd probably be trying to cash out and move out. A downzone now would probably just take the only buyers still interested in the neighborhood out of the market.

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  7. The neighborhood is positively disgusting. I grew up a few blocks away from these photos and near one of the last dirt roads in Brooklyn. My family still lives here and its character is ruined. We used to grow tomatoes and roses in the back yard, but now we're hemmed in on every side, no sun. My husband, not from these parts, can't comprehend how people let this happen. I can. As a barely first generation American, I know the immigrant residents here didn't have the the know how to fight it, or access the people who could help them. The immigrants that understood what was going on, were the ones building and taking advantage of the loose regulation and total lack of planning. It's pretty bleak, and I'm not sure if we'll ever gat out from under this mess. Thanks for shedding a light, and telling this story.

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  8. How sad to see the condition of Brighton Beach. I was born and raised there and it was a lovely community. I haven't been there in a few years but was planning a trip back to visit. These pictures are shocking especially to those of us who knew Brighton Beach in its true bungalow beach days.

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  9. DEAR NATHAN
    I WAS SURPRISED TO SEE A PICTURE OF
    MY PROPERTY ""THE WHITE PICKET FENCE."
    AS ALL CAN SEE IT IS WELL MAINTAINED. IT IS ONE OF THE LAST
    ORIGINAL PROPERTIES THAT HAS NOW
    SURVIVED. IT SHOWS WHAT WAS AND WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED HAD THOSE IN POWER CHOSE TO PRESERVE THE AREA. I WOULD LIKE MY 100 YR. OLD HOME TO BE PURCHASED FOR USE AS
    A MUSEUM BY THE CITY AS IT REPRESENTS THE BEAUTIFUL COMMUNITY
    WHICH EXISTED PRIOR TO A FORCED
    EXTINCTION BY GREEDY DEVELOPERS
    AND THEIR COHORTS IN CITY PLANNING.
    I DOUBT THIS WILL HAPPEN AS THE
    CITY HAS OTHER PLANS.YOU MAY BE
    INTERESTED IN KNOWING THAT A SERIES OF RECENT BURGLARIES WERE
    TIED TO SQUATTERS IN AN EMPTY HOUSE.

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  10. Some of these bungalows are really tiny. I grew up pretty much dawdling around these blocks, seeing every last one of them.. Not a happy neighborhood back then(much safer today). Did not know their historical significance however, I thought they were built much later. They will be all gone within a few years, guaranteed.

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  11. I was born and raised on Brighton 2nd Street and moved to Manhattan in 1969. Looking at your photos leaves me with an overpowering feeling of sadness. What was once a neighborhood and community has lost all its charm and warmth. My friends and I played on those "foot paths" when there were no fences and guard dogs and the sun shone through.

    Gloria K.

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  12. when i was alittle girl this area was also home t a new influx of immirgrants. unlike the russian horrors that are here now, these people coveted their new home. they cherished these little cottages, made them even more beautiful than they found them. it was a great place to grow up,everyone knew everyone, the pathways were the best place for us to play hide&seek,we all sat outside on those hot summer nights, really it was heaven. i still live here and i have watched all the changes that took place in the last 50 years. it is sad .............yet sometimes when in walking down brighton beach avenue, i tune out everything around me, and all i remember is how lucky i am to have grown up here

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  13. The irony here is that in towns across Russia, where this immigrant population originated, centuries old bungalows are being destroyed at an alarming pace as well. Along with the destruction in Beijing, it seems to be a worldwide phenomenon. Too sad!

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  14. The way I see it, condos are the new standards of vacation houses. I see the value of bungalows, yet it seems that the trend is killing the old beach houses. In my case, I have visited several condos in Panama City beach FL and they have been well welcomed by the city people. In fact, the
    Panama City beach condo rentals even gave way to jobs in Panama.

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  15. I'm 75 years old -- grew up on Brighton 6th Street and went to PS 253. Great memories of those old bungalows! Even after leaving the neighborhood in 1960, I returned frequently to visit my parents. But after my mother died (in 1990) and our old house was sold, I haven't been back. The changes shown in your photos are very saddening. Similar changes have taken place in nearby Manhattan Beach. About 10 years ago ago we drove to look at the house my wife grew up in. It was a hole in the ground! We came back a few years later & the ugliest McMansion ever built was on that spot.

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  16. I love your postings...
    I am a student at The New School.
    I have an assignment for my photography class. Would you kindly please give me the exact address of these bungalows?

    Thank You,

    Anna

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  17. Unlike other building styles that can be seen in the commercial and industrial environments, the architecture was developed only for bungalow house.

    Property Management

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  18. As I poured over your story, I could hear my Grandmother's voice recounting for the umteenth time how the city took her beloved bungalow for a school. The year? somewhere in the early thirties...what was Brighton 6th Walk became (and remains) the site of PS 253.

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